The Battle of Ebchester (Pre-feudal Scots v. Anglo-Norse)

17 August, 2009

Well, the I was keen to try out the ‘Anglo-Norse’ that King Magnus will lead. I figured that by some stage in his father’s reign the changes in army composition would take place; these consist of adding the option of an element of knights, Norman adventurers, and an extra element of archers (Ps or Bw). However, I didn’t have a clear idea of who they might fight. I didn’t want to fight the Anglo-Normans, so I thought the Pre-feudal Scots, their other main neighbour, would work.

The opponents were chosen, but something was missing; there was no spark, but that was provided by a chance email from Steve that referred me to an article on the resistance to the Canmore dynasty in Scotland. This was perfect. It seems that for a number of generations the rulers of Moray resisted the change to a hereditary king from the older method of tanistry, election from those eligible within the kin group. These rulers of Moray seem to have been relatives of Macbeth, a person badly maligned in literature. They provide names for another wrinkle in the alternative history: Macbeth defeats Malcolm at Lumphanan (Malcolm would never get the ephithet Canmore, assuming it means ‘Great Chief’ rather than ‘Big Head’, as he had to run back into exile. Macbeth’s son Lulach reigned for a while after him, followed by his nephew Máel Snechtai.

In the reign of Máel Snechtai, Malcolm had moved to the court of Olaf Haraldson in York, hoping to convince Olaf to support his claim for the throne of Scotland. Malcolm’s presence created friction between the two courts, as Máel claimed his presence was both an insult and a threat, demanding that Olaf cut all ties with him. Things simmered along like this for a time until Máel finally gathered an army and invaded Northumbria (initial rolls for aggression were tied at 1+1 each, so clearly neither king was that serious about the matter and the affair took a while to get going).

On hearing of Máel’s invasion, Olaf mustered an army and marched to meet him. He encountered the Scots raiding not far over the border at a place close to the village of Ebchester. He drew up his army nearly parallel to Dere Street facing a low hill, with a hill on his right flank and a small wood between him and the enemy on his left flank. He drew up in three divisions with himself and his huscarls in the middle and the knights held back in reserve.

Initial Deployment

Initial Deployment

Máel drew up in a line with his spearmen in the middle, his light horse on his left flank and himself, his thegns and Galwegians on the right flank.

Máel's troops drawn up for battle

Máel's troops drawn up for battle

It took a while for the two sides to come to blows, as Máel sought to overwhelm Olaf’s left flank with his warbands, and Olaf responded by sending archers and the knights to support that flank.

Turn 2: Máel orders his LH to assist on the right flank

Turn 2: Máel orders his LH to assist on the right flank

Máel was reluctant to face knights with warbands and decided to retire his left flank a little and bring the light horse across to support him against the knights.

Turn 3: Olaf has succeeded in strengthening his left flank

Turn 3: Olaf has succeeded in strengthening his left flank

It was not until the sixth turn that he was finally in position, having decided to let the light horse face the knights.

Turn 4: Olaf and his huscarls inch towards the Scots on the hill

Turn 4: Olaf and his huscarls inch towards the Scots on the hill

In his manoeuvring, however, he made a dangerous miscalculation, allowing Olaf to charge him before he could charge Olaf’s left flank.

Turn 6: Olaf seizes the initiative on his left flank

Turn 6: Olaf seizes the initiative on his left flank

Olaf seized this opportunity to try and get what little advantage he could from the encounter, ordering the advance on all fronts. His huscarls put the skirmishers to flight (5+1 v 1+1) without much effort. Meanwhile, his spear forced the other skirmishers to recoil (4+2 v 2 +2), as did the knights to the light horse (4+2 v 2+2). Such average dice did not continue when he turned on the thegns, who despite being overlapped and facing spear with skirmisher support still managed to win (5+1 v 2+6)! In this they repeated their performance against Fergus’ Islemen in a previous battle. The spear facing the Galwegians were now overlapped, though so were the Galwegians. However, the Galwegians were not up to the form of the thegns and were forced to recoil (4+3 v 3+3).

Máel kept his head and had plenty of time to react to Olaf’s attack. He advanced to offer overlap support to his light horse, while the thegns closed the door on the skirmisher support that the spear had. He then ordered the skirmishers and Galwegians back into combat and the end spear on the left flank to retire so that they could move to give rear support to the end spear on the hill. He hoped that the Galwegians would destroy the spear in front of them and advance into the skirmishers, giving the thegns flank support against them. No luck; the Galwegians were again mediocre (4+1 v 4+3). The thegns, cursing the Galwegians, forced the archers to recoil, while remarkably their own skirmishers showed more energy than the Galwegians, forcing the spear in front of them back. The knights, however, were unfazed by the light horse, successfully charging them down (2+2 v 3+6).

Turn 7 (Máel): No luck for the Scots!

Turn 7 (Máel): No luck for the Scots!

The situation for Máel was now precarious, as the knights were able to attack him and if he recoiled he would encounter the Galwegians and be destroyed. He had some luck, however, as Olaf had only 1 PIP, which he used to try exactly that—without success (4+3 v 4+3). Máel and his household cavalry fought the knights to a standstill. Now all he needed was good PIPs to rescue the situation, but clearly rattled by the knights, he could only tell the Galwegians to get the hell out of his way (1 PIP). He had to hope that the Galwegians won, so that if the worst came to the worst against the knights he had room to recoil. However, the Galwegians continued their poor form and were fought to a standstill (4+1 v 3+2). It was now all on Máel to win against the knights. He didn’t, forced back by a furious charge (4+4 v 4+6).

Turn 8: Máel's retinue recoil into the Galwgians and break

Turn 8: Máel's retinue recoil into the Galwgians and break

Máel was forced back into the woods and his household cavalry broke in the confusion. He himself was able to slip away. His forces retreated in disorder and with great acrimony. The thegns fumed at what they called the pathetic effort of the Galwegians, who, they said, really let the side down! Some went even further and suggested treachery. Malcolm, they said, was fighting with the Anglo-Norse on their left wing, directly in front of the Galwegians. Clearly he had bought them off.

Turn 8: The wider situation at the end of the battle

Turn 8: The wider situation at the end of the battle

The Galwegians were greatly insulted by such charges, and from this incident their antagonism to the Kingdom of the Scots arose, and in response they came to ally themselves more with the King of the Isles.

  • Review

Well, fighting with warbands is a chancy business, and this time only half of them were awake. Máel increased the gamble by putting the LH against the Kn, again hoping for a QK. However, the LH always run the risk of being doubled. It would have been a safer policy for Máel to face the knights himself.

Máel didn’t have any plan beyond winning on the right flank, but he was reasonably effective in delaying Olaf attacking his spear on the hill. Olaf’s hope rested mainly on trying to win on the overlap, or perhaps the Ps could have interpenetrated the Sp and flanked the Scots.

My sympathies were with the Scots and it was disappointing to see their recently painted cavalry both get destroyed. On the bright side, I’ve now got a reason for the Galwegians to dislike the Scots. and those thegns are really developing a reputation, one previously held by the Galwegians, who probably need my son to roll the dice for them!

The dice colours were rather too similar to be convenient, but both sides wanted their lucky dice from their previous battle! I used a website called A Vision of Britain through Time as the source for appropriate sounding placenames. I’d also spent some time the day before cutting my outcome markers from Neldoreth’s site more neatly, and the effect, I think, was worth the effort.

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2 Responses to “The Battle of Ebchester (Pre-feudal Scots v. Anglo-Norse)”

  1. hrldplmr Says:

    Nicely brought to life there, with the bad blood at the end. You can imagine the Scots and Galwegians fuming in their halls.

    • Mark Says:

      Thanks, but thank you for the article that was the spur for this battle!

      The bad blood between the two warbands was fortuitous in a way, as I couldn’t think of much reason why the Galwegians wouldn’t like the Scots. But those thegns were mad, as was I! they’d set it all up for the Galwegians, and more than once, and the Galwegians just kept rolling weakly. Perhaps they don’t like fighting two deep; perhaps they think that’s too namby-pamby!


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