A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The ECW Campaign – Time to Get Started


It is 1st March 1644 – the agreement between the English Parliament and the Government of Scotland has been drafted and signed. John Pym – “that prince among liars” – has agreed that Presbyterianism will become the principal religion of England, in exchange for the promise of military support for Parliament from the Covenanter army. That is probably as much as accepted, factual history applies to this campaign, though you should know that it has been an unusually hard Winter in the North of England, and mud and ice are making the already poor roads even worse going than normal.

The theatre for our humble backwater of the Great Rebellion is a little-known part of North Lancashire; the map (which I have shown here before) represents an area which has Lancaster somewhere to the south, the Lake District and Furness to the west, Carlisle far to the north and North Yorkshire to the east. This map is a skeleton, built of (slightly modified) cards from The Perfect Captain’s Battlefinder system; as I have explained previously, these snapshots of terrain do not plug together to form a continuous sheet of countryside – the individual spaces are separated by distances of up to 15 miles – no action takes place in the gaps between the cards – movement between cards is along the marked tracks. The most important constraint is that the principal river cannot be crossed anywhere but at the crossing places marked on the cards.

The management rules for the campaign are based upon the Maneuver Campaign section of the Battlefinder system. If you wish to study them independently then please do so, but this campaign is going to be different from my recent Peninsular War campaign in one important respect; that effort was controlled, as best as I could manage, by applying detailed rules and creating a narrative to explain what had happened – this one will be sort of the other way round, being driven principally by the developing narrative – if I don’t like the way it is shaping up then I shall change it! The intention is that I shall assess probabilities where choices occur, and let the trusty dice push things along. If necessary, the dice may get a couple of chances to reach the right answer…

The game turns will each represent “half-a-week”, if you will kindly excuse such a lumpy concept. This gives reasonably-sized moves – mounted troops can move two spaces, troops who are on foot or encumbered with wheeled vehicles can move one space per turn (mixed troops, of course, move at the speed of their slowest component) – mounted individuals and messengers (and thus news and information and orders and communications) may travel three spaces per turn if they get a move on, but they will run extra risks of delay (or misfortune). Two turns per week also gives some likelihood of getting a decent game going for a campaign which might well be over in a few weeks!

The map area is dominated by the River Arith (pronounced “earth”, please note), which flows from the north east of our map, past the large market town of Lowther (no connection with any modern place of the same name) and its near neighbour, the medieval castle and town of Erneford, then through a significant, rather marshy gap in the north-south line of hills at Patondale (scene of a significant battle in the 2nd Century, by the way), then it runs in a generally southerly direction, eventually emptying into the River Lune on its way to Morecambe Bay.

This region contains the highest proportion of Catholics in England, and its potential as a hotspot of Royalist fervour is further increased by the activities of prominent local families – notably the Armours, the Heskeths (cousins of the Marquis of Newcastle), the Monktons, the Bickerstaffes, the Galliards and others, whose support for the King is apparent and vigorous. Parliament views the area as a major recruitment area for the King, and the Royalist-dominated centres of population at Lowther and Midlawton as a key obstacle to any attempt to advance on Carlisle.


Benedict Hesketh, 2nd Baron Porteous (1598-  )

When bulletes fly
The nede is high
For sterner stufe
Than Vanity's puff
[Wm Hemphill, in a pamphlet on the King's Generals in Lancashire, 1643]
As our campaign opens, the Royalist commander in the area is Benedict, Lord Porteous, an indecisive, habitually anxious general whose victory last year at Thornthwaite has served to rescue an otherwise unimpressive record. Most of the talent among his staff lies with the two cavalry leaders, Lord Sefton and Col Sir Roderick Broadhurst, both of whom have seen service in the German Wars and know their trade thoroughly. Sefton's charge of horse at Thornthwaite has become famous, and is widely regarded as having turned the battle that day, a view which is not favoured by Porteous himself, who has taken some trouble in his reports to discredit Sefton’s contribution to that success, taking advantage of his subordinate’s absence as the result of his capture. Subsequently, Lord Sefton managed to escape by the simple expedient of bribing his captors while camped near Stockport, and returned to the Royalist HQ, where his relationship with his superior is observed to be somewhat cool.

Porteous has some 7500 foot and 2000 horse at his disposal, though the foot contingent includes some unpromising material – notably the respective town guards of Midlawton and Lowther, who have little formal training, are not trusted with firearms, and are unlikely to stay with the colours beyond sight of their homes. Col Broadhurst, based at Dransfield House in the north west of the area, has carried out a series of successful cavalry raids into the Furness district of Lonsdale Hundred, requisitioning horses and forage (and much else of value) and causing considerable nuisance – the burning of the town of Cartmel in November was the final straw which drew the forces of Parliament (of which more shortly) back into the region.

Dransfield House
Porteous has been promised by the King that a sizeable reinforcement from the army of the Marquis of Newcastle will arrive soon to help him deal with the reported approach of the Parliamentarians from the south. He knows little of what this help will consist of, but he does know that it is commanded by the talented Sir John Darracott, who theoretically outranks Porteous in the King’s service (and is thus, also, regarded as a threat). Darracott’s own army is currently busy trying to prevent a Covenanter force (which marched from Scots Gap three weeks ago) from joining the Parliamentarian force opposing Porteous’s.

One final ingredient in the mix is that General Sir George Boniface, a noted fire-eater (and also the possessor of a legendary thirst), has been seconded to the army at Lowther by the personal recommendation of Prince Rupert – Sir George has not yet joined the army, and his role is still to be decided. Lord Porteous, of course, is not happy about this development either.


Sir Nathaniel Aspinall of Sussken (1590-  ), in unusually jovial mood
On the Parliamentary side, the formidable (though unpopular) Sir Nathaniel Aspinall, the defeated commander at Thornthwaite, is still present with the army, but is now second in command, having had the largely unknown Sir Henry Figge-Newton appointed over his head. Figge-Newton is well connected politically, and regarded highly by the Lancashire Committee as an organiser and motivator, but his military talents are as yet untried. The Committee has had concerns over General Aspinall’s attention to detail in the matter of provisioning and paying his troops, and this seems to have figured prominently in Figge-Newton’s appointment.

The army has a number of experienced regimental commanders of real ability, but the only other general officer present at the moment is the Welshman, Lord Alwyn, who is a courageous leader of foot but was wounded at Thornthwaite (in the assault on the town) and has uncertain health as a result.

Though they hope to be joined by what is described as a "substantial force" of the Army of the Covenant in the near future, the Roundhead leaders have little idea of when that force will arrive, nor of what it will consist. In the meantime they have rather less than 6000 foot, and about 3200 horse. They also have a rudimentary siege train (which is usually to be found sunk into the mud, some miles behind the rest of the army), and – thanks to the efforts of Figge-Newton and his contacts in high places – they have a fairly impressive supply train, which will be invaluable in the march north across the barren hills beyond Bradshaigh (pronounced “Bradshaw”, by the way – for the enthusiasts) and similar places where the hillsides are just sodden expanses of gorse and bracken, and the roads are adequate only for herding small numbers of sheep.

Pikeman of Col John Burdett's (Rochdale) Regt of Foot [P]
The Parliamentarians are now arriving at the southern edge of our map, having marched from Lancaster. Porteous knows they are coming (he has been waiting for this initiative for some weeks, watching nervously as the snow recedes on the hills); his position around Lowther looks reassuringly sound, but he is concerned that an enemy advance towards Carlisle, bypassing his position on his western side, would seriously threaten his communications with the Royalists to the north and invalidate his position on the Arith. He has the advantage of local popular sympathy for purposes of supply and of information gathering, but his newer recruits are of uncertain quality.

The opening moves should follow over the next few weeks, and I'll give more details of OOBs then.


  1. I received an email from Martin P, who is very concerned to learn of the burning of Cartmel, wonders why it happened, and hopes that it will not threaten its modern-day fame as the birthplace of Sticky Toffee Pudding, which is the only reason Martin has heard of the place or cares about it.

    I know nothing of puddings, sir, but the official story is that Sir Roderick's men burned the town in reprisal for being fired upon by the townspeople, though no-one has ever confirmed they were fired upon. Another version is that the burning was accidental, and followed a fight among the King's troopers in the Swan tavern.

  2. Great stuff Tony, I will be following events with interest!