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

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

ECW - Bill Baillie, won't you please come home?

De Schuttersmajltid (Van der Helst)
A few years ago I bought a big load of pre-owned ECW figures via eBay. They came from a Belfast charity shop, and had formed part of a vast collection included in the estate of a gentleman who had recently passed away.

The good news was that these figures were very cheap, were of the correct scale (mostly SHQ and Tumbling Dice) and - unbelievably - were very obviously intended and organised to fight the campaigns of Montrose, which was exactly why I had wanted them. The bad news was that, though they were simply but adequately painted, they were finished in a strange mixture of what appeared to be cat hairs and boat varnish. It took a lot of work to get them into any kind of shape. My long sessions attempting to clean up and rebase these figures seem to have deranged me a little, and I recall that I used to have long, rambling conversations with the previous owners, whom I named Mike and Whiskers. Most of the conversations were connected with varnishing figures with a bucket and a broom, from the far side of the yard, and involved a fair amount of profanity.

Anyway, I got through all that, I came out with a load of useable Scottish and Irish units for my ECW armies, and I still have a big box of spare figures left over - the best of them are fairly good, in fact, but there are a lot of marching figures which don't really suit my ECW set up.

Among the spares I found a strange little figure, mounted on a full-sized horse. When I stripped him, it was obviously a conversion - someone had manufactured a personality figure of some nature, by using an underscale officer casting (late 17th Century, I guess) and soldering on big gloves and boots and giving him a big hat. I did nothing further with it, but it has always seemed to me that, given the very specific Montrose nature of Mike and Whiskers' collection, someone had obviously gone to some trouble to produce a very small general.

It couldn't be General William Baillie, could it?

For a start, I have no evidence that Baillie was small other than the fact that he appears to be so in his portrait at one end of Van der Helst's De Schuttersmajltid (the shooters' lunch), which shows a load of celebrities from Gustavus Adolphus' army in the Thirty Years War - and there are a lot of Scots present - James Lumsden and Alexander Leslie and - far right, with the orange sash - William Baillie, who I think was colonel of a Dutch regiment at this time.

The other evidence is that Nigel Tranter states (in whichever of the Montrose novels) that he was of very small build, with a high-pitched voice like a boy's. Did Tranter have something more to go on? Had he just seen the same Dutch painting I've seen?

I'm on shaky ground here - apart from my lack of real proof, I suspect I am potentially going to fall foul of some unwritten (or, even worse, written) rules of Political Correctness - an area in which I have an unfailing ability to put my big foot in it. Is it OK to feature some personal characteristic or disability of General Baillie in a model to appear in a game? Just a minute - it isn't me that is claiming he was in any way impeded by his lack of stature, is it? - that was implied by the PC lot. He had a long and successful military career, though he was not always a lucky general. He was one of Lord Leven's main men in the Covenanter army of 1643-44, and played a major part in steadying the Allied foot at Marston Moor. That was as good as it got. Subsequently he was sent back to Scotland to deal with Montrose, and his army was definitely of second string material. He managed his campaign with some skill, but was heavily defeated at Kilsyth.

Later he commanded part of the Duke of Hamilton's "Engager" army, now fighting against his former Parliamentary allies, and he was obliged to surrender the infantry of the army at Winwick Pass, after the Battle of Preston in 1648. The surrender was made to Cromwell himself, at Warrington.

Legend has it that Baillie was pleading with his soldiers to shoot him after Winwick Pass, to spare his disgrace.

Enough of this; this has been merely a brief headscratching moment, wondering whether I should bother to depict Baillie on my Marston Moor battlefield, and whether it would be correct (and/or acceptable) to make him a small man. My excuses are:

* I suspect Baillie was, in fact, a small man - if I field a small miniature, I am not mocking or criticising his memory [I shall avoid impersonating his voice, though].
* I don't pretend that Prince Rupert didn't have soppy long hair, do I? And a dog, come to that.
* Listen - if Nigel Tranter says Baillie was small, that's good enough for most people.
* I already have a suitable figure, so if necessary I could sort of blame Mike and Whiskers.

Does anybody have any further clues about our William B? Any of his relatives prepared to sue me if I go ahead?


  1. As long as you're sure that the small general with big hat and boots isn't actually supposed to be the well known soldier of fortune, Puss in Boots.

  2. Curious now - what evidence do you think Tranter based the high squeaky voice on? Are Leven and Lumsden perhaps giggling behind their hands in that painting? Was Baillie part of a 17th century boy band? (Ye Bee Gees?)
    I think Ross might be on to something - maybe Baillie and Puss in Boots were one and the same.

    1. There must be handed-down tales of these times and people - if some important general was a little squeaky man, that's the sort of stuff that would persist in the legends. Since many of the classic retellings of the Montrose saga are the stuff of pantomime anyway - the cross-eyed baddie, Lady Veronica's handsome, dashing hero, the formidable (though dim) Irish henchman - (that lot should get me a brick through the window...) - surely the squeaky-voiced loser would fit right in. OH YES HE WOULD.

    2. Blimey, you're right - I'd never thought of it that way. And Montrose's habitual lack of scouting - "He's behind you!!"

  3. Actually I'm thinking he looks a bit like me back in the 70s when I had hair!

    1. You've shaken me more than a little, Ian. Could you carry off the orange gift-wrap outfit? - actually, now I come to think about it...

  4. I’m sure I read somewhere he was very popular with his troops which is why they would not shot him before the surrender. He always looked up to his soldiers.

  5. If "legend" says he was a short man, so be it. We live in a post-Tyrion Lannister age after all, heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sounds like a plucky chap who deserves to be commemorated in lead. Go ahead.