From the letters and diaries of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, Grand Écuyer to His Highness The King of France, French Flanders, 1688
I was not surprised. If anything, I was faintly amused. Not enough to laugh, but enough to smile, wryly, at the Sieur de Lombez whose clear pale blue eyes met mine across the huge oak table in the Chateau de Gagnac, near Valenciennes, where the Duc d'Humières had established his entourage and court. It was draughty, cold, damp and unwelcoming. It reminded me of home. The room was filled with more than fifty courtiers, commanders, diplomats, plenipotentiaries, supernumeraries and even a Prince of the Blood (lingering in the shadows by the corner of the room, laughing at the less interesting parts of the Royal campaign proclamation, being recited by the Duc in theatrical tones).
“.... and through the region bordering the lands of our Kingdom, annexing lands promised to the Kingdom of France in the Settlement of Veurne, crossing the Reutelbeek and the Horebeek, and then the River Laarde, and taking the villages and towns of Bruglette, Moerslag, Grobbeldonk, Sint Vaalben, Aardensdam ...... “
The list and the direction of the campaign was impressive. An uncharitable observer of the Duc’s sweep of his heavily jeweled hand might conclude most of Northern Europe was to be included in the Grand Chevauchée . Few locations in Flanders appeared to be spared in the King’s proclamatory pilgrimage - I even caught the name of that unpleasant little village of Sint Vaalben, where the Flemish cavaliers almost killed me twelve years ago.
I wrestled my mind from luxurious dreams of revenge as the Duc continued the King's proclamation:
“.... and then to the gates of the so-called Free City of Laarden itself, to accept their obeisance and acceptance of their settlement into the Kingdom of France.”
The Duc rolled up the papers of the Royal Proclamation and handed them to a bewigged Versailles flunky, accompanied by a well orchestrated burst of applause.
To be honest, I had heard more rapturous and inspiring commencements to a campaign. The Great Condé's opening speech at the start of the last Dutch War had been truly memorable, but then he was drunk and most of what he was shouting was libelous and concerned the personal habits of the Comtesse de Crillion. So, quite obviously, we all enjoyed listening to that.
By contrast, the Duc d'Humières' style was more self-reverential, as if a little of the Sun King's ambition might run off on the Duc’s avaricious and pudgy fingers. Whatever the reasons - whether it was the deeply uninspiring leadership of His Grace, Le Duc, or the absence of saucy stories about a notorious libertine - I detected the applause being just a little muted as the Sun King’s proclamation was finished. Or maybe it was because of the damp atmosphere of the old hall in the Chateau (old miser de Gagnac clearly didn't go overboard on the firewood sputtering in the heart of the inaptly named 'great fire" fizzling in the back of the hall). Or maybe it was the lateness of the hour in that mid-December evening.
Or possibly it was the inconvenient fact that, of all the maps scattered across the table by the Duc d'Humières, I knew that none of them were remotely accurate. I picked up the corner of one - signed in an extravagant hand “Patrice de Colequin, Gentleman of Bordeaux, 1547”. No doubt Flanders and it’s principal towns may have looked as depicted on the map, at least when viewed from the vantage point of a Gascon winery, but I was confident that the pewter-grey fields close to Laarden possessed no mountains, and still less a ravine. There was also a noted absence of sea-serpents in the German Ocean, at least when I had sailed along the coast of Flanders. De Colequin’s map masked several other catographical aberrations scattered over the table. One of the other maps was of the City of Genoa (useful for the Grand Tour I would be in need of after this campaign was done), and a third was of the northern Levant. Both were only marginally less useful than de Colequin's “True Map of Flanders and the Citie of Laarden”.
I caught the Duc’s eyes, narrowed and icily judgmental, as I fingered de Colequin’s magnum opus. I could almost see his mind calculating under his heavy eyelids. I knew what he was going to ask, anyway. His jumble of imaginary drawings of mountains, ravines and palaces would be useless in answering the one question I knew he was about to ask. I lifted a gloved hand and swept the air with a gesture almost as encompassing as the Duc’s own.
“No need to trouble your cartographers, your Grace. I’m sure I can remember the way with the vanguard”.
I fashioned a glittering smile, trying not to think of the flooded land, the stench of black-powder smoke and the battles of twelve years before. Remembering the way was the easy part.
So, yes, more Laarden 1688 nonsense from me. As i mentioned last time, I've been working through the various late 17th Century miniatures i had prepared for painting in Analogue Challenge IX but didn't have the chance to paint through the winter. This small vignette was the first to feature on the painting table - only, it never got there over the winter.
Slightly delayed, here it is now, finished. the miniatures from from the Dixon Miniatures "grand Alliance" range, with some conversions. The champagne glass and bottles being enjoyed by the marquis of Montchevreuil are from Scotia-Grendel, and the gabion is from Frontline Wargaming. The champagne bucket, maps and dispatches were scratch-built/ scratch-drawn.
I hope you enjoy nonsense such as this featuring our French correspondent fr the french campaign in Flanders in 1688, the Marquis of Montchevreuil. I admit alt-history is an acquired taste, but I quite like creating narratives such as this. And its a lot easier than reading and translating 17th Century French.