Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pompe et Cérémonie

Versailles, 29th October 1713

The journey of Princess Elisenda's retinue through lands of France was remarkably quiet and uneventful, marked by splendor and ceremony. A couple of times, the Princess was even presented with a military parade --with the expectable, consequent delays.

--French diplomatic machinery has come into play, Your Highness --Claire commented--. They will try to impress you the most with such displaying of luxury, splendor and power that you finally get intimidated. This is their gamble.

Princess Elisenda was certainly intimidated though. In a provincial capital town for instance, she was presented with a parade showing more regiments than those existing in all the Catalan army! In spite of the empathic efforts of Claire (a sincere friendship had already started between both girls), Elisenda could not prevent a growing unease.

Their arrival in Versailles was even more of a lavish and bright event. She was received by the Grand Maître de Cérémonies, Thomas de Dreux-Brézé, who had her busy for nearly a whole day with a huge parade of Maison du Roi troops, followed by a horse exhibition and a tasty entretien in a paved garden virtually full of countless marquises, counts and earls --some of which didn't hesitate at all to blatantly drop not too honest propositions to her, almost in the very face of their wives! Elisenda quickly learned to be careful with those aristocratic ladies, who distracted the deadly boredom of their Versailles confinement by getting interested for any newcoming lady --and slaughtering her with their unmerciful harpy tongues.

That aside, nothing else. She was plainly unable to meet any prominent member of the House of Bourbon. A couple of times she distinguished Prince of Condé or Duke of Orléans amidst the crowd, but every time she tried an approach to any of them, the Grand Maître de Cérémonies managed to amiss require her attention. Elisenda soon understood this was not by any means a coincidence, the man had been instructed to intercept any her approaching attempt.

She was accomodated in Versailles itself, in a couple of rooms in a wing of the palace, where Claire could stay too. Such half-confinement was also undoubtedly premeditated, with the aim to see Elisenda's privacy restricted, as well as her chances of contacting foreign ambassadors --except for those deliberately orchestrated by her guests. This lasted a few days still, until Marquis of Vilana finally happened to find her. After affectionately embracing his former pupil, they both went discretely to a corner section of the vast gardens of Versailles, where they would talk calmly and plan upcoming negotiations with King Louis' ministers.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Parley?

Spanish HQ, 26th October 1713

In his tent, Marquis of Aitona stood right behind the desk table, as a staff officer gave way to his immediate subordinates, Duke of Popoli and General Bracamonte, accompanied by some colonels.

--And well? What news do we have? --he asked.

He soon realized his voice had been too authoritary, for he clearly perceived the tension expression in Duke of Popoli's face, who nevertheless answered promptly: --They're withdrawing. We haven't had the opportunity of a pursuit, because of lack of horse enough. Their dragoons' screen was too dense for our squadrons.

The Marquis sweetened his voice: --I understand. Thank you, Sir. Let's simply keep watching them from short.

The Duke relaxed expression, and then it was general Bracamonte who spoke: --As for Montblanc, the enemy have refused battle too, seeking refuge inside town instead. There are also no novelties from the rest of contacts made. "No han mordido el anzuelo", they haven't taken the bait anywhere. No battles this week.

--Fine. Please keep pressing them gentlemen, we must force them out into the open.

Officers nodded in silence. Then the Duke of Popoli spoke again: --there is something else ...Sir.

The Marquis perceived the Duke was finding it hard addressing to him as "Sir". He recalled his subordinate nobility rank was higher than his own. Bad omen, he thought, the man was still resentful for his substitution as the commander-in-chief: --Yes ...Sir? --he cautiously responded.

--Lleida town rebels --the Duke quickly responded--. We have kept rebellion at bay, but Lleida is far from completely pacified yet. Rebels have entrenched themselves around the City Hall.

The Marquis did not respond immediately. Lowering his sight, he then asked: --What chances do we have?

--Coria Regiment has just joined the 2nd battalion of León IR, who were on garrison when the rebellion broke out. We shall crush them soon.

--...at the cost of a bloodbath though --Marquis of Aitona objected--. And we can not afford it.

He chose to keep a long silence before saying what he had been thinking about. No doubt that would cause protests: --who is commanding our troops in Lleida?

--Monsieur Baron d'Asfeld, Sir.

--All right. Let's order him to parley with the rebels.

Officers visibly stiffened, but only Duke of Popoli dared saying what all were thinking: --Parley, did you say? His Majesty's orders were strict, Sir: diezmo de horca, gallows tithe to them.

The marquis already expected such reaction, so he nimbly responded: --An I'd willingly apply it, but I insist we can not afford it. We're running too short of troops for this, right now.

Duke of Popoli was about to protest again, but the Marquis cut him: --Shall Baron d'Asfeld ensure them we won't apply gallows tithe to the population, if the rebels agree to put themselves at King Philip's service, and their leader to be delivered to us under chains. By the way, who is their leader?

--One Maria Sauret, Sir.

The Marquis was stunned. Maria? A woman? Another woman in the rebels' ranks? What the hell was all that nonsense?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Urban fight AAR

Lleida, 2nd week of October 1713


News have just arrived from the civilian revolt in Lleida town burst a couple of weeks ago, just before the heavy rains episode [a game actually played today, under form of a fast & furious skirmish following Sacre Bleu! ruleset. Tabletop shows a somewhat chaotic collection of scenery pieces, this is due to I've had to gather all buildings I had in stock, with disregard of period and culture!]

At the image above, it can be seen the battlefield, the dense urban net of Lleida downtown laying between Seu Vella hill (background) and Segre river (foreground). North is at right, South at left. Control of the town is key to the Spanish supply line running along the Madrid-Barcelona road (Barcelona is on the viewer's side, let's say).

The big building at right is intended to be Paeria City Hall where insurgents have installed their headquarters. The Spanish starting points are two, the big church at left (representing the Seu Nova cathedral just built by Philip V) and the bridge over Segre river --where the road linking to Barcelona starts. There have been defined 4 target points, each one marked by a flying flag --2 Spanish, 2 Catalan. These represent both their respective starting areas and targets to be controlled by the enemy for winning the fight.


Picture above shows the Catalan deployment area as seen from Seu Vella hill, before their deployment: 17 peasants armed with a variety of weapons (muskets, pistols, swords) lead by a blunderbuss armed priest, and a squad of more disciplined militiamen, under command of a sergeant (7 men). A regular captain is in charge of the insurgent force.


And those are the starting points of the Spanish force, just after deployment. It consisted of 1 captain, 2 sergeants and 16 musketeers split in three separate groups: 5 men lead by a sergeant were defending the bridge barricade, 8 men and the second sergeant at left were the main shock force, while the captain followed by 3 men acted as a mobile reserve.


Things weren't that bad to the insurgents at first. They launched an offensive along the two main streets using two balanced groups of some 9-10 men each, leaving only a small detachment of militiamen behind. They not only managed to cross through he deadly fire from the bridge barricade, but inflicted some losses to its defenders and anihilated the Spanish reserve --including their captain!


After a dense exchange of musket fire however, their main column was contacted by the enemy. The following hand-to-hand fight was fatal to the insurgents, in spite of the highly skilled at sword girl with them, or the dreadful blunderbuss of the priest. That was the battle turning point.


Sensing they had lost any chances of winning by attacking, the Catalan captain ordered withdrawal of the other peasant column, who were sent to defensive positions under command of the sergeant, while the militia took their positions. The group defeated at hand-to-hand combat also withdrew, and then the Spaniards counter-attacked.


They didn't counter-charge at first though, but engaged the Catalans instead in a series of deadly volleys, until one of their defence lines went weak enough --the rightmost one in the picture. And then, yes they charged by the bayonet!


The Catalan sergeant gallantly standing the charge --and dying.

At this point, it became clear that the rebellion had failed to control Lleida downtown, they were far from anihilated but had been confined to the Paeria City Hall whereabouts. So that we've declared game over, assigning victory to the Spanish side --albeit by so narrow a margin that it couldn't be considered a decisive one. How will the Spaniards do to smash their remnants during the current turn? Can they, actually?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Worried

Barcelona, 25th October 1713


At his own office in the Catalan HQ building, General Villarroel watched once again the reports recently arrived from first line, and nodded. "Bad, too bad", he told to himself.

The initiative won by the enemy had allowed them to pin all the planned moves of Catalan vanguard columns. Either Marquis of Poal at La Panadella heights, or General Bellver at Montblanc town, or even General Basset at his fortified positions at Vilafranca town, had seen all their plans disrupted by the enemy --even some of these forces had seen their supply lines cut by daring enemy moves behind Catalan lines. Two of these forces had also been contacted by strong Spanish columns, so that they ought to choose whether accepting the clash or withdrawing.

Not only HQ communications with several key strongholds had been cut by the enemy, but the extremely bad weather on the preceding week had prevented any informer to give news from the local rebellion at Lleida city as well. General Villarroel would have no other choice than taking almost blindly his very next decisions. Not in vain he was now quite worried.

Fortunately enough, rearguard forces had performed accordingly to specifications, so that General Ortega for instance had managed to gather an operational force in Manresa city that might prove key in providing some relief to Marquis of Poal's compromised situation. On the other hand, General Moragues at North had managed to take in due time the painful to him decision of withdrawing from Tremp town. True that this meant leaving the Pyrenenan valleys of Pallars nearly harmless face to the enemy --but it also meant saving lives of the men under his command.

There were at least a couple of pieces of good news: after the Spanish naval defeat face to Tarragona shores last week, the Balearic Sea had become a Catalan pond. With no enemy ships in sight, Catalan vessels had started a frantic race to carry supplies and fresh troops from Majorca to Barcelona, and even a small convoy had successfully disembarked a Sea Fusiliers regiment on Vilanova, just in time to face the Spanish force about to take possession of that key coastal town.

As a consequence, a convoy of Majorcan ships had just entered Barcelona harbour, carrying the British volunteer regiments of Queen Catherine and Saint Patrick. For sure they wouldn't be able to stop by themselves alone the enemy, but would contribute decisively to keep civilian population's fragile morale at its top --and this had become not less prioritary.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A bigger battalion


After the adoption of Beneath the Lily Banners as our main gaming ruleset, it had become compulsory for me to adapt our Army to the 18 figures prescribed, from the originary 9-figures size I had built them --following the Principles of War system.

Well, this picture shows a first result of such adaption work.

More pictures of the so favoured regiment (no other than IR1 General Deputation) showing it at its new full strength can be watched at this article of my own painting blog, soldadets.blogspot.com.

Still quite far from the big battalions style many of you do favour --as far as their 15mm scale is, I'd say. However, I must honestly admit this Regiment looks now superb in its new increased size. If not a big battalions fan yet, now I'm definitely against the small battalions kept so far. For sure!

Friday, February 17, 2012

In France

French border, 24th October 1713

Princess Elisenda was anxious for entering France but, after Claire's insistence, the entourage stopped a few hundred meters from the French border and encamped close to a farmhouse, to the surprise of the Archbishopric dragoons --who finally decided to also encamp in the nearby.

Still clad in her manservant clothes, Claire spent the last hours of night talking quietly with the imperial escort captain, and afterwards with some members of the princess retinue --always in the utmost discretion. Elisenda was really intrigued, but said nothing. While everyone in the camp went falling aslept, Claire and a soldier were still busy removing the stage coach baggage. They were the very last in going to bed.

On the next morning, Elisenda didn't notice anything odd at first. But a few meters after the journey restart, she suddenly realized. Her eyes went alternately from drover to coachmen and then to ushers, and then to drover again.

--Claire, our retinue has changed.

--Yes it has, Your Highness --Claire admitted, a slightly ironic smile on mouth.

--But... --and then Elisenda noticed the cavalrymen riding the closest to coach --but ...they have exchanged roles! I mean, what is our drover doing dressed as a soldier? And the man at reins is an imperial soldier!

Then Claire's smile widened: --Your Highness, you've placed great hopes in France. Please remember that France is still the enemy, though --and she then suddenly got serious: --I deserve no doubts about King Louis intentions, of course. But remember that France is King Philip's homeland too. He's your deadly enemy and still keeps many supporters in France, who would no doubt enjoy your death.

Then she told that, in collusion with the imperial captain, Claire had replaced all the Princess civil servants by appropriately disguised Austrian soldiers. Some of their weapons had been hidden inside the luggage. Not only that, but in the cabin of the car there also were a few handguns. Just for case.

--I was told you're pretty good at rapier, Princess.

--I had an excellent teacher --Elisenda admitted.

--Fiona, I know --Claire's glance went sad for a while-- Well, under your seat there's a rapier. If lowering your hand under the seat like this, you'll touch its knob. Right?

The girls stopped their talk at the sight of French border, running along a narrow stream. On the opposite side, an impressive full squadron of Gendarmes de la Garde was obviously waiting for them. Elisenda felt the Austrian soldiers tension through their tight lips, or their fists clenched over the reins. Just before facing their old enemies, the Austrian captain turned towards Elisenda and gallantly kissed her hand. She gratefully pronounced some thankful words.

Both troops formed in line, facing to each other in silence. Nothing went wrong, however. The escort relief maneuver was carried over with admirable precision, as if a ballet was performed. Claire's insightful glance went from one French soldier to the next one, and thoughtfully told to herself: --Which one? which one might be a hidden supporter to King Philip?

Heading the French squadron there were two standards, and Elisenda was the first one to notice them:

--Look Claire, the Gendarmes are flying two standards. The first one...

--I see, the Royal Standard of France. It's a signal for everyone that this entourage is under King Louis' protection --then Claire raised an eyebrow-- The other standard however... It is also some kind of sémée but...

--Thistle, or Cardoon --Elisenda observed, not less surprised than Claire-- They've filled up a yellow-red standard with thistle flowers, my lineage device.

Claire's face turned into a naughty smile: --True, they've arranged them as in their own fleur-de-lisée.

--So they've created a...

--A genuine fleur-de-chardonée!!

Both girls started laughing loudly, they weren't able to stop. The crystal-clear sound of their laughter filled the air, to the amusement of both nations soldiers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

On the move again

All fronts, 23th October 1713

With the end of bad weather, Spanish armies start moving steadily and fast, thus anticipating Catalans' moves. All along the main front line, their big columns advance with confidence into contact with the enemy, while a few smaller detachment slip swiftly behind enemy lines, with the aim to hamper their supply lines (if not interrupting them) and lead the Catalan rearguard into chaos.

Due to the heavy rainstorms that lasted all long preceding week, no news have arrived yet about the peasant rebellion at Lleida town. Just for case, the Spanish commander-in-chief Marquis of Aitona has ordered an infantry batallion to go in support of Lleida garrison from the neighbouring town of Flix. Additional moves in the Spanish rearguard are intended either for bringing newcoming units into first line, or to enforce recruitment of Tortosa and Flix locals.

War is closing to the Pyrenean counties too, for an infantry battalion just come from Aragon has got only a few miles away of Tremp town, where General Moragues stays leading a too small Mountain Fusiliers force.

Up to three possible big battles might happen this week then --depending on the Catalan reaction to these threatening Spanish moves. The fate of this still to-be-born Nation might be ultimately decided on the next few days.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Depressing journey

Lorraine, 19th October 1713

The stay of Princess Elisenda in the Duchy of Fenwick was rather short. As a faithful ally of Wittenberg, Duke Maurice had agreed hosting her entourage and seeking assistance during their journey along his lands. But the official reception at Palace was merely formal, devoid of the warm cordiality of the Court of Wittenberg. It became clear to the Princess that Fenwick's welcome was mainly due to a matter of loyalty towards Wittenberg, and little else beyond courtesy.

In a small independent Archbishopric close to Lorraine (whose name will be omitted here for courtesy) things were to go much worse, though. Despite all the provisions made in advance by Imperial diplomacy, problems began at the border itself. Local authorities tried at first to prevent entry to the Princess Imperial escort, under the argument that traffic of armed foreigners was contrary to Law. Only after a lengthy, lively discussion they finally consented --not before the Imperial soldiers deposited their firearms in a separate cart though. Angry and humiliated, the princess refused to even visit the Prince-Archbishop.

Her retinue spent in that country the time strictly required to traverse it from end to end, avoiding any unnecessary stops. Journey was depressing and charged with tension, always escorted by a large detachment of local Dragoons --whose only purpose was apparently to watch the Imperial soldiers.

On one occasion an irritated Imperial trooper drew his heavy sword against a pair of Dragoons preventing him to lead his horse off the road. In a few seconds the icy gleaming of swords spread to the entire column, and only the determined intervention of the Princess' young manservant stopped an imminent bloodshed. With remarkable restraint and coolness, the boy calmly left the stage coach, went close to the Dragoons captain and whispered something in the officer's ear. The man then paled intensely and ordered his men to sheathe weapons.

There were no further incidents. The Archbishopric troopers kept themselves at a prudent distance henceforth.

The Princess gasped in relief at the sight of French borderline. She'd ever believe before to be so pleased by such sight!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Not even a moment to relax

Le Havre, 18th October 1713

He was admittedly satisfied. His visit to the port of Le Havre had proved to be highly profitable, and now he was returning back to Paris relaxed and enjoying renewed spirits, in time for the upcoming arrival of Princess Elisenda.

Marquis de Vilana had not gone to Le Havre just for pleasure, or to get relaxed of the rigid protocol imposed by French authorities, but with a risky personal enterprise in mind. By making use of his influences, he had contacted a Flemish wealthy businessman, who had agreed to finance his project. They would share benefits by halves.

Counting his personal fortune along with the Flemish tradesman support, Marquis de Vilana had purchased at Le Havre a 36-guns, 400 tons frigate the French Navy was about to scrap as outdated. Once improved and upgunned in Rotterdam, she would be given the name of Santa Madrona.

The ship had been designed for Atlantic waters, so that she would barely behave that good in the Mediterranean. But Marquis de Vilana was not by any means worried by such detail, because he had no aims of making the ship cross the Strait of Gibraltar. She would remain in Atlantic waters --that was a key part of his plan.

When he arrived in Paris, a letter was waiting for him, from the Catalan Ambassador in the Netherlands. An expression of concern emerged on his face while reading the letter: thanks to informations of Dutch spies, the Ambassador had been acknowledged that Philip V had started withdrawing His Army in Flanders. Apparently, that shouldn't worry him anymore, because it was formally no more than a performance of Utrecht Treaty, but... but why not simply disbanding those 15 or even 20 regiments of foot and horse? After all, most of them were formed by native Walloon soldiers. Why repatriating them in the Peninsula? All European Nations had started reducing their respective armies' size just after Peace had been signed... all, but Spain.

It could only have one meaning: king Philip had no intention of ceasing war. Those were bad news indeed.