Saturday’s Phalanx show was followed by the now customary Gentlemen Pensioners big game on the Sunday: this time an English Civil War ‘what if’ based on the relief of Gloucester in 1643.
The background is explained in this extract from The Battlefields Trust resources …
Despite few troops and poor provisions the parliamentarian Governor of Gloucester, Colonel Massey, refused to surrender. Unwilling to repeat the heavy losses that had resulted from the storming of Bristol, Charles besieged the city.
The fate of Gloucester was seen as a key factor likely to determine the outcome of the war. The parliamentarians in response were busily equipping and raising troops for Essex’s army in London. At the end of August the Earl of Essex, with an army some 15,000 strong, set out from London the relief of Gloucester. On learning of Essex’s approach Charles raised the siege on the 5th September and withdrew southward. Gloucester had been relieved and re-supplied.
(campaign map reproduced from BCW-project.org)
Our game explored the other option: an attempt by the King to prevent Essex’s army getting to Gloucester. In the game, Parliament had to reach the security of the hedges and enclosures of the Severn valley. They were heavily defended, but losing them would signal that the King’s attempt to prevent the relief of Gloucester would fail.
The rules used were Pike & Shotte from the Black Powder stable. On previous occasions I have not found them to be at all reflective of Civil War battle – but for this game Steve had made some significant changes and it and the parent game are familiar to me (which helps get your head round a big game) so I was keen to give it a go.
The main changes were (a) to depict Regiments of Foot as single, mixed weapons, bodies (rather than brigaded units of pike and shot) … (b) to enable disorder to be removed on a die roll before activations, and allowing disordered troops to withdraw (both to limit the tendency to stall in front of the enemy) and (c) to soften the effects of failed activations (to allow players to get on with the game – especially as it was an 8 player game). All good changes.
I was asked to take the role of the Earl of Essex and command of the army. I gave strong cavalry commands to Will and Dave on the flanks, and Chris and I shared the infantry in the centre. I allocated the main punch to my subordinate figure, Philip Skippon. And we wasted no time setting about the task.
The attack was a little lop-sided … all the troops under my own command pressed forward enthusiastically (low rolls on the activation giving them multiple moves) while the other brigades in the centre failed to move off. This set a pattern.
On the flanks I expected the generally harder charging Royalists to barrel forward and put us under pressure. But on both wings we managed to box them in and take the battle to them. It still should have been tough but we were clearly getting the better of it.
Initially Skippon’s attack in the centre went well – the good activations got to the hedge lines quickly and some vigorous charges and good saving rolls carried the position. Unfortunately the defenders ran off through their supporting reserves who unleashed a withering fire which drove the assault back*.
This formula repeated several times, and although the defensive lines were breached repeatedly, we never really threw the enemy completely from the positions.
I fed a second wave of foot into the assault, and by this stage the whole centre was on the move. Attrition was building up on both sides but we were now in a general engagement and news from the cavalry wings continued to be positive (indeed, I had held some troops back in case of disaster and these could now be fed in also) …
Even so, resistance remained stubborn and frustrating and the matter was eventually resolved by the collapse of both Royalist cavalry wings (in pure game terms breaking their army; in our gentlemanly assessment, requiring their foot to retire at nightfall).
We had, there or thereabouts, achieved our objective, though in a surprising way (I had expected we would likely have cleared at least some of the closes with out foot but that we might be stripped of our horse – actually the foot had made the barest of progress and it was the horse that carried the day … the Earl was indeed very pleased with his commanders) …
This was by far the best game of Pike & Shotte so far: not without a lot of issues but a far better feel and much easier to play ‘in character’ (i.e. to make role-based rather than game-based decisions). Homogeneous pike and shot units transform the game, giving it the tactical (and play) simplicity of Civil War battle but the whole musket-disorder thing still strikes me as very 18th century/Napoleonic. It was tamed in this game, but the withering fire itself doesn’t really ring true. Same goes for artillery … still cracking away in the latter phases of the game (indeed I even had a regiment of foot broken by a lone gun after the infantry it had seemed to be attached to had themselves run off) … Hmmm.
I was less aware of what was going on the flanks but I gather that the Royalists found it hard to get their cavalry charging (activation failures) so in the majority of cases the Parliamentarians charged in with the Royalists counter-charging. We beat them in combat (luck) which allowed sweeping advances to repeat the discomfiture. A lot of that is die-rolling of course.
Despite all that, this was a very enjoyable game engaged in good spirit by all the players. And that’s what really counts. I hope Steve continues to improve the basic game, and I’ll look again at the statistics for firepower effects, artillery and officer incidents to see what light these shed.
On a separate note, the game also confirmed the King’s historical decision to raise the siege and retreat rather than confront Essex’s relief force.
*indeed, a misreading of the ‘large unit’ break point saw test these troops too soon, much to their disadvantage (they failed horribly) but such is the fog of war.
Will’s blog of the game
Wargame Amateur’s blog of the game
This will be an attempt to sum up an event involving thousands of people spread over several zones on two days of military heritage commemoration and festival … in a few pictures. It’ll be inadequate but it might give you a flavour of the biggest event we have ever hosted at Naseby. It was not without its hiccups but most people seem to have been blown away by its passion, richness and sheer size.
Sealed Knot camps spread around the village, with an exhibition site and Living History on Mill Hill, adjacent to the battlefield … and a dedicated field for reenacting the main fight. There were events in the village on both days … march throughs recreating the celebrated events of the approach to battle – columns clattering through the village, hastily abandoned meals, commanders marshalling their troops.
On Sunday morning the sun shone on a moving drumhead service commemorating the sacrifice on both sides in the struggle for Parliamentary liberties. Later, at 3pm on Mill Hill, tea was served as part of a national network of events celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
In the Mill Hill exhibition pavilions we were joined by The Northampton Battlefields Society, Helion Books, David Lanchester, Phoenix Gaming Club, The Battlefields Trust, The Friends of Kettering art Gallery and Museum, Kettering Civic, poet Clare Mulley, the artists of KDAS and photographer Sebastian Nevols. Thanks to all of them for their support. A broad mix of local groups, heritage champions, families, artists and photographers
As well as the wargames, we had model layouts of Northamptonshire’s key battles, Naseby and Northampton …
… and on Sunday, Naseby Project patron, Earl Spencer cleverly avoided the VIP network in order to come over to the exhibition area and meet the exhibitors and visitors (above, signing and dedicating a copy of his book on the regicides, The killers of the King, for an appreciative reader).
Authentic displays and weapons drills for youngsters were complimented by live music and revelry for reenactors and guests from the village, trade and exhibitions on the Saturday night.
Well, that might just give an impression of this massive event. Inevitably, as host of the exhibition and visitor zone on Mill Hill, I couldn’t get round and record all this myself, so I am really grateful to all the photographers who have shared their pictures vis social media. This would not just be Naseby’s biggest event, but also its best documented.
You too can help defend this historic battlefield (and help the Naseby Project put on more events in the future): become a member … you donation will really count. Your support will make a difference.
I took along the Naseby battlefield layout to help promote the upcoming Naseby 370 event.
This will be on display in the visitor area, along with the Battlefields Trust, The Pike & Shot Society, wargames from the Phoenix Group and lots of other family and enthusiast activities to support your day out.
I have had the soldier collection that did the round of shows some while back refurbished … fitted with Fluttering Flags and rebased … the flags are intentionally generic with a flavour of 1645 (and should allow other battles to be modelled of course ) … Worth a look, nevertheless, I hope …
We did not play through the battle as a wargame but moved the pieces during the course of each day as an instructional tableau adding hamster bedding to mark the firing (which – a pleasant surprise – immediately drew the attention of passing shoppers) …
Well, a great show and 2 splendid day’s out explaining Northamptonshire’s military heritage to the shoppers of Milton Keynes.
Thank you, everyone who stopped, for your interest in our project and I hope you enjoyed the exhibits.
Please come along to the big event in June: Naseby 370
May Bank Holiday saw a spectacular event in Newark: Fortress Newark saw the town invaded by hundreds (over a thousand I understand) Civil War soldiers, commemorating the sieges and welcoming into existence the new National Civil War Centre.
It was a huge event and I only have a little camera (but maybe I can give a flavour of the spectacle) …
There were drill demos and more stalls in the town square
And on the fringes of the town, at the Queen’s Sconce, there was a full-on battle fought out …
The National Civil War Centre …
Although I had been up some time back for some advice from the Museum team in Newark (who have been very supportive of the work we are doing at Naseby), this was my first look inside the newly opened Civil War Gallery.
Reassuringly, it was very busy.
Well, what a splendid day … so much to see – a really big show to establish Newark’s Civil War heritage!
Don’t forget to come to Naseby next month …