Tuesday, 11 October 2016

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

One of the things I'm looking forward to doing in my late seventeenth century setting for wargaming is matching up my figures with terrain which looks like coming from the same period and place.  As many of you know, this can be a fairly lengthy progress.  Terrain gets built up slowly, with new pieces being added each year to the collection.

I've a vague, general plan to work on a set of Flemish terrain boards next year (probably in the Spring), but I'm still enjoying adding specific buildings and terrain features as I'm paint up figures during the course of this Autumn.

I'm particularly hoping to try and create a "feel" for the lost world of 1688 Flanders.  I've tried to do this by hunting down town plans from the period.  One of the nicest I've seen is the one in this  wonderful perspective map of Harderwijk from the 1670s:

I love the way that the buildings have a communal gardened area, frequently furnished with fruit trees.  I would imagine that within those enclosed areas, vegetables could be grown and poultry might well be kept.  And slightly outside the town buildings, perhaps an old, poorly maintained (and definitely not yet Vauban-improved) town wall, and an open landscape of dykes, poplars and windmills.

The first question is which buildings to use.  I've long been a great fan of the 25 mm buildings produced by Hovels in resin.  These are now pretty venerable, but have stood the test of time very well.  They are little small for modern sized 28mm figures, but fit the Dixon Miniatures and Foundry ranges for the 1680s and 1690s very well.  Although resin can be fragile, the "European" buildings range by Hovels in 25mm is pretty robust and fairly adaptable.  I'm planning to use the range for most of the Laarden buildings - they seem to catch the right feel and spirit of Flemish towns from the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and I am sure they will do fine for 1688 at a pinch.

The walled enclosures can be made using some of the 25mm walls available from Hovels.  These are a bit rough and ready, but nothing that some green stuff can't fill and fix.  I doubt that seventeenth century brickwork was universally perfect, especially brickwork used for enclosures and walled gardens.

I've arranged this test terrain piece so that the building stands at the front of a walled enclosure, with plenty of room for a variety of terrain items to be slotted in the back.  More on those to come in a later post.

I'm planning some modest gate posts to finish off the front of the enclosure.  And of course, with every building, comes a variety of Laarden townsfolk.  More of that kind of nonsense to come in later posts.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Sound of a Distant Drum: North German Foot, Legal Contracts and Oak-leaf brass fret

I’ve been steadily painting throughout September. I’ve finished three battalions of Flemish foot from Laarden (my fictitious town in the Spanish Netherlands of 1688), which are now in the process of being based. More of that in the next Blog post.

I’m moving on to a contingent of allied North German foot, recruited by the civic elders and burghers of Laarden to brace and supplement Laarden's otherwise creaking military capacity. Battalions of foot and horse could still be recruited through private contract and alliance in the late seventeenth century, and these formations have fascinated me for years. However, tracing the history of North German mercenary contingents is an obscure process. The Dutch States General were regular contractors for German and Brandenburg troops in the 1680s. On 5th August 1688, the Dutch States-General concluded a contract with the Elector of Brandenburg for 7,510 troops, a figure adjusted upwards to 7,884 in 1690. John Carswell’s excellent book "Descent on England: Study of the English Revolution of 1688 and its European Background" mentions that the contract, signed by the Duke of Portland, was one of many that summer with half a dozen princes across the North German plain. A treaty with Brunswick-Lüneberg-Celle was signed on 8 August 1688 to provide a further 2,710 soldiers. Agreements were also signed with Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Hesse-Cassel and the Duchy of Wurttemberg in August 1688.

These German mercenaries, hired by their own princes, dukes and electors, replaced Dutch troops which would either accompany William III on his invasion of England, or release Dutch troops to face Louis XIV in the Spanish Netherlands. 

I would love to be able to discover more regarding the actual contractual terms on which these contingents, battalions and squadrons were recruited. Did the contracts specify how long the troops would be hired for? Where would the troops be marshalled in anticipation of the commencement of the contractual term of hire? What conditions of use were stipulated? Was there any detail of any battlefield or campaign deployment mentioned in the contract (such as limitations on use in sieges, or in a geographical area "such troops not to be deployed south of the Sambre", and so on)? What provisions in the contract was made for death, wounding or desertion of troops, or loss of equipment?Did the troops bring any accompanying artillery? What did the contract state about looting, or what would happen if the formation was destroyed in action or on campaign?

Unfortunately, none of the books I have read cover these sort of details. It may be that this is yet another of those mysteries from the late seventeenth century which is probably under our noses, but well hidden.  Alternatively, it is perhaps more likely that the contracts for hire of such formations were fairly simple, just stating that a number of troops would be hired from a particular prince or elector by a certain time at a particular location. 

 But, as ever with wargaming, it’s fun to imagine the terms of contracts which might have been drafted by one of the Laarden civic dignitaries in a candlelight Flemish Voorhuis with the military plenipotentiaries from Emden, Lübeck, Leer or Bremen present in the room and looking on as the contracts of hire were negotiated. 

Here’s some (very draft) ideas which I’m thinking of building into a play-test set of battle rules for the period which I’ve been working on for the past few months:

Hired Battalion Contractual Conditions (roll 2D6)

“…the Hirer shall be at pains to ensure casualties are remain as low as can be achieved…”
The battalion will seek to withdraw two full moves distant from the enemy once disordered, and rally before being recommitted.

“… the Hirer agrees that he shall not wantonly expose the hired formations to close action …”
The battalion requires an extra command initiative point to be expended before engaging in close combat.

“… all battalions and squadrons to be marched in good order at all times…”
The hired formations require double command initiative point cost to be spent for first move made on the table.

“… such battalia to be used in the Field at the reasonable discretion of the Hirer…”
Troops to be used as desired.
“… the hiring of a battalion skilled in the art of the manoeuvres of the Great Gustavus …”
The hired formations may make complex manoeuvres at no additional command initiative point to complete.

“ … all formations to be well victuall’d at all times…”
The battalions are well supplied, with an additional baggage element added to the Trayne.

Turning to the North German troops I have in mind for my formations, I’m again using Dixon’s 25mm Grand Alliance range, mixed with a few Wargames Foundry figures to make up a forlorn hope (or “verloren kinderen”, if you prefer). 

To mark out the troops on the tabletop battlefield, I’ve been adding etched brass fret oak leaves to the soldiers’ hats. This is less fiddly than might appear. As long as you have a very sharp modelling knife of scalpel, the brass oak leaves can be cut out, bent and glued in place using tweezers pretty simply. I know that some figure manufacturers make these, but the etched brass fret are, I think, worth the extra trouble. 

You can pick up the etched brass oak leaves (and other leaves) from either Hasslefree or Scalelink. Both of these suppliers are great to deal with, and come recommended by me. The Hasslefree frets are very reasonably priced and are slightly thinner than the Scalelink ones.

Next time, it'll be a quick look at basing and more flags from Laarden.  Hope to catch you around for that!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Derby World Wargames - 1 October 2016

It’s been a while since I brought you a report from one of the wargames shows in the UK. There’s an obvious reason for this – which is I don’t get to visit many. Work and family life often prevent me from taking to the road and travelling around the country, even thought the shows are almost always on a weekend. It was a rare treat, therefore, to make the trip up to Derby World Wargames over the weekend (now held in Castle Donnington), accompanied by my good chum and Chief Lard-meister, Mr Richard Clarke.

We ran a participation game of ‘Viva Ras Begas’, and excellent short scenario using the Sharpe Practice 2 rules form TooFatLardies. The action was set in the Horn of Africa in 1840, and lots of details of the game, the figures and the terrain are available HERE on Richard’s Lard Island News website.

Everyone  seemed to have a fine time playing the game, which saw two thumping wins for the evil African slave-traders. Good job that history never turned out like this!  Huge thanks to everyone for playing, chatting or just stopping by.  

I had a good chance to walk around the show and collect a few things. I met new friends and old, and thanks to everyone who made me feel very welcome. I think that every one of the demonstration games I looked at was at least a very good standard, with a select few being really excellent. While not discounting the merits of the other games at the show, one game, based on the Battle of Rain in 1632, caught my eye.


As a Thirty Years War game it looked superb. I had the chance to chat with Dave, who was running the game and had painted the figures, at length. What I loved about Dave's game wasn’t just the amazing standard of painting of figures, or the superbly hand painted banners. What excited me was that the units had been built in a very eclectic manner, using figures from the widest possible range of 25mm figure manufacturers. 

There were Wargames Foundry, Warlord Games, Essex, 1st Corps, Dixons, TAG, a small number of Redoubt and no doubt others in the Imperial, Weimarian and Swedish regiments and squadrons. While figures of markedly different sizes were not mixed in the same unit, Dave mentioned that he had gone out of the way to mix figures of the same size of different manufacturers. The result was amazing. The differences in 25mm figure size and style blended seamlessly, as they so often do when the figures are on finished bases on fine terrain. Sometimes when we hold two 25mm figures in our hand, they can look to be very differently sculpted, shaped, sized and proportions. When painted, these differences can, I think, melt away in the glory of a game like Dave’s.

The one downside of an otherwise good venue was the dodgy lighting, as sadly you can see from some of the photos above. For once, my hamfisted photography was not to blame, but rather it was the electric light in the venue, which seemed to have a distinct ivory cream glow to it. If the colours in the photos look a little vivid, and on the yellow-ish side of the colour wheel, I am sorry – but for once, I don’t think it’s my fault!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Sound of a Distant Drum – Painting Update

One of the things which always interests me is the way in which wargamers go about painting figures. Not just what they are painting, but how. I’m a great believer that you’re never too old to learn new methods, techniques and tricks-of-the-trade.

For years (perhaps since 1981, when I started wargaming) I’ve been painting figures stuck onto a sliver of thick cardboard. It’s been tried and tested over hundreds and (I guess) probably thousands of figures. But I’ve never been happy with it. The cardboard worked so that the figure was at the end of the strip – fine when I was painting the front of the figure, but not as easy to paint (for a right handed person) when painting the figure’s back. Also painting underneath the figure was a pain – the cardboard always got in the way of just that place my brush needed to get to. But it was familiar, and it kind of worked, and for years I persevered.

Looking on a few blogs over the summer, I realised that people were painting figures stuck to all kinds of paint pots, bottles and nails. And then the penny finally dropped. There was an easier way to hold the figures while painting. 

I found a couple of old wooden curtain poles discarded in my garage, and cut then to 24 short lengths each about 3 inches long. I then mounted my latest battalion of Laarden militia on the ends of the shorten pole lengths, fixing each in place with a blob of PVA. And bingo – once the glue was dry, the figures were easy to hold while painting.

I know this must have a few of you smiling. Or thinking I’m nuts. Or just laughing in astonishment. “Oh wow…. He’s been doing this for over 30 years and he’s only figured that out now? Sheesh – what a numbskull!” I confess, I do feel that I’ve been a bit slow on getting with the plan on this, dear Readers! Yet it goes to show, in this great hobby of ours, there are so many things to learn from each other in the community, even when it’s something I should have learned years ago!

Of course, nothing is quite perfect in the world of wargames figure painting. I’ve found that the pole lengths are pretty unstable – they can knock over easily, a bit like skittles – but I have tried to help with this problem using a box lid to keep all of the pole lengths in and bunched together. That seems to work well. No doubt there are other more elaborate solutions such as drilling out a plywood/ MDF board to the diameter of the curtain poles.

However, the good news is that with this handy improvement in my painting method, I’ve been powering through the third regiment of Laarden’s finest militia this week. I’ve been helped immeasurably by Dave Docherty’s great suggestion of “paint and chat” sessions on Google+ in the Analogue Hobbies painting community. For anyone wanting to give this a go, it’s been a great innovation. Here’s the Google= Community LINK – simply click on the posted link for the Google Hangout, and set up your PC or portable device and off you go.

I find painting a solitary activity. Very relaxing, it’s true, but also the sort of thing that you can slip away from for a few minutes and loose the motivation. The “paint and chat” sessions help keep the painting focus – and also have allowed me to connect with great painters from the Challenge – big hellos to Dave, Edwin, Martin, Stefan, Ian and others!

One of the topics which came up last night in the chat was flags. What we use, which units have them, how we do them, what works best for what we’re painting? Just like maps, flags are something I adore. I confess that I’m currently troubled about the best way to do them. 

I have always painted my own, often when the flags have been glued and shaped onto the standard pole of the unit concerned. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with painting the flags while “flat”, as you can see from the work in progress shots below.

Looking at the lovely flags produced by GMB ,  Flags of War and Warfare Miniatures, as well as the many flags posted online by generous folk such as Ray, I’m wondering whether the day for me to start purchasing ready-printed flags might have arrived. 

For this currently unit of the Laarden militia on the painting table, I’m sticking with my paintbrushes and painted flags – but will this be the final Indian Summer for painted flags at Roundwood Towers. 

The end of an era, perhaps?

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Sound of a Distant Drum - Spanish Flanders, 1688

One of the things I love about wargaming is the freedom it gives us to create a wargame in a particular time and place. This summer, I’ve enjoyed painting 28mm figures from late 17th century Spanish Flanders.

As periods of military history stand, it’s not really high on your list of memorable historical moments. We are not talking about the Battle of the Bulge. Nor Rorke’s Drift, or Hastings, or Waterloo, or Gettysburg. The military world of Spanish Flanders in the late seventeenth century has long since passed in the shadows of history. I can barely even point you in the direction of a good book on the subject (but more on that in another post!)

It isn’t easy to reconstruct the intricate network of alliances, armies, bloodlines and fortifications which dominated the strategic existence of Spanish Flanders during the 1670s and 1680s. There are painfully few history books (in any language, and certainly not English) which deal with the conflicts of the War of Devolution, or the Dutch War of 1672. Things get easier to research for the Nine Years War, but the forty years or so between 1643 and 1688 are far from accessible.

Recreating the orders of battles of Spanish, Flemish and Walloon troops who fought over Flanders and Brabant for the Hapsburgs is therefore a rather thankless task. A snippet here, a cast-away remark there - usually in history books focused primarily on Louis XIV, or one of his remarkable marshals such as Turenne or the Great Condé - is just about as good as you get.

The leading Flemish, Spanish and Walloon soldiers of the time are known by name, but only just. The hundreds of men who served under the Hapsburg banners in those wars have long since followed the drum into the mists and heavy clay soil of Flanders, as forgotten as the names of their battles – Seneffe, Cassel, Valenciennes and Cambrai.

No doubt, somewhere in the dusty libraries of Bruges, Antwerp and Madrid the definitive military history of the Flemish aristocracy from the 1670s and 1680s awaits its greatest chronicler. But no one has stepped forward in over three hundred years, and my guess is that no one is likely to do so any century soon.

Of course, this is all a bit romantic and pessimistic, isn’t it? The culture and physical history of the 17th Century Flemish world is very much alive, and evident for anyone to see in the magnificent and cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, the jewel of the Spanish Netherlands.

And to my mind, the lack of accessible history can help a wargamer who enjoys being creative with history. One of the real pleasures of wargaming is taking what we can glimpse imperfectly in the past, and attempting to recreate that world in miniature on a wargames table. Like any recreation in miniature, it will not be perfect or definitive. And that’s part of the attraction. With few visible footsteps to follow, once you have discovered the few historical facts you can, the rest is down to your own intuition and insight. And, of course, the final result is influenced by your imagination, respectfully applied.

With this is mind, I’ve been painting up the regiments of a fictitious Flemish 17th Century town this year. I’ve called it Laarden, but I could have called it Antwerp or Ghent. 

I’d have had no greater idea what the colour of the Antwerp or Ghent civic militias' uniforms were, or what was depicted on their standards. For me, it’s been fun finding out what I could about the real world of 1670s and 1680s Flanders, and then filling in the gaps.  I don’t quite know what you call that. Not quite “imagi-nations”, beloved of so many great wargamers from the past and present. Not quite pure history, either; I freely confess a lot is made up.  What I'm aiming for is to recreate something which appears and “feels” real. Verisimilitude, if you like – something which looks real, or could plausibly be real.

So, as some of you might remember, here are some of the pike blocks of the Laarden civic militia, being memorialised in the oil and canvas by one of the city’s famous painters.

Here’s one of the town landmarks, a fine sculpture of a Satyr, perhaps close to one the city’s bathing houses or less reputable taverns ... 

... a collection of townsfolk administer refreshments to the assembling troops … 

… while a local cavalier makes a marriage proposal before leaving for the war …

… soon to be joined by another pike-block of civic militia and some engineers.

You might have seen these before.  I posted them in Curt’s Annual Painting Challenge last winter.  This summer I’ve been making plans to add to the Laarden contingent with some more organised companies of musketeers, with regiments of Horse to follow. I’ve been enjoying building up these forces a great deal and, who knows, there may even be some terrain boards they can march over in the next few months. 

One thing I would certainly like to offer here on the Blog, and which hopefully dovetails with my 2mm Thirty Years War project, is some thoughts on recreating campaigns in Northern Europe in the late seventeenth century on the wargames table. I’m aware this is a (horrifically) narrow topic, but over the years I’ve struggled to find a useful guide on the subject.  Perhaps the various bits and pieces of information about late seventeenth century campaigning I've collected through the years in my notebook might be helpful to someone somewhere! So, hopefully, I can offer you all that over the new few months and into the Autumn.

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