Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Battle of Hexham (1464) at BRITCON 2014

BRITCON is primarily an event for competition gamers, but it does have a reasonable trader presence and the Lance & Longbow Society (along with other societies) has for several years put on  demonstration games.  For this event we chose a scenario from the Wars of the Roses, Hexham (1464).   It follows on from the battle of Hedgeley Moor, which we put on at Phalanx this year.  Historically, it was rather a one-sided encounter.  The Lancastrians, under the Duke of Somerset, were caught unprepared by the Yorkist advance and found themselves outnumbered and fighting with their backs against a river.  The Lancastrian right, commanded by Lord Roos, did not wait for the onslaught, but fled, sealing the fate of the remaining Lancastrians.  Some drowned in the river, but most were captured in the pursuit.  For the captured leaders there was no mercy, over 30 were executed.  With their deaths the opposition to Edward IV in the North collapsed and England had five years of relative peace before the Earl of Warwick's defection to the Lancastrian cause ushered in another round of conflict.

The exact location of the battle is open to discussion with historians putting forward diffierent theories.  To try and create a more balanced game, and give the Lancastrians a slim chance, Steve and I chose the option where Somerset has had sufficient time to organise his forces on a spur of land overlooking the route the Yorkists would take to reach Hexham.  Perhaps he was hoping to ambush them, using surprise to offset his inferiority in numbers.  The Lancastrians gained a melee advantage from the hill, which in practice did offset the better armour of the Yorkists.

View of the table with the Lancastrians on the hill.
Because we hoped to attract people to participate in the game we chose some straight forward rules, Warmaster and Basic Impetus. Both sets can be distilled down to an A5 playsheet and give a quick game.  Over the weekend the game was played five times, each one lasting between an hour and an hour and a half.  Although the Lancastrians did not win a game, they did manage one draw, where both commanders were killed in melee.  Lord Roos did not flee, indeed on balance he did rather well against the  Yorkist left.  On the Lancastrian left, the peasant levies fared poorly, usually being butchered by concentrated archery.


   The two rule sets gave different types of games.  With Warmaster there was much more of a chance element.  Being able to move and fire without penalty aided the Yorkists, who could, with luck, advance into range and then get in the first archery.  Also the need to roll dice to establish command meant that movement was not automatic.  In one game the inactivity of the Yorkist melee troops allowed Somerset to push forward and eliminate all of Montague's  archers.

Impetus gave the advantage to the Lancastrians in that the Yorkists had to advance into range, but the freedom of movement made it easier for the Yorkists to outflank the outnumbered Lancastrians.

Next to our game was the Mailed Fist group with their impressive 'Marston Moor' game which was also at Phalanx .

Friday, 8 August 2014

Lunch at the Swan; an ECW scenario

 This week we had another foray into the fictional county of Kelhamshire.  I devised a scenario which followed on from that at Royston Bridge.  The  county's Parliamentarian forces were still prosecuting the siege of Kelham and Sir Victor Meldrew had been ordered to escort the latest wagon train of supplies.  The train's route happened to pass by the Swan, a hostelry renowned throughout the county for the excellence of it's cellar.  Sir Victor, a keen student of the grape, had organised things so that he, together with his vanguard arrived at the inn in time for a hearty lunch before the train was due.  He had with him a company of musketeers from his own regiment, two regiments of horse (Livesey's and Shuttleworth's) and some dragoons.  The latter had been sent off to the right flank to take post in Blist's wood.  Just as Sir Victor was ordering his second bottle to accompany the roast,  a young officer approached and told him that a force of cavalry was approaching the bridge over the Kelham.  Reluctantly, Sir Victor left the table and went outside to assess the situation.

The reports were correct, a large Royalist force was approaching.  Lord Melchett had gathered four units of foot, (Gerard's and Taylors regiments plus the musketeers from the White regiment and the local militia) and five of horse.  Three were with Melchett (Carey's, Desmond's and Tyldsley's) and the other two (the gentlemen volunteers and a combined regiment), under the command of Colonel Rupert Winstanley, had crossed the Kelham upstream and were approaching the Swan from Melchett's right.

This rather blurred photograph shows the table from the Parliamentarian right.  The train, with it's escort of two regiments of horse, two of firelocks and a unit of militia, has just reached the Swan.  Meldrew's forces are around the inn. Melchett's main force will arrive at the bridge (upper right), Winstanley's are due to enter the table by the road near Blists Wood (top centre). The dice decreed that Steve should take the part of Sir Victor, so I assembled my forces to attack over the bridge and hopefully disrupt the progress of the wagon train.   Winstanley's force was to arrive on a turn determined by the roll of a d6.  I duly rolled a 6, so the flank attack would be delayed until turn 6.

As speed was of the essence, I decided to send the horse over the bridge first, with the white musketeers lining the river bank to give some fire support.  Normally, the Royalist cavalry have the edge when taking on Parliamentarian cavalry, but on this occasion, they had an off day.  Tyldsley's made no progress at all against Livesey's and were gradually pushed back.  Eventually, the remnants broke and fled the field,disrupting the progress of Carey's as they tried to cross the bridge.

Sir Victor, resplendent in his plumed helmet, quickly assessed the situation.  He ordered Colonel Matthews, (commanding the train escort)  , to place his troops under Meldrew's command.  One company of firelocks was sent to the Swan to provide extra support for Meldrew's musketeers and a regiment of horse turned down the road to the bridge to support Shuttleworth's, who were giving ground to Carey's regiment.  The militia unit also moved away from the train to cover a gap between the enclosures and prevent the Royalist horse from threatening Meldrew's flank.

Winstanley's cavalry arrived eventually and rushed to the aid of Melchett's attack.  The Gentlemen Volunteers kept to the road and whilst passing Blists Wood were surprised by a volley from the dragoons. Although suffering some casualties, they pressed on,but progress towards the train was blocked by Lambert's horse, which Sir Victor had directed to the threatened area.

Winstanley leads forward the Gentlemen Volunteers
Although Winstanley had the advantage of numbers on the Royalist right, it was the Parliamentarians who gained the upper hand.  The combined regiment was pushed back by the County horse and when Lambert's held the Volunteers, Winstanley joined the fray to try and inspire his men.  Unfortunately, Rigg's dragoons chose this moment to charge out of the wood and  join the melee.  Assailed from all directions the fragile morale of the Volunteers crumbled and they disappeared down the road.  The sight of their commander leaving the field did nothing for the morale of the combined regiment, which also gave way.

At the bridge Melchett's attempt to get his infantry across was going badly.  The remains of his cavalry were now pressed close to the bridge, leaving no room for the infantry to deploy.  When the cavalry routed they swept all before them and the Royalist attack was over.

After lunch we reset the troops and swopped sides.  Steve, having seen my attempt, decided to put more infantry in the first wave.  Gerard's followed Carey's and managed to form up under the protection of the Royalist horse.  The infantry's fire power (and pikes) was sufficient to keep the Parliamentary horse at bay.  Like Steve earlier, I took the troops from the train to bolster Meldrew's position and the firelocks provided me with the high point (as far as the Parliamentarian side was concerned), when their volley emptied sufficient saddles to stop a charge by the combined regiment.  This aside, little seemed to go right for Meldrew.   The Parliamentarian horse failed to make progress against Melchett's horse and this allowed Gerard's advance towards the train guard.  After an exchange of volleys Gerard's charged and the raw Parliamentarian gave at the first impact.  Soon they were streaming from the field and the Royalists let them go, turning towards the Swan.

At the inn, Meldrew's musketeers could not deter Taylor's regiment from advancing on them.  When the pikes charged home there was little resistance and Meldrew found himself trying to stop his own regiment fleeing from the field.

 Two games in the day, the wagon train getting through both times, but with varying fortunes for Sir Victor.