Durham Wargames Group put on it’s annual extravaganza on 25th November 2023, at the Stockton campus of Durham University, at the always-popular BATTLEGROUND show.
The pictures should (more or less) speak for themselves.
There has been a set of late medieval rules for big skirmishes, Never Mind the Billhooks, which some of us saw in action at the 2022 show, and this summer there was a maritime version, Never Mind the Boathooks.
Splendid news! Several of us already had late medieval ships, and this now meant that we could do some proper games. Most of the fighting was done by boarding, and the fleets were crude by Mediterranean standards, but still a vital part of the English, French, Castilian and Hanseatic forces. For the first time since Richard I, England had a king who appreciated sea-power, and built what was the first real English standing navy.
The game is very loosely based on the two naval actions fought by Henry V’s fleet against the forces of the King of France in the Seine estuary. Loose is the vital word. We cannot be sure exactly where the fights were, as the mouth of that river has changed quite a lot in six centuries. The core of the “French” fleet was formed of large Genoese ships, and here we replaced them with Hanseatic vessels. There is much more information available on the North German/ Scandinavian type of ship, including some excavated cogs and a small flotilla of reconstructions which sails the area in summer, and can be inspected in its home ports at other times (the only English reconstruction is the Matthew of Bristol, which represents a vessel of the end of the century).
To play the game you need a grid, easily made with glass beads or poker-chips Blu-tac’d to rubberised mat, 28mm figures on individual bases (Perry Plastic Agincourt are perfect, and Deus Vult Scandinavians, Muscovites, archers and crossbowmen are fine for the Hansa men), and several model ships.
This where it gets interesting. The ships, as so often, are smaller than they should really be, but it looks better that way. Sarissa Precision and Zwezda both do cogs, the latter much bigger. We added coloured sails, from old bits of cloth, and a small Croatian flag-the chequers of Croatia are ideal for the red and white of the Hansa. As sails were not pure white, dying the cloth in tea toned down the colours. Two more large cogs were scratch-built pirate ships by Stuart Higginson, friend to DWG, then converted to Northern Europe. Royal vessels in particular were very colourful and glamorous, so we had great fun in adding the appropriate ornament. Henry was VERY religious, which gave us a source of non-heraldic imagery, and false cloth-of-gold is easily available from Boyes Stores.
Ultimately, the vessels of the period were descended from the types of the Viking age, some much more closely than others. A particular favourite of ours was the well-documented Newcastle Galley, dating from the 1290s but of a type seemingly still in use in the period we were portreying. Our model was a very heavily-altered Revel Viking ship, using the two published speculative reconstructions (1936 and 1962). Commercially-made resin knarrs also served, with centre-line rudders and castles. Finally, a 1960 wooden souvenir Venetian gondola from a charity shop became a French galley, converted to sail only, as some seem to have been. Removing the ballerina (!?) and the musical mechanism which played O Sole Mio, we added castles and superstructures of wooden Scrabble tiles (from The Works).
Finally, we added some light swivel-guns, and a few Great Crossbows (where the strength is in the bow) and springalds (which we interpreted to be torsion-powered, like Helenistic catapults). It would be a long time until artillery was able to damage ships, but these could reach out to hit crews.
Next-the Med! There is quite a lot in English on the galley-fleets used there, so….
Article by Conrad Cairns