Monday, May 24, 2010

The Battle of Lutterworth, 1455

The initial deployment

Battle Plans
The Lancastrian centre is supported by hedgerows, plus Buckingham, as an old soldier, has a Feint planned to draw on the impetuous York. The rest of the army is to sit tight and fire arrows on the enemy.
York's plan is to advance and pin with his centre and left, then outflank on the right with Warwick and roll up the line. All morning the two armies remain drawn up for action, with heralds passing back and forward between York and the king, with the former demanding that Somerset be handed over and the latter refusing. Eventually despairing of any kind of peaceful settlement, York orders the attack.

Hosts arrayed - Yorkists on left, with Warwick's outflanking ward closest

Warwick himself, with his boys!

Buckingham in the Lancastrian Centre, behind their hedge-line

Turn 1
Yorkist advance begins. Somerset (in the Lancastrian vaward) shakes off his Lethargy, which is pretty handy!

Turn 2
Flights of arrows begin descending on the Yorkists as they advance. No losses, but some courage loss in one of York’s Captains. (Good job all the troops are reliable retainers, with no arrayed locals getting involved.)

Turn 3
Yorkist Rearward (Salisbury) halts and fires back. Salisbury loses a bit of courage through happenstance (a 'Gloomy Captain' in the ranks!) but his return fire is much heavier, Galling Somerset’s troops with heavy casualties.
Turn 4
Salisbury uses his ‘Energetic’ quality to recommence his ward's advance after firing. Northumberland fires on March’s troops, as the Yorkist centre overlaps onto the Lancastrian Rearward. Warwick out on the flank stops and fires flights of arrows himself, which hit Pembroke hard on the Lancastrian flank with Galling fire. Northumberland uses his ‘Inspiring’ style to hold up their morale, hoping to keep the flank in play long enough for the centre to repel York.

Turn 5
Buckingham pulls back the Lancastrian centre in a feint to draw on York, but as he does so the Lancastrian army runs low on arrows. Unable to fire back or sit tight to be battered by the Yorkist return-fire, the whole ruse of Buckingham's is rather undermined as while the centre pretends to retreat, both flanking wards rush forward. This seems to be the reason anyway for failure, as York manages to hold off the impulse to advance pell-mell and keeps an ordered advance. Damn! Warwick fires more flights of arrows and Pembroke, badly outnumbered and taking losses, routs off the field. Retainers of York's son Edward (including the 13-year old presumably safely to the rear ranks) charge into Northumberland's troops and press them, but the Percy retainers gather round their standards hoping to buy time for the centre.

The Lancastrian Feint in the centre, as the hedge-row is 'abandoned'

Turn 6
Salisbury stops at short range and fires a 'sharp archery' sheaf into the faces of the enemy ward – his old soldiering experience comes in handy! Somerset's company routs from the losses and the uncommitted Devon takes over the Lancastrian vaward, which falters under the incoming fire and comes to a halt in its advance. March repulses Northumberland on the other side of the line. The Yorkist centre collides with the enemy Main at the hedge-line as the Lancastrians advance back from their feint to catch the Yorkists mid-crossing. While battling over and through this obstacle, Lord Clifford bests a Yorkist company. Similarly successful, Buckingham manages to repulse York and his troops press on against them, crossing the hedge as they advance but losing the advantage of the terrain.

Both sides locked, York on the left and Buckingham/Clifford on the right

Turn 7
Is Buckingham wise to emerge from behind cover? Divine approval quickly arrives (as 'A Celestial Omen' happenstance appears) and the sun parts the clouds dramatically just as they advance. This encourages the Lancastrian centre as they press on, although there's fighting all along the line now. All battles through the Yorkist right and centre continue, plus the new one to the left as Salisbury charges home against Devon (narrowly winning the fight at first, thanks to an unseen ditch thwarting his advance. Damn this farming countryside!) All fights result in protracted battles. In the Lancastrian Vaward Lord Egremont is wounded in the fray (which is the worst place to be wounded!)

The battle in full-swing.

Turn 8
Warwick's rapid flanking move peters out, but he uses his 'energetic' style to encourage a regular advance. He strikes Northumberland's flank but the Yorkists are thwarted as he plays 'Stand off, Apace' and the attackers can't break through. Clifford's fine defence in the centre is belaboured and he routs when March's reserve company finally manages to rush up and join the Yorkist troops already engaged with him, when simple numbers rout the Lancastrians. Lord Clifford himself is swept up and taken prisoner in the retreat. Buckingham had been pushing York back but is now becoming dangerously isolated. Salisbury's battle proved a protracted and bloody one, with Devon being wounded and the injured Lord Egremont being killed.

Warwick's crushing flanking move goes in - "Percy, I'm coming for you!"

Turn 9
The Lancastrians are breaking up but still have each ward in existence, and they issue withdraw orders to each. However Northumberland's surrounded and outnumbered ward is unable to get cleanly away from the enemy flankers on each side, and flies apart under the strain. Warwick gets wounded lightly in the struggle with his hated enemy, but the Yorkist captain assigned to watch over the youthful March is killed – as is Northumberland. Looks like the score is settled! York disengages with the still-numerous enemy centre, and Salisbury has one last fight with Devon's men who get away intact, but with Devon killed in the closing battles.

The end result: A Yorkist victory!

The field, with the Lancastrians broken up into isolated pockets of fast-withdrawing survivors.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

1455 - The Castle Inn

The first Scenario in 'A Crown of Paper' (ACOP) is the 1455 scenario of 'The Castle Inn' which features York up in Yorkshire (naturally) while Henry VI plus his councillors (including Somerset) are in London, preparing to march in a royal procession to Leicester in the East Midlands. The scenario is unchanged from the historical one as nothing has happened yet in my re-fight. York and his supporters have gathered, and must block the royal progress before it reaches it’s destination!

It all progresses fairly swiftly as York heads south on a directly blocking path, rather than dally around with gathering reinforcements. He reaches Leicester himself within a few days, precluding any hope that the king will get there before he can intercept. The slow-paced march by the Council & retainers reaches Northampton on the northwards march, until the heralds bring in news - York is in the vicinity with an army of retainers and supporters! Before they have a chance to gather their own support across the Midlands however, York moves first.

York makes a slight sideways detour westwards to Coventry, allowing the Earl of Warwick to gather some supporters there - sadly not as many as he hoped, with some even having the temerity to send nothing but excuses! (Does nobody have the nerve to attack the god-ordained king?) Still, when York’s army turned east and intercepted the Royal force on the road to Leicester, he had a comfortable numerical edge.

A quick scan of Google Maps and Wikipedia led me to pick Lutterworth as a decent-sounding town between Northampton and Leicester, which would have been as likely as anywhere for the confrontation. The forces present for the first tip over the abyss into armed rebellion are:

Duke of York 960 Retinue & Well-wishers
Earl of March 780 Retinue & Well-wishers
(Note - York’s son Edward, the Earl of March is 13 years old at present, and his retinue will be led by a suitable captain of his father.)
Earl of Warwick 1320 Retinue & Well-wishers
Baron Clinton 240 Retinue
Earl of Salisbury 900 Retinue & Well-wishers
Total of 4200 men

(King Henry VI Present)
Duke of Somerset 420 Retinue
Duke of Buckingham 360 Retinue
Earl of Northumberland 480 Retinue
Earl of Pembroke 360 Retinue
Earl of Wiltshire 360 Retinue
Earl of Devon 360 Retinue
Lord Clifford 420 Retinue
Baron Egremont 180 Retinue
Total of 2940 men

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wars of the Roses Campaign Begins

After a fair bit of tinkering, playing, researching and counter-shuffling, I am finally prepared to start my ‘Wars of the Roses’ refight! By way of introduction, I’ll begin with a brief bit of scene-setting for the benefit of newcomers to the period (perhaps unnecessary, but indulge me for now and accept apologies in advance for any historical blunders - I'm reasonably new myself!)

The start of the wars has something of an advantage in that it has only two major figures centre-stage. There’s Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York; and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

York is capable, rich, and an heir to the throne after the childless Henry VI, but it’s all rather spoiled by two things: first is that York himself is highly ambitious and sees his claim less as an “I should be king after you” matter and more of an “I should be king instead of you” business. The second thing is that his whole family is viewed with suspicion. His dad was executed for treason against Henry V (right before the Agincourt campaign, no less!) and 4-year old Richard was only saved from being disinherited by his uncle, who died at Agincourt and left him the Dukedom of York. After this, Richard grew up to become one of the richest and most powerful nobles in England, but his rival claim to the king’s throne meant he was under a cloud the whole time.

Enter the Duke of Somerset, who is a relatively poor noble but a favourite of the king. Henry VI tries to make up for this by showering him with prestigious and well-paid honours, much to the annoyance of others such as York, who winds up paying for a lot of this through the crown. York also gets saddled with hard fighting in France for the first half of the 1440s without much backing from the king, and when he’s sent away for the second half of the decade and Somerset takes over, disaster follows as the English lose much of France. Although the king keeps his favourite despite these disasters, most English people begin to hate the incompetent Lancastrian regime and York (packed off to Ireland) escapes much of the blame for misrule.

Things are all set to go spectacularly wrong, and they do - when York returns from Ireland in 1452 and demands that Somerset be arrested and he get a place on the King’s Council. It all fell apart as people were reluctant to support York and he was forced to back down, swearing never to raise a sword against the king again (that clearly doesn’t work out!) It looked like York had fluffed his big chance and was finished, except for two big catastrophes that followed.

First, the English lost the Hundred Years’ War and all holdings on the continent outside of Calais, which sent the fragile Henry VI into a full-blown nervous breakdown. With nobody at the discredited court able to rule the angry and rebellious nation, York had to be made Protector. He promptly imprisoned Somerset, froze out the queen, and began promoting all his favourites to positions of influence, building up a small but powerful following. It was all fine, until the second catastrophe struck - Henry VI recovered.

Now there were two rival factions with a lot at stake in either York or Somerset controlling the pliant king. Things looked bad for York as not only did Somerset promptly get released and restored to favour, but the king now had a male heir of his own, putting the inheritance of the crown even further from York. (Apparently conceived pre-breakdown, but York’s supporters naturally spread the rumour he’s the illegitimate offspring of Somerset!)

In 1455 York and his supporters (such as the powerful Neville family) left London without taking leave of the king and headed north to their estates and began raising troops - for their own protection, naturally. Then summons arrived from the court, calling on them to attend a Great Council at Leicester “to provide for the king’s safety.” There was no indication what was going to be discussed, but with Somerset controlling the king it seemed pretty certain that “all Yorkists being dead or in prison” was on the agenda! What do you do when you’re backed into a corner, alone, vulnerable, and with only a few thousand highly-armed killers at your disposal? York knows the answer…

Sunday, May 2, 2010

More Northampton fights & Rules

After my test-run of the rule-set 'A Coat of Steel' (ACOS) I was quite happy, and made some extra discoveries as I read more of it and grew more familiar. First up was the fact it'd sometimes be better to split up wards into several smaller companies, under various commanders, than have single massive and flankable companies - or so I thought. I had a 're-fight' of the same armies that I had just used, breaking them up from 3 companies a side to about 4 or 5 each. Here's a few snaps to give a feel for things:

Still a decent show on the tabletop, even if half are still only base-coated.

Exchanges of arrows, and Lord Grey becomes shaken pretty fast and hangs back - false friends!

The 'lets all just collide head-to-head' phase. (Tactically rubbish, but it looks good!)

Yorkists triumph on the left, as Bourchier batters back Clifford's men. Meanwhile Warwick in the centre has already put Lord Grey off by his fire, and promptly flattens Shrewsbury's company. One whole half of the Lancastrian army routs, while the remainder is stalled by Warwick's captains and Lord Fauconberg. Time for the Lancastrians to perform a "strategic retrenchment" - also known to some amateurs as running away!

There was more 'movement' in the battle, but some more features of the rules became clear. The characteristics of the leaders used by ACOS are all very good, but there were so many companies on the go it was impossible to keep track of them all - then I realised that only Ward commanders (ie, the blokes in charge of the left, centre and right 'battles' of the army) have effects that count - I was doing it for each company on the go, which is a definite error.

I think I was also a bit too eager to roll for commander casualties, with the result that in some combats practically every noble was killed or wounded. I think rolling for leader casualties should actually occur if a unit loses a base of figures, not just if it is in combat - this should improve the mortality of commanders to a decent degree, and fit in more with the rules' intention.

Problems are also becoming clear. The orders system is a bit convoluted, requiring a blizzard of counters to track what each ward is doing, and can do. I think I'll be abandoning that for a simpler system, perhaps with a small card for each ward that I can just tick off with a pencil - far neater and requires far less time to set up (I spent about as much time sorting out the stack of counters as I did playing the battle!) Also, the army morale track seems a bit redundant. An army needs to take 3 major 'disasters' to become unsteady, and a total of 5 to collapse. However by the time an army has taken 3 disasters on the tabletop it's virtually disintegrated anyway, meaning you'll probably wrap up the battle yourself before the game "makes" you do it.

I had a little experimental tinker with big-battle DBA out of curiosity, and was rapidly reminded of why I think it's good for Ancient warfare where you have lots of troop variety, but is awful for late-medieval battles. The whole game was just ineffective archery fire on near-indestructible Superior Blades, who carved a bloody path through the majority of each army. Hardly enjoyable, or particularly realistic! Anyway, the monotony of dice rolls with +2 or +5 on each and every dice quickly told on me, and I fled the DBA scene for Wars of the Roses. The only other thing I would consider is Warmaster, but I'm not even sure that'll have the character-filled flavour I like in ACOS. I need to iron out some of my own problems with the orders system to speed it up and make it more user-friendly, but the Beta version has just been made available for free download, and I may start my 'campaign' idea - playing through the scenarios as a 'linked-scenario campaign' of the Yorkist rise to power (or fall to ruin, depending on the results on the field.)

Oh, and don't worry - painting continues in the background! More posts will follow on the progress towards the first campaign scrap.