The Battle of Dunsinnan Hill (Pre-feudal Scots v. Anglo-Danish)

5 September, 2009

While I wait for figures to arrive from Feudal Castings to complete the armies for the King Magnus’ War campaign, I decided to refight the battles from which this alternate history stems. There’s a risk, of course, in doing this: the history requires one outcome, but that’s tempting fate, and the dice gods!

Malcolm, the son of Duncan, had grown up in the English court after Macbeth killed his father. In 1054 with the support of Earl Siward of Northumbria he sought to contest the throne of Scotland. Earl Siward is the commander of an Anglo-Danish army that  in place of one 4Sp has one 3Cv representing Malcolm and his supporters.

Actually, most historians do not think that it was this Malcolm at the battle between Macbeth and Siward, but possibly a leader from Strathclyde, but I’ve chosen to follow the popular historical tradition. The battle in which Malcolm defeated Macbeth, at Lumphanan, was some three years later and not much more than a skirmish. The one between Siward and Macbeth was a major battle, so it’s more satisfying to stake the fortunes of Scotland on an encounter between two large armies, than on a skirmish.

These invaders were met at Dunsinnan Hill, in Perthshire, by King Macbeth with a standard Pre-feudal Scots army, complete with fierce Galwegians.

Macbeth had let the Northumbrians advance a good way into his realm before meeting them, but when he judged the time was right he took the initiative (6+1 v 1+1 for attacker). The battlefield was along a road that had nearby a pair of low hills and a small woods. Macbeth succeeded in approaching Siward so that the wood was in the middle of where Siward was deploying and the road ran between them. After deployment Siward shifted his cavalry and his skirmishers to the right flank, moving fyrd into their place.

Initial Deployment: Siward on the left faces Macbeth on the right

Initial Deployment: Siward on the left faces Macbeth on the right.

The battle opened slowly as both sides advanced and tried to extend their battlelines.

Turn 1: Macbeth's Galwegians surge out ahead

Turn 1: Macbeth's Galwegians surge out ahead.

Turn 1: Macbeth 5 PIPs, Siward 6 PIPs.

Turn 2: Malcolm threatens the Galwegians

Turn 2: Malcolm threatens the Galwegians.

Turn 2: Macbeth 3 PIPs, Siward 3 PIPs.

Turn 3: Siward's troops trundle forward

Turn 3: Siward's troops trundle forward.

Turn 3: Macbeth 2 PIPs, Siward 5 PIPs.

Turn 4: Macbeth retires a little to straighten his line

Turn 4: Macbeth retires a little to straighten his line.

Turn 4: Macbeth 5 PIPs, Siward 1 PIP.

Turn 5: Siward confronts the Scots with one unbroken line

Turn 5: Siward confronts the Scots with one unbroken line.

Turn 5: Macbeth 4 PIPs, Siward 4 PIPs. Macbeth sends the light horse to the right flank.

Once he had his battleline in position, Macbeth gave the order to charge. With only two PIPs he was able to order a general advance and get the light horse to flank Malcolm and his cavalry. He was counting on the right flank to create a ripple of death, or at least recoils to set the warbands up for success. The Galwegian advance down the road on turn 1 had brought the warbands into perfect proximity to the three elements receiving skirmisher support, and two of these were blades as well (not very bright!), so they’d need all the overlaps and a lot of luck to succeed.

Things got off to a good start when Malcolm, outflanked against spear, was destroyed (4+4 v 2+4). However, the spear next to them were unfazed and stood firm (4+2 v 3+3). This stopped the ripple. Macbeth tried to restart it on his flank, but was repulsed (4+2 v 3+6). It now all fell to the Galwegians facing the fyrd to get lucky, so that the thegns were not totally unsupported against Siward. They failed (3+5 v 5+4); the other Galwegians were now in a difficult situation and were lucky to be only forced back (2+3 v 6+2). Such luck was not with the thegns facing Siward, who, overlapped on both sides, were put to flight (1+4 v 7+3). The first of the two elements of skirmishers fled from the spear they faced (1+2 v 4+6), but the second, despite being overlapped on both sides, only recoiled (0+5 v 4+5).

Turn 6 (Macbeth): the Scots charge is thrown back

Turn 6 (Macbeth): The Scots charge is thrown back.

Siward ordered a countercharge into the wreckage of Macbeth’s attack. His 3 PIPs allowed him to advance in three blocks, allowing for the difference in depth of recoil. The attack started well, with the element of Galwegians facing his huscarls breaking (6+2 v 2+1). The other Galwegians, however, retired fighting (4+5 v 2+5). The fyrd facing Scots spear forced back their opponents (3+5 v 3+2), but the huscarls facing Macbeth were fought to a standstill (3+1 v 2+2). The skirmishers continued to fight bravely, but were this time forced to flee (4+6 v 0+5).

Turn 6 (Siward): The Galwegians join the thegns in flight

Turn 6 (Siward): The Galwegians join the thegns in flight.

Macbeth’s position was looking very tenuous, but he didn’t panic. With 6 PIPs he ordered his light horse to advance on Siward’s camp (2 PIPs). The two spear on the right flank attacked the fyrd opposite them with the advantage of having flanked them (2 PIPs). With the remaining PIPs he retired himself and ordered the surviving Galwegians to do likewise. The battle on the right flank went well (3+4 v 3+3), and Siward was now two elements down. If Macbeth could sack the camp before Siward could inflict more damage on him he could steal a lucky victory from a messy position.

Turn 7: the light horse make for the Northumbrian camp

Turn 7: The light horse make for the Northumbrian camp.

His luck held when Siward, suddenly aware of how exposed the camp was, panicked (1 PIP). He decided against trying to catch the light horse by chasing them down the road and order his spear onto the Scots spear nearby (I thought his spear were Huscarls at the time, oops!). The fight changed little, forcing the Scots back (4+5 v 4+4).

Turn 8: the light horse are repulsed

Turn 8: The light horse are repulsed.

It was now Macbeth’s turn to be flummoxed (1 PIP). Fortuitously he was just in command range of the light horse and ordered them to attack the camp. The camp followers, however, resisted bravely (2+4 v 3+6).

Siward, nevertheless, continued to dither (1 PIP again). At a loss for inspiration he ordered the fyrd (who he still thought were huscarls!) to attack the Scots spear. They were forced back (4+2 v 4+4).

Macbeth recovered his composure (4 PIPs) and ordered the light horse back against the camp (2 PIPs) and prepared his right flank to deal with the lone element of fyrd facing them. This time the light horse, driven forward by the promise of booty, broke into the camp and sacked it (2+5 v 3+1).

Turn 9: The light horse celebrate as they pillage the enemy's camp

Turn 9: The light horse celebrate as they pillage the enemy's camp.

Macbeth secured a lucky victory. Later accounts of the battle, which took due note of the crucial role the light horse played, claimed that Macbeth himself was actually fighting with them. Other accounts gave credit to his son Lulach as the commander of the light horse. Despite being routed in a flanking manoeuvre, Malcolm made good his escape, continuing to be a thorn in the side of Macbeth and his successors. He made sure he kept out of the way of Siward, who had to come to humiliating terms with Macbeth in order to extricate his army from its predicament.

  • Review

Well, I’m somewhat of a novice with the use of 2LH. They won the battle pretty much. I was also not aware how easy it was for 2LH to capture a camp. If I’d known, and I should have paid more attention to the Battle of Koi, then Siward could have kept an element of 4Sp in the camp. It might also have been sensible for him to have kept the 3Cv as a reserve, which would have stopped the 2LH making for the camp.

Macbeth’s warbands faced the stiffest possible odds; it really was a gamble. I wonder how they could have found some nice unsupported spear to attack. The advance of the Galwegians along the road was really rather foolish, as it took them right into alignment with the huscarls. As warbands are an element that seem to rely to a big degree on luck I’d decided that the Galwegians’ recent poor form was because they didn’t like being two-deep. That didn’t prove the cure to their problems!

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9 Responses to “The Battle of Dunsinnan Hill (Pre-feudal Scots v. Anglo-Danish)”

  1. TWR Says:

    As always a great report and very detailed!

    Last night three of us played two years in a Classical Greek campaign between Athens, Thebes, Sparta and Syracuse. The Spartans had to contend with a raid on their own camp in the second battle between an Athenian army with a Syracusan ally. The Syracusan light horse drew in combat twice and were finally repulsed by the Spartan helots in the third round of combat. Relief…

    • Mark Says:

      Thanks. It sounds like a neat campaign. I wonder if you could include naval rules to reflect the area of Athens’ power. I know there’s DBN out there; I’ve not tried it, and I don’t have the models for it.

      In the games I play the armies are generally too slow to make an attack on a camp. The Normans can have a 2LH, but generally they win or lose with their knights before it even thinks about attacking the camp. I can see I need to be more careful.

      • TWR Says:

        It has been years since I played a DBA Campaign so at this point we were just trying to use the basics rules, along with those for programmed nations. Sparta was ruled by two incompetent kings, the first one eventually died. That said the first king almost managed a victory over larger army, 12 stands vs 15, in the second battle. However, we to are now more aware of the risks of light horse…

      • Mark Says:

        Yes, when I finally start my campaign, I’ll stick to the basic rules too. I like the idea of minor allies, but I should probably try to walk before I run.

      • Mark Says:

        Yes, when I finally start my campaign, I’ll stick to the basic rules too. I like the idea of minor allies, but I should probably try to walk before I run.

  2. Stephen Says:

    Yes LH are very handy for taking opportunities. It was good that they were in command range of the Macbeth. Excessive zeal on my part usually has them charging off somewhere where they take 2 PIPs to move them.

  3. MrF Says:

    Nice one mate, keep em coming.

    Cheers
    MrF

    • Mark Says:

      Thanks, I’m thinking that Macbeth ought to get another outing, perhaps against some Vikings. It’s just possible that Macbeth fought Thorfinn Sigurdsson, Earl of Orkney, which would provide some background to the encounter.


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