1 January, 2010
King Magnus’ ambition to be ruler of all the British Isles led him to declare war on William Rufus’ Anglo-Norman kingdom in the south of England. Magnus challenged William for control of the province of Mercia, a challenge that the Norman accepted. Magnus’ voyage from Man was uneventful, as was that of his ally Angus of Scotland. His forces consisted of his huscarls (3x4Bd), household knights (1x3Kn), fyrd spear (7x4Sp) and archers (1x2Ps). Angus came with 1x3Cv, 1x2LH and 1x2Ps.
William met the invaders at a place where a road forded the river Avon, a place called Stratford. His army consisted of knights (4x3Kn), spear (5x4Sp), crossbowmen (1x3Cb) and archers (2x2Ps). In addition he had the promise of assistance of Gruffudd of Wales, who hearing that the Scots were assisting the Northumbrians, elected to help the English lest the Northumbrians grow too strong. He came with 1x3Cv and 2x2Ps.
The battlefield was level, apart from the river and the road and a wood and a low hill that faced each other across the road. Due to pre-battle manoeuvring, Magnus managed to meet William from the direction he desired, securing the hill to his own advantage. William deplyed his entire army on the right of the river with his spear in the centre and knights on each flank. The archers and crossbowmen were in reserve.
Magnus deployed with his huscarls in the centre, the knights in reserve and the fyrd on each flank. He expected the Scots to arrive from the same direction as him, while the Welsh would arrive on his right flank.
On the first turn Magnus’ entire host advanced in a line, while the English army, lacking direction (1 PIP) could only advance some of their army. Neither of the allies arrived.
On the next turn it was Magnus’ turn to lack PIPs (1 PIP); therefore he held back the knights, who were going to be used on one of the flanks. William was more active (5 PIPs), and contracted his line on the right to let the knights advance. Both sides continued to wait for their allies.
On the third turn Magnus wheeled his line on the left and extended it on the right. William went to investigate the river, discovering that it was paltry. Angus arrived and deployed on the left flank, on the other side of the river. Gruffudd seemed close behind (5 PIPs), but William had to keep waiting.
On the next turn Magnus dithered (1 PIP), opting to continue his advance. William brought all his knights over the river and sent forward archers to delay the enemy’s advance. Angus, keen for a scrap (6 PIPs), sent his light horse forward to delay the king and hurried after them. The Welsh still did not show.
Then suddenly it was all over. Magnus continued his advance, recoiling some archers, and William decided to attack the impudent Scots horse. The odds seemed very good (1/3 chance of destroying them, with only a 1/12 chance of being destroyed), but these Scots were in a fell mood and William, advancing ahead of his men, was unhorsed and killed by the quick-moving Scots (5+2 v 2+6). His household troops fled and the battleline began to waver and retreat. In the retreat two elements of 4Sp were destroyed (reflecting the casualties caused by the loss of a C-in-C).
The Scots earned 2 prestige points for their victory. The English, in disarray, retreated from Mercia, which the Northumbrians took possession of. They then sent for William’s brother, Henry, in Normandy and prepared for more fighting in the summer.
The Northumbrians could advance on England proper in the next season, but they would be without the support of the Scots, who can only support within two moves of their army. There was a bit of a diplomatic incident over the body of William. It was reported that it was decapitated and the Scots would not give it back. The Normans said this was barbarous and unchivalrous behaviour. The Scots denied this and said it was typical of the Normans to make such claims, reminding them that on the contrary the Scots had been a Christian people for a good deal longer than the Normans, whose ancestors were not long ago committing pagan atrocities across Europe. Such a barb, however, got at their allies the Northumbrians, not long Christians either, and all round tempers flared.
Stories abounded as to why William had crossed the Avon; one that gained a good deal of credence was that he’d spotted a fine looking hind, and being a keen huntsman had set off in chase of it. The Scots got to it first and an argument ensued over whose catch it was. Versions vary as to how William was killed; some claim he was struck by a stray crossbow bolt!
An interesting start to the campaign. Henry steps into a difficult situation. William could claim, with some justice, to have been very unlucky. Yet, there is a certain amount of risk in committing one’s general so early. Had he won, however, he was set to give the Scots a good mauling. As in the previous battle (for Ceredigion), victory was decided without the close-order infantry coming to blows.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was not until the sixth turn that he was finally in position, having decided to let the light horse face the knights.
In his manoeuvring, however, he made a dangerous miscalculation, allowing Olaf to charge him before he could charge Olaf’s 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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
10 August, 2009
Last Sunday I tried a battle between the Anglo-Norse and the Normans. I wanted to link it into the King Magnus’ War campaign, so I decided on a battle between Harald Hardrada, leading an Anglo-Danish army, and William the Bastard (not quite the Conqueror in this world!). As the justification for 3Cv as part of the Norman list seems marginal I opted for 7 3Kn and 1 2LH (scouts; I would have gone for 8 3Kn, but I don’t have enough painted yet). The foot were 2 4Sp and 2 2Ps. Harald had obviously got the northern fyrd behind him, as he fielded a regular Anglo-Danish army (3 x 4Bd, 8 x 4Sp and 1 x 2Ps). I used my Feudal Castings Vikings for Harald and his huscarls (and the skirmishers) and my Tabletop Anglo-Danes for the fyrd.
I was somewhat nervous about the encounter; I’ve always felt that facing knights with spear is a chancy proposition, but I’d read up on some of the posts on the Strategy and Tactics section of the Fanaticus Forum, and felt I should be more optimistic about the chances of the spearmen. However, as I wanted this to be a battle that showed how Harald held onto the north I really needed him to make a good showing (the back-up plan was to change the names of the contestants if he got thrashed!).
Harald was the defender (quite decisively 1+1 v 6+3!). He chose a location with a series of low hills and a road running along one side (and I’ve just realized that’s one too many hills!). The hope was that the road might be to his rear and allow rapid redeployment from one flank to the next. Unfortunately, William got the end he wanted, the side with most of the hills and the road running towards Harald.
Harald’s deployment was probably sheer madness. He hoped to advance in column down the road and then turn and face the flank, advancing onto the hill. This was unlikely to work—he moved second, he moved slowly, and he would run into the Normans before he could put this into effect. He also decided to garrison the camp with an element of fyrd, in case anything got behind his line.
William decided to have his spear at the front of a column on the road to give them the best chance of getting into combat—they otherwise have a habit of getting left behind. The rest of his mounted troops deployed in a line along the hill.
Harald was clearly greatly excited by the sight of those spear. He advanced himself to the front of the column and gave the order to charge. His luck was with him; for the first four turns William was in a dither (PIPs: 1, 1, 2 and 1!). By contrast Harald was all action (PIPs: 4, 6, 1 and 6).
On the third turn William had only been able to deploy a line of two spear and a knight along the road and Harald met this with himself flanked by two spear and supported to the rear by skirmishers. He continued his form with the dice, personally cutting the Norman spear to shreds (6+6 v 4+1). On his right flank the opposite almost happened, but for his overlap support (4+1 v 3+6). On the left flank the spear held firm (5+2 v 2+4).
William continued to dither, while Harald, distracted, perhaps, by the bloodbath he’d created, could only order his right flank to advance. Despite his overlap support, the battle was indecisive (4+5 v 3+6).
This action finally seemed to get a response from William, who began to advance and sent more knights into the fight on the road. Harald’s spear on the right were overlapped and recoiled. However, in a savage fight Harald forced back the knights opposite him (4+6 v 3+5). The knights on the left flank were now overlapped and fought to a stalemate (2+5 v 5+2).
Harald kept his head and decided to retire. Aided by more fantastic PIPs (6, then 1 to William, and then 4) he was able to rebuild his battle line (I’m not sure if the huscarls were eligible for the road movement when they only had part of their rear on it, but that movement was essential for the success of the whole redeployment).
Harald ordered his fyrd to contest the hill with the mounted scouting (not without risk as the scouts were uphill and get a QK!). He almost destroyed the scouts, but they fought bravely enough to retire (4+6 v 2+4).
The battle was now in the balance. Harald still hadn’t effectively deployed much of his army, and William saw his opportunity (finally getting 6 PIPs!). He was able to advance all along the line. However, hopes of seeing Harald’s line rolled up by his overlap in what has been called the ‘ripple of death‘ came to nothing. The overlapped fyrd on Harald’s left stood firm (3+5 v 3+2). The next weak point were the huscarls on the road, and he achieved a breakthrough here (3+6 v 4+1). The knights between these two conflicts were overlapped on one side while having overlap support on the other and were fought to a standstill (2+5 v 3+4). William’s hope to leave Harald surrounded came to nothing as the fyrd to the right of Harald stood firm (5+6 v 3+5) in a fierce encounter. Harald, unfazed, continued his heroics and slaughtered the last of the Norman spear (5+6 v 3+2).
Now it was Harald’s turn for a response, but as had happened the last time he’d killed he was too blood-crazed to give directions. He flanked the knights on his left and trusted in the dice. They didn’t let him down; he rolled yet another 6 and the knights crumpled (3+6 v 1+3). Taking heart at this victory the fyrd that had been fought to a standstill in William’s charge routed the knights in front of them (4+6 v 2+2). William, looking on at the loss of all his spear and two units of knights, yielded the field. Meanwhile, after the pursuit, Harald’s skalds sang his heroics to the sky; seldom has there been a battle decided so overwhelmingly by the individual battlefield prowess of the general!
The battle is named after a village near Lincoln on the old Roman road to York, Ermine Street to the Saxons, as this road proved central to the battle. Harald met William’s advance up this road near that village.
Had I remembered the limit for each sort of terrain how different this might have been. Part of Harald’s dilemma was a lack of terrain to anchor a flank, or to channel William—woods would have done this nicely! What was I thinking at set up!
By rights Harald’s deployment was so hazardous he should have lost. He was saved by the dice (a nice black one). He averaged 4.0 for PIPs against William’s 2.3. He rolled 6 for every combat he was involved in (the total of his dice in these four combats was +13 over the Normans. In the remaining combats the dice actually favoured the Normans, who scored higher on 7 of 11 combats and totalling +18 over the Northumbrians, who in the remaining four combats totalled +10. These statistics confirm the central role Harald played.
The heroics in this battle fit well with what is recorded of Harald. Rather than blame the peculiar deployment on him, it might be better to imagine William encountered him as he was on the march, and his decisive reaction saved the day. That’s surely what his skalds will claim. I’m not sure what to attribute William’s inaction to.