Saturday, 26 October 2019

Three Vignettes from Laarden, 1688


The Blacksmith's Bargain

From the letters and diaries of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, Grand Écuyer to His Highness The King of France, French Flanders, 1688


“Lame?  Really?  Lame…?  How can my best horse have gone lame on the downlands, not three leagues from here?”  

I stared at the blacksmith in the small Flemish hamlet, and looked helplessly at my écuyer, Jerome Dubras, as he held the bridle of my favourite, chestnut mare.  Dubras’ hand carefully  calmed my horse as the Blacksmith lifted her rear left fetlock.  The chestnut mare, for her own part, shook her head, looking in another direction, as if trying to deny her inability to negotiate the roads and pathways across the chalky Flemish downland, close to the village of Oestveld. 

“This is ridiculous.  Barely three weeks in Flanders, the campaign hardly started, and my best horse now lame….”.   I struggled to prevent the complaints tumbling from my mouth.  Sometimes the world seemed very unfair, even for the Grand Écuyer of the King of France.  

“How on earth ….how on EARTH am I going to ride to the Duc de Varennes, now?”.  I stared at Dubras, who shrugged and continued to stroke my horse’s neck, pretending not to be standing there.  

I heard a cough, and a phlegmy rasp from the blacksmith's throat.  “If your Lordship has need of a second horse, my cousin has a most fine stallion, in midnight black, over sixteen hands, but lithe and fit, barely four years old.  A most wonderful ride, my Lord.  Intended for one of the auctions at Laarden, I’m told.  I’m no expert, My Lord, but I’m sure a bargain could be struck….”.  The blacksmith looked at me, lifting his eyes to meet mine.  

“Indeed, my cousin had mentioned he was only looking for two-hundred-and-twenty livres for the stallion, My Lord…. Nothing to a gentleman of your quality”.

The blacksmith’s yard seemed to fall silent for a second, and I saw Dubras turn his head away, barely suppressing a smirk. “Two HUNDRED and twenty livres?  What kind of horse is your cousin breeding…..a centaur?  Pegasus himself?”.  

I scowled at the blacksmith’s impudence, who simply looked back and replied to me “No, no my Lord, just a horse fit to ride before one of the Dukes of France.”  I was speechless.  

Dubras’s smirk evolved into a throaty chuckle and I saw him reach into the saddlebag of my mare, grasping my purse, fully aware I was about to add a new stallion to my stable.

*******

A Chicken, Duck and Goose in Every Pot

"Agnes, get the chickens and ducks into the barn, quickly now.  We need all of them for the Comte de Vermandois and the Duc de Varennes' table tonight.  The French commanders always welcome the finest poultry.  Quickly, quickly child... we promised all twenty-four of the ducks, and four of the geese as well.  Agnes.... Agnes.... where are the geese?  Quickly, my girl.   



"Now, Michaela, drive the pigs to the old barn... we need those to be on the Laarden road, bound for Sint Vaalben this evening for the Graf von Bek and his Imperial horsemen.  And add a large barrel of the finest beer for "The Harvest Goose" in Laarden - Joseph can take it on the cart if he sets off early enough, before the Croats block the road...

"And, Maria, bring me the farmhouse accounting ledger.... If anyone is getting wealthy from this war, it might as well be my family..." 



*******

"The Jewel of Flanders"

From the letters and diaries of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, Grand Écuyer to His Highness The King of France, French Flanders, 1688

Waspish. Vain. Parasitical. Arriviste. Brutal. Savage. Preening. Sarcastic. Selfish. Worthless.

My wife, the Marquise de Montchevreuil had called me all these names, and no doubt many more when I was out of earshot. 

She had never been impressed with “La Vie Militaire”.  Reciting the battle honours of the actions at which I had been present in Germany, Italy and Flanders drew very little praise from my wife, especially when the roof in the left wing of the chateau of Montchevreuil was leaking badly.  Ensuring that the demi-lunes of Courtrai were in the possession of Le Roi Soleil failed to command her interest once her wedding gown was ruined with flood water.

No.  

Marie-Charlotte Annette de Hilarion, Marquise de Montchevreuil, was never what I would call a ‘military companion’, still less a soldier’s wife.  Her interest in my campaigns stretched only to a detailed knowledge of the scurrilous Flemish and Dutch propaganda pamphlets which blackened my name. Admittedly, such pamphlets were the foulest of propaganda, but in a blazing domestic argument I found it hard to blame my wife for using anything readily to hand.


With such thoughts in mind, I was therefore nervous to leave the chateau of Montchevreuil for the Laarden campaign of early 1688.  I had decided to soften the disappointing news of my departure - and inability to supervise the repairs to the left wing of the chateau - with a small, but heartfelt, gift.

A pair of large pearl earrings and a pearl necklace was my attempt to excuse my absence for another nine months in the field against His Majesty’s enemies. I had commissioned the present from a small jewellers’s shop on the Rue des Capucines during my last month in Paris in 1687.  I had often found it useful to have a token of appeasement to hand in the constant hostilities which have framed my marriage of political convenience and occasional domestic harmony.  I had the pearls presented in a small custom made box of dark cedar-wood, with marquetry on the lid illustrating the arms of my family House. 


The jewels were reasonably well received when I presented them in the formal garden, with my Lady’s spaniels looking on disinterestedly. She stared at the open cedar-wood box, a thin smile on her lips. 

“I suppose this is my compensation for you leaving to make His Majesty a gift of Laarden - is it not known as ‘The Jewel of Flanders’, my love?”  She looked at me, intently.  Clearly the focus of our campaign was far from being a secret.  “A collection of pearls for me, while you try and seize 'The Jewel of Flanders' for Le Roi Soleil … yes?”

She was as difficult to satisfy as ever. “There might, in the event of the surrender of the City of Laarden, be other trophies I might be able to bring you, my love...”, I floundered, accompanying my words with a polite incline of the head and a flowing caress of my hand towards her pale blue silken gown.


“Hmmm…. Really? Hmmm.”  I could tell she was under-whelmed, her fingers snapping shut the lid of the box before lifting it from my outstretched hand.  “Let’s all hope the silk from your captured Flemish standards can repair the leaking roof”.  I traced her eyes to the left wing of the chateau, once again eagerly counting the hours until my departure. 

*******
So, three small but hopefully fun vignettes to place on the wargames table to help tell these, or other, stories.  The blacksmith and Jerome Dubras are from Wargames Foundry.  The resilient women from the Flemish farmlands, adept at supplying both combatants at a profit,  are from Redoubt Miniatures - with ducks and chickens from Warbases, and geese and pigs from Magister Militum.  

The Marquis and Marquise de Montchevreuil are, respectively, from Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry.  The Marquis underwent some drastic surgery to remove his right hand, with a new hand and cedarwood box of jewels being added with greenstuff.  The spaniels are also Redoubt, and the sundial and flowerpots are scratch-built in a moment of madness!

More tales from Laarden next time - I hope you can join me for those!

24 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks very much, Allan!! I was trying for a blend of browns and natural colours, at least for the non-noble characters!

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  2. Great little vignettes. I’ve had that conversation with a 20th century blacksmith, the garage. Also good to see the fowl of Laarden in evidence again.

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    1. Thanks Peter! I love the idea of the local garage being the equivalent of the local blacksmith - which is about right, I think!! And yes, more of the local fowl and poultry of Laarden to come this Autumn and Winter ;)

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  3. Wonderful Sidney! These are marvelous - such character!
    Frank

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  4. Absolutely exquisite! Beautiful pieces one and all.

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  5. Fabulous tales and vignettes Sidney! :)

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  6. Awesome stuff Sidney! Really couldn‘t help myself but the story of the Marquis de Montchevreuil and his ‚lovely‘ wife made me chuckle quite a bit!

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    1. Noblemen and their demanding wives - a recurring theme through the ages in my games, Nick !! ;)

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  7. Wonderful little vignettes there Sidney, these will bring any table alive.

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  8. Beautiful work my friend. I love them all but I think the 17th century equivalent of the upselling Audi dealership is my favourite.

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    1. Thank you so much, Curt! Love the comment on your local Audi dealership.....

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  9. Lovely looking vignettes, great colour combinations as always and splendid background!
    Best Iain

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    1. Thanks very much, Iain. Lots more to come along these lines - which, hopefully, is good in your book!

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  10. Some lovely table decoration sir...

    All the best. Aly

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