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Kingmaker Developer's Notes - 8, Stuff we left out

This is the eighth post in a series about Alan Paull's re-development of Andrew McNeil's game Kingmaker for Gibsons Games. Posts: Basic Principles, Prestige, The Board, Parliament, Random Death, What Versions to Put in the Box?, Teamwork!, Controversies?!, Scrope to Masham.

As a postscript in the interests of historicity, I wanted to mention some of the bits that Kingmaker leaves out. There are very few women, and very few non-elite decision-makers in Kingmaker. This is not to say that these people were not important in the 15th century. It’s worth pointing out that women then still made up about 50% of the people, and their lives and experiences were just as relevant and important as those of the men, and are deserving of historical study, and inclusion in thematic games. Only rarely - for example, Margaret of Anjou - were they recorded as important figures politically, and Kingmaker focuses on the actions of the male elites. I would also point out that one of the most significant figures of either sex in this period was Margaret Beaufort (see image), mother of Henry Tudor. Without the determination and force of character of Margaret Beaufort, it’s unlikely there would have been a Tudor dynasty at all, and this is worthy of wider recognition.

Margaret Beaufort, Portrait, 16th century. From Wikimedia Commons, provenance unknown

There are non-elite people in Kingmaker, for they make up the retinues, levies, mercenaries, and hangers-on of the nobles' armies. There’s little detail of what they do, other than moving from place to place, and fighting battles and sieges. We’ve left out the details of logistics and how these armies were raised, marched, and fought, and importantly how these armies affected local populations. Again, that type of game would be more simulation than we wanted with Kingmaker. But let’s acknowledge it briefly now with an illustration of what it meant to be on the receiving end of an early modern army on the march. I should note that I’ve not made a particular study of the brief example I’m using; it has features similar to many of the armies' operations in the Wars of the Roses.

On 30 December 1460, the Lancastrian army of the Duke of Somerset and Margaret of Anjou ambushed and destroyed Richard, Duke of York’s army at the Battle of Wakefield, and many Yorkist notables and many more unknown soldiers were killed in the battle or executed shortly afterwards. Then, as Wikipedia states: “The northern Lancastrian army which had been victorious at Wakefield was reinforced by Scots and borderers eager for plunder, and marched south.” In February 1461, the Lancastrian army reached Hertfordshire and beat Warwick’s army at the Second Battle of St Albans, leaving London vulnerable. But, despite some pretty desperate negotiations, the city of London refused the northerners entry, and Margaret’s army retreated north, eventually to lose decisively at Towton. Such is the bald narrative.

But what does this all mean for the non-elite folks of the Midlands and the South East of England? These, after all, were the vast majority of people affected, and only a miniscule proportion of the people were the nobles, like Somerset and Warwick, that we focus on.

The Lancastrian army marching south was about 15,000 strong, though whether that’s their combat strength or their total numbers including up to a third or so camp followers of various types, I don’t know. They were relying on foraging for food supplies, as all armies of the period did, but also on ‘plunder’ - that is pillaging for valuables and other goods to enrich themselves - and it was for the promise of plunder that many of the ‘Scots and borderers’ had joined Margaret’s army in the first place.

In the 15th century, armies didn’t have the relatively sophisticated bureaucracies, supply depots, and magazines that were developed by the 18th century. They were generally reliant on foraging for supplies from the local area, either through organised forced levies of food and other supplies, usually used in friendly regions, sometimes paid, but very often not, or through robbing the local people by the use of extreme violence, primarily using mounted troops. Here, we’re going to look briefly at what these terms - foraging, plundering, pillaging - actually mean.

Food supplies were held by the local populace in towns, villages, and other smaller settlements. Foraging in friendly towns could be organised (via ‘requisitioning’), as towns definitely did not want to be occupied by troops, friendly or otherwise, so they would pay off a local army by ‘voluntarily’ providing food, or providing money in lieu. Foraging in smaller settlements generally meant requisitioning of the peasants’ grain and frequently plundering (stealing with violence) of any other goods they had for good measure. Local populations threatened by armies quickly became good at hiding their food, goods, and chattels, even from so-called ‘friendly’ armies.

Food supplies were generally available in the required quantities for an army at or after harvest, which took place in the months of May to August, depending on the crop, particularly July and August for wheat. It was grain that was the most important crop and the most important foodstuff for an army on the march in this period, with fodder for horses and other livestock a close second. The local peasants would harvest and store their grain, gradually consuming it during the months after harvest, and ideally having a store of grain left before the next sowing either in the autumn for a winter crop, or in March for a summer crop. But the Battle of Wakefield happened at the end of December and Second St Albans was in February the following year. So, the Lancastrians were indulging in a winter campaign when logistical problems were at their most intense. An army marching in late January and February needs to forage for supplies from peasants who have already consumed at least half of their grain, more than that if they have also sown in the autumn. So, the yield from foraging would have been less than during summer or autumn.

We know that the northerners viewed the southern lands as enemy territory and were intent on plunder, in addition to foraging, and there would be no amelioration of the violent effects that might happen on friendly territory. In fact, the time of year pretty much required this type of relatively extreme action, or the army would starve. It also had to keep moving, because otherwise it would quickly eat the local area out of food.

An army foraged and plundered by sending out troops, usually mounted men, in a 10 mile or so radius along its route of march. Typically, settlements along the route were pillaged of everything moveable in terms of food and goods, and then burnt. People who were caught would be tortured, so they would reveal the location of any hidden food or other goods, then killed. Women of any age would be raped, then killed. Towns without adequate defences would be taken, their populations massacred, then the town burnt. Often, this would happen despite the orders of those in command, because the troops considered it their right to obtain booty; after all, that’s what they had joined up for. The area the army moved through ended up devastated and sometimes depopulated.

In the example in question, towns such as Grantham and Stamford were pillaged, and a swathe of destruction marked the army’s passage. It was so damaging that walled Coventry, a Lancastrian centre, refused them entry, and this all-consuming 'plague of locusts', as described by one chronicler, came to be hated on all sides despite its military victories. After defeat at Second St Albans, the Yorkist leaders fled or went into hiding, and the prize of rich and well-provisioned London seemed open to Margaret and Somerset. But, despite this and after some wavering caused by Lancastrian sympathisers, London’s citizenry shut their gates. This was not simply the act of a supposedly Yorkist city - many were quite prepared to open the city to the rightful king, Henry VI (released from Warwick’s clutches at the Second Battle of St Albans) - but was the determination of a populace terrified by the approach of a victorious, vengeful, and undisciplined army of pillagers. It’s worth noting in the back of your mind what your own siege of London might have meant in practice at the time.

I hope this post might encourage some readers to look more widely at the history of this period. It’s not all heraldry, intrigue, and dastardly deeds!

For some very readable overviews of the Wars of the Roses, I recommend ‘The Hollow Crown’ by Dan Jones, and ‘The Brothers York’ by Thomas Penn. For Margaret Beaufort, ‘Uncrowned Queen’ by Nicola Tallis is excellent. For some very good scholarly publications on some of the battles of the Wars of the Roses, see Mike Ingram’s books on Northampton and Bosworth, and Graham Evans’ book on Edgcote. For more on foraging and logistics before the age of railways, and much, much more, I recommend Bret Devereaux’ blog ‘A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry’ (this is the link to the foraging article:


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