A group of us pooled our Normans and Saxons (with a smattering of Saxons that were wearing ‘looted’ viking armour) from our relative SAGA forces and old WAB armies etc. Two of us had journeyed to Battle earlier this year to tour the battle site – and get an understanding of what it was like for the Normans hiking up that hill.
There was an excellent audio tour and signage as we toured the battlefield, giving a chronology of the day’s events. English Heritage do a really good job, I reckon.
Inspired by this, we decided to replay the battle on the 950th anniversary – using the Hail Caesar rules, as they were the most accessible for the various players. Six players all up, three on each side. For the Normans we had Lord Karsten of the Bretons; Lord Kelsall of the Franks; and William the Bastard of the Normans.
On the Saxon side we had Harold, King of the Anglo-Saxons; Earl Lon the Loveless; and Earl Dave the Hesitant.
The Normans lined up their battle lines via three divisions. The Saxons arrayed themselves on the hill, the thegns placing themselves at the front, with units strategically placed to plug any holes.
Norman archers and crossbows fired away at the saxons but – despite causing a few casualties – were largely ineffective.
One of the random cards drawn by the Norman general created havoc amongst the Breton and Frankish divisions which, along with some calamitous blunder rolls by commanders, temporarily halted the Norman advance.
Frustrated by the delays, William leads the charge into the saxon lines – charging up the hill. He hoped the shock and awe of his mighty charge would create a huge hole in the saxon line. It worked for a little bit, but the reinforcing units from behind quickly wiped out the tired Norman knights.
The Bretons finally arrive on the left, and attempt to force the Saxon flank off the hill. They soon find themselves bogged down in fighting, however, and it seems the Normans will not be taking this hill.
The game is entering its last few turns, it appears that William has lost the day, and the Saxon generals decide to come down off the hill to mop up the Norman remnants – units of bow and crossbow and some Norman infantry.
Suddenly – disaster! In what appears to be some of the worst dice-rolling seen to man, Harold manages to wipe out a large number of his thegns against some Breton retainers. He JUST reaches his break mark, and that’s one third of the Saxon army broken and retreating. Lon the Loveless and Hesitant Dave are suddenly faced with an open flank – through which come pouring Breton Knights! In the centre, Lon realises his division is perilously close to breaking as well. Hesitant Dave realises that the loss of Harold couldn’t have come at a worse time, as he had just commited his own reserve troops to a charge on some units of Norman crossbows. Their reaction could best be summed up in the picture below:
As the Breton knights come crashing into Lon’s flanks and rear, he realises it’s time for him to scarper – and the field is won by the Normans! As an observer, I was left rather stunned. I was already packing up my loaned troops, as I thought the battle was a foregone conclusion – the saxons weren’t going to be moved off that hill. Suddenly, right at the end of the day, some really bad luck from Harold (to get an arrow in his eye) and some really bad timing from his two commanders means that Hastings 1066 was won by the Normans. I wonder if this is how things played out 950 years ago? Just a bit of bad luck with an arrow, and a set of unlucky circumstances/poor-timing, and the history of England was changed!
Lord Karsten surveys his Bretonnian victory! The game ref, Mark watches on.
An awesome day, the armies looked fantastic and the game was an absolute cracker.