Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Not Quite the Siege of Newcastle 1644 - (4) Stand Down

Best laid plans, and all that.

Unfortunately, a sudden outbreak of Real World means that the (overpublicised?) siege game scheduled for Wednesday has had to be cancelled. Postponed is a nicer word.

It would probably have been more sensible, and certainly less embarrassing, if I had adopted a low-risk approach, kept quiet about the project and simply posted a game report once it had been played, but I never did have much sense. [Oh no - it's been on TMP and everything...]

Anyway - not to worry, I've taken sketches and photos, and I've filed away the documentation  so I can set it all up again when opportunity presents itself. I have apologised to the guest generals. Ho hum.

I'll be a little preoccupied for a few days. Look after yourselves until we meet again.

Sunday 26 February 2017

Not Quite the Siege of Newcastle 1644 - (3) A Moderate Tweak

As discussed in my last post, the real Siege of Newcastle makes an uncomfortable basis for a game, since it was really two separate events with a sort of extended hangover period between. I have now produced a fudged version of the history, which gives a better excuse to stage a proper siege. The scenario is now some weeks earlier than the real event, and the garrison of Newcastle seems to have been augmented by some returning veteran troops who, in complete defiance of accepted history, did not fight to the last man at Marston Moor, but marched off back home at the first opportunity, just squeaking over the bridge into the town before the Scots captured Gateshead and slammed the - erm - gate.

To get round the further issue that the Scots' best strategy appears now to be to wait and starve the town into submission, I've also applied some political and contextual reasons for them to have to get on with taking the place. 

I think it will be all right. The game will take place on Wednesday - I shall have one guest general taking the part of the besieged, the other the besiegers, and I shall be the umpire. That may sound nastily as though I will actually play a solo game, with two slaves to help, but I shall take care to ensure it doesn't work like that. The three of us will - collectively - play through our version of the Siege of Newcastle - if it turns out that the town never stood a chance then the process should at least be educational. If it turns out that the rules don't hang together very well then we can agree to patch them on the fly. It's all in an excellent cause. And there will, of course, be some supper.

I've managed to reduce my multiple attempts at siege rules (9 years of false starts, plus numerous manuscript scribbles - some actually jotted down while away on holiday) to a single typed document - well, all right, a mature draft - I still have a little time to check to see if some of the numbers need to be altered to give a balanced game. I have also produced three documents, to set the context for our game. I have one each for the two commanders, telling them what they, personally, need to know, and I have a general preamble, which I shall include here, which sets out the (amended) historical situation in terms which are common knowledge - stuff which can be freely shared.

I'll publish the specific notes for the two commanders, and the OOBs, along with the game report - these chaps are quite crafty enough to check for secrets on my blog...

Here goes - this is the first handout - both commanders get this as a starter.

Preamble (general knowledge, issued to both commanders)

It is 8am on Monday 3rd October 1644. It is a dreary, cold morning – blustery, with the threat of rain later. The scene is the area outside the walls on the northern side of Newcastle upon Tyne, an important coal and commercial centre with a population of about 11,000. Newcastle has been loyally supportive of King Charles throughout the first two years of the Civil War. It is a bleak landscape – not enhanced by the presence of many small, abandoned coal workings and the burned-out ruins of some humble suburbs that had grown up outside the town’s Newgate and Pilgrim Street Gate, destroyed by the garrison to clear the field of fire from the walls.

The town of Newcastle has had varying numbers of Scottish Covenanter troops stationed outside it (their HQ is at Elswick) since they arrived in February, at which time a demand for surrender of the town was refused. Rather than commit time and effort to a major siege, the Scots then marched south to Sunderland, leaving a small force to watch Newcastle. The main objectives of this campaign were always York and the main Royalist field armies.

Since then the Battle of Marston Moor has taken place in Yorkshire (2nd July), which was a massive defeat for the Royalists and in which the Scottish army was heavily involved. Shortly afterwards the important Royalist city of York surrendered. The King’s situation in the North is now desperate – with the exception of isolated garrisons at Pontefract, Carlisle, Durham, Newcastle and a few other places, there is no prospect of the Royalists re-establishing any significant level of control, thus their focus is increasingly centred on holding the city of Chester, which is an important port on the other side of the country and controls access to North Wales.

The great champion of the King’s cause in the North, William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, who almost single-handedly raised and financed the Royalist effort in the North-East, has now gone into exile in Germany, largely as a consequence of Prince Rupert’s having successfully shifted the blame for Marston Moor onto his shoulders. He and almost all his field army are lost to the Royalist effort – a major blow.

The Scottish troops, under Lord Leven, have now returned to finish the business at Newcastle itself. Apart from its role as the last major Royalist port in the North-East, Newcastle is an essential supplier of coal to Parliamentarian London – restoration of the London coal supply is seen as the main deliverable from capture of the town, and Leven is now under a lot of political pressure to take the place, and quickly.

The situation in Newcastle is now critical – though an effort has been made to collect supplies into the town, the arrival of a fresh Scottish force under the Earl of Callander resulted in the capture of the town of Gateshead (27th July), on the other end of the only bridge over the Tyne, and of the fort  at South Shields, at the mouth of the river, so that the town is now cut off from the outside world for the first time – prior to this, despite a supposed Parliamentary blockade, some ships had been taking coal to Rotterdam and Hamburg, and returning with provisions and armaments.

Leven arrived back at Elswick from Yorkshire on 15th August with his main army – the Scots have now constructed pontoon bridges across the Tyne both upstream and downstream from Newcastle, and hold the south bank of the Tyne – the port and castle can now be fired on from across the river. They have troops and guns all around the town.

There has been an extended exchange of diplomatic letters between Leven and Sir John Marley, who is both Mayor and Military Governor of Newcastle. Leven has been urging for speedy surrender, to avoid unnecessary loss of life (and to protect the coal supply!), and Marley has deliberately been prevaricating and nitpicking over the protocols under which terms should be agreed, and about whose fault it will be if bloodshed does occur. Marley’s obvious aim is to play for as much time as possible, which seems odd since there is no chance of being rescued by any kind of relieving force.

Leven is known to be subject to much criticism in London for what is perceived as a dilatory and otherwise unsatisfactory showing at Newcastle. There is also a widespread feeling that, after a long and illustrious military career, he is now too old for the stresses of campaigning - even his most loyal colleagues fear this may be true. Throughout the protracted game-playing of Marley’s supposed negotiations for terms of surrender, Leven has intermittently carried out some limited bombardment of the town, but it seems to have been more to emphasise his overwhelming advantage than to destroy the place out of hand.

Leven has a total force of perhaps 20,000 soldiers, stationed on both sides of the Tyne and all around the walls of Newcastle. The obvious site for batteries to breach the walls is on the ridge at The Leazes, which faces the medieval town wall between Newgate and Pilgrim Street Gate. The walls of the town have been repaired, but they are of an archaic style which predates siege artillery, and there are no earthworks to protect or support them against roundshot.

Marley’s total force is unknown, but it cannot be more than a couple of thousand. He has recently sent a couple of sorties out in the vicinity of the Sandgate (off the table – outside the town on the riverside, to the east) which went surprisingly well, they caused some casualties, upset the Scots and took a few prisoners. Scottish morale seems surprisingly low…

Separate Topic

The Contesse has been sorting out her folders of photos, and she found this rather scary exhibit - I never knew such a picture had been taken, though I shall be on my guard in future. Apparently this was almost exactly three years ago - obviously on a dark and stormy night. In the intervening period, both the sofa and my sweater have gone to the landfill, it seems (you can see why), but the fierce concentration and the Silence of the Lambs magnifying "jeweller's loop" (which I occasionally wear when answering the door, just to frighten the mailman) are still very much in evidence. I had a half-hearted attempt to see if I could work out what I was painting, but didn't get very far.

As you can probably see, one of the difficulties I have in painting is that my nose is too long to allow me to get close enough to the job. As you can also see, one of the advantages of this hobby is that you don't always have to look your best.

Monday 20 February 2017

Not Quite the Siege of Newcastle 1644 – (2) What Really Happened

…and why it won’t make a very good game without serious revision of the narrative.

First thing to know about the Siege of Newcastle is that it doesn’t get a lot of coverage. If you read Peter Young, or CV Wedgwood, or Gardiner, or just about any of the respectable general histories, then you will find either no mention at all or else a casual one-liner about the town having eventually fallen to Parliament. It goes without saying that it was a matter of the greatest importance to the people who lived there at the time, but by the time the place surrendered the war had moved on elsewhere, and the final capture was in any case a foregone conclusion.

What follows is a summary of my understanding of what happened – it will certainly reflect my own limited attention span and the fact that most of my sources are Scottish, so I would not recommend that you base your homework on it without checking further!

Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven
When the Earl of Leven led the Scottish Covenanter army into Northumberland on the 19th January 1644, he expected to reach the Tyne by the 27th. He appears to have had no intention of undertaking any kind of formal siege – the town of Newcastle had surrendered to him without resistance in 1639, during the brief Bishops’ Wars, and there seemed every chance that the same thing would happen now. Leven’s army did not have the best of either luck or weather on their march, and did not reach Newcastle until 3rd February, by which time the principal Royalist in the Northern Counties, the Earl of Newcastle (whom I shall henceforth refer to as William Cavendish, to avoid confusion), had managed to reach the town with some 4000 troops. Leven’s request that the gates be opened to him was dismissed out of hand. Since his heavy artillery was still en route, having been sent by ship from Leith to Blyth, his bluff was called, though he probably had in the region of 17000 soldiers under arms.

William Cavendish, Earl (later Marquis) of Newcastle
Newcastle stands on the River Tyne, at a point where the river was a very serious military obstacle – from Newcastle to the sea there was no crossing point, and there were Royalist forts at the mouth of the Tyne, at Tynemouth and South Shields, which hindered naval blockade of the port. On the western side of the town the nearest ford was at Newburn, some 7 miles upstream, with another at Heddon on the Wall, maybe another 2 miles. Across the river from Newcastle was the town of Gateshead (referred to as Gatesyde in contemporary Scottish accounts), which commanded the other end of the only bridge.

View across the Tyne from Gateshead, showing the only bridge

If Leven were immediately to set up a formal siege of the town of Newcastle, he would have no control of the south bank of the Tyne, and the forts would enable an amount of maritime traffic to persist – blockade or no, boats are known to have continued to take coal from Newcastle to Hamburg, and maybe Rotterdam, and return with supplies including armaments. The wider strategic demands of the war required the Scottish army to be available further afield, and the cost and delay of a siege at this point were not appealing. Without better control of the river, a besieging army could not even seal off the town.

Leven decided to move on – he left 6 regiments of foot and some cavalry under James Lumsden to watch the town, and marched the bulk of his army to the western fords and thence south towards Sunderland (which was favourably disposed toward Parliament), which became his base of operations for a while. He captured the fort at South Shields (though it subsequently changed hands again), and managed to outmanoeuvre Cavendish’s field army (which apparently had left the “blockaded” town of Newcastle pretty much at will) fairly consistently through a short campaign which included the indecisive action at Boldon Hill (see previous game report from last year).

At this point news reached Cavendish of Parliament’s capture of Selby, in Yorkshire, which increased the threat against York, so that he chose to march south to support the Royalist effort in Yorkshire. Leven followed him, and in July both forces were involved in the Battle of Marston Moor, which pretty much destroyed any effective Royalist control in the North. In addition, it resulted in Cavendish quitting the country (he moved to Germany to avoid being humiliated at court, since Prince Rupert managed to place most of the blame for the defeat with him) and may have marked the beginning of some disaffection between Cromwell and the Covenanters.

After Marston Moor, York surrendered, and Leven turned his attention once again to Newcastle, which town’s situation was now hopeless – there was no possibility of a relief force.

James Livingston, Earl of Callander
A reinforcement had been sent from Scotland for Leven’s ragged and weary troops – the Earl of Callander arrived with a further 8000 men, and set about the south bank of the Tyne with some vigour. He recaptured the forts at the mouth of the Tyne, and took Gateshead on 27th July – the riverfront, castle and port of Newcastle could now be fired upon from across the river. With the forts lost, the town was now sealed off, and hunger was added to the miseries of the townspeople.

Sir John Marley, Mayor and Military Commander of
Newcastle during the siege
Callander placed a pontoon bridge across the river to the east of the town, near Ouseburn, and Leven’s engineers did the same upstream, on the west side. By September there were batteries placed all around the town, there was mining work under way. Then began a long drawn-out series of letters between Leven and Sir John Marley, the mayor of Newcastle. Hostages were exchanged, formal parties were sent to negotiate. Marley merely wished to play for time. He later claimed that any demands he could make on the armies of Parliament, any nuisance he could offer, struck a blow for his king, but there may have been some wisdom in his strategy. Winter was coming, enthusiasm for a siege which would yield little must have been waning among the Scots. The defenders managed a couple of successful sorties, though their resources were very limited, and successfully destroyed a few mines, and some of Callander’s men were returned to Scotland, to help with the growing problem of the Marquis of Montrose. Eventually, Leven’s patience ran out, and on the 19th October a major bombardment breached the walls in a number of places, and this was followed by a full assault. The town fell quite quickly – the invaders were surprised how quickly the streets were empty, as the civilian fighters went home to hide and have their wounds tended to.

The Keep of Newcastle Castle
Marley and a few of the firebrands locked themselves in the castle, and left the townspeople to cope with the aftermath. An attempt to renew the exchange of demands was ignored by Leven, and when the castle ran out of food Marley, too, surrendered. Legend has it that he required a bodyguard to protect him from the ire of the citizens.


So – as a game?

The early period of confrontation in February is not promising – the Scots’ inability to seal off the river and the port is crucial, and after the main army marched south they had enough strength only to mask the town.

By October the forces are overwhelmingly uneven – the Royalists have no food, insufficient troops, old-fashioned fortifications and no chance at all of relief or reinforcement. A siege in such circumstances has, potentially, to quote the Mad Padre, all the fascination of a slow-motion movie of someone being hit by a bus.

I am working on some tweaks to give a more evenly-balanced game! More later... 

The Durham Tower today...

...and the Herber Tower...

...the Walls near Newgate Street...

...and at Orchard Street

Hooptedoodle #252 - Hair, or Why I Never Made It in the Movies

This is not me

When I was five I had never thought about my hair. It was curly and a bit lumpy, I guess, but it was just something that my mother fussed over and brushed into shape. Then I went to school and there was a boy in my class named Alan Pashley. Alan had flat, shiny, black hair – it never moved, and you could almost see your reflection in it. This was my introduction to the world of Brylcreem, the world where some men just had it and other men just didn’t.

I wanted hair like Alan’s – more than anything in the world. I was so envious it hurt.

Denis Compton
At five I was not interested in girls, obviously, but even at that age I was sufficiently aware of the power of advertising to know that they would chase you down the street if you put some branded gloop on your hair. From that time on I always wished I could look like someone else – almost anyone else, in fact. I once tried a secret experiment with a blob of my dad’s Brylcreem, but it just produced a greasier version of the same chaotic, lumpy mess, so I then knew for sure that in my case this was not just a matter of grooming, it was simply that the raw material was hopeless.

Robert Beatty
Things were not helped by the fact that my dad devoutly believed that boys should part their hair on the left, same as they buttoned their coats left-over-right, without regard to which direction the hair grew in. It was a manhood thing.

Johnny Haynes
Like everyone else, I spent my youth agonising about my unattractive appearance – things improved very slightly when I was nineteen and I dared to change my hair, and get it parted on the natural (girl’s?) side. I’ve never been a big fan of the way I look, but you sort of get used to it as the years pass, there are other things to fret about, and you probably reach a stage where girls chasing you down the street would be a nuisance. And, of course, eventually the damn stuff starts to fall out, so the problem will be replaced by another…

Good Grief
Time passes.

My youngest son is now fourteen, and he doesn’t like his hair. It makes him miserable. Now there’s a surprise. Nothing is new. He was horrified by a recent photograph of himself, and when we reassured him that it was actually a good photo, and he looked fine in it, he was furious – our naïve approval of his hated appearance was the final straw. There is almost no limit to the things he has to put up with. No-one has ever been this wretched.

Maybe, come to think of it, some things have changed a little. When I was five, or even nineteen, there were very few actual film stars around – the rest of us did not expect to look like that – we all had crooked teeth, dodgy hair, moles, all that. Now the world is run by viral photos on social media – “products” are available to sort out your hair, everyone is expected to have good teeth, wear the right labels, cover themselves in tattoos, circulate hopeful selfies of themselves. If you do not look like a film star, pal, you are not trying. Maybe failure is more absolute, less excusable than it was in my day. Do not be ugly, have a pimple on your nose, etc, because not only will you feel bad about it, but your friends will crucify you on Instagram.

So we are trying to come up with a supportive, workable strategy to help our son. The first, and maybe most obvious idea is that he should get his hair cut rather more frequently, and keep it a little shorter. It might help – at the very least, you would think, he will have less of it to be offended by. He could try to get it re-styled, or set up some heavyweight grooming programme involving gloop and conditioner (and cost, and crap, and frustration, and effort, and wasted time in front of the mirror), but that is unlikely to work out well in the longer run, and merely adds layers of paranoia and hopeless struggle to the existing problem. We need to identify a calm moment, and try to form some sort of plan. Feasible would be good.

I fear that the grooming/gloop approach has become a colossal industry – the default way of life – many and vast are the fortunes made by exploiting personal inadequacy. The world is filled with pictures of kids who miss the point – selfies of 300-pound clones of Paris Hilton abound, daft photos of boys with a poor copy of someone else’s beard stuck on the front – just have a look at your Facebook friends’ friends’ friends…

Prayer for a fine Monday morning: Please send us a little peace. Let us remember that there are people in the world who have far worse problems than untidy hair – let us try to focus, just a little, on things that actually matter. Let us see heartless, exploitational advertising for what it is.