Monday 26 February 2018

Graf von Bek's North German Horse, 1688

From the journal of Don Fernando de Torrescusa, Marquess de Girona, Envoy of His Most Catholic Majesty, Carlos the Second, King of Spain, to the Flemish Free City of Laarden in 1688.

There were six of them, and then the rest of the squadron rode into view from behind the black, winter trees. Against the frozen field, the grass thick with hoar frost, I could see them clearly although we were some way off from our position on the hill. De Gautier's excited chatter was momentarily silenced as they accelerated quickly from a canter to a gallop. I snatched my spyglass from its tubular case of Andalusian leather. I could plainly pick out their clothing and equipment: deep brown, ochre, buff and carmine riding coats - with front breastplates in blackened steel, swords curved as I had seen in Hungary, and stirrups shortened in the Polish fashion. Several of the troopers had fair, straw-coloured hair, sometimes curling down onto their shoulders, unfashionably long. 

Their coats were trimmed in animal furs to keep out the cold. Ostrich feathers, dyed deep Hapsburg scarlet, were secured to their hats in an overly ostentatious display of loyalty to their paymaster. Their standards - of Fortuna, Goddess of Fortune, the Imperial Eagle and a prancing horse - were very different from the familiar Burgundian cross displayed on the standards of the Laarden regiments and squadrons I had seen so far, and from the flags of His Majesty's Spanish tercios.

They were fast, gliding at speed over the snow-flecked downland, scattering the hussars and forcing the French dragoons to mount hastily and ride off. I could pick out the small puffs of smoke of a few dragoon muskets being fired in a ragged fusilade against the horsemen, just as I could see the glint of pale sunlight catching the cavaliers' swordsteel as they broke the French dragoons' threadbare line.

The horsemen were barely a formation by the end, much less a squadron. They did not pursue their enemy. No doubt their capitan, or the Graf von Bek, had ascertained that there were far greater opportunities for plunder and looting in the location of the now-reclaimed supply wagons than in an effective pursuit of the French raiders. 

Nevertheless, even despite the lack of rigorous pursuit, de Gautier had wound himself into a corkscrew of excitement, clapping his hands, his arms gesticulating like the sails of an Antwerp windmill in a firm wind. During the looting, he even instructed his trumpeter to mark the skirmish with a brassy clarion note in the icy morning air.


I had seen it all before, although not for several years. Just as the Swedes have their Finns, and the Poles have the Tartars, the Imperial forces of the Emperor Leopold are currently augmented by mercenaries recruited from the Baltic towns, even as far east as Livonia and Courland. I had seen their like before on the fields of Honigfelde, Rennenberg, Wolgast and Bredtstede.

I had guessed as much when I had first seen the squadron galloping hard into the attack, but their standard of a Hapsburg eagle on a golden field confirmed my suspicion. Even without the Imperially-sanctioned heraldry of von Bek’s cavaliers, the eastern-fashioned arms, cold weather clothing, unfashionable hair and rapacious brutality were as bold a signature as I would have recognised anywhere.


My first inspiration for this squadron of North German Horse was a curious reference to William III bringing within him 200 Finnish troops “in bearskins and black armour” for his invasion of England in November 1688. To my knowledge, no picture exists of these Finnish troops. No uniform, no standard, nothing. But I very much liked the idea of troops being clothed in fur and armour against cold winter weather. I've always been fascinated by the winter campaigns fought in the late 17th Century - both from the Scanian Wars, Turenne's winter campaigns in 1674-75 and the petit-guerre fought almost endlessly in Flanders in the Nine Years War between troops supposedly resting in their winter quarters.

My other inspiration was the frequent reference to cavalry, or 'reiters', being "Hungarian" or "Polish" in German-language accounts of horse squadrons in the 1670s and 1680s. This is normally taken to be that the troops in question were equipped in the style or fashion of, or with equipment typical of, Hungarian or Polish troops, without being themselves from Hungary or Poland.

I tried to keep the tones of the clothing to an authentic brown-red-grey theme - typical for late 17th Century cavalry on campaign. I painted the hair on several of the reiters in pale, Nordic tones, again suggesting of a Baltic location for their recruiting ground. With green-stuff, I added feathers to hats, fur-lined trim to coats, gauntlets, and deep late-17th century cuffs with additional buttons to try and give the horsemen an individual look.

The figures started life as Foundry ECW cavalrymen, but I tried to convert them into a distinctive, if undisciplined, squadron of aggressive North German Horse from the 1680s.

I painted the standard of Fortuna by hand from an online collection of German standards from the 1650s - so a few liberties have been taken with history in that regard by placing Fortuna in a squadron from the 1680s.

One of the fascinations of the 1670s and 1680s for me is trying to balance the painted images of the period with the battlefield history we actually know, and then trying to fathom out where the gaps are. Part of the fun with the Lord of Bek's Horse has been trying to create a squadron which was certainly not in the Imperial battle-line of 1688, but which very well might have been.

Monday 5 February 2018

More Flemish Horse and The Lord of Bek's Commission, 1688

I thought I'd post some more of the Flemish Horse here on the Blog which I've been painting as part of the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge VIII. This time, its the regiment of Horse of the Count of Bucquoy. They will be joining my Flemish, Spanish and German army from 1688, focused around the fictional town of Laarden in the Spanish Netherlands, but leaning on history for the uniform and flags of the units concerned.

The Lords, and later Counts, of Bucquoy were important holders of high office in the Hapsberg dominions of the Spanish Netherlands, including the hereditary title of the Master of the "Hunt of Artois". The third Count, Charles II Albert de Longueval (1607 – 1663), was also a holder of the Order of the Golden Fleece and the Order of Calatrava (both senior orders of Spanish nobility), and was a general of the Spanish Cavalry in the Low Countries in the later stages of the Thirty Years War. The regiment of Horse recruited by the third Count, then passed to his son, the 4th Count (being one of thirteen children of the third Count). So, there's noble pedigree a-plenty in the regiment, and the location of the Bucquoy lordship (now a commune in the Pas-de-Calais, but formerly part of the Hapsberg territories in Flanders), makes the unit a good fit for my fictional free-Flemish city of Laarden in 1688.

The figures in the regiment are all 25mm Wargames Foundry from their Marlburian range, including the horses. They’re painted with Vallejo paints and the bases are by Warbases (in 3mm laser cut MDF). The regimental officer, probably not the Count himself, has suffered an arm swap to make him look more inspiring, but that’s the only significant conversion from the original figures, although the feathers are all made from green-stuff. The standard being carried of from "Flags of War" - adding these lovely flags as saved quite a bit of time. I found it repaid the extra effort to paint the flag edges once the glue (I used Bostik) has dried.

The figures were fun to paint - with the red cuffs contrasting well with the buff/ off-white of their uniforms. I’ve chosen to equip them with pistols (as I did with the Flemish Horse regiment of de Vichet from January). From the performance of Flemish horse in the Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678) and he Nine Years War (1689-1698), I don’t anticipate that their tactical doctrine would have been the same as the hard charging French cavalry using a sword as their primary weapon. The Armies of the Spanish Netherlands struggled in recruiting high quality cavalry formations, relying mainly for battlefield cavalry on Lorraine and Burgundian horse regiments recruited from Hapsburg affiliated territories along the French border south of Luxembourg. Equipping the regiment of the Count of Bucquoy with pistols as their primary weapons, and allowing them to perform a caracole maneouvre, makes sense to me, restricting cold steel melee weapons to the French and more aggressive Lorrainer Horse.

I also added a heavy field gun, with figures by Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry (which made the cannon as well). There's more artillery to come eventually (as the last of the units to be painted), my hope is to finish the cavalry first before finishing with the artillery trayne.

I've also added one of the 'themed round' submissions from the Challenge here as well. It is a far more 'alt-history' submission, so be warned...


From the journal of Don Fernando de Torrescusa, Marquess de Girona, Envoy of His Most Catholic Majesty, Carlos the Second, King of Spain, to the Flemish Free City of Laarden in 1688.

“One of the soldiers of the Lord of Bek’s contingent is a Polish drummer. He bears an unpronounceable name, and has a dark scowl on his face when I have seen him in the field or in the Grote Markt on parade. His hair is the colour of straw and is worn long, and his uniform has a distinctively Eastern cut, as I well remember from my time in Hungary. 

Despite his appearance, the Lord of Bek is resolute in asserting that the Polish Drummer is invaluable to his command, for his drumming on a large Polish drum is both fast and loud. The drummer is rumoured to have fought in the Baltic Wars, and I have heard that on the field of Honingfeld his resolution helped rally an Imperial brigade being hard pressed by their Swedish adversaries.  Such men are highly prized by Graf von Bek.  He is fast garnering a reputation for his horsemanship in the field, no doubt helped by the Croats he has brought with him to Flanders.  His Polish drummer is, no doubt, another useful addition to his strengthening company.  

How they will all fare against the Duc de Luxembourg's Gendarmes is, I fear, another question.”  


The commander, the Graf von Bek (perhaps the grandson of Ulrich von Bek of "The War Hound and the World's Pain" reknown), is a Dixon Miniatures Grand Alliance officer, on a Wargames Foundry ECW horse. I lengthened his coat to flow over his horse's withers, and added reins to his horse with some copper wire, befitting a skilled cavalier.  The Croat is from The Assault Group, without conversion. I added some late 17th century-style cuffs onto the drummer’s sleeves, and completely remade his Polish cap into a fur-bagged hat with feathers. The base is by Warbases, and the tufts from Silfor and WSS.

I was casting around this weekend for something to add to the figures which wasn't going to take a huge amount more time, but which would bring out the "Laarden theme" of the command base.

I hit upon the idea of the Lord of Bek’s commission for the recruitment of the Polish drummer, complete with the Graf’s personal seal. I've mentioned before on this blog about my fascination with recruiting contracts and legal agreements entered into by 17th Century soldiers and military enterprisers.  I also really enjoy using a (very small amount of) craft-y skill to try and create a background for our games.

Rather than scouring the archives of Brussels or Antwerp, I resorted to opening the Laarden document box (far easier, of course!) and creating the Lord of Bek's contract. Some fancy paper and sealing wax later, and I’d added an Imperial commission to my Laarden-themed documents and created some fluff for the player (un)fortunate enough to command the Lord of Bek on the tabletop.
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