Wars of the Roses – Battle of Hexham – Battle Report

Battle number nine in our campaign was the battle of Hexham. The setup for this battle involved having the Lancastrians with their back to the river known as the Devil’s Water. Both armies were 800 points and as is the established convention with this campaign the victor writes the history, so I’ll leave you with Stephen to go through what happened on the day!

Battle of Hexham
Now I think about it, I feel a bit sorry for Tony F. He turned up, all perky and friendly, and said, ‘So who wants me on their side?’
Jeremey and myself looked at each other. Then we looked at Tony. ‘Neither of us,’ we said. His face changed.

It’s like this you see. There were three of us for the game, so it would be two vs one. Now, if the two players won then the single player would say something like, ‘It took two of you to beat me.’ Or, if the single player won, he would say, ‘Even the two of you together weren’t good enough to stop me.’

So honour was at stake, and this hadn’t occurred to Tony. So we said to him, ‘You decide.’ Tony decided to flip a coin for it – it came up heads: so that meant he would be on Jeremey’s side.

We move on to the Battle of Hexham. This is one of the smaller, lesser known, battles from the Wars of the Roses. However, it’s a very important battle because it marks the end of Lancastrian resistance. The battle was a devastating loss to the Lancastrian cause with the death of the Duke of Somerset, who had been the main supporter of King Henry. There’s not much to the battlefield – a river to the Lancastrian rear (in which many fleeing Lancastrians drowned), but otherwise an empty field (as is the case with many small battles).

I knew my tactics were to advance as quickly as possible to ensure I had space to retreat if pushed back. In general I had my army in a double-line – archers up front with billmen behind. My centre consisted of two pike blocks and two units of dismounted men-at-arms. I knew this would be a tough nut for the army of York to crack. I took a bit of a gamble with my flanks. On the left I had mostly militia troops, with a back bone of a couple of retinue units. On my right I put a solid retinue contingent. Jeremey commented how they had their best troops on their right (which was my left – facing my militia!), so I kept quiet about how comparatively weak that flank was for me. I had no cavalry in my army for the battle, there were two units of mounted knights on the Yorkist side, but they’d been split between left and right. I wondered if that had been a good decision since cavalry can be weak if they don’t immediately prevail, so are best with a bit of company. My commanders consisted of two generals and three captains – Lord Roos with Lord Hungerford and Sir Phillip Wentworth on the left (to take control of the militia) with the Duke of Somerset and Lord Grey on the right.

And so it began.

With Sword & Spear it’s easy to lose track of support troops. One gets so focussed on advancing the front line and using those much needed activation dice in crucial combats that the rear rank gets left behind. I was conscious of this so ensured I moved up troops in pairs – one activation dice on the archers up front and one on the billmen supporting them. I noticed that both Jeremey and Tony didn’t. I don’t say that in an accusatory way, because we’ve all done it and there’s never enough activation dice to do all you want. But I noticed in Sword & Spear that victory will often go to the side who can plug the gaps in their line or have troops in position to exploit enemy gaps, so I was determined I would keep that second line in position.

First blood went to the Yorkists! Oh well, I thought – business as usual! I kept my extreme right flank static because I saw that was where Jeremey had his knights and I could see no reason why I should get closer to them – no, I thought, I’ll let him come galloping across the whole of the battlefield where I’ll have time to form a good line to stop him.

Only two or three turns in to the game and I was the first to lose a unit as well! That had just about cemented in my mind that it was, indeed, business as usual.

Then something rather odd happened. I started eliminating enemy units. Yeah, took me by surprise as well. In the centre and on the right the archery duel began and I was coming out on top! The Yorkist centre was slow to advance (in fairness, due to poor activation dice) and so I decided to take the initiative and move up the pikes and dismounted knights as quick as I could. Jeremey was faffing around with his crossbowmen but before they could do anything I took them out of the game with a flurry of longbow arrows.

Yes, it all seemed to be going just a bit too well. I wasn’t only winning at this point, but I was winning well!

Although my left was mostly militia units, and potentially vulnerable, they were rolling some demon dice when it came to shooting. Whoever was commanding them (presumably a grizzled veteran from the wars with France) they were earning their turnips.

Then it all came to an end.

My dismounted knights in the centre gave a poor account of themselves. They moved up alongside the pikes and I was fairly sure that between them they were going to cause some trouble to the main York line. When they finally got into contact it was not to be. No. Instead of punching a decisive hole in the York line the first unit of knights went down without causing the York billmen so much as a hiccup. Tony’s (superior) troops also started to engage my left flank, and casualties and losses were being taken. The only resolve I could take was on my right where my archers continued to take a toll on the Yorkist troops.

Jeremey had finally decided to put the spurs into his cavalry and they started trotting forward. I saw that, and expected it, but I had a good couple of turns before they made contact so time enough to turn something toward them. The pikes finally went in and…nothing. In fairness there were no casualties on either side, just a shoving match, but I was getting to that point where my early lead was being reversed.

To make matters worse it was now my time to get poor activation dice. What this meant was that Jeremey’s cavalry sped up and managed to outflank me and came crashing into the flank of a unit of archers. Not good, and off went the archers. That was annoying because I had seen that coming and was fully aware of it, I just didn’t get the dice that allowed me to do something about it! Not again though, because I decided to turn troops to face him now whilst I could.

Had it been too late for me though? Because I now went over my Morale break point and had to make tests for all my units. Oh well, it had gone well to start with but I knew it couldn’t last. I stoically accepted this game would be another loss. I did alright on the cohesion tests though. I lost a militia unit that only had one strength left but other than that…yeah, all passed.

The early part of the game had gone to Lancaster and the middle game had gone to York. We now entered the end game and although I was lagging behind it wasn’t by much.

Next turn and the army of York reached their morale point as well. Their cohesion tests didn’t go so well. Jeremey kindly fluffed a lot of rolls and two, maybe three, York units fled the table. That evened things up so it was all to play for.

It was hard for me to press the attack against Jeremey’s flank because so many of his troops had been left behind and those that hadn’t been he started to *ahem* ‘reposition to the rear’ (how brave!) and promptly told Tony that victory for York was now in his (Tony’s) hands. Who needs leaders like that, eh?

Tony acted by getting his cavalry moving and charged them forward. A rash move I thought, but he didn’t have many choices. In fact, it was a fair move – he was only facing my militia troops after all and he had to do something. The pikes in the centre finally achieved a result and punched a line in the York centre but there was nothing there to exploit whilst the other pike block was stuck in a fight. I could now tell the army of York was panicking and trying anything to grab the victory. I tried to play it cool, but I was concerned because if I was to get that win it would be down to my militia troops who were facing Tony’s wing (and remember, Jeremey had earlier let slip that Tony had the best troops). I most certainly wasn’t confident.

And so it happened. We all knew we were on the last, or penultimate, turn and you could tell that each player was looking desperately across the battlefield to see where they could snip off that game-winning unit. We had a quick tot up – York only had to lose one more unit to be defeated whilst the Lancastrians would have to lose two. Very tight. Tony’s cavalry had got stuck in a protracted fight but they finally squeezed out of it and down went a unit of Lancastrian militia.

Just one unit each left to lose.

With victory so close I was desperate not to take a chance. I knew that engaging Tony’s retinue troops in melee with my militia was only going to go one way. So I held back and just hoped the earlier good dice rolls for the militia archers would hold firm.

And you know what, they did! Yup, I drew back my arrows, let fly, and down went some Yorkist billimen!

Victory to Lancaster. Oh, and just for the record, even the two of them together weren’t good enough to stop me on my own!

The most Pyrrhic of Pyrrhic victories for Lancaster, and not much to brag about. But a win nonetheless!

When writing up the battle report I discovered the Yorkists actual loses were 45 points and not the Army break point 46. Yes, technically that means they hadn’t quite Broken, but Jeremey mistakenly marked one of his longbow units at 4 army points, which would have taken them to 46. It is, however, the responsibility of the general to ensure he knows the morale of the troops under him, and if he wavers, panics, and quits the field too early then that’s his mistake and he pays the price.

Yorkist Loses
4 Units of Militia Billmen (16 points)
4 Units of Longbows (12 points)
2 Units of Militia Longbows (6 points)
1 Unit of Crossbows (3 points)
1 Unit of Spearmen (4 points)
1 Unit of Dismounted Men-at-arms (4 points)
Total loses 45 points (Army break point 46)

Lancastrian Loses
2 Units of Dismounted Men at Arms (8 points)
2 Units of Billmen (8 points)
5 Units of Longbows (15 points)
3 Units of Militia Longbows (9 points)
1 Unit Militia Billmen (4 points)
Total loses 44 points (Army break point 45)

Lancastrian Victory