To be clear at the start, I am at heart a medievalist when it comes to painting, collecting and (occasionally) gaming. All this stems from a long-held interest in medieval history, which I carried on to degree level, but which failed to turn into a related job. For me, very little matches the aesthetic appeal of a well painted medieval army, with full panoply of heraldry, flags and armour. Although the popular view is that the medieval period lacked colour, it’s probably not the case when you look closely at the evidence. Military matters apart, everyday life was full of colour; parish church walls, rood screens and ceilings were all decorated with brightly painted patterns (some of which survives, such as Pickering in Yorkshire) and, icons and saints although carved of wood or alabaster were painted in life-like colours. Also dyes for clothing was not restricted to dull, earthy browns and greys; just look at Flemish paintings of the time.
However, in wargaming terms the collation of an accurate army comes at a terrible cost – time.
For the poor collector must have the greatest challenge and the longest task ahead of him (or her) of all the periods that can be chosen. The nub is that no two figures are the same.. there is no degree of any uniformity that for instance a collector of armies from the 17th century or even state-organised ancient armies, such as Greeks and Romans, would recognise. Now I’ve collected non-medieval forces too, having both AWI and WW2 collections, and I appreciate that there are at times tedium in painting uniformed figures…another 20 black tricorns or another 40 rifle butt highlights, but at least it’s all relatively quick. It’s only mixing one colour and it allows you to ‘production line’ the process and see a unit build up in front of you, allowing you to add in any personalisation and minor differences at the right stage. For the poor medievalist though, the best you may look forward to as a speedy process maybe limited to a dozen spear shafts or some plate armour.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom of course, surely this proverbial glass is half full and not half empty? We have benefited, perhaps on a par with Ancient gamers from the ‘great leap forward’ that’s occurred in the last few years - high quality transfers and flag printing. We should offer our deep thanks and open our wallets readily to the likes of LBMS, VVV, GMB and Freezywater (among others) who have transformed the appearance of finished figures. Banished are the days when a medieval (or ancient) army only looked good when viewed through a squint and at ten feet distance. There is no way that I would contemplate the task of painting twenty pavises, bearing the complex arms of late medieval towns, if I had to paint them all - firstly due to time taken, but mainly as the chance of getting any degree of a consistent finish was minimal. At best, heraldry used to end up being simplified from the actual designs, in order to achieve something that prevented you going either blind or half-crazy with frustration of re-painting numerous errors in the fine detail.
However, the essential challenge remains. Medieval soldiers did not stand side-by-side their counterparts and see a mirror-image of themselves in terms of their apparel. In fact, a nobleman would not wish to… differences in armour and dress displayed personal wealth and all-important status. Heraldry too, although starting to be used less on the battlefield for personal attire in the fifteenth century, was by its very nature unique, differentiating one landed family from another. For troops of non-noble birth, from professional soldiers, to retained yeoman, most were attired in their everyday clothing, with whatever addition of defensive garb that was required or could be afforded, from plate or mail armour to padded jackets, gloves, leg protection and various helmets. Although similar troops would be joined together in the field, e.g. crossbowmen, both weapons and clothing were made to last, so styles of dress and equipment were likely to embrace several decades of style and design. Any ‘uniformity’ derived largely from tabards, badges or insignia relevant to either the recruiting lord or captain or the campaign. Even then, if the responsibility lay with an individual to provide, for example, his ‘white cross’ to signify French loyalty, then the size, position and material used was likely to vary from man to man.
So, the only solution in bringing the prospect of this visual feast to fruition on the wargames table is to treat each model as an individual, utilise the full paint palette, knuckle down to your heraldry, exploit the few shortcuts made available and stay in it for the long haul. Don’t expect to dip into the period and quickly produce results beyond a skirmish game.
Its just keep trucking – stuck very firmly in the crawler lane in the motorway of wargaming.