Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Battle of Thoroton, 1460

Time to take to the field once again, to battle for the fate of the North of England, possibly even the crown itself!

Lancastrians deploy with Northumberland in the centre, Scots on the left and the Levies on the right. Opposite them up a shallow valley (the hills on each table-side aren't too visible) are the Yorkists - who have Norfolk in the centre, Salisbury on the right and Rutland on the left.

Some of Norfolk's boys awaiting the battle's start. (On a side-note, I'm aiming that this will be the last time any battle is fought with partially-painted figures. Things have now developed enough for me to field only finished ones from here onwards.) Anyway, enough of my modelling talk - let's see how the little plastic & lead men do!

Percy has brought some of this new-fangled "ordonnance" to the field. Now those Yorkist dogs can taste some pre-battle bombardment, yes?

...No. Looks like these gonnes are more hazardous to those behind, rather than to the fore (it'll never catch on.) The armies begin to approach, trading volleys in a more reliably destructive style.

Sir Ralph Grey of Heaton clearly has second thoughts about the whole deal, and the Newcastle levies remain strangely immobile during the advance. Percy presses on, no doubt with mounting concern & anger as his flank becomes exposed, before finally Heaton pulls himself together and commits for Lancaster. Such half-heartedness seems to infect the men however, as they swiftly see their courage dwindle against the superior archery of Rutland's retainers, and quit the field. Little loss, some would say!

Others have the guts to make a fight of it, at any rate - Northumberland's ward soon comes to blows with Norfolk's ward, producing a deadly struggle (and also - plenty of medieval swearing!)

The day could be decided elsewhere however, despite the furies of the central combat which sways back and forth inconclusively. Heaton's levies streaming off the field are an unwelcome greeting for the eventual arrival of Somerset, who comes onto the field to find the battle already far gone. He randomly enters in the right-rear of the Lancastrian army, just as Rutland on the Yorkist left wheels inwards to flank the Lancastrian battle-line. Typical: he's in perfect position to descend on Rutland's rear, but just too late to get there. Damn his caution - his fiery son must be spitting-mad at this!

Caught between the wards of Norfolk in front and increasingly Rutland on the flank, the central ward with Northumberland and Baron Greystoke begins to falter and break up. Lancastrian collapse!

Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland himself, is swept up in the rout and captured by the triumphant Yorkists. With the loss of their Vaward and Mainward, plus their main Commander lost, the Lancastrian army breaks and flees. All Somerset can do is cover the rout as best he can, while the Lancastrian fugitives are swept away.

One final deed remains however, on this bloody field. the Yorkists rejoice in their victory while Lancastrians languish, but it's time to settle some old scores: the Neville-Percy feud rears its head again, and Richard Neville (the Earl of Salisbury) ensures the captured Henry Percy (Earl of Northumberland) receives the reward of all traitors for defying the rule of King Henry VI. A short walk to: the headsman's block!

A grim day, indeed...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prelude to Battle

In the Midlands, the Yorkists head back north again upon the rendezvous between Salisbury & Norfolk, intending to defend the line of the river Trent. However, before they can reach the river the Lancastrians have crossed southwards! As part of the invasion, Somerset has taken his force to swing east and flank the river-line while Northumberland takes it head-on. A good plan, but one that rapidly comes unstuck when Northumberland probes the river-line and finds that he's pushing on an open door. Salisbury has gone, as part of his brief shift southwards to meet up with Norfolk, but of course Northumberland has no way of knowing this and sets off in pursuit. A messenger is sent to Somerset to update him that he's not a cunning flanking blow on a defended river-line any more, but is now badly out of position and needs to catch up with the main army as it heads south.

The Lancastrian advance comes to a halt shortly after it starts, as scouts come riding back with news of the new Yorkist force drawing close. Battle is at hand, and both forces come together near the village of Thoroton, close to Nottingham, for the reckoning. Can Northumberland win single-handedly? Will Somerset reach the field in time to make a contribution?

For the upcoming battle, I proved unable to resist the siren's call of Perfect Captain's rule-set 'A Coat of Steel.' Whatever its problems, I simply don't know of any alternative set that can match it for the 'flavour' of the period. Forces for ACoS are derived from the campaign game 'A Crown of Paper' (ACoP,) so I tweaked the numbers for companies to get an 'instant' army-list for each side that roughly matches the forces in the 'Richard III' campaign game. I did this after reading through some of the ACoS scenarios posted in the Perfect Captain's Yahoo group. A generic unit of 2Men-at-Arms, 4Billmen & 4Retinue Archers seemed to be in use in things like their Towton scenario for nobles' retinues, plus 4Billmen & 4Levy Bowmen units for levies, so I adopted this myself. Bam! Ready-made armies!

The Yorkist set-up is simple, with Norfolk making up the Main, Salisbury on the right, and Rutland on the Left. Norwich levies were dispersed throughout to bulk up the wards as required, and prevent Norfolk's ward from being disproportionately large compared to the other two. Lancastrian-wise, we have Northumberland in the Main, the Scots under Earl Douglas on the left, and the Newcastle Levies on the right under Sir Ralph Grey of Heaton.

A draw through some ACoP contingent-counters turned up a Gonne for Northumberland, so on a whim I adopted that and gave him one. I also used the draws of well-wisher counters to identify potential numbers of minor nobles who might turn up. I used the Minor Nobles list to select plausible backers and fill out Ward commands, adding a good bit more colour.
So, to a look at the Cards, to learn what characteristics will be on show: Gah! Right away, things look bad for the Lancastrians. While the Yorkists field a generally competent crew of old hands and loyalists, fortune has dealt the Red Rose a very worse fate. Somerset is Lethargic - hardly the characteristic you look for in a man meant to be riding to the rescue with reinforcements! Worse, Northumberland is impetuous, meaning he's unlikely to wait for him. Double-Worse, Grey of Heaton is a rank amateur, plus a trimmer who may well swap sides right there on the field. The man's a positive danger!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Queen's Army Lands in England

News arrives back in France of the recent events in England. The details are somewhat confused as news can only arrive covertly from sympathisers, but nonetheless the general shape of events in clear. Rebellion against the Yorkist regime, it's loss of control in the North, and rumour of battle: clearly it is time to move and make the second planned invasion of England, this time from the South and into the Yorkist rear while their eyes are fixed northwards!

Queen Margaret and the Duke of Buckingham will need a major port in the South to support them, which means the choice for a landing is between Bristol in the south-west, or Southampton on the south coast. Bristol is a big city, and also close to the lands of the Earl of Devon in Cornwall, which would be yet more reliable support; however, Southampton offers its own set of advantages: it's near the lands of Yorkist supporters which might persuade them to keep their heads down, but the major one is swift roads to London. If they take the capital by the back door, then Margaret will be reunited with her husband Henry VI and the Yorkist hold on power will be finished.

Margaret, along with her son Edward, Buckingham, the Earl of Wiltshire and a host of French 'supporters' (i.e. Mercenaries) make landfall and soon have the county of Sussex under their control, ready to take the London road.

Yorkists have not been idle while all this takes place, however. First, there's the northern invasion. Plenty of people in the South-East have been happily profiting from trade, now that the Yorkist faction has seen off the indolent and inefficient Pro-Beaufort Court faction and brought a bit of law and order to the sea-lanes. Warwick in particular has been laying waste to pirates, and many towns have grown rich in consequence. Now news of the Beauforts' return would have worried them at the best of times, but news he is marching south with a horde of unintelligible Northern savages (Northumbrians and Scots: the Southerners draw no distinction!) pillaging and despoiling their way towards them... well, let's just say that finding recruits for the force to go and stop them isn't much of a problem.

Salisbury and Rutland have marched away southwards after their little scrap at Duffield, and now they have linked up with their much-desired reinforcements. The Duke of Norfolk has marched north with his forces, and after issuing a Commission of Array on behalf of the king
he has a large mass of Arrayed troops, especially from the Norfolk and the trading cities like Norwich, with which he can bulk out the ranks. Finally, the Yorkists have an army of adequate size to challenge the Northern invasion.

Outside of this Northern conflict, the head of the Yorkist cause, Edward Plantagenet (erstwhile Earl of March but now the Duke of York on inheriting his dead dad's claim to the throne) is in Wales. The Welsh are potentially a source of pro-Lancastrian support, so he's keeping a lid on things in the west with the aid of his supportive Hereford nobles along the Welsh Marches.
To increase his strength he has also linked up with support from Ireland, where memory of his father's rule there has led to it being highly pro-Yorkist.

This leaves Warwick in charge of London itself, keeping close watch on the king and capital. Effectively he's in reserve for the time being, although this changes with alarming speed on news from Southampton. The Queen and Buckingham have returned, seeking to capture Henry VI and London, and now with one Yorkist army in the north and Edward off in the west, only
Warwick is in their path! It's a moment of supreme crisis, and he acts fast. His uncle, Baron Fauconberg, is the Captain of Calais and Warwick sends word begging him to come with the garrison troops with all haste. Meanwhile Warwick turns out the London Levies and experiences a nerve-racking wait while he prays for his uncle to reach him before the Queen does!

He is saved from immediate and total destruction by the pause in the Lancastrian advance. The Queen issues Commissions of Array across Wiltshire, Dorset & Kent. Her powerful nobles quickly gather loyal Lancastrian followers to her banners, while pro-Yorkist nobles in the south try to keep as low a profile as possible while the army grows in size. But assembling the disparate troops takes time, which brings Fauconberg ever nearer to London...