Wednesday, June 29, 2011

...such a bizarre device!?

Barcelona, 27th September 1713

After the solemnial ceremony of blessing the flags for the new Our Lady of Mercy Pioneers Regiment, Marshal Villarroel went to Sants Road along with Dom Benet de Sala i Caramany, bishop of Barcelona, to jointly attend to a new military device demonstration the young lieutenant Friedrich Leibnitz had continually insisted to perform.

On that morning Villarroel had a number of reasons to feel happy and satisfied. Thanks to his brilliant speech to the Spanish prisoners held at Montjuïc castle, the vaste majority of these unfortunate men had decided to get enlisted in that new regiment, thus completing the ranks started by the former Massegur Volunteers. Besides, he had realized about Dom Benet's excitement at the perspective of financing that new unit with Bishopric funds, because its purpose was fully agreeing with their dedication to Our Lady of Mercy -patronness of the Bishopric too. Villarroel believed such initiative would help enforcing a renewed commitment of the Catalan High Clergy around Dom Benet in support of Archduke's Charles cause in Catalonia.

When they arrived in Hostafrancs Plains outside the city walls, under the protective shadow of Montjuïc castle, several people were already waiting for the demonstration. Among them, many of the "Busca" party dignataries, tightly packed around Sir Rafael Casanova. That political leader had always shown a keen interest in military affairs -in such a way that might be plainly considered as interference. Villarroel felt immediately uncomfortable at the idea of having him constantly around, and perceived Dom Benet's own disappointment at his sight. "Normal", he thought, "lowest rank priests are highly sensitive to Casanova's radicalism, whose doctrines risk causing an internal break-off in our Church. Wish bishop Dom Benet finally manages to find some of a half-way solution before it's too late".

However, as a "Honored Citizen" of Barcelona, Casanova was a distinguished and influential personality, so Villarroel considered prudent to greet him briefly. The dignitary politely returned back the greeting, and they jointly waited for Lieutenant Leibnitz explanations...

With his best Royal Catalan Guards uniform on, the young officer was nervously awaiting the attention of the assembled dignitaries. At a point Leibnitz cleared his throat and started his prepared speech: -The experience of recent years has shown that, in all the major battles fought in the Peninsula, one of the most decisive factors in their final result is the difference in physical condition between both sides troops. Under the scorching sun of Spanish summer, those generals managing to keep their troops fresh and rested obtained a decisive factor for victory. This is the intention behind the initiative I'm humbly proposing to you, which is based on a widespread use of this device.

Marshal Villarroel was astonished, he could hardly give credit to his eyes: Lieutenant Leibnitz was showing an odd, small horse-drawn cart, with wheels of an unusually high diameter and an ingenious suspension system through bowing metal strips. That strange carriage had been obviously designed to achieve a high speed. But, what the hell would he want such a widget for?

-Beg your pardon, dear Lieutenant -he said; I can't see what this otherwise clever cart has to do with the Army...

Leibnitz nervously smiled: -General, let's imagine a whole Infantry regiment being carried by such fast vehicles, by which they'd be able to run from a battlefield to the next one with no effort, at a convenient Cavalry speed rate.

-Where would we draw from horses enough for such a function? Equipping all our Infantry with such devices falls beyond our financial possibilities, Lieutenant. -Villarroel argued.

-Not any Infantry, Sire -Leibnitz tenaciously answered. It would suffice equipping alike a few specialized units, in a role not that different of Dragoons... Every cart can carry up to 5 soldiers each, and it needs no more than 2 horses to achieve a reasonably constant speed. That means no more than 200 horses and 100 carts for every 500 men. Less than half than those necessary to a Dragoons regiment... long as terrain and road network would allow, Leibnitz -Villarroel said, still skeptic albeit intrigued- You know the difficulties such a vehicle would experience in this abrupt Principality...

After the words of his Commander-in-Chief, Leibnitz seemed a bit discouraged, but Villarroel then realized that Casanova had started watching at the carriage with some of a rogue expression.

He understood he had to go in advance of that long-headed politician, and quickly told to Leibnitz: -Listen, my young gentleman: there are still a couple of Spanish prisoners companies who have volunteered for service but had no room so far. I agree in assigning them to you for your revolutionary cart's necessary testings and training. I'm granting to you two months for a complete demonstration of your invention.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sea Fusiliers, to first line

Vilanova i la Geltrú, 26th September 1713

On the morning of a rainy day, a small fleet flying Catalan and Sardinian ensigns anchored face to the beach of Vilanova town, before proceeding to disembark an entire battalion of soldiers whose uniforms were brightly red instead of blue. These men belonged to Our Lady of Carme Sea Fusiliers Regiment, a new concept unit the Catalans had secretly formed in Sardinia island under supervision of General Prado, who also performed as their field colonel.

The Mountain Fusiliers regiment garrisoning the town then proceeded to give their place to the newly arrived regiment, once their colonel had acknowledged General Prado about the overall situation: as a general rule, all columns had received orders of taking advantage of the Spanish general withdrawal, with the aim of ceaselessly pressing and pushing them off as much as possible, before their two powerful reinforcement columns came into reach. Most of the Catalan regular units were now in first line, so that only a few Militia and Mountain Fusiliers battalions had been left at the rearguard.

-And what about the French? -General Prado suspiciously asked.

-They're withdrawing under truce flags, Sir. No aggressive activity on their side. -the Mountain Fusiliers colonel responded.

That was good. With their back conveniently secured, they still had a chance against the might of King Philip. A second Sea Fusiliers regiment was being completed in Majorca island, as well as a local battalion of Line Infantry. Besides, during his stay at Palma de Majorca city he was informed that a British volunteer brigade was already on the way -he guessed they would be at present reaching Finisterre waters. Warm season was about to come to an end, so that the Spanish reinforcement columns would have little time to progress.

They had to be stopped at all costs, he thought, to allow time for the diplomatic battlefield to be fought in Winter... if their legates had any chance, of course. Then General Prado got unquiet. Nothing was known anywhere about their plenipotentiary ambassador Marquis de Vilana, but he told nothing to the colonel. However, it became clear to him that something was going wrong with the Marquis.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Foix de Rovellats

Vilafranca del Penedès, 25th September 1713

Loys d'Hauteville, who at present was Lieutenant-Colonel of the female infantry regiment generously funded by Lady Elisenda, was fully aware of how much slander had suffered his regiment at the hands of some sectors of society, judging it an extremely disturbing intrusion of women in the strictly male affairs of war. Some rumors received a discreet, unofficial support from the "Busca" popular party, which expected to decrease Lady Elisenda's influence by presenting her as an eccentric aristocrat -although such support was publicly cut off by Rafael Casanova himself. Nevertheless, pressure had grown up to a hard to bear degree.

But then it came the opportunity Loys d'Hauteville had waited anxiously for so long: Marshal Villarroel had ordered the Regiment to leave their Sabadell town headquarters and hurriedly march towards Vilafranca del Penedès and be put under the overall command of General Basset.

When they finally spotted the bell tower of Vilafranca basilica, Loys d'Hauteville experienced a double sense of euphoria and anxiety. His girls had been training very hard, quite harder than a male regiment as a matter of fact, and soon they'd demonstrate their capabilities... if General Basset gave them an opportunity.

Guessing her superior's mood, a pretty young officer closed to him. She was the regiment's Sergeant Major Foix de Rovellats: -Sir, you're looking troubled lately. Is there anything wrong?

Loys turned toward the woman. Lady Foix inspired a wide confidence to him, and her strength in difficult times had helped him to keep firm on the mission he had been entrusted by Lady Elisenda. Into his mind, he had to admit he actually liked her, in a number of senses -but he forced himself to bury such thoughts for the umpteenth time. He smiled slightly and replied: -Foix, I'm afraid about the kind of welcome General Basset will be deserving to us.

-Don't worry anymore, Sir. Some men still believe we women have no value or utility, but they're wrong. Do not fail, my friend, we shall be following wherever you lead us to. Our hour is coming. -and she smiled in turn.

For a moment, Loys feared to get lost in the abyss of her deeply dark eyes -but he managed to promptly react. Turning towards his regiment's women, he then shouted: -Flags forward!! Ladies, we've arrived in Vilafranca! Let's show them our proudest parade! Let people read determination in your eyes! Beating drums!! -and thus Daughters of Minerva Regiment reached by the town's old medieval gates open wide to them, while marching under Cardona March drums and fife.

[Still sad after Miss. McGregor's death, I've decided to take some advantage from this scene to introduce a new character intended to cover some aspects of unfortunate Fiona. This is Foix de Rovellats, a pretty young woman from the beautiful Sant Martí Sarroca village in Penedès county. Daughter of a soldier maimed at Prats de Rei battle (1711), she has got enlisted in Lady Elisenda's Regiment with the aim to supplement her father's poor pension. Most of her character traits are to be defined yet, although her image is to be based on that of the Catalan charismatic actress Ariadna Gil, whose portrait can be seen above. Some of you maybe have noticed her through her roles at movies such as Pan's Labyrinth, Captain Alatriste or Libertarias].

[BTW, when reading "Ariadna Gil" please note that letter "G" sounds in Catalan just the same as in French or Italian, not as "KH" like in Spanish. Oh, and the female name "Foix" (quite popular in Penedès county where I live) should be read as "Fo-osh" o "Fo-ish", more or less].

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Our Lady of Mercy

Barcelona, 24th September 1713

Marshal Villarroel spent some time looking thoughtfully at the collection of orders he was expected to sign. Most of its provisions would be appreciated by the military, but he still doubted the effect that some other would cause among them. Before signing anything, he preferred to wait for the man who would be assigned the mission the most diffcult, and through his reaction to gauge eventual collective reactions...

-Sire, Colonel Llirós has just arrived.

-Please, let him get in.

A man of great stature, whose sharp face was intensely tawned by the high mountain sunlight, entered and hailed in a peculiarly serious manner. The uniform he was wearing, although very good quality, looked quite outdated and did not fit any of the ordinances or modern practices. Villarroel deduced it was some kind of family heirloom from previous wars.

-Sir, I have been delivered very good reports about you. Especially from General Moragues, who has highlighted your strict sense of discipline and duty.

-Excellence, life in the Pyrenees is fierce and hard, and so are the men forged there.

Villarroel smiled imperceptibly. A man of few words and hard as a rock, he was the one he needed, but ...would he consent? -I need a man of your qualities, Sir. It will be by no means an easy task, but if we meet the expectations placed on you, no doubt you are to be duly rewarded.

Llirós simply raised an eyebrow: -Excellence?

-It's our will to create a new regiment, and we have thought of you to command it. In case you accept, you are immediately going to get the rank of Colonel of the Regular Army. If your duty is properly fulfilled, doors to generalship will become immediately open wide to you. -Villarroel then stopped to carefully examine Llirós reaction. Only a slight eyes sizzle altered his hieratic posture. "Good sign", he thought, and decided to continue: -The Army urgently needs a Pioneers Regiment, Llirós. Their task is to be certainly tough and deprived of much glory, certainly; but only a regiment of iron men would be capable of performing under the undoubtedly hazardous conditions they're going to meet. Only a man with exceptional capabilities has a chance to form such a hard unit, ans this is you.

-And which troops can I draw for this mission, if there are almost no available men all around the Principality?

The Marshal cautiously answered: -...Men from the former Massegur volunteers regiment.

-Those behind the French prisoners killing at Sant Feliu de Guíxols? -Llirós sullenly asked.

-Yes they are. You are the man who can discipline them, Llirós. Your unit would be completed with volunteering Two Crowns prisoners. You'd have complete freedom to designate your officers among the best available ones and, unless they do disappoint you, can expect a promotion as fast as yours own. You'd also enjoy full powers to decide which weaponry are your men to carry. Do not worry about costs, they will be under pay of Barcelona Bishopric. May I know your opinion, sir?

Long silence.

-OK. They're going to learn discipline or leave their skins behind, Excellence.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Uniforms issue

Barcelona, 23rd September 1713

News about the ambush on the Catalan Legacy in Carniola would last some time yet to arrive in Catalonia; so that all activity was still devoted to improving their own army and defences against a likely new Spanish offensive before Winter.

For instance, at their arrival in Barcelona escorting the Spanish soldiers captured at Vilafranca battle, officers and troopers of the former Brichfeus Dragoons knew to their joy that General Moragues -new owner of their regiment- had already provided for a complete set of uniforms for the unit, as well as brand new flags.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Rage and Fear

Vienna, 21st September 1713

At his Vienna palace, Emperor Charles jumped from his armchair: -WHAT?? -Frightened by the news, Empress Elisabeth-Christina took her palm to mouth.

-Your Majesty, -the emissary replied- a troop of mercenaries and criminals have assaulted the Viceroys stagecoach by Carniola border.

-Has there... been any victim?

The emissary pressed his lips for a moment before answering in a serious voice: -Yes it has, Your Majesty. One lady in the retinue has been murdered.

For a moment, it seemed as if Emperor Charles would fall faint. He breathed deeply, closing his eyes; when reopened, these flamed with tears and anger: -I want a Garde de Corps full squadron at the courtyard, in five minutes' time. We're going in Carniola, and woe to these mercenaries!

Some minutes later, Elisabeth-Christina quietly stood at the staircase doorway, watching the departure of her August husband, dressed for war. Her eyes silently reflected the double fear that kept her shuddering in anguish. On one hand, she of course feared for the life of Lady Elisenda, who during the Barcelona years had dedicated to her a sincere affection; but on the other hand, she also felt an increasing, irrational fear to losing her husband's love at hands of her best friend -and nevertheless, a potential competitor. What if ...? Or if ...?.

[The proxy ambush scenario was finally played by Murdock & sons; their complete, thrilling AAR can be read at this weblog, in words of one of the stagecoach escort members. Wish they enjoyed the game!]

Monday, June 06, 2011

Embryo of trouble

Barcelona, 22nd September 1713

Despite the most recent military successes of the minute Catalan Army under the wise leadership of Marshal Villarroel, the Principality of Catalonia had become dramatically lacking of a clear leadership, so that a cloud of uncertainty had started hanging over its future.

Marquis de Vilana, who was the Principality's Cònsol de Mar (=Overseas Consul, or Foreign Affairs Minister) besides of being the architect of the agreement embryo allowing the French inhibition about the campaign, was missing since several weeks ago. According to the testimony of his escort Lt. Frederick Leibnitz, the Marquis had left Monte-Cristo with destination Versailles, where he expected to meet King Louis and his principal ministers. But nothing was known since about him.

Meanwhile, the beautiful and influential Lady Elisenda had embarked for Vienna, where she had been summoned by Emperor Charles VI with a purpose that was fairly unknown. Even worse, the viceroys of Majorca and Sardinia had joined her in the trip, thus leaving these island kingdoms also devoid of any visible head.

In a country such as Catalonia, where civic Institutions played a role as important as that of the Crown, there should be no problem after such individual issues. Legislative powers of Parliament and executive commission of its General Deputation had to be in theory enough guarantee for the society functioning in the absence of any strong individual leadership; and such Institutions net had actually worked before, such as the 1640-1653 Separation War.

But Catalan institutions were also cropped by paralysis. The ambiguous attitude of the High Clercy about war had deeply conditioned that one of the General Deputation President, who was a clergyman too; besides, his own leadership had become mortally wounded by the sound military defeat starred by the Military Deputy at Tivissa, in such a way that government was now unarmed, paralyzed in the hands of any eventual strong political opposition.

In this context, it was just a matter of time that a political alternative would arise. A republican, revolutionary movement inspired in that one of 60 years earlier had become crystallizing around one of the last charysmatic leaders still in the Principality by the end of Summer 1713: Rafael de Casanova, around whom a political party of popular sign had re-born after decades of silence: the Busca party. After a deliberation with some supporters including his second-in-command N. Feliu de la Penya, Casanova decided to present his application for Major of Barcelona city.

[In former centuries, the political life in Catalonia and the whole Crown of Aragon had been dominated by two confronted parties: Biga (=beam) and Busca (=spill), the first one representing the Barcelonian high class while the second one joined the lower classes. Their endemic clashes had come to an end after the Catalonian Civil War (1462-1472).]

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Unexpected passage

Tarragona, 21st September 1713

He had no trouble in finding Mireia. As he imagined, the courageous girl was at Santa Clara Convent again, deeply concentrated on her mother's procedures for preparing plasters and ointments. Mireia warmly smiled when noticed Blasco Copons was closing to them, but then she realized the gallant Aragonese officer seemed deeply worried by something.

-Blasco, what's the matter? You seem a bit gloomy... -she asked.

-Mireia, you and your relatives should pack your belongings. Our troops are about to complete embarkment, and the Two Crown's Army is about to get inside city.

The young girl looked sadly at him: -Blasco, we've argued about this before. I knew this would happen, but this was my choice. If I wouldn't meet my relatives, I'd simply chosen to stay outside, just as Barceló and Albesa did.

He impatiently answered: -No Mireia, you cannot stay in Tarragona, you know. Now listen to me, I've been able to make some arrangements with the captain of an English vessel, who will gladly allow you to embark for safety. You and your relatives.

Mireia skeptically raised an eyebrow: -Gladly, you say...?

Blasco burst out laughing: -OK, I needed some help to persuade him... just an entire case of Somontano wine!!

-Good, good... -she quickly replied- But, what are we expected to do at Naples, where you're going to?

-No Mireia, I don't expect you to go that far -he said- For it happens that this very same ship is carrying our Regiment, and it is scheduled for her to stop at Majorca... to disembark us there!