As soon as I saw them, I regretted deeply that I had come this way.
The Brabant down-land was an easy ride, bathed in weak but golden winter sunshine. The frost-crisp ground was hard under my horse's hooves, but so far none of my party of twelve gentlemen, servants, bodyguards and my écuyer had been inconvenienced, even when moving at a swift canter. We had chosen the route to the west of Moerslag to avoid any parties of Flemish or German horse which might be prowling through the folds of the rolling hills. We rode quickly past thin, scratchy woods, and refused to stop at the small clusters of farm houses which were sprinkled on the track-ways through the downs.
"Five leagues left, My Lord", my écuyer, Jerome Dubras, informed me in a hoarse, rasping voice, half-lost in the cold, February air. Not far, then, until we re-joined the main column of the Sun King's army. Not long until I could re-unite my throat with the fine wine of the Haut-Medoc in the comfort of a local hostelry I had requisitioned as my temporary quarters.
Often at a time when my mind wanders, bad things happen. And this was no exception.
The down-land track passed between two large copses of leafless, black winter trees. Between the woods, on the track, were roughly four score horsemen in a ragged formation. As we drew closer, I could see half were mounted on thin, scraggling ponies. The remainder were mounted on horses of different heights, weights, colours and breeds. There was no suggestion of the mounts being in any way uniform. The riders were just as chaotically attired. Cloaks, jackets, shirts, scarves and caps of scarlet, deep green, amber, sky-blue, azurre, black and yellow assaulted the eyes. Over-jackets were slung from the shoulder, like wolf skins. Most carried several weapons, with many holding heavy club-footed pistols and wheel-locks no doubt stolen from a supply chain or looted from the site of a recent skirmish. Others carried long Hungarian-styled sabres with which they cut the cold air at speed, the blades passing mere inches from their horses' ears. The riders' dark eyes looked at me from grinning, frowning or sullen faces.
Their leader cantered out to meet me, his Arab mare a noticeable pedigree among the shabby mounts of his command. His attire was even more outlandish than those of his troops, comprising Ottoman horse furnishings and a leopard-skin cloak over the clothing of a Polish nobleman. I did not recognise this member of the troupe, although I had seen the formation before. I raised my hand, and called out to the leader, who reined in six feet from me. "My greetings to the Hussaren of the Baron de Kroneberg. I did not realise that you were riding this far to the west. I had imagined you would be at the gates of Laarden by now", I said, my breath clouding in the cold air.
I was treated with a glittering smile in return, coupled with eyes which stared at me with barely concealed distaste. The faux-noble replied in thickly-accented French, familiar to me from my time following the drum in what the Germans call "Die Turkenkrieg". "The Baron has business in the camp of Your King, Marquis. Otherwise we would no doubt be finding other business on the road to the north." His words were accompanied with a half-gloating chuckle. "Please, let us accompany your small party", he added, riding closer and looking over my horse furniture greedily, his eyes fixated on my gold-inlaid horse pistols.
Even as he said the words, I could see the horsemen behind him trotting forward to envelop my small party. I nodded in his direction, and spurred my horse forward at an easy pace, being sure to keep my hand firmly on the dispatches in the pocket of my riding coat. I wondered how many of my party's possessions might "find" their way into the saddlebags of von Kroneberg's thieves by the end of the day.
And here you have the first formation of the French army of Louis Le Grand, from around 1688 in my (fictional, slightly alt-historical) timescale for the Free-Flemish city of Laarden. I say "French" with some caution as the formation modelled is a company of "hussars" in French service, comprising mainly Croatian deserters from the Imperial armies of the period. The (real) formation was assembled in 1692, and was led by the mercurial Baron de Kroneberg, who gets a brief mention in the latest extract above from the Marquis de Montchevreuil, one of our trusted correspondents for the Laarden Campaign of 1688.
Baron von Kroneberg's historical horsemen seem to have caused numerous problems for the French Mestre Le Camp in Flanders, and it's perhaps not a stretch to imagine the "hussars" as being rapacious and light fingered, as well as effective in the field. Similar horsemen relieved the Earl of Cadogan of his pocket watch in 1706, and - for all of their undoubted skill in 'le Petit Guerre' - Croatian cavalry operating in France, whether or not under French colours, enjoyed a mixed reputation.
The 28mm figures are a mix of The Assault Group and Wargames Foundry. A Croatian 'hussar' company of this sort would, I imagine, have been mounted on a variety of horses, and armed in a somewhat eclectic fashion. Doubtless very few of the horses and arms were purchased at full market value! I thought that the slight different in pose and height of the models worked well here. They were, of course, a total pain to paint, as each was really a mini painting project in its own right - which I finally finished in March for the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge IX. The good news is that the French only seem to have commissioned a single company of these 'hussars', which means I have been able to get back to more regularly uniformed troops on the French side in the last week or so.
For anyone entranced with such rascals, and how they fought, there is some good news to come soon on the Blog. As listeners of the "TooFatLardies Oddcast" will know, I've committed to figuring out - during 2019 - how a game based around reconnaissance in the 17th Century might work. And it would hard to exclude either 'hussars' and Imperial Croats from that setting, which is very much the place where they excelled.
So, as we continue our journey to Laarden, can I please remind you, Ladies and Gentlemen, to take good care of your pocket watches, purses and other valuables on the track-ways of Flanders - especially close to the village of Moerslag - you never just know who that scruffy looking horseman might be on the brow of that nearby hill.