Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Than Agincourt: Resources

Though the Hundred Years War was long ago, there is considerable interest among historians today. The best part is that the current crop of historians are not simply rehashing the work of previous generations. I'll share a few valuable print resources and then pass on some useful web resources too.

For a general history one can always grab a standby, such as Desmond Seward's venerable The Hundred Years War: England in France 1337-1453 or A.H. Burne's two volumes, The Crecy War and The Agincourt War. However, the best work extent is by Jonathan Sumption's two books The Hundred Years Fire I: Trial by Battle and The Hundred Years War II: Trial by Fire. These books do an excellent job of helping the reader understand the social and economic factors faced by both nations while trying to prosecute the war. Sumption also focuses considerably more on the war in Guienne, a much overlooked theater in previous writing on the war. The only disappointment is that volume II only takes us to 1361. More is coming. Sumption draws on a greater range of sources than previous general histories have, and thus we understand the conflict better from both French and English perspectives.

There are lots of battle histories, biographies, and books on weapons and armor. However Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War, edited by Anne Curry and Michael Hughes is a superb collection of essays that focuses on a wide range of military topics. Originally published in 1994, the essay topics run a wide range from battle tactics, army composition and the employment of artillery. Scholarly and dense, these are not for the faint of heart. However the contributors broaden and deepen our knowledge of battle in the Hundred Years War.

Two excellent battle histories are must reads for this period. Both put a new spin on old battle reports. First, Anne Curry's 2005 book, Agincourt: A New History challenges old assumptions about the battle. Chief among these is that the English were horribly outnumbered. She puts the French with a numerical advantage, but drawing on English pay records, the English were probably only outmanned by 1.5 to 1. Curry also rexamines the deployment and role of the archers. Finally Curry asserts that the French were not dunderheaded fools that marched blindly into mud, stakes and an arrow storm. She recounts at least three steps the French took to deal with the archers and the threat they posed. An excellent read.

The other battle book I highly recommend is Crecy, 1345, edited by Andrew Ayton and Michael Preston. This collection of essays challenges most of what we've accepted about this pivotal battle of the European history. Among the most important assertions the contributors make include:

1. Edward III wanted to bring the French to battle, and did so on ground of his choosing.
2. The nature of what is presumed to be the battlefield is in conflict with description in the sources. The traditional French approach is, in fact, not passable. The French entered the valley and into a slaughter pen.

The book follows with an incredibly interesting essay on English organization, particularly the possible nature of English mixed arrays of archers and men at arms.

Finally, it is impossible to close without mentioning a couple of old chestnuts. First, Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror remains a wonderful recounting of the 14th century in Europe, particularly in France. Tuchman explores all of the larger issues that help give context and meaning to the Hundred Years War. Though it is now dated, John Keegan's brilliant description of Agincourt at the soldier's level in The Face of Battle is one of magnets that drew me into my HYW obsession.

There are also a couple of noteworth web sources that are definitely worth the reader's while. First, take a look at De Re Militari at This is the scholarly organization of medieval military history. Their website is full of valuable information and useful links. Ian Croxall's excellent Warflag website and its accompanying yahoogroup have a number of useful flags to download and print out. Another great source for flags is the Danish Miniature Wargamers page, Though the site is mostly in Danish (surprise) follow the downloads link and you'll have access to their excellent work.

Next: Figures

Camerone: the Battle

On Saturday April 29th ten of us gathered at Bruce Meyer's house to try out Camerone using Howard Whitehouse's Wooden Hand of Captain Danjou's rules. Dennis Trout made the Trinidad hacienda, and it looked great. We added some Architectural Heritage buildings as sheds, and we were all set. Dennis supplied all of the Mexicans, mostly using 25mm Mexican American figures. That really helped us keep track of Mexican casualties because the units were so diverse. I dragged out my stash of Wargames Foundry foreign legionnaires from the old Maxmillian line. I'd painted them for Camerone, using information frome James Ryan's great little book to paint names on their bases. Unfortunately they did't match Howard's list, so we had to do some last minute administrative shuffling.

Five players took on the six squads of French, leaving four, including Dennis and I, to run the Mexicans. On turn one David "Danjou" Sullivan assigned responsibilities for the French. Three squads were to find debris to plug the gates and the gaping breach in the south wall. One squad entered the hacienda and the remaining two made loopholes to fight off the Mexicans. Sadly, the French were greeted by the crack of musketry from snipers hidden in the upper floor of the hacienda. However, they accomplished their various missions just as the Mexican cavalry came riding in.

For the first couple of turns, the cavalry mostly made great targets. The French fired freely at them, mostly driving them away from the walls. However, a great deal of ammunition was fired, and as the Mexicans fired back, legionnaires began to fall. Two squads entered the hacienda, having difficulty ascending to the upper floors to get at the snipers.

On turn three the Mexican infantry entered, surrounding the walls the following turn. The infantry could not only assault the easily defended portals through the walls, but could boost troops up over the walls opening avenues of attack into the rear of the wall defenders. Despite the best efforts of Bruce "bang bang" Duthie to cut down the attackers, the French began to fall back to the hacienda, leaving wounded along the way. By turn seven the walls were clear of Frenchmen and the Mexicans began to clear away debris. On the positive side (for the French) the last snipers were safely bayonetted and the hacienda was fully occupied. Ammunition was running low.

By turn eight, Mexicans were massing in the courtyard, firing volleys at the beleaguered legionnaires. Reinforcements poured in through the breach and the gates. Ammunition was down to a handful of rounds, and the makeshift hospital was under attack by Mexicans coming over the wall. On turn nine the French made their first desperate bayonet attacks, but they were swarmed under by a crowd of foes. The Mexicans set fire to the hacienda, making the desperate situation impossible. By turn ten Mexicans climbed a ladder to the upper floors and more desperate bayonet attacks were meeting swallowed by the attackers. The last French defender fell on turn eleven.

All agreed it was big fun. The game was over in about three hours playing time, with a break for lunch. Dennis and I will run this during the Sunday morning game period at Enfilade.