Friday, 1 May 2020

Early 16th Century Janissaries?


So here are the Janissaries, iconic infantry of the Ottoman army. I don't intend to discuss the Janissaries history or organisation in great detail here but instead have a look at how they may have appeared in the early 1500s. They have so many notable features, from their dress to their recruitment. Originally they were prisoners of war converted to Islam and then the "devshirme", a levy on christian boys in the Balkans, became the primary source of manpower for them in the 15th and 16th centuries. This post will have a look at some of the earliest images of Janissaries. I am attempting to build an Ottoman force for the first half of the 16th century that can oppose my Italian wars collection in conflicts such as the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499-1503 and the Siege of Vienna in 1529. Janissaries on campaign in this period are what I have tried to show here with the 28mm figures that are currently available.

There is an abundance of information on the Janissaries or "Yeniçeri" literally meaning new troops or soldiers. I've read a couple of books solely on Janissaries, yet I have still struggled to find out exactly how they dressed in battle in the early 1500s. One of the stumbling blocks seems to be that the Janissaries were an organised military unit for such a long period of time. Probably emerging in the late 14th century they were still in existance in the early 1800s. This relatively long life span means that later images and traditions of the corps tend to sometimes overshadow the earlier history and make it harder to decipher how they would have looked.

An Ottoman Anthology Manuscript of 1480. Two Janissaries can be seen in the distinctive "ak börk" hats.

Gentile Bellini's image of a Janissary c.1480.  This is probably a "Solak", one of the Sultans guard as he wears a tall "üsküf" hat.

Hunting Scene,  from a Persian poem, showing another tall "üsküf" Janissary hat, c.1498.

Firstly did they even wear their distinctive white hats in battle at all? Most Janissaries wore the "ak börk" or "bork", the distinctive white hat that folds over the neck while the Sultan's bodyguard, the Solaks, and higher ranking Janissary officers wore the tall pointed hat, which seems to be known as an "üsküf". The above three images show Janissaries in these styles of hat in the 15th century. In the first from 1480 two Janissaries can be seen in the "ak börk" while in the second two images the "üsküf" is clearly identifiable. In all of these images the Janissaries are appearing in more guard or domestic roles so while the headgear is evident it does not necessarily mean it was worn in battle.

The depiction of the naval battle of Zonchio from the turn of the fifteenth century clearly shows Janissaries in combat wearing the "ak börk" or an early form of it.  Below are some details from the image that show this. While the Janissaries in the French image from 1513 appear to be dressed for the parade ground the last two near contemporary images show Janissaries on campaign in their distinctive headgear. How accurate they are is hard to say. There is always the possibility that helmets were worn below the headgear. It is interesting that in the Süleymannâme image from the mid 16th century the Knights of Rhodes are depicted in Ottoman style helmets, a good example of how difficult it can be to trust these sources. As it is an Ottoman image the Janissaries are likely to be depicted more accurately than the Knights of Rhodes.

While Janissaries in later centuries may have worn turbans in combat you could tentatively argue that from these sources it does look like the famous hats were worn in battle earlier on, possibly with helmets underneath at times. Ian Heath in his "Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 2", which has lots of useful information on the Ottomans and early sources for how they looked, suggests that Turks wore red caps with their turbans while non Turkish troops or the Sultan's personal troops wore white. What confuses me with this is that I've also read that the "Silhatars", the Sultan's personal cavalry, wore a red "ak börk"! This would go against what Heath writes unless of course the red "ak börk" came at a later date. While delving into the Janissaries early history there a quite a few confusing things like this.

Detail from the Battle of Zonchio of 1499. A Janissary can be seen in green, wearing his "ak börk" in battle. 

Another detail from the Zonchio image of c.1499. Janissaries can be seen in green and red in the attacking boats.

Janissaries in Persia 1513, from a French manuscript. They appear to be in parade dress.

Detail from a 1532 wall painting of the Siege of Constantinople in Moldovita Monastery, Romania. A group of what appear to be Janissaries can be seen with polearms and distinctive headgear. 
The Süleymannâme - mid 16th century, showing Janissaries at the siege of Rhodes in 1522. In this slightly later 16th century image the Sultan's guards can clearly be seen with different style hats in the bottom right. Note that some of the Janissaries on the left carry "turpans" which look very similar to bills. The way the Knights of Rhodes have been depicted at the top of the image is also interesting as they look more like armoured Ottomans than European men at arms of the 1520s.

So how have I tried to depict the Janissaries? Obviously the miniatures available limit this. We will start with the "Zirhli Nefer". The "Zirhli Nefer", or armoured soldiers, were armoured Janissary assault units. They were used into the 16th century. As this Ottoman army will be used for siege games I was keen to include some of these troops. The unit is made of Old Glory figures with the addition of a few Essex miniatures to add some variation. I don't know of any contemporary images of these armoured troops and most of the figure sculpts seem to be based of Ottoman armours that survive from the late 15th and early 16th century.

There have been loads of conversions on these miniatures. The shape of the helmets has been changed on lots of them with green stuff or added plumes, and most have had their weapons replaced with a wide variety of polearms, axes and maces. The Osprey Elite series on Janissaries mentions the assault troops carrying large shields so I have included some of these amongst the unit. I have tried to make them fairly colourful with painted and gilded armour as well as varied shield motifs. While some of them have Islamic designs on their shields others have more western style heraldic designs to reflect the Balkan influence.

The "Zirhli Nefer" wait behind the handgunners and archers.

Ottoman armoured Janissaries, the "Zirhli Nefer".

Ottoman "Zirhli Nefer".

Armoured assault Janissaries. I have used a few western style shield motifs on these to reflect the Balkan influence.

The armoured Janissaries showing some of the armour detail.

The next question to address was how to depict the more regular Janissaries? How to make them look more like they were on campaign and whether to have them uniformed or in a mix of colours? In some ways the lack of conclusive early sources has given me more leeway here. The various "Ortas" or companies of Janissaries were supplied with material for their clothing so it would make sense that they would appear uniformed, something akin to the liveried troops of Western Europe in the 15th and early 16th centuries. I decided to paint up two separate "Ortas" of Janissaries, one in green and one in red, similar to the Janissaries depicted in the Zonchio image and the French illustration from 1513. This way if I decide that I want them less uniformed I can simply mix the bases of figures.

Although possibly being uniformly equipped with clothing the Janissaries were allowed to choose their own personal weapons in this period. The combat units carry a really wide variety of weapons, including many Western European polearms, these being imported by the Ottoman State as well as being captured in their many campaigns in the West. The bill is very much in evidence as the Ottomans used a similar weapon called a turpan, influenced by the Italian bill or roncone. Janissaries are shown using the turpan in the Süleymannâme image above. In some ways the Janissaries have much in common with some of the Italian infantry of this period: http://camisado1500s.blogspot.com/2015/11/italian-infantry.html. As with the "Zirhli Nefer" I have used a wide variety of shields, some of Arabic influence and some more Balkan.

The clothing has been tricky as the "ak börk" hat and the Janissaries robes changed during this period. The "ak börk" definitely looks to have got higher and more pronounced into the 16th century so the figures shown here are probably more accurate for the 1520s and 30s than 1500s. I have used Assault Group and Old Glory figures for the bulk of these troops with a few Essex miniatures added in and a great Warfare Miniatures figure for one of the Janissary officers. The Assault Group figures all had really big plumes, they look to be quite closely modelled on the Janissaries depicted in the 1513 French illustration, shown above. To make these figures look more like they were on campaign the plumes have been removed from all of them apart from the officers. For the Old Glory figures I only left plumes on the standard bearers removing even the plume holders from the other figures. The variations in clothing don't seem to make a huge difference, in fact they help to make them look more like campaign units. For the colouring of the trousers, shoes and belts I have gone with the information provided in the Osprey Elite series on Janissaries, although this may well be for a slightly later period.

Janissary Orta dressed in red.

Janissary archers, handgunners and troops armed with a variety of polearms and hand weapons.

Janissary Handgunners.

As I wanted my Janissaries to be for around 1500 to 1530 I didn't like the idea of them carrying muskets, they are a little anachronistic for the start of the 16th century. I have chosen to include a unit of handgunners or arquebusiers instead. These are a mix of Essex and Assault Group miniatures with Assault Group arquebuses added where necessary as well as some powder horns, match and leather pouches left over from previous Landsknecht projects. To use the army for later 16th century clashes Janissaries with muskets can always be added later.

Janissary Orta dressed in green.

Janissaries armed with close combat weaponry.

Janissaries with polearms, swords and axes.

A couple of command bases have been included with the Janissaries. In the photo below we have a "Beylerbey" or "Commander of Commanders" discussing tactics with a Janissary Officer. The Officer wears a distinctive "üsküf" hat to denote his rank. This miniature is from Warfare Miniatures 17th and 18th century range but he fits in perfectly here. Wafare Miniatures have also produced the flags:https://www.leagueofaugsburg.com/shop/products-subcat-59.html. Again they are for a later period but they fit in really well with my earlier Ottomans and add a lot of colour to the collection. The Beylerbey is a converted Assault Group miniature. The second command base shows a Janissary bowing to his senior officer. This base is a mix of converted Assault Group figures as well as an Essex and Old Glory miniature. The bowing miniature was clearly in 18th century dress so this has been converted to fit into the earlier period.

A Janissary Officer, note the different headgear from most of the other Janissaries. He advises an Ottoman "Beylerbey" on the troop dispositions. The Janissary Officer is from Warfare Miniatures as are the flags. The Ottoman Commander is a converted Assault Group figure.

The Commander of an Orta of Janissaries in the centre of the picture.

The photos below show the Janissaries en masse. I fear they are probably far from perfect for depicting early 16th century Janissaries but hopefully they look the part and as discussed above it is difficult to find exactly how they looked in the early 1500s. You may notice there is no infamous cooking pot, the" Kazan",  for them yet. Maybe this is something I will add later. The next part of this project involves different challenges, an attempt to show a convincing Ottoman gun battery for the 1500s to 1520s.

The Janissaries!

The whole Janissary force.

The troops from behind.

Early 16th century Janissaries in 28mm.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Dacre's attack on Ferniehurst, 1523



In the middle of last month I visited Stuart, https://stuartsworkbench.blogspot.com/,  to continue our series of Renaissance Rampart battles. Following our games at the end of last year focusing around Suffolk's 1523 campaign in France we decided to fight an Anglo-Scots battle this time. Once again we turned to Hall's Chronicle for inspiration and found a campaign under the Earl of Surrey and Lord Dacre that was taking place in 1523 while the main English army was campaigning on the continent.

Dacre's attack on Ferniehurst, September 1523

With Henry VIII's renewal of war with France in the early 1520s Scotland had to be taken into account. Following the death of James IV at Flodden by 1521 Scotland was under the regency of John Stuart, Duke of Albany. When England had invaded France under the Earl of Surrey in 1522 Albany had attempted to lead an army across the border but as the English responded and levied an army under the Earl of Shrewsbury to meet them the force lost heart, not wanting a repeat of Flodden, and withdrew.

Prior to England's larger invasion of France in 1523 Surrey, now returned from the continent where the Duke of Suffolk would take over, led a chevauchee style raid into the Scottish borders to ensure the Scots were kept quiet during the French invasion and cause enough chaos to discredit Albany's regency. This was a raid against Scottish strongholds that achieved little other than the capture of Cessford Castle. In September of 1523 Surrey led another raid with Lord Dacre, Warden of the English West March. While Surrey took Jedburgh in a vicious assault Dacre was despatched to sieze Ferniehurst castle held by the border lord Andrew "Dan" Kerr.

Ferniehurst was surrounded by woodland and rough terrain where a fierce fight took place before the siege could begin. Hall states:

"Duryng whiche time he senty lorde Daker of Gyldersland to a strong hold of Doncar called Fernhurst, the whiche castle stode very evil to come to, for the wayes wer hylly, stony and full of marishes, and the Scottes had bent their ordinaunce that way: yet for all that the Englishmen so fiersly set on that they gat the Castle, notwithstandyng that the Scottes fought valiauntly, and many of theim were taken, as Dan Car the lorde, the lorde of Grandon and divers other which were there taken"

The games were played using our modified Lion Rampant rules. Stuart took command of the English while I was in charge of Kerr's force of Borderers. All the photos are from the games and reading the captions is the best way to follow the action.

Ferniehurst Castle, home of the Kerr Border family. The Scots deploy in secret at this end with the English assaulting through the woods, again in secret, from the other.

The Assault on Ferniehurst

For this scenario the English had to attempt to clear the field of Andrew "Dan" Kerr and his troops. The stream, hills, rocks, trees and foliage were set out to show the "evil" terrain and counted as difficult terrain in the game (see the photo above).

To represent the chaos in the terrain “battered” markers were used to represent each unit. We wrote down in secret which unit each marker was for. Three "Dummy" counters were allowed per side, just to add to the confusion and give us both a chance to keep the other guessing. A unit was revealed either by an enemy unit attacking or shooting it once it was within 8” of the marker or by an enemy unit simply moving within 3” of it. Retinue leaders could not apply their morale bonus until revealed and all counters could "move" activate on a 6+ and move 6” until they were revealed. If units wanted to “reveal” themselves earlier, for example if the Retinue Leader wanted to give his leadership benefit, they could do so by declaring this when they activated. Once “revealed” a unit did not disappear again.

The retinues were as follows:

Dacre's English

2 Units of Foot Knights ( one is Lord Dacre and his retainers)
1 Unit of Garrison Archers                 
1 Unit of Garrison Billmen                               
1 Unit of Shire Archers                       
1 Unit of Border Horse                     
1 Culverin                                               
1 Organ Gun                                       

Dann Kerr's Scots

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Dan Kerr)                     
1 Unit of Foot Knights (Lorde of Grandon) 
2 Units of Border Horse                                                                                           
1 Unit of Garrison Archers  (Borderers)       
1 Unit of Garrison Bill (Borderers)
1 Culverin                                                             
1 Organ Gun                                      


The action begins when English billmen advance into a Scots organ gun and Border horse on the English left flank.

On the other side of the marshy ground English Border horse ride into some tough Borderers armed with polearms and a Scots field gun, the Scots having "bent their ordinaunce that way".

Dacre's men counter with a light field gun that has been manhandled through the rough terrain.

Scots Border horse in the foreground ride down the English while English Borderers can be seen in the distance.

The first fighting in this game started on the two flanks, outside of the terrain that was "hylly, stony and full of marishes". On the English left flank a detachment of Dacre's bill, bow and foot knights ran into a Scots Organ gun which was supported by Border horse and foot knights. This combination proved too much for the English and they were defeated fairly quickly, being pushed back by these combined units.

On the English right it was the opposite. The Scots had pushed a field gun into the rocky ground to defend the castle but the English had also wheeled a gun up. With archers in the rough terrain and with Dacre's Border horse riding around the flank this force of English soon knocked out Kerr's gun and moved in on the castle. A force of tough Borderers armed with polearms checked this advance for a while but the weight of numbers was against them.

The "lorde of Grandon" and his men at arms engage with English gentlemen who are leading the asault through the woods.

Outside Ferniehurst some Border archers are pushed back by the ferocious English assault.


A force of Kerr Borderers is surrounded in the woods but continues to fight on...

...while on the other side of the woods the Scots have outnumbered the English and hold their ground.

A sentry in the castle looks out onto the bitter fighting in the surrounding countryside.

The English hold the woods and launch volleys of arrows at the Scots.

It seemed the Scots had left the castle itself weakly defended. A group of Borderers armed with bows  attempted to fight off the advancing English centre but they were soon over run by the ferocity of Dacre's assault. The axis of the fighting swung with the Scots holding what had been the English left flank and the English pushing in on the right. The group of stubborn Kerr Borderers on the English right continued to put up stiff resistance but were eventually over run in the rough terrain.

The centre of the battlefield now became the main scene of the action. Dan Kerr emerged only to be caught out by an organ gun which Dacre had ordered his men drag over the rough stony ground. His retinue survived the volley of shrapnel and Kerr himself launched into a melee in the out buildings of Ferniehurst. A unit of Kerr retainers armed with pikes pushed some of the English bill back but Dann Kerr was captured in a brief melee with Dacre and his bodyguard. The morale of the Kerr force shook, with some of the Scotsmen fleeing through the marshy terrain to avoid death or capture.

Help was on hand for the defenders and with the Scots pike rallying, more Border archers emerged from Ferniehurst and the remaining Scots forces began to break the morale of the advancing English. The fighting in the rough terrain had taken its toll on the English units with many of them breaking in quick succession. Dacre and his retinue were left surrounded and with his troops running back into the rough terrain he sounded a retreat.

The surrounded Scots Borderers are finally defeated.

Dann Kerr himself emerges from the castle but walks straight into a hail of shot from an organ gun Dacre's men have pushed up to the fortress.

In an attempt to prevent Ferniehurst falling Kerr retainers armed with pikes launch a counter attack on the advancing English.

In the melee Lord Dacre (shown here under Poynings arms) clashes with Dan Kerr and the Scotsman is captured.

Despite his capture, Kerr's retainers and men at arms fight on. The dead and wounded litter the marshy ground.

Scots men at arms escape the battle by wading through one of the streams in the woods.

More Scots archers have emerged from the Castle. Dacre is surrounded by the remaining Kerr forces.

"Dacres men sayd that the devil was sene amongest them"

After taking Ferniehurst all was not well for Dacre and his troops. We return to Hall:

"and so the lorde Daker returned with his prisoners, and then he was ordained to kepe the watche that night wiche set his watches & his wardes surely. In the night sodainly CCC good geldynges brake out of a pasture, whiche were in custodie of the sayd lord Dacres campe, and as beastes wodde and savage ranne as though they were in array of battail, whereof the noyse in the night was so great, that the  armye sounded alarme, the horse still in array ranne to the cape, where the erle lay and bare doune many persones in their waye, and so sodainly ranne away whether it was unknowen: the lorde Darcres men sayd that the devil was sene amongest them"

For this scenario the English were deployed amongst their Wagons on one side of the field. The "geldynges" were represented by 3 bases of cattle (we didn't have any bases of horses) which were placed in the centre of the table. The English were allowed one unit that acted as normal from the start of the game, termed the Watch.

To rouse the rest of the camp the Watch unit had to make an attack (ranged or hand to hand) on the Scots to identify them and then return to the camp perimeter. If they made it back to the camp all of the English could then activate the following turn.

Gervases Phillips in the Anglo-Scots Wars states that "The Exasperated  Dacre swore that the Devil himself was responsible, but there can be little doubt that Scottish knives had cut the tethers".

The Scots started at the other end of the table with the objective of moving towards the cattle to "untether" them. They then had to cause as much disruption to the English camp while keeping their own casualties to a minimum. Once a unit reached the cattle it took a successful move activation to "untether" them after which the cattle would automatically move.

Each base of cattle moved 2D6 inches in a random direction every turn. If they passed through a unit that unit took D6 minus their armour value in casualties to represent the stampede. If the cattle base rolled a double on it's random move the "devil was sene amongest them"! A devil marker was placed by the unit. Any English within 12" had to take an automatic morale check whenever a devil marker appeared. The next turn it would dissappear unless the cattle based rolled another double to move.

All English units could activate once the cattle were on the loose. If an English unit could move to a cattle base (rather than the cattle base moving through them) they could capture it and then try to take it back to their camp moving 6" a turn. If they broke or fled they would loose the cattle base and it would move as random again. The Scots could attempt to disrupt the retrieval of the cattle. The Scots units could not capture the cattle like the English units, they could only set them free to run amok.

Dacre's camp, the cattle are to the left.

The retinues were as follows:

Dacre's Camp

1 Unit of Demi Lancers (Lord Dacre) (This unit could not be the watch)
1 Unit of Border Horse  (Stuart designated these as his Watch unit)
1 Unit of Garrison Billmen                                                             
1 Unit of Shire Archers                                                                   
1 Unit of Foot Knights                                                                       
1 Unit of Garrison Archers                                                           

The Scots Raiders

1 Unit of Demi Lancers  (The Border Captain)                                               
2 Units of Border Horse
1 Unit of Foot Knights                                                               
1 Units of Garrison Archers (Borderers)
1 Unit of Garrison Bill (Borderers)                                           


The Scots Borderers advance quietly towards the livestock.

A force of Neville Borderers, the English Watch, is alerted by the advancing Scots.

Borderers clash under a brooding night sky.

This was one of those games that goes terribly for both sides! It didn't take the English Watch long to detect the force of Scots emerging out of the darkness. As the English Border horse made a fighting retreat back to the camp the Scots captain and his mounted retinue reached the cattle and set them loose. As the English camp awoke hearing the noise of skirmishing in the night followed by the sounds of the stampeding livestock all looked to be going perfectly for the Scots.

The tide of the game then turned because the cattle did not stampede into the English camp as intended but rather into the advancing Scots, running over some of the units multiple times! As the Scots were thrown into chaos by their own doing the English advanced in formation. Dacre's archers began to increase the Scots casualties and although "the devil was sene amongest" the cattle on numerous occasions it had no adverse affect on the English force. Perhaps Dacre just conjured up this tale after the encounter to cover up his mistake?

Forcing the English Border horse back the Scots manage to scatter the cattle.

"the lorde Darcres men sayd that the devil was sene amongest them"

The cattle rampage through the Scots lines causing complete chaos and scattering them!

A group of Scots men at arms engages briefly with some of Dacre's Billmen but are forced back. This is the only hand to hand fighting of this chaotic night fight.

Having been completely disorganised by the cattle and coming under a hail of arrows from the now awakened English camp the Scots retreat. They have deprived the English of the cattle but have been completely disorganised in the process while the English remain in formation.

As the Scots raiding party crumbled the dismounted Borderers and Scots men at arms attempted to advance on the English camp. A group of English billmen charged the Scots men at arms who were pushed back in a very brief melee. Under a withering hail of arrows these Scots units then began to withdraw. They had successfully driven off the herd of cattle, which Dacre's men had made little attempt to retrieve, but had been heavily mauled, by English arrows and the hooves of the cattle in the process!

These were a fun couple of games. The hidden unit technique in the first game, while denying us of the opportunity to set the armies out in their full splendour at the start, made for a very exciting and close fight. I think that may be one of the closest games we have had yet where it swung back and forth very quickly. The second game was amusing as it was such a disaster for both of us with neither Stuart or myself really achieving the objectives of our forces. It was also nice to have a chance to represent the cut and thrust of border warfare that was a common feature of Anglo-Scots relations in Henry VIII's reign. I look forward to our next clash of arms whenever that may be.