Sunday, 3 April 2016

Inspiring stories (4)

After the depressing thoughts that emerged around my attempt to get interested in Old Fritz and the Seven Years War perhaps I should give some time and space to one of the happier projects that emerged from University. These are my Henri de Navarre Huguenots, who have featured once or twice before in this blog.

Prior to going up to college I hadn’t really given much thought to wargaming in the Renaissance era. After all Airfix didn’t do any pike and shot sets. The only exception to this was an attempt to do ECW skirmish games using “Flintlock and Ramrod” from the guys who did the Old West skirmish rules.

I also knew next to nothing about the French Wars of Religion.

In my second year I took a course on the Rise of French Absolutism, taught by Doctor (now Professor) Mark Greengrass*, which started with the reign of Henri IV, but of course also needed you to understand the background. I took the course partly because I liked Dr G, who was also my tutor, but also because I didn’t fancy some of the other options. Plus, in theory, I could read French and I thought I should keep that up if I could.

It opened up to me a wonderful world of complete chaos and colourful characters. Oman’s accounts of the battles lead by the young prince from Navarre were truly inspiring to me. The sheer nerve of holding his infantry in arquebus only blocks between his cavalry and effectively introducing volley fire was genius. Okay, so he had problems against the Duke of Parma, but who wouldn’t have?

On top of that Henri's a real character, although it is probably understating it a bit to say he was a "philanderer". He's one of the quotable historical figures as well "Paris is worth a Mass" and "A chicken in every pot". He was also quite short. I saw a suit of his armour once, - I don't think he was much over 5' 6". Perhaps he had to compensate for that. Of course, once you're on a horse not many people can tell

Anyway, that book by Oman - "A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century" was out on hard rotation from the university library to wargames club members all the time I was there, I think. I eventually got my own copy when Greenhill republished it. I bought it in Foyle's on one of my trips to our London Head office, when I would bunk off early claiming I had to catch a train so I could sneak off down Charing Cross Road. So that would be in the late 1980s. My copy has a price ticket saying "Only £27:50".

I can assure you that in 1987/8 £27:50 was never "only". Don't regret ever buying it tho'.

Anyway, back to University time. I started casting around for figures, and bought George Gush’s book on Renaissance Armies (although I may have bought this for another army at the time – not sure). I have the orange first edition in paperback.

I had no preference for manufacturer (BTW - we're talking 25mm here). I knew I wanted some reiters/Millers and some arquebusiers. And some landsknechts, just for starters. The local wargaming shop, the "New Model Soldier Shop" (up the Penistone Road, IIRC) did Minifigs and other bits and pieces, so I picked up a load of landsneckts and some of their 30 Years War reiters. They formed the core of the "mercenary" parts of the army. The Minifig arquebusiers were rubbish and he didn't have many of them, so I had a gap there. Luckily I stumbled across a new company at the Sheffield Wargames Show (pre-Triples, I think) called Essex and immediately fell in love with their renaissance figures. They provided my French Huguenot foot (bear in mind that I'm only putting together one side at the moment).

I really went to town with the cavalry and French foot. Every figure was unique, - arms chopped, bodies twisted, equipment added with Miliput. They still look the business, although way too much work for me ever to do that type of thing again.

For rules I started off with Terry Wise's 30 Years War rules, which he published under his Athena imprint. I have them around here somewhere.

We did a big refight of the Battle of Arques with them in my final year, pulling in figures from everyone's renaissance collections to make it happen. I playtested the design on a table in my parents garage one vacation. 

That army is with me still. It has expanded over time, and has figures from all sorts of ranges, - including Ral Partha, Citadel Historical and I think there's some GW bits in there too. Some figures I have no idea who the manufacturers were. I used to walk round shows and just buy half a dozen figures if they looked like they'd fit in. It expanded sideways as well, so I could do a Catholic League army, then I got contemporary Spanish and Elizabethan English (mostly Irregular).

I love that army, still do. And it's from a period I would never have believed I would have been interested in 6 months before I got involved with it.

I wrote my own very specific rules ("Henri IV and the League") which appeared in an edition of the Nugget. They had a sliding scale of melee outcomes based on the ratio of scores between the two sides, with no hard boundaries or step changes between the ratios, - thus 1.9:1 was better than 1.5:1 and only marginally worse than 2:1.

The melee rules worked fine, I think, but looking at them just now - a hard copy printed from an Amstrad PCW, marked "2nd edition 1991" - the firing rules have a pencil comment in my hand writing that says "This doesn't work very well".

Since 1991 I've used several sets of rules. I did a run of successful Matrix Games, using a variation of the "De Matricae Bellae " rules I wrote for the Society of Ancients. They've also fought their way through Armati and FoG-R, and in the dim and distant past George Gush's WRG rules and also Dave Millward's "Tercio" which were not a success.

As you might guess I can never see a time when I'd sell these fellows off or dump them on a Bring & Buy.

You see, that's a process that I hope to repeat whenever I start a new period. Doing something because I'm truly inspired, not because I think I should be. Those sorts of armies are Keepers.

* Brother of Paul Greengrass, the film director, but at the time when he was making documentaries and before Bourne.


  1. I played Coutras in 15mm at the Dumfries show this year as Falkirk Club demo game. All a bit last minute (not my figures) so we only had time for one practice game for which we tried DBR. It was an absolute disaster as the Huguenot Light Horse disrupted the royal cavalry making it impossible for them to get a charge in. On the day we used Terry Gore's Renaissance Warfare which neither of us had used for over 10 years but, once we got our head around the rules we had a good game. My excellent dice rolling reversed history but it was still a close run thing.

    1. If the Huguenot light horse were the battle winning unit then it clearly wasn't Coutras.

      The battle is a bit of a crap shoot as you have the cavalry lined up against each other in the centre. The infantry fight on the wings can turn out to be them ore interesting part of the battle.

  2. In La Reine Margot, Henri was played by Daniel Auteuil. I note that according to IMDB he's also 5'6"

    1. Sounds about right. I suppose you'd have to get that right for a French audience. It's like every one in England knowing HVIII is a bit fat bloke.

  3. An article on the French Wars of Religion by Dave Millward in 'Battle' September 1978 (just checked that!) inspired me, and maybe many others. Having said that, I never quite got round to actually raising any troops. Maybe one day..

    1. I have that article too. I thought it was later than that, - I remember reading it, and going back to it later, although I didn't take much notice of the advice on what figures to use.