Hundred Years War and fighting the big battle.

Lion Rampant is a great set of rules for fighting the many small actions of the Hundred Years War.  Adding a few more troop types, like town militia and mounted archers will help.  But overall I think it’s a fine set of rules that are simple and easy to learn.

I run into trouble when I want to fight a big battle.  I’ve bought fully into the Hundred Years War sickness. I have my 400+ (and growing) singly mounted figures.  But I also have 200+ (and growing) miniatures on multiple figure bases.  So I’m preparing to fight the big battles as well as the skirmishes, raids and small battles.

My problem is finding a set of rules to do the job. The rules sets I’ve seen don’t fully embrace the unique characteristics of the Hundred Years War, and it’s much different than other wars.

Much of that uniqueness is related to the English system of warfare.  To fully understand it means throwing out some myths about how the English fought.  Lots of that myth was perpetuated by a relatively modern writer of English military, Col, Alfred Burne. Burne wrote two important books on the Hundred Years War, The Crecy War and The Agincourt War in 1954 and 1956 respectively.  His model for the English battle line looked something like this:

Burne and Bradbury

In this drawing the triangles marked with an A represent archers, specifically longbowmen.  Burne’s argued, that based on his reading of Froissart’s version of Crecy the English adopted a herce or harrow shaped formation with archers interspersed in the main battle line.Burne’s reasoning was that the harrow, an agricultural implement had teeth with gaps between for the grain to be gathered.  Thus the English line must have had archers as the teeth.

This was accepted orthodoxy for many years, until it was questioned in Jim Bradbury’s 1985 book The Medieval Archer. In his analysis of Burne’s work, Bradbury suggested that the little wedges of archers in the English battleline would have led to weaknesses easily exploited by French cavalry or armored  men-at-arms in melee.  Bradbury suggested that It was far more likely that longbowmen were deployed well out on the flanks, protected by terrain features or battlefield improvements such as stakes or pits. Bradbury’s models for the proper deployment of the English army at Crecy and Agincourt are widely embraced by the scholarly community.  This diagram is from an article by Matthew Bennett in Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War (1994).

The challenge in fighting the big battle of the Hundred Years War is to properly depict longbowmen which usually form 1/2 to 4/5’s of an English army. In several sets of ancients rules that also depict the Middle Ages, one of the complaints about Hundred Years War English is that they don’t make a very good army.  That’s chiefly because unless the English are fighting according to their historical set up they have little chance to succeed.

In his biography of Edward III (Edward III and the Triumph of England, 2013) Richard Barber’s analysis of Crecy begins with an apology for having so few facts about the battle.  But as he examines as many eyewitness accounts as possible, including a definitive location of the battlefield, However, one thing he communicated with certainty is the likelihood the English men-at-arms, fighting dismounted, were on a very narrow front, as little as 400 yards. Reasoning, the archers must have been able to cover the armored troops’ front with fire,or at least the front of their division with fire. Bennett, in his article on development of battle tactics echoes Bradbury’s suggestion that the archers in their horn, may have actually shot over their accompanying men-at-arms.  Sadly, without any kind of evidence or drawing any conclusion.  However, Bennett, in his 1994 article, and echoed in subsequent works, suggested the English may have employed some archers much like the French used tirailleurs in the wars of the French Revolution and in the Napoleonic Wars.  Operating in small skirmishing groups, some longbows may have shot their arrows to prick their more heavily armored adversaries into action, thereby bringing on an action more quickly than was desired.

On the wargame table this could mean providing the longbows with greater range, firing in deeper ranks, and allowing some the ability to skirmish and doge around blocks of friendly men-at-arms.  It certainly means English armies will perform best if their troops are allowed to fight historically.  They are tactically defensive, so forcing them to be aggressive or fight a meeting engagement is well outside their comfort zone. A big battle set of rules should reflect this.

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