Sunday, February 09, 2014

Debate at Parliament

Barcelona, 14th December 1713

At the Generality Palace, the catalan parlamentarians waited for being called in the Pati dels Tarongers (="Orange Trees Courtyard"), while forming either dense and vociferous crowds, or smaller groups that quietly deliberated while walking around the gothic yard.

Nervousness was visible all around; rumors about Princess Elisenda death were running hard, so that deep disagreements had arisen about how to respond to King Philip's offer to start a peace talk. The “Busca” Republican party, who incidentally had forced the session call, had ben spreading intensely a version that such offer was actually a trap. Public opinion in Barcelona city was opposed to any negotiations, but neither those deputies the most moderate nor General Villaroel himself felt any happy at the prospective of shutting doors to negotiation.

Once the session started, who started speaking was Francesc d'Areny, Baron of Claret: --Sirs, we first let the Queen to leave, later we've let Princess Elisenda to leave too, and now only God knows where the Princess is. If rumours are right, we are lost. The whole country is plenty with such rumours about Her death, that unavoidably must have already been echoed by any of the myriad spies infesting this city. Once Versailles gets clear there is no longer a Princess in Catalonia, what do you believe they're going to do? It becomes clar to me that we shall have to face not solely the armies of King Philip, but those of King Louis too! How long do you believe we would resist such combined strength?

He deliberately stopped to check his speech effect. A deep silence spread all through the hall. Satisfied, he then retook: --Sirs, every official statement or response from this Chamber must assume the Princess is alive and actually inspiring us, no matter what each one of us actually believes. If otherwise is decided, I shall resign right tomorrow.

General Villarroel stood in silence, montionless as a statue. However, the Major of Barcelona city Rafael Casanova, who was also the leader of "Busca" popular party, seemed about to explode. Anger was visible on most Republican deputies' faces.

Areny then continued: --Wherever She is now, it's impossible for the Princess to attend the proposed meeting at Cartagena in due time. So that I propose this Chamber to answer that no Catalan legation will leave for Cartagena before Epiphany, arguing that Christmas is not a good time for starting a negotiation. This Chamber might even suggest Candlemas as a best starting date... and then we all should begin seeking Princess Elisenda wherever She is, and let Her know King Philip's proposal, so that She can decide.

The Baron abruptly stopped and glanced intensely to Casanova: --For Princess Elisenda IS alive and reigning, isn't She?

The Major delayed his response for a few, tense seconds. He then simply nodded, and said: --And if She is incapable of attending the meeting, the Saint Christ of Lepanto will.

[This latter is a typical Catalan nonsense voice, here meaning that no one actually will. The so-called Saint Christ of Lepanto is an image of Jesus at the Cross held at Barcelona cathedral, that allegedly was present at Lepanto Battle (1571).]

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Re-taking the Story

Glad to be back again and eager to re-take the story, that's how I'm feeling right now. It's been a real Annus Horribilis to me, due to the disproportionately high amount of time, commitment, effort and money invested on my Minairons miniatures company --a venture that has kept me not just busy, but permanently, deeply worried about all long this about-to-go year. An insane commitment ultimately depriving me from even my usual hobbies. Just for helping you to make an idea of what has this venture reported to me, I've played only 2 miniature games all long 2013!

Minairons Miniatures is still far from consolidation yet, but recovering my hobby time has become a priority now --for I'm certain I wouldn't be able to hold such working pace any longer without seriously damaging my personal and family life. I must find a way to reconcile both work and leisure, and Defiant Principality current adventure is a best therapy. So let's re-take the story where we had left it on last Summer.

A) To be short, we are now on our 22nd turn of military campaign, corresponding to the week of 11 to 17 December 1713. The Catalan player moves consisted basically of bringing some reinforcements to El Bruc area, where a battle started the week before was inconclusive, so making unavoidable a second fight on the same battleground.

B) Yesterday I posted here a new scene reflecting the Spanish player moves in turn; these consisted of reinforcing lines around El Bruc too --but also included a reckless advance into the Pyrenees valleys by a big army under Duke of Popoli --a rival to the current commander-in-chief, Marquis of Aitona.

C) From the Catalonian people and authorities point of view, a deep crisis seems about to erupt, as rumours about death of Princess Elisenda under the Spanish Navy guns keep growing ceaselessly, while the Junta de Braços (=name given by the Catalan Parliament to itself, when summoned without the Sovereign's attendance) is about to debate a likely poisoned proposal of peace talk by Philip V.

D) At the French held portion of Catalonia, Duke of Berwick is patiently waiting for news and orders from Versailles, in the confidence of having the country quiet and calm. For the moment, he has even managed to perform a prisoners exchange with the Catalans --so that only Spaniards are still being kept by them in Barcelona prisons. The French-Catalan front is amazingly peaceful, right now.

E) And last but not less important by any mean, Princess Elisenda has just arrived in the remote Valley of Aran, still unknown to everybody except for the Aranese themselves. There She has managed to earn the locals adhesion to Her cause, by granting them an update of the Querimònia protocol ruling Aran Valley union to Catalonia.

You can see her current position on the map below. Please have in mind she is still invisible to wargaming players. Depending on next turn's weather and road conditions in the area, rumours about her arrival in the Principality might spread quickly indeed --or she'll keep being invisible still.

Oh, I almost forgot. I wish to you all the happiest Christmas and New Year days!! Meet you again on the tortured Catalonian battlefields pretty soon!!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Under pressure

El Bruc, 13th December 1713

--Any news from the rest of the Army?

Taken by surprise by the question abrupt tone, the aide-de-camp vacillated: --S-screen moves all long the front, Sire; j-just as your ordered.

Impatiently, Marquis of Aitona interrupted the assistant: --I give it for granted. I'm referring to Duke of Popoli's column.

--H-he keeps progressing with difficulty; melted snow has turned roads into mud everywhere, Sire.

--...Progressing still?

--He is progressing indeed, Sire.

The marquis dismissed the aide-de-camp in abrupt manner --and he immediately repented. "I'm being unfair to him, I shouldn't hold him as if responsible for this".

Finally alone, he plopped on a couch. He then glanced for the umpteenth time at the battlefield map on a wall. It was El Bruc battlefield, where goddess Fortune deprived him of a certain victory last week, transforming it into the certain threat of a new war of trenches. His captains were frightened by the remembrance of Prats de Rei battle two years ago --and such fear had begun inciting discontent among them. He was aware, but could do nothing to counter it... except winning the battle tomorrow.

He knew for sure. He ought to break the fierce Catalan defense at that point, or the entire campaign would be cut off. And his own reputation with it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unexpected guest

Vielha, 13th December 1713

Seated on the old armchair own to his position as Síndic, or Chief Magistrate of Aran Valley, the old man observed attentively that couple of numb with cold young girls who were greedily devouring their bowls of òlha aranesa stew by the living room large fireplace. Despite the undeniable authenticity of the credentials he had been shown, he found it difficult to accept that a princess accustomed to the Europe's Courts luxury and étiquette might have ever had the thought of dropping herself in that remote valley by full December, with such a small entourage. He finally decided to test her:

--So, what are the intentions of... er... Your Highness?

The alluded girl stopped eating and remained silent, absorbed for a moment, before answering with astounding firmness:

--To rule my country in accordance to the mandate I've been entrusted, as well as the will of its people.

The bowl still warming her hands, the girl then paused intentionally before adding: --Such does imply this valley too, of course.

The Síndic got visibly alarmed at this: --What do you mean, Milady?

--Whenever Aranese people does consent, naturally --Princess Elisenda calmly responded, and she later added:

--If I remember correctly, on last June 400 years were met of the Querimònia, the Magna Carta ruling by Aranese people's own will their valley's relationship with the Crown. Maybe it is already time for renewing and updating such agreement, don't you believe?

The old magistrate stayed silent, shocked.

--Modern times, new challenges that can only be approached through wide, extended powers. This is what I firmly believe --Elisenda added mischeviously.

--For sure, Your Highness! --The Aranese magistrate enthusiastically answered --I shall gather the whole Conselh Generau (=General Council) right tomorrow in the morning, to formally celebrate the Fourth Centenary and hold a joint Session with Your Highness.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Doomy hint

El Bruc, 12th December 1713

Crestfallen and deeply worried, young Foix de Rovellats finally left the headquarters tent, where their commander Marquis of Poal had gathered all his officers for a briefing.

During the meeting, the marquis had done his best to avoid even mentioning the disturbing rumours arrived from Barcelona, so that all his speech had dealt with technical, logistic and strategical affairs. Contrarily to his likely expectations, this had kept intact the slowly growing unease amongst his men.

So, Marquis of Poal acknowledged them about his decision to merge into 3 regiments all 4 Miquelets battalions under his command, due to the heavy punishment suffered by them during the battle fought last week. Each of these three new units would keep the 10 companies prescribed by Archduke Charles' Ordnances, albeit signifcantly smaller -less than half the 100 men stated by such Ordnance. As a consequence, these smaller regiments would manoeuvre and perform quite more smoothly than before.

He also tried to rise his officers' morale by announcing the arrival of new reinforcements under General Prado, albeit with little effect. No one among them dared to request about the rumours, but it was ominously present in all minds. Had Princess Elisenda really been murdered by enemy ships in Gulf of Biscay waters, the Principality cause would become orphan of political legitimacy to European Powers' eyes --and they knew.

Deeply sorry, Foix arrived in her regiment's encampment. Once there, she attentively started watching her women. The regiment was intact after last week's battle, with no more than a few lightly injured girls. They should be in good shape. However, their morale was obviously below a minimum, as if they had been heavily decimated.

At that point, one of the sentinel girls alerted her: --Look ahead, Milady: the Spaniards have started moving again...

There was a hint of doom in the young soldier's voice that made Foix de Rovellats shudder.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Growing unease

Barcelona, 11th December 1713

It was as if a bomb had fallen on the Generality Palace. That morning, the main weekly gazette in Barcelona dared to explicitly express the doubts and fears that an ever increasing part of the Principality's population had been silently brewing up. Some high officials tried to abort the gazette distribution by threatening the editor about defeatism prosecution. Only the energetic intervention of the Barcelona town Major prevented this to finally happen --not without some serious fisticuffs between Government and Municipality guards in front of the Publisher's workshop façade. Face to the uncertainties the newspaper had brought to public minds, a deep political crisis seemed unavoidable.

Meanwhile, the growingly demoralized Catalan forces prepared themselves for the next clash with King Philip's armies --another week else...

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Battle in the snow (3)


El Bruc, 8th December 1713

Behind the hills where the Catalan Artillery was staked, Marquis of Poal had arranged all the Horse he had available --four squadrons of Dragoons and another two of Hussars. All this wing was put under command of General Ortega, along with the mentioned artillery and a battalion of pioneers. As the Infantry General he was, Ortega felt plainly uncomfortable at commanding that heterogeneous force, as well as at the pioneers poor quality --they were in fact a poorly armed and even less motivated punishment battalion. This made him feel unsecure from the very start.

His reluctance at the commission became evident when two full Spanish squadrons of Horse suddenly came from behind their position, charging right away against the Catalan Dragoons --a whole squadron of which was volatilized at the very first engagement. When Ortega finally managed to align the three remaining squadrons for facing the new threat, the Spanish Foot main line had already reached the hill foot. The last battery that could defend the position was then destroyed by the devastating fire from the enemy siege battery. The Catalan right wing seemed hopelessly doomed.

But the unexpectable then happened. In one of his few right decisions of that day, Ortega ordered the Hussars not to get involved in the fight for neutralizing the Spanish Cavalry, but to deal with the advancing Foot instead. It was the opportunity young Colonel Gaspar de Portolà (*) expected. True that little could do his Hussars face to an entire Infantry brigade, Portolà thought, but if they were at least capable of inspiring some fear on the enemy, perhaps... In a bold gesture, he ordered both Squadrons to quickly form into a broad line along the hill crest, well in sight of the Spanish Infantry.

Veteran Ramón Lanuza, who was in command of the second squadron as Lieutenant Colonel, immediately understood Portolà's intentions. He then watched at their feet --at the human tide painfully climbing up the hill. "--A charge downhill? Hum, perhaps...". Lanuza grinned wildly when Portolà gave the order, a few seconds later. Roaring an old battle cry, Lanuza threw his horse downhill, followed by the whole Regiment:

--Saint George and Aragon!! --Half a thousand throats also roared with him.

Colonel Portolà's gamble wasn't just right --but brilliant instead, for it literally saved the day. Scared at the frightening vision of a massive Horse charge, the first Spanish battalion facing them lost nerve and fired a too premature volley. The terrifying charge made the line to waver and fall back in disorder. A second battalion following them at short distance was fatally disordered by their retreating comrades --and they were also charged in turn. Bewildered, they had to fire hurriedly at the thundering Hussar tide, so that their own volley was plainly unable to stop the charge, in spite of being slightly more effective than the former's one. Again, the battalion fatally wavered and fell back in disorder too, to the astonishment of Marquis of Aitona, who helplessly watched the scene from the opposite wing.

The nearly suicidal Hussar charge had effectively stopped the Spanish advance, for a while enough to prevent them to resume the attack. For day was coming to an end, so that the fighting slowly softened up all along the front. Marquis of Aitona's troops had secured the highlands at one flank, but had been uncapable of reaching the Catalan entrenched main line. Perhaps the next day.

However, Lanuza himself became one of the few Hussar casualties in that enchained series of charges. His lifeless body stayed all night in place, along with all those who died during that crucial day.

(*) Not to be confused with his own son, Gaspar de Portolà Jr., who was viceroy of California between 1767 and 1770.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Battle in the snow (2)

El Bruc, 8th December 1713

A few minutes before, the relentless artillery bombardment ordered by Marquis of Aitona had finally opened the first breach in Catalan trenches. And now, a sudden series of explosions in the enemy right wing hills indicated that one of the two Catalan light batteries had been blown into pieces.

--Gentlemen, let's start the assault! --The Marquis then triumphantly told to his officers.

Short time later, all three Spanish brigades began moving. The Marquis of Aitona himself commanded the right wing, consisting of two battalions of the Reales Guardias Españolas (Foot Guards), followed by the McAuliff Irishmen and supported by two squadrons of the Reales Guardias a Caballo (Horse Guards). Meanwhile, the artillery continued to methodically tamp the Catalan defenses, thus opening a second breach --at the sector defended by the Fiona McGregor's girls, to be precise.

When they had already advanced half the distance, a full regiment of Miquelets suddenly appeared from their hiding place behind a hill, to the Spanish right flank. "Now I understand why these bastards showed so few forces at this flank!" --the Marquis muttered angrily. Indeed, the Catalans had kept visible there only two small contingents of miquelets and volunteers so far. This new regiment was posing a serious threat to their whole right flank. The reneging Marquis then ordered the Horse Guards to dislodge that newly arrived enemy, while his foremost Foot battalions maneuvered for facing the rest of Catalan forces in the hills, who encouraged by the Miquelets had also begun to move. Such orders would unavoidably delay the final assault, but he could not risk a flank attack capable of ruining his battle plan.

The Marquis also realized that their own siege guns were now in silence. "But, why aren't they shooting? What is doing this Torremayor plodder, why isn't he ordering new targets?" --Having achieved their starting targets, the Spanish batteries were patiently awaiting for new orders to be delivered. For some unknown reason, General Torremayor was apparently absent.

Deployed on the ridge top, the Miquelets were in a privileged position with regard to the Spanish Horse Guards, who had to move uphill for reaching to them. Indeed, when the first squadron closed up enough for starting a charge, it was stopped short by a deadly musket volley making them to fall back in disorder. This circumstance however allowed the second squadron to charge in turn. The mounted impact was devastating, and the Miquelets broke ranks closely pursued by the Horse Guards, who caused a horrible carnage amongst them. Unfortunately, by pursuing the enemy they lost contact with the main army [and left the table].

The hills completely fell into Spanish hands after a regiment of Dragoons arose from behind the Catalan flank, sweeping in a few minutes the amalgamated fusiliers force defending the area. That sector of the battle was virtually won. Nevertheless, the starting plan timing had been delayed significantly, so that the weak sun of December had already begun its descent toward the horizon.

Marquis of Aitona was still striving for his brigade to resume the appropriate direction and alignment, when he realized that, in the distance, the Spanish left flank had also stopped and maneuvered sideways. "Hum, General Bracamonte likely wants to conquer the enemy artillery hill" --he thought at first. But then, next to the destroyed enemy batteries, he also perceived on top of the hill an enemy Horse regiment fully deployed and prepared to charge downhill. "Hussars? What the Hell are those Hussars doing up there?"