Thursday 12 November 2015

'Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450' - A Brief Review

A slight divergence from posting updates on my HYW collection – my brief review of the long-awaited book from Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms at the Wallace Collection, ‘Armour of the English Knight, 1400 to 1450’ 
(published by Thomas del Mare).

I think that it was about 4 years ago that I became aware that this book was in preparation. It is the development of Dr Capwell’s PhD thesis of some years ago and subsequent research, and is the first of three planned volumes, covering English 'white harness' across the entire fifteenth century. This book is clearly well timed for the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, and it a significant contribution to our knowledge of that period. It’s the first publication to be dedicated to the topic of English armour and uses as its basis all the tomb effigies  - both carved alabaster and stone  and etched brass – which are extant (supported by contemporary documents and illustrations), as hardly any original armour survives from this period which can be definitively ascribed to English manufacture. Consequently, with Dr Capwell’s professional knowledge combined with his engagement in modern armour reconstructions, this now is and will remain, the definitive reference document for many years to come.

First thing to say about the book is that this is beautifully presented and lavishly illustrated – measuring 24 x 30 cms, with 308 pages - and is well illustrated with high quality images, both photographic and commissioned line drawings which really help the text and understanding of how the armour was constructed and functioned on the wearer’s body. Time and effort has also been invested in the design and layout of the pages within each of the book’s sections. The 300 pages allows for a  generous use of images (mostly aligned with the text which is an immense help when reading) – including full and double page photographs of complete tomb alabasters commissioned for the book – shot with strong lighting against black backgrounds which really enhances images which previously have not been so well recorded. In addition, hand drawn illustrations are provided by two leading armour makers, providing 3D and cut-away perspectives on the construction and function of many pieces, from helms to hinges.

The book is effectively divided into four sections:
  •        An introduction to armour; including the evidence for English armour, its  manufacturer, English fighting styles and dating
  •         Armour of 1400 – 1430
  •         Armour of 1430 – 1450
  •         Dr Capwell’s modern reconstruction of a full harness for the joust, circa 1440. 

In both sections on the armour, the author covers all the main pieces of the knight’s full harness – helm, cuirass, arm defense, vambraces, gauntlets, leg armour and sabatons – tracing the changes (or a continuation of ‘outdated’ styles) across the time periods. Here Dr Capwell’s exhaustive knowledge is in evidence, as all evolutionary styles and changes are explained with reference to existing evidence from the tombs and images of the English knightly classes that remain, primarily the fabric of English churches. The book also contains a full reference section, bibliography and locations for all alabasters and brasses cited in the book – I now have my own sub-list of local tombs to visit.

Dr Capwell’s proposition is that there is sufficient remaining evidence to prove that there was a distinct English style of armour in this period – sufficiently manifest for some contemporary European documents to refer to “englysh”. It’s a style which was of course founded on European armour styles and construction – led by the major Italian and South German manufacturing centres of the fifteenth century - but influenced by a combination of the English propensity to fight on foot and by localised aesthetics in terms of style and design. Some of these differences appear to be relatively subtle (for example the application of decorated vervelles covers on bascinets and applied border decorations of the 1410-20s), others much more pronounced (elongated cuirass skirts of up to eight lames and pauldrons with  deep fluting in the 1440s).

Dr Capwell addresses some of the factors which may have influenced the English style. However I perhaps expected this to be expanded further, and to be specifically contrasted with their European equivalents. How much perhaps did the absence of English facing massed archery on the battlefield in this period effect elements of design? Was the increased evidence for longer cuirass  skirts and enclosed cuisses in the 1430-50 period a direct response to knights fighting on foot with the pollaxe? However the collated evidence presented is a compelling one – although my expectation is that the ‘English style’ may become even more distinct in the second half of the century, as we may see in the next 2 volumes?

In summary, this is publication of immense interest and reference – one which contains a substantial amount of evidence which I’ll return to time after time. It is also a book of quality, a joy to read and turn the pages of. Whilst we expect to pay a premium price for academic publications (with their inevitable modest circulation),  this book is worth the investment in its cover price by virtue of both the scholarly text and the valuable imagery it contains (many I’d not see in publications on armour 
before). It’s left me needing to be patient once again, as I anticipate and await the arrival of volume 2.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Agincourt - 600 Up

Seems appropriate to post today, it being the 600th anniversary of Agincourt. A victory which placed the longbow into English folklore (assisted somewhat by Shakespeare 175 years later), but which was as much a result of weak French kingship and divided government, combined with poor tactical decisions on the day of battle, as it was the ‘we band of brothers’.

Unfortunately I’ve not managed to get sufficiently organised for an anniversary posting which has anything new (or even work in progress) as content. I think the next scheduled additions will be when the Perrys plastic French Army box will be available – the ‘greens’ look particularly good - hopefully early in 2016. Hopefully next year will bring an opportunity to play another HYW battle that I’m yet to do with this collection – Bauge, Patay or Rouvray (The Herrings) perhaps.

Some months ago I took a few pictures for WSS magazine to depict Agincourt. So here are some that were not used in full in the magazine, as my 25th October 2015 offering…

Finally, am sure everyone's seen pictures of the completed Agincourt diorama at the Royal Armouries Tower exhibition? It looks very impressive in situ. I'm just a little concerned however that images of the French nobles I contributed, look like they've been displayed around the edge (to assist identification, on the left of the photo below) at a magnitude of about 500%. So f you go, please be kind when you inspect them, they were done against a  deadline!

Friday 2 October 2015

Agincourt 600 - Royal Armouries Diorama

As most will now be aware from the coverage this week on some social media and wargames publications, as part of it’s Agincourt 2015 exhibition the Royal Armouries commissioned a large battlefield diorama from Dave Marshall and Perry Miniatures.

Here are some pictures of the diorama, taken in its almost-ready state a couple of months ago in Dave’s workshop. Although it’s about half the size of the original plan from the Armouries, it is an impressive and wonderfully made model, which we spent over an hour inspecting and gloating over.
I was aware of the commission's progress and kindly asked to make a very modest contribution (to the total of 4,400 figures) in painting a dozen of the French leaders - all of whom are portrayed wearing their coats of arms - their places marked on the table by their flags.

The final model creates an effective impression of the battlefield, the positioning and size of the two armies (with the French only marginally the larger force) and the moments just before the French nobility reach their English opponents in their attempt to kill or capture Henry V. The French cavalry are shown retiring after their unsuccessful attacks on the English wings of bowmen. The table will certainly assist visitors reimagine the battle, as [part of the overall exhibition. I believe some creative 
lighting may also be added to the final model to give an impression of an arrow storm?

I hope that Alan is able to put into production some of the extra figures done for the display – crossbowmen at ease, trumpeters and carts being unloaded with supplies of arrows. All would be really useful for the AO range. Also the additional flags designed by GMB would be great to purchase too.
Obviously the final model was determined by the RA committee – my only disappointment with the final scene is the complete lack of flags and pennons in the rear two French battles. It looks unrealistic, but I understand that the RA only wanted the French leader’s flags to be shown, nearly all of whom 
were in the leading battle, so that visitors can easily identify where they were on the battlefield.

There is an excellent article on the model’s development on the Royal Armouries blog, written by David Marshall. I’m planning a Tower visit for next month – including the Agincourt display which The Wallace Collection are putting on – and the permanent relocation of the model to Leeds next year will also be a good excuse to make a revisit there too. 

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Agincourt at Salute pics (II) - Up Close and Personal.

Many thanks for the great comments from the last posting. The build-up for Salute can be long, as is the day itself, but the interest and memory quickly fades - so I thought I'd put up some additional photos sooner than later.

These are a mix of the players in 'hot action' and some close-ups of the figures in action. Most of these are not my pictures; Alan Daniels very kindly sent me several of his very atmospheric close-ups to use (as he did when I put on Cravant game 2 years back) and my daughter Catherine took some too. Both were at the table towards the end of the game, so they show the positions with the French about to rout the English.

Will McNally was our umpire on the day - he's a more regular gamer than I, with interest in several periods - his blog's here and well worth tagging. Will guided us smoothly through 'Hail Ceaser' and has kindly listed for me below the amends he made to reflect the battle and forces on the day:
Longbow and Crossbow ranges extended to 24" from 18".
Longbows were allowed to fire two ranks deep.
The muddy area effected movement via disorganisation: light troops (Crossbowmen) were disorganised on a d6 roll of 1; heavier infantry on 1 or 2 and cavalry (not used) on 1-3. Disorganisation mean the troops lost their next move.
The effects of the stakes was to remove any charge bonus from the attacker and additionally for the cavalry to disorganise them.
Most units were represented by four bases of figures, the only exceptions were the English cavalry as a small unit of two bases and two units of English Men at Arms with six bases who were treated as large units, giving them extra resilience.

That's probably it for now - a temporary hiatus will ensue but I will return to HYW of course - more wonderful Perry French plastics to come and I have some other items I want to add to the collection.

PS - there are some extra pictures of these figures in the new issue of 'Wargames Soldiers and Strategy' (no 78) - which is HYW themed.  I took these myself and Guy's scattered selected shots over several of the pages. Haven't read the articles yet, but they certainly look interesting. I like the magazine's mix of scenarios, notes on rules and painting/modelling tips.

Monday 27 April 2015

Agincourt at Salute 2015 - pics (I)

I'm collating pictures of the Agincourt demo game and aiming to add other posts later this week. Here are some photos for those who were not at the show, or otherwise engaged with their own game or retail therapy.

Salute is a very big show and has its own logistics which reflect that - this means a long weekend for travel, set-up, the show and the homeward journey etc. But it was a rewarding one in many ways. Firstly some thanks are in order; to Dave Lanchester for the invitation from the Lance and Longbow Society to bring along my toys, then to those who played the game in a great spirit - Will (umpiring us through Hail Caesar), Clive, Nigel, Stuart and Barry.

We played out the battle, and although the French initially looked a little light on numbers (but probably close to the recent estimates of Prof Anne Curry, who has them at no more that 25% greater than the English) they achieved a clear victory. The French advanced sluggishly but weathered the arrow storm. The crossbowmen and mounted men at arms sent out first failed to break the English defensive positions and fell back as casualties grew. However the arrival of the French men at arms in some numbers, pushed back the English left wing and despite a protracted melee in the centre, when Henry's battle fought back, that too collapsed and the King and his household took flight, to seek out a boat to re-cross the channel! The English were undoubtedly not helped by some atrociously poor dice throwing by Stuart and I all day long - a factor which can have a big impact with these rules. Perhaps we should have tweaked them to upweight the impact of the longbows - Michael Perry reminded me at the end of the day that they do this when playing WotR games with Hail Ceaser - so next time...?

There was a steady and often quite busy volume of visitors to the table all day. We took all the opportunities to answer questions and provide responses on the battle, the state of play, rules, figures etc. It was also great to meet and chat with blog acquaintances, both new and familiar. Thanks to everyone who came to say hello. We tried to present the game as best we could - keeping the dice, coffee cups and ephemera off the table.

At the end of the afternoon, we were all surprised - but extremely chuffed - to be given three awards by the show organisers. The game won Best Historical Game, Best Presentation and was 2nd in the Challenger category. A great finish to a long but rewarding show!

More pics along soon.