Just a little while ago we refought the Battle of Dreux, 19th December 1562, (reported on LAF) and so feeling very pleased with ourselves thought we’d gently progress our way through all the well documented battle of the French Wars of Religion 🙂
Next up, by sequence, is the Battle of Saint Denys, 10th November 1567, generally seen as a pointless battle to fight due to the disparity in numbers. Historically, the Huguenots, under the Prince of Conde, had thrown a loose cordon around Paris within which was the numerically superior Royalist forces under the Constable, Anne, Duc de Montmorency. Rather inconveniently for the Huguenots Montmorency decided to give battle and so marched out of Paris to confront Conde near the town of Saint Denys. All military reason said that Conde should have fallen back on other nearby forces but arrogantly decided to stay and fight, pitting around 3.000 men, evenly split between cavalry and infantry, against some 16,000 men of which about 3,000 were cavalry.
The Huguenots formed up inside a vee comprised of Saint Denys at the base and the villages of Saint Ouen and Aubervilliers at the end of the vee on either side. A body of pikemen and shot guarded Saint Denys to act as a secure rear-guard, two bodies of shot were dug in around the villages and the Huguenot cavalry formed into three bodies under their senior leaders, Conde, the Admiral Coligny & the Seigneur de Genlis, once battle commenced no one was acting as overall commander. Facing them, the Royalists formed a double line across the mouth of the vee with eight bodies of gendarmes interspersed by several bodies of foot – a sizeable body of Swiss with artillery deployed in front of them, an unruly body of Parisian militia and two bodies regular foot (legions). Montmorency himself, like his Huguenot counterparts, gave up his role of commander and led the centre body of gendarmes while his son led an adjacent body. With these kind of numbers you can see why the battle is not seen as worth the effort of a re-fight 😀
The battle was fairly short and sharp and went contrary to what you might expect. The battle commenced with some long range artillery fire on Genlis which caused some upset and then the flanking gendarmes advanced in an attempt to turn the Huguenot position, unaware of the entrenched arquebusiers whose fire stunned and disorganised the gendarmes who were then charged by Coligny & Genlis and sent flying back into the main line. The Paris militia immediately gave way and Conde launched his cavalry against Montmorency who was killed in the fighting and the Royalist line was wavering but was stabilised by Francois Montmorency (the son) charging his cavalry in and rescuing the body of his father. In the general melee that followed Conde was unhorsed and briefly captured but was freed and rallied his cavalry back on Saint Denys soon to be joined by Coligny and Genlis who had been unable to make any impression on the Royalist infantry. And that was basically it, the leaderless Royalists declined to continue the battle and drifted back into Paris and the Huguenots got a dose of common sense and gave up the blockade.
How then could we recreate it? The terrain is pretty simple, so we set out the three bodies of Huguenot horse on a plain table with a village unit behind them and then created the vee around them with two village units and the entrenched shot. The Royalist forces were then forced to conform to the table, we had six units of gendarmes, a unit of foot masquerading as the militia, two more units of foot, a Swiss unit and a battery of guns. The table was pre set to conform to the actual dispositions (as best we could) prior to the players arriving and the ends of the villages were sealed off with woods to prevent any unhistorical flank marches. The Huguenots had two commanders present, Conde & Coligny, who historically exercised joint control in this early phase of the wars and the Royalists had Montmorency. Our rules use the military skill of the commanders (arbitrarily chosen based on historical performance) to move bodies of troops, so 2 skill points = 2 units etc, and in this re-fight Coligny & Conde had enough points between them to activate each unit, Montmorency however had nowhere near enough points, which we though would represent the piecemeal attack of the Royalists. Each player commander was given the option to assign their commanders to units as per the historical prototype and pleasingly both sides did so, knowing full well the risks 🙄
How did it go? Well the Royalist commander played a cagey game using his points to move bits of the army at a time to try and get a more co-ordinated attack in while the artillery pounded away at Genlis (very historical 🙂); on the flanks he used his infantry to advance on the villages (we didn’t hide the arquebusiers) which took quite some time but of course the cavalry did have to move if any progress was going to be made. The Huguenots stood still so quite a few turns were just the Royalists moving and the artillery firing.
As the Royalists eased their way forward Francois Montmorency’s cavalry took the first lots of harquebus fire but morale held (naturally 😉) and the colonel wasn’t hit – each unit has a nominated colonel with a skill rating that helps in any testing but can be a casualty based on the number of casualties received. The Royalist artillery fire was particularly accurate on this day and after a few turns of casualties Genlis moved his cavalry into the shadow of Aubervilliers to avoid further losses which caused the Huguenots to advance their rear-guard pike into the space who also fell back due to the artillery – it was temporary, they soon resumed their spirit.
With the Royalists now getting closer Coligny & Conde manoeuvred to try and get into a good position to take on the most forward gendarmes of Montmorency (junior) and Cosse – turns are alternate where players dice for initiative, so there is a certain amount of risk in gambling you will get the next initiative for things like charging home. The Huguenot arquebusiers were now starting to rack up some losses on Montmorency & Cosse which favoured Coligny & Conde going in and when the arquebusiers in Ouen were distracted by an attack by the Paris militia – performing far better than their historical counterparts even with reduced stats, Coligny decided now was his time.
The charge went in on Montmorency who received in good order and a fierce melee ensued….
However, today it was a Protestant god that was deciding the fate of men and Montmorency was killed 😥 which left his unit stunned and the exultant protestants broke through and by a quirk of fate hurtled through and into the unit of Montmorency senior…..
Boy where these protestants on a roll, in a single round of combat the stood gendarmes were smashed and Montmorency killed, pleasingly reflecting history although no son to recover the body because he was dead!
And in a moment that was it. Montmorency was the commander with the points so the Royalist army was completely paralysed and we had a pretty damm near repeat of history. Both sides gambled with their senior commanders being with units and for the Huguenots it paid off but for the Royalists not so.
It’s rare that a game ends so abruptly and as the organiser I was a bit concerned for the Royalist players reaction but he was completely fine with it, he’d tried for the tactical approach, which was slowly paying dividends, but in this period, whatever rules you use, it’s the cavalry that count and the men that lead them.
A good game, Jarnac next.