Thursday 6 June 2019

Mid 16th Century Armies - Imperialists and 1540s English

With the completion of the Mid 16th Century Landsknecht block at the start of this year, followed by the Steel Fist Gendarmes and a couple of command bases the 1540s side project is finished. Well for now at least! Of course in the tradition of this blog I couldn't resist setting up the entire 1540s collection and getting some photos. In the first set the figures are representing a Habsburg force of Charles V. It contains Lansknecht Pike and Shot, Gendarmes, Mounted Arquebusiers, Artillery and more generic Pike and Shot which I would use as Spanish or Italians in this army. I have little doubt that the Spanish and Italian infantry would have distinct styles of dress during this period but at least these figures are all in clearly Mid 16th Century armour and clothing.

This army would be suitable for the later Habsburg Valois Wars the scale of which had grown enormously by the middle of the century, with huge armies being raised by the French and Imperialists to fight in Italy and Northern Europe. Most of the figures would be fine for the campaigns up into the 1550s, the only caveat I would add is that in the Mid 1550s the "pluderhosen" started to be worn by the Landsknecht and their style and appearance changed radically very quickly. As the flags are interchangeable this army can be switched into a French one for this period. In fact the majority of the figures used to make it are from The Assault Group's excellent Valois French range.

Landsknecht Pike and Shot in the foreground with the Spanish Infantry beyond them.

The Spanish Infantry and the Imperialist Guns.

Imperialist Gendarmes.

Mid 16th Century Pike and Shot.

Another view of the Mid 16th Century Landsknecht.

Charles V's Imperialists 1530s-1540s.

Imperialist Mounted Arquebusiers.

Of course if the Imperialist army can be converted into a French one then they are going to need some opponents and who better than the 1540s English. It was the fact that The Assault Group made these Mid Tudor figures that got this side project started in the first place back in 2014: . Of course, as with many of my wargaming projects, the scale of this particular collection has slowly increased. I still need some Border Horse for this English Army, my other ones are too early for this collection, so maybe it isn't finished at all!

The English army shown below uses many of the same figures as the Imperialist one, such as the Gendarmes, Mounted Arquebusiers and Landsknecht. This was a period when Henry VIII was flush with cash from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and other Ecclesiastical sites in England and as such he could afford, briefly, to spend large amounts on foreign mercenaries to use in Scotland and  France. For the English use of Mounted Arquebusiers see my earlier post here: . The 1540s were also a decade that saw the English employing Irish Kern in their French and Scottish Campaigns, their raiding skills being particularly useful in the "small war" of longer campaigns. As such a unit of these is included in this particular set up.

Being largely made up of figures by The Assault Group, only the Gendarmes, Irish Kern and a few of the Landsknecht aren't by them, this collection has a slightly more uniform look from the earlier 1500-1520s stuff which is made up of a whole host of manufacturers. I felt that if a manufacturer was going to tackle 16th Century Armies that hadn't really been done in depth before I had to support them. I am of course keeping a close eye on what comes next for their Dutch Revolt range. Of course there is some cross over with my other collections. The Gendarmes would be fine for the Italian Wars in the 1520s and the 1540s English will make great opponents for my Gaelic Irish collection, yet another reason to get some more Border Horse on the go!

Henry VIII's Tudor Army - 1540s.

A 1540s Tudor Army with Irish Kern and Habsburg Landsknecht mercenaries.

Mercenary Mounted Arquebusiers and English Heavy Cavalry (English Heavy Horse were few in number but they were used in France and Scotland in the 1540s).

English Infantry 1540s, a mixture of Arquebusiers and Archers. The Arquebusiers may well be Italian or Spanish mercenaries.

An English Command group. These figures are all from The Assault Group Tudor range.

English Bow and Bill, note the Irish Kern at the top of the photo.

Tudor Infantry, 1540s. The officer carries a sword and "target" or large buckler.

A close up of the Landsknecht.

1540s Tudor Army.

Tudor Infantry of the 1540s.

The whole English Army.

 As a final note I thought some of you would be interested in my recent trip to Southern France where I was lucky enough to visit the Fortress of Salses. The fortress was built following the destruction by the French of the older castle and village guarding the border, this area being Spanish in the Fifteenth Century. It was designed by Ramiro Lopez, a Spanish Engineer, with work commencing in 1497. Whilst being constructed the fortress absorbed 20% of Ferdinand and Isabella's total income, so was enormously expensive. It managed to withstand a French siege in 1503 before it was even complete, although, after changing hands several times, it was finally captured and held by the French in 1642.

I am sure any of you who are interested in the development of fortifications will have heard of this particular fortress as it always makes it's way into books on the subject. In the 17th Century Henry de Campion, who took part in the French Campaigns in this area and recorded them in his memoires, wrote of Salses "Salses is built in the flat country of Roussillon, out of cannon shot from the mountains. In any case its ramparts are proof against artillery, for they are thirty six feet thick, and the parapets sixteen. At the four corners there are four towers of the same thickness, as well as a donjon or redoubt between two of these towers. The whole is countermined. The dry brick-revetted ditch is extremely wide and deep, and there is an excellent counterscarp. In short, as all-masonry fortresses go, I beleive it is the best in Europe."

Having visited many castles around Europe I don't think I have ever seen a 15th Century one so specifically designed to withstand artillery, although granted it was started in the very late 15th Century. The whole fortress squats low in a very wide and deep dry ditch so that very little of it would be exposed to artillery shot. It's squat position also means that it's own guns could have a clean field of fire, at ground level, over the surrounding area. The fortress has it's own spring which is cleverly used as a water system within the fort and cools certain areas and also forms pools in the towers which apparently absorbed lots of the gun smoke when the guns were fired! Inside there are underground stables to hold the garrison's horses and allow the garrison to take an offensive role and command the local area. There is a large barracks and a "cow shed", kitchen and dairy. There is even a bathhouse in there. The outworks are reached through underground tunnels which would protect the garrison moving to and from them.

I also had the pleasure of visiting the vertigo inducing Cathar Castles of Queribus, and Peyrepertuse , Whilst these were equally awe inspiring in their own right and had truly spectacular views, when compared to Salses it really brings home how much things did change during the late 15th to early 16th Century in terms of effective fortifications. After reading about somewhere like Salses for years it was a real treat to actually visit it and see the vast thick walls and the massive ditch with my own eyes.

Salse's Gatehouse.

A view from the glacis - note how little of the fortress is actually exposed to any shot from outside, the keep in the centre is the only part that really stands out, most of the walls being sunk deep into the dry ditch.

The courtyard of Salses.

One of the underground Stables. These were originally built with small Spanish "jinete" horses in mind.

A view from inside the ditch. The castle has it's own water system which flows through it. This helped to water the livestock held inside, it has it's own large stables and a "cow shed", as well as cool down the kitchen and dairy and remove the smoke from the towers when they were in action. 

These are fortified tunnels leading to one of the outworks.

One of the outworks within the dry ditch. Again not the watercourse from inside the fortress and the fortified tunnel leading to the outwork, this time covered with turf.


  1. awesome sight of beautifully painted miniatures! - your Landsknecht pike blocks look stunning - thanks for posting Castles of Queribus photos etc. interesting info..


  2. Nice post, fantastic and impressive units and beautiful photos...

  3. Lovely armies! As I have almost got enough Italian wars figures I think I am going to have a go at Highlanders/Irish, might be a while! Lovely parade of Imperial, French and English troops and nice photos of the castle!
    Best Iain

  4. Oli, this is an impressive display of force! Beautiful armies all arrayed on the parade ground. Gorgeous stuff! Interesting fortress photos too!

  5. Impressive collection. I admire your dedication to getting the period details right.
    I was interested to read about Salses too - I visited it a long time ago but it made a big impression on me as an unusual answer to the challenge of gunpowder.

  6. Beautiful armies, Ollie, and a most interesting fortress!

  7. Thanks again Ollie, wonderful reference!

  8. Ooh I feel some siege of Boulougne games are afoot !