“It was a pleasant sight, if a man’s skin had not been in hazard.”
John Taylor, Chaplain and Chronicler to Henry VIII, 1513.
This scenario is loosely based on an incident that occurred during Henry VIII’s 1513 invasion of France, though it may readily be adapted for any period between the Renaissance and the late nineteenth century.
When Henry’s army assembled at Calais in the summer of 1513, it had with it ‘twelve guns of unusual magnitude each cast in the image of an apostle’ (Charles Cruickshank, ‘Henry VIII and the Invasion of France’, Alan Sutton 1990). The king was inordinately proud of the large artillery train he took with him on the expedition, and the apostles were his particular favourites. But when the English were surprised by a French force in the neighbourhood of Tournehem in late August, one of the apostles – St John the Evangelist – became separated from the main body of the army in the aftermath of the fighting, and slipped into a deep stream in the ensuing confusion. An English detachment assigned to fish out the gun – which weighed over three tons – was overwhelmed by a body of French troops, and the apostle was lost.
Henry was furious. The Earl of Essex and Sir Rees ap Thomas set out to see whether they could retrieve the gun, as well as a bombard that the French had seized at the same time. When they arrived on the scene they realised that whilst the bombard had already been removed to safety by the enemy, they had a good chance of saving St John, which was still mired in the stream. The great gun was dragged from the water, but while they were preparing to move off with it a large French force appeared. Essex wanted to attack at once, but Thomas pointed out that they were outnumbered, and moreover that their orders were to retrieve the apostle – not to fight a general engagement. The Welshman’s counsel prevailed, and the English – with the apostle harnessed to a team of Flanders mares – headed back to camp. At this point the French cavalry launched an attack on the rear of the English column, but they were beaten off with great spirit. Essex and Thomas arrived back at Henry’s camp in triumph.
This small action provides a number of possibilities for solo scenarios, with either or both of the discrete phases of action providing enough material for an interesting game. I have chosen to concentrate on the second phase, i.e. Essex and Thomas’s rescue of the gun, and to assign the NPG (non-player general) role to the French, and the human general to the English side. This however could be reversed with little difficulty should you wish to do so.
The balance of forces engaged in this fight clearly favoured the French, but other than that details are sketchy. I would suggest the following order of battle, which you will need to adjust to fit your chosen rule set (I tend to use the movement and combat values in DBA, with some house amendments):
1 x Knight General (the Earl of Essex and Sir Rees ap Thomas)
3 x Demi-Lances (medium cavalry)
4 x Border Horse (light cavalry)
2 x Bowmen
1 x Limber Team (plus out-riders)
3 x Gendarmes (knights) inc. General
4 x Stradiots (light horse)
2 x Mounted Crossbowmen
2 x Mounted Arquebusiers
2 x Skirmishers
The engagement is fought out on a battlefield consisting of good going dotted with four small copses. A stream crosses one edge of the battlefield diagonally; it should be treated as impassable terrain for the purposes of this game, except for the French skirmishers and English bowmen. At the start of the scenario the apostle is in the stream. See the map for further information including the starting positions of the two main forces. Note that this is my own interpretation and is necessarily a highly impressionistic one! Click on the image below for a larger version:
Winning The Battle
You will achieve victory if you meet all of the following game objectives:
The limber team and attached apostle exit the battlefield safely.
Your general exits the battlefield safely.
At least 50% of your units manage to leave the battlefield in good order (i.e. not pushed back across the baseline or routing).
Note that the English can only exit from the corner of the board where they were initially deployed. If you meet the first and second objectives but lose more than half your troops, you have achieved an honourable draw. Any other result and the French win!
Playing The Game
As commander of the English side, you will have to deal with a number of unknowns:
How long will it take to drag the apostle out of the stream?
When will the main French force attack, and what form will their attack take?
Where have the French deployed their skirmishers?
Once the battlefield has been set up and the two forces have been deployed, the English are free to move towards the stream to retrieve the gun, and take the first game turn. You may choose to throw out a defensive screen to cover any French advance, or you may prefer to concentrate on getting your troops to the stream as a single body. Note however that you may not attack the French at this stage. When the English move is completed, throw a D6. Results as follows:
1 – 4 : the French hold back, no action this turn.
5 : the French are indecisive, throw again.
6 : the French will attack this turn.
Repeat this procedure at the end of each English turn until the French force attacks.
Following the completion of the first English game turn, throw a D6 to determine the position of the French skirmishers, with the following result:
1 – 3 : the skirmishers are positioned across the stream.
4 : the skirmishers are hidden in the copse nearest the English entry point.
5 – 6 : the skirmishers are deployed in the copse nearest the stream.
Note that the French skirmishers will attempt to disable the limber team. Failing that, they will harrass the nearest English unit(s). If positioned across the stream, they are able to cross it without suffering a movement penalty, but fight at a minus one combat penalty if caught in the stream itself by any of the English horse or foot.
Once the English limber team has reached the apostle, throw a D6 – this determines the number of turns it will take to pull the apostle out of the water and limber it up.
Once a French attack has been triggered, you must determine the tactics that the French general will employ. You may well choose to use your own solo ‘house rules’ to this end, but here are a few suggestions based on simple dice throws. Throw two D6 and proceed as follows:
2 – 3 : Gendarmes and Stradiots move to block the English exit point. Other troops deploy to harrass the English at the stream and at any weak points along their line.
4 : Mounted Crossbowmen and Mounted Arquebusiers move to screen off the English exit point while other troops concentrate on destroying the limber team.
5 : Mounted Crossbowmen and Mounted Arquebusiers move to screen off the English exit point while other troops concentrate on killing the English general.
6 – 7 : All French units move to block the English exit point.
8 : The whole French force launches a general attack along the English line.
9 – 10 : All French troops focus on killing the English general.
11 – 12 : The whole French force focuses on destroying the limber team.
I hope that this simple scenario, based on a small-scale engagement in Henry VIII’s 1513 French campaign, will provide plenty of scope for adaptation and variation. Most of the suggestions I’ve made here – for example as to the composition of the two sides, the French tactics, and the victory conditions – are tentative proposals which would undoubtedly benefit from further development. Scales and distances will have to be tweaked to fit in with your favoured ruleset – the English need to have a reasonable chance of accomplishing their mission, and the French of engaging them en masse!
It should be fairly straightforward to transpose this game into other periods. It will neatly fit into most historical periods from the late medieval age to the beginning of the modern era. And of course by replacing the stranded gun with, for example, a supply wagon or siege engine it would also be possible to morph it backwards into earlier times.
Addendum, October 2015: Richard Mulligan and friends have produced a really nice version of this scenario, with lots of eye candy, here – http://stuartsworkbench.blogspot.co.uk/