Friday 1 December 2017

The Sound of a Distant Drum: Citizens of Laarden, 1688

Over the past few weeks, I've been having fun painting up some 25mm civilian figures for my fictional Flemish town of Laarden from 1688.  Civilian figures for the seventeenth century are a bit of an after-thought in many ranges.  You have to cast the net fairly wide to find figures which are suitable but, with a little luck, I think I found some very useful figures.

The figures in the photograph above are from Midlam Miniatures, apart from the second on the left which is a rather ancient old-school Citadel Miniature which I've had lying around for just over thirty years.  I knew she would come in useful at some point!

The Midlam Miniatures' women carrying loads of laundry and milk-pails look perfect for a Dutch or Flemish town, even down to the headwear which can be seen in lots of period paintings.

I wanted a few beggars in the town to also add a grimly realistic tone.  I didn't realise when I started, but there is a pretty substantial literature online about beggars and the shifting social reaction to begging in the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  Many Flemish religious reformers and scholars wrote extensively on how to identify fake beggars, on how poor relief should correctly administered and how deceitful begging threatened the public order.  These tensions infused some of the art of the period.  Plenty of artists, including Bosch and Bruegel, seem to have been fascinated by beggars as subjects of their paintings and sketches. 

I converted the (very useful) Midlam Miniatures seated beggar with a head-swap, adding an ECW spare head from Redoubt Miniatures for the representation of an old soldier fallen on hard times. Surely he's one of the deserving poor of Laarden.  Or maybe, just perhaps, he might be a less deserving vagabond, or even a French spy...?

With the forthcoming Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge VIII about to start on the 20th December, I have been busy preparing some more citizens.  These are, mainly, from Midlam Miniatures and from Redoubt.  I've added a few geese from Magister Militum, and even an old Citadel townsfolk rat-catcher (again with a Redoubt head-swap).

Last, but hopefully not least, there's a Foundry nightwatchman, straight from the pages of Rembrandt, with his trusty halberd swapped for a Mordheim lantern.  Here's hoping he might form the last line of defence when the French arrive to besiege or storm the town!

Thursday 30 November 2017

The TooFatLardies Oddcast: number three - Post-Antwerp chat and rule development

Rich, Nick and myself recorded another of our irregularly-timed "Oddcasts" last week after returning from Crisis in Antwerp.  In the course of chatting about what's on our respective work-benches and painting tables, we talk about wargaming rules development as well offering some more reading suggestions.

You can find episode three HERE

Here's just some of the books we talked about on the show:

I hope you enjoy the podcast, and look forward to posting the Christmas show next.

Monday 13 November 2017

Thirty Years War in 2mm - An Update for Patient Readers

For anyone reading this Blog who has been patiently waiting since last year for an update on our 2mm scale Thirty Years War project, I have some good news (and an apology). 

As you might recall, last year I built a collection of 2mm scale armies to re-fight the battle of Lutzen in 1632. Full details of the ideas behind the project can be found on a couple of earlier Blog posts, HERE and HERE.

It’s probably helpful to mention that, during the last year, the thematic ideas which Curt (fellow rules author) and myself started with have not changed a great deal. We are still looking for our rules for the period to create a wargame focused on re-creating iconic 17th Century battles in a manageable space, and in a compressed time period (so you could easily play a game in an evening).

We're still focusing our efforts on the Thirty Years War, which provides a wealth of significant, reasonably well-documented battles to attempt to recreate.  It's also a fortunate co-incidence that next year will be the 400th anniversary of the commencement of the war, which might prompt an interest in looking at different ways of wargaming the conflict.

And we are still looking to try and recreate the unique visual elements of large scale “battle paintings”, and focus on the attributes of battle and warfare which contemporary commanders considered - in their diaries, letters, orders and commentaries – were important in determining victory in the field.

What has been evolving have been the rules themselves as we tinker with mechanisms, talk through variations, play-test scenarios and parts of the battle, read more (and more) and generally try and refine and finesse what we have on the printed rules pages.

As anyone who has written, or adapted wargame rules, this is quite a difficult process. Just when you think progress is being made in one area, something else slips out of place, perhaps as a consequence. The challenge for me has been to try and retain the themes which I consider make the warfare of the mid-Thirty Years War unique, while also making the game playable and fun. Some of the most difficult elements of rules writing and play-testing have involved the combat mechanisms at the heart of the battle.

Part of the challenge has been to both understand what happened in mid-seventeenth century battles and, in particular, how contemporaries believed those events affected the course of the fighting.

As Sir James Turner wrote in his commentary on the arts of warfare, “Pallas Armata”:

Of all Martial Arts, to fight a Battel well, and gain the Victory, is of the highest importance, and makes the Prince or his General most renown’d: It is this (and neither retreats nor taking Towns, though both these shew the qualifications of an excellent Captain) that crowns them with Laurels.”

This is all wonderful, stirring stuff. And there are endless exhortations of this type throughout "Pallas Armata". What Sir James’ commentary is rather short of is what actually happened at the sharp end of a melee or a firefight. Here’s the commentary in a key chapter of “Pallas Armata”, Chapter XXII (“Of things previous to a Battel, of a Battel itself, and of things after a Battel”) on melees:

Your advance on an Enemy, in what posture soever he be, should be with a constant, firm and steady pace; the Musketeers (whether they be on the Flanks, or interlin’d with either the Horse or the Pikes) firing all the while; but when you come within Pistol-shot, you should double your pace, till your Pikes closely serr’d together, charge these, whether Horse or Foot, whom they find before them. It is true, the business very oft comes not to push of Pike, but it hath and may come oft to it, and then Pike-men are very serviceable.  (Spelling all as in the 1671 edition)

There is an immediacy and great vitality through the whole of “Pallas Armata”. It’s evident Sir James Turner knew precisely what he was writing about. But to me, reading in 2017, the precision, granularity, and detail of the fighting you’re looking for as a (very) amateur rules-designer is absent in the text. And, in my view, the same is true of other commentators (Montecuccoli, the Earl of Orrery, Richard Elton) who were writing around the same time.

So, we’re working through the rules mechanics, and carrying on play-testing, and continuing to try and make sense of what happened in the battlefields of 1632 and 1634 - as well as re-reading Sir James Turner's writing and wondering what on earth he meant! 

When Curt was over last week, we played through a pared down game of the battle. This featured a couple of memorable events, principally the shattering of part of Count von Pappenheim’s impetuous cuirassiers by means of a well-deployed, enfilading Swedish artillery battery. And yes, that is one of the 2mm “shattered bases” being deployed into the ragged Imperial mounted line…

Also featuring in the game were some lovely scratch-built 2mm snow-bound villages made by good friend, Mark Backhouse.  And also, somewhat bitten by the 2mm scratch-building bug, it was the first game in which I fielded the Imperial Chancellery baggage trayne which I made a couple of months back but have only just got around to painting.

Although the rules are written, and fairly comprehensive, we’ve a fair way to go in play-testing a set of rules which I hope will be both accurate and fun. And fear not, you’ll be the first to know when that happens!

Saturday 11 November 2017


We can truly say that the whole circuit of the earth is girdled with the graves of our dead.  In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”

King George V, Tyne Cot Cemetery, 11 May 1922

We will remember them.

Friday 10 November 2017

Roundwood Recommends - Number 6: The Flemish Town of Ypres

As part of my post-Antwerp, post-Crisis 2017 Blog posts, I’ve added a few photographs of the Belgian town of Ypres below.

Ypres today is firmly associated with the First World War, being ringed by military cemeteries and incorporating the huge Menin Gate, a dramatic and deeply moving memorial to British and Empire soldiers fallen in the War but with no known grave.

But Ypres’ position in Flanders, close to the North Sea and to France meant for long before 1914 that it was an important strategic town. It was walled in the medieval period, and had its fortifications augmented by the Spanish in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly after the lengthy siege of the town by Spanish troops in 1583-84 as part of the Eighty Years War. More sieges followed in 1644, 1648 and 1658, with Ypres returning to the Spanish in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. 

The Spanish Governor of the Netherlands sought to reinforce the town in the 1660s by adding an earthen citadel on the east of the town, aiming to protect the walls from the most favoured approach used by French armies in previous periods. 

The town was besieged one last time in the seventeenth century by Louis XIV and Vauban in March 1678, being finally captured in an assault on 25th March.

Following the cessation of the Third Dutch War in August 1678, Ypres was ceded to France in the Treaty of Nijmegen, being a key negotiating piece in the complex peace treaty brokered by Louis and his foreign minister, the Marquis de Pomponne. 

After the conclusion of the peace, the fortifications around the city were significantly altered by Vauban, who removed the Citadel, building an impressive hornwork in its place, and creating the watercourse which today flows around the remaining city walls. And it's Vauban's walls which you can easily visit today, as we did last week.

There’s sadly not a great deal which can be seen of the medieval walls, or the Spanish fortifications from the Sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. By contrast, Vauban’s remarkable fortifications are accessible and visible. The photos above show a small part of Vauban’s fortifications, those on the east side of the town being almost impregnable owing to the inundations, and now accommodating the even more impressive and sobering Menin Gate.

I’ve visited the town before, starting way back in 2002.  I've often thought it was a near-perfect mixture of a quiet Flanders town, with just enough nightlife and a strong historical theme. Not much seems to have changed since then, and if you’re ever in Flanders, I recommend a visit.

For anyone intrigued by the starting point for my thoughts about my fictional Flemish town of Laarden, Ypres would play a large part in those ideas.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...