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.


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!

Friday 25 October 2019

Poitou and Montfort: French battalions for Laarden 1688

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

I never had much time for the Conte di Fortunato. Like a number of Italians in the service of our glorious King, he had a confident and fulsome opinion of himself. All exquisite manners, glittering abilities and a nastily sharpened stiletto in the back if you crossed him. It takes one to know one, of course - maybe I saw too much of myself in my Milanese nemesis. Put simply, he was a rival.

“This is the Century of the Soldier”, he loudly announced in the Council of War called by the Duc de Varennes, in mid-February, shortly after my encounter with the faux-Baron von Kroneberg, in the coldest season of the year. The Council of War had been discussing the deployment of our brigades in the campaign against the rebellious city of Laarden. Dispatches from von Kroneberg’s Croat horsemen and our dragoons bore sombre news of a growing defensive network of Flemish villages, reinforced by earthworks and small fortifications, bristling with pikes and militia standards, standing in the way of our army’s advance.

I was not overly surprised. I’d campaigned in Flanders before and knew how unforgiving the Flemish terrain and Imperial commanders could be. Yet not all of my brothers-in-arms were of like mind or experience.

“This is the Century of the Soldier”, Fortunato repeated, more loudly. “Victory lies with the progress of many battalions, drilled and trained, uniformed, stubborn and proud”. His gloved hands even caressed the air and indicated two battalions of French foot arrayed close to the command tent where the Duc de Varennes had summoned us.

The dense ranks of soldiers continued their exercise of arms, presenting pikes and muskets, drilled and capable in the frozen air, the loudly shouted orders of their officers clearly audible to all in the command tent. The stamping of their feet on the iron hard ground seemed to be motivated as much by the fierce cold as by martial discipline, however.

I turned the words of the Conte di Fortunato over in my mind. The Century of the Soldier? Really, my Lord, I reminded myself as I smiled appreciatively in Fortunato’s direction, my velvet gloved hands clapping politely to respond to his intervention. Tell me a century which has not belonged to the soldier, his swords and his armour, his violence and his chaos? This is not the Century of the Soldier, however the Duc de Varennes might have enjoyed that Milanese turn of phrase from Lord Fortunato.

No, my Lord, I thought to myself. This is the Century of the military logistician. The Century of the military financier. The Century of the grain magazine. The Century of the enterpriser. I looked over from the command tent to the battalia exercising in the fields, recognising the standards of the regiments of Poitou and Montfort, noting their new uniforms and muskets, the fresh glint of bright steel from the pikemen’s breastplates. This is the Century of the livre, florin, guilder, ducat and Louis d’Or - this, my Lord Italian, is the new way of warfare for this age. Money, money and money - as another, more insightful, Italian once wrote. Money not to buy weapons but to purchase food, clothing, rented winter quarters and wagons laden with fodder for the supply train horses.

And yes, my Lord Fortunato, that is another way of fighting the Flemish.

Soldiers may fight battles. But without money they are like a hard frost in midday sunshine, however rare such an event might be in a Flanders February.

As mentioned in the last Blog post, I’ve been painting steadily through the summer – if not quickly – and trying to complete the battalions of French foot and squadrons of French horse for my campaign setting of 1688, based around a fictional (though historically-inspired) Flemish city of Laarden. There’s a few more to come, but here you have the battalions of Poitou and Montfort.  Both battalions are historical, and both served in Flanders and along the Rhine in the 1670s and 1680s. The figures are 25mm Dixons and Wargames Foundry.  The lovely standard for Montfort, in red and white triangles imposed on a white field, is from Flags of War.  The bases are from Warbases, and the flag finials are from Flags of War and Bicorne Miniatures.

I tried something new with both battalions.  You might have heard on one of the recent Oddcasts that I was trying out Vallejo Model Colour Washes for the first time.  For some reason, washes have, until this summer, passed me by.  I have no idea why.  I think it was partly my sense that, somehow, washes were messy, uncontrollable and imprecise.  I know, I know…. I should not listen to those little voices in my head, dear friends.  

I decided to give the washes from Vallejo a try, after watching a You Tube video of someone really using them very creatively.  They’ve proved to be terrific fun.  I doubt they have saved me much time, as I’ve mixed the washes and applied them almost like a layer of paint, sometimes a couple of times.  But I have really enjoyed the way they can create a layer of colour on the figures which is variable and slightly translucent.  I found that mixing Vallejo Model Wash ‘Umber’ with ‘Grey’ worked very well to create a dirty, unwashed, campaign “look” for the coats in the Montfort battalion.  I don’t think I could have done this with a dark grey base coat on the figures. 

The other thing which the washes helped with was the feeling of painting fast.  Even with washed area of figures I needed to re-paint (if the wash was too thin), I felt I was definitely getting somewhere.  That was a great feeling.

The standard for Poitou was very simple (symmetrical red and blue squares), and I painted that myself.  I love painting the standards by hand, although it is really a labour of love - far quicker to use the excellent standards from Flags of War or GMB Designs.  Yet there is something about a standard you’ve painted yourself.  It’s never, perhaps, quite as finely traced as a computer version.  The lines are never as straight.  But there is, I feel, something very “1980s” about the whole experience of painting a wargames standard.  Am I the only one who, as the glorious years of wargaming slowly pass by, feels the tug of nostalgia for the 1980s (or whenever each of us started the hobby) just a little more strongly?

Turning to our waspish correspondent, the Marquis de Montchevreuil, I thought it was fun to turn around the fine quotation - "This is the century of the soldier" - by the Italian poet and diplomat, Fulvio Testi, in 1641.  As for the Marquis' reference to another quotation  - “To wage war, you need first of all money; second, you need money, and third, you also need money", is from the great Imperial commander, Montecuccoli, who we might find, in the Marquis' letters yet to be published, the Marquis also encountered at some point in his campaigning.

Next up on the blog are some more French, a couple of vignettes, and some teasers and ideas for the rest of this autumn and the winter to come.  Hope you can all join me for those, dear friends.

Wednesday 9 October 2019

The Legions of Rome; the Catuvellauni of the Downs - Ancient Sharp Practice

When my mind drifts back now, it is images rather than a coherent narrative which present themselves to me: mist rising from horse lines in the thin keen wind of a morning by the Danube; long marches, the men ankle-deep in mud behind creaking wagons, as the beech and ash woods of Germany enfold us; a hill-top in Northern Spain, when snow fell below us in the valleys but we lay on dry, iron-hard ground under the stars; grizzled centurions lashing at the transport horses, yelling at the legionaries to put their shoulder to a wheel that was spinning as if in mockery of their efforts; a boy with blood oozing from his mouth as I rested his dying head on my arm and watched his leg kick; my horse flinching from a bush which parted to reveal a painted warrior, himself gibbering with terror; the sigh of the wind coming off a silent sea; the tinkle of the camel bell across desert sands.  Army life is a mere collection of moments.” (Augustus, Alan Massie)


One of the wonderful things about watching a new wargaming period evolve, and a new set of rules coming together, is the impact it has on the imagination of wargamers.  Something along those lines is happening at Lard Island these days.

As some of you might know, Richard and Nick have been play-testing a new set of rules for Ancient warfare.  No doubt there’ll be more of this in future TooFatLardies Oddcasts, but for the moment, let’s just call the rules “Ancients Sharp Practice”.  Or, if you prefer, “Infamy, Infamy” – a name which might raise a smile if you’ve ever seen a particular “Carry On” film from the 1970s.

Both Richard and Nick – but particularly Richard – have been hard at work developing the rules, painting the figures and brushing off some of the terrain we made for Dux Britanniarum.  In doing so, they’ve been building on the terrific work of other Lard-enjoying wargamers who’ve already been using the “Sharp Practice” rules for the Ancients era.

Exciting times indeed, and doubly so when you see the troops being arrayed on the tabletop for the first time.  

Last night’s clash was set three miles from where I live – near the small Hertfordshire village of Wheathampstead.  These days, the village is a very pleasant stopping point for cyclists on the Chiltern Cycle-Way, or a flashing blip on the B653 as you drive past on the way to either the M1 or the A1, travelling somewhere else.  

But in the first century AD (or CE), it was the frontier between Rome and Britain.  The local tribe, the Catuvellauni, were fierce, proud warriors who may well have led the British resistance to Julius Caesar in 54 BC.  The tribe minted coins, and built impressive defences – still visible today at ‘Devil’s Dyke’, just a long stone’s throw from the playing fields where my son’s football team plays on a weekend.  

I digress, but only to mention that history has a way of catching up with you in the most unexpected of places.

On the tabletop, we witnessed a truly impressive array of British chariots, warbands, slingers and skirmishers facing off against a force of Roman legionaries and auxiliaries, advancing through wooded terrain to quell a Catuvellauni insurrection.  Already, some of the features of the game are coming to the fore – the balance between different methods of fighting (Roman corporatism against tribal heroism), the importance of cohesion and control, the focus on the decisive moment of the melee.  It’s shaping up to be a very fine set of rules – and, like Dux Britanniarum, all the more interesting for your humble Blogger being on the ground floor of the Temple of Venus, so to speak.

I know, dear readers, I know – I’m hopelessly biased.  But hopefully you’ll still enjoy some of the battle reports to come….

Take care and fare you all well until next time, Citizens of Rome and proud daughters and sons of the Catuvellauni!

Monday 7 October 2019

Enfants Perdus: French Flanders and Laarden, 1688

A letter, from Don Fernando de Torrescusa, Marquess de Girona, Envoy of His Most Catholic Majesty, Carlos the Second, King of Spain, to the Count of Tilly, Lord General of the Flemish Free City of Laarden, February 12th, 1689


My Lord,

I am five leagues to the south of Sint Vaalben, accompanied by the battalia of militia from that town.  I send this letter with Field Deputy van Gloow, who has informed me of the dispositions of the King of France against your forces in the Field.  He will, I trust, on his return to you, my Lord, communicate the severity of the threat to your position.

Beware of those ragged companies advancing forward against you, my Lord.  They are very dangerous.  They appear to be the shattered remains of a brigade of foot – ripped and torn musketeer children, orphaned from their parent pikes.  But, watch how they advance my Lord?  They will move quickly when you do not imagine them to be capable of it, stealing the difficult ground under the eyes of their captains.

Do not be deceived, my Lord, for those are no defeated enemy.  The King of France sends his lost children forward before his main advance, to seize the valuable parts of the Field.  You must not cede the woodlands or the bad ground to them.  It is a test, my Lord, and the Duc de Luxembourg will be watching to see how you respond.



I was a little unsure of which of the French battalions of foot for the 1688 Laarden campaign to blog here first. I thought it might be a good idea to bring them to the blog as they might arrive in the field – we’ll see how long that logic lasts!

So here are four small formations of the Sun King’s “lost children”, or Enfants Perdus as the sources of the time described them.  They are the French equivalent of the English 'forlorn hopes' and German 'verloren haufe', which crop up in Renaissance history books and wargames rules from time to time.  I’ve based them in companies of six, so that they can operate alone, or together – most likely in advance of the French main battle line.  Formations such as these were present at Les Dunes in 1658, seizing important points on the sand dunes and bluffs in the face of the Spanish and Royalist English battalions.

I drew the figures from a range of manufacturers – mainly Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry - and tried to create a non-uniform ‘look’ to the soldiers.  I mixed up the uniforms as well, with the coat and cuff colours being drawn from a variety of regiments.  The standards (from GMB Designs – thank you Grahame) are from parent battalions – I chose Dauphin and Royal, mainly because I had them to hand.  I'm of the view that having any standards carried by the Enfants Perdus is a bit far-fetched – if the soldierly children in advance of the main battle line are expected to be hazarded and lost, the last place you want the precious regimental standards to be carried is by these troops!  

But, they look good – and visual appeal won over good military sense (not for the first time, dear readers).

The rounded corner bases are deliberate.  I’ve been using these for units which are formed and drilled, but which might be able to gain a movement or formation bonus in action – perhaps signifying a faster, or looser, formation.  Over the years, we’ve found that having something visual on the tabletop to be easily recognisable in a game, and also forming part of the rules, can be very helpful in practice.

There’s some green-stuffing going on with the feathers and lace on the hats of the French soldiers.  I’d like to have added more, but - after doing a few – I did wonder if less was more, at least for the rank and file.  The process is very simple.  Just roll up a small ball of green-stuff, add it to the figure’s hat and shape it with a sculpting tool into whatever French-ified lace knot you feel is appropriate.  It gets addictive – well, at least for the first thirty or so.   

It’s a relatively easy way of giving your battalions a more personalised look, and was something which the early armies of the Sun King were well known for.

The bases are from Warbases, and the tufts are from WSS and Mini-Natur.

I had a photo session with this summer’s painted figures this weekend, so hopefully I can add a few more of the French in the next few days.  All the best until then!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...