Saturday 1 January 2022

"the Almaynes on foot would diverse times issue out with handgonnes, and morish pycks"

The weekend before Christmas I visited Stuart as we had an unexpected opportunity to fit some games in. We decided to base our games on the early stages of the siege of Thérouanne. Stuart was keen to get his newly painted mounted archers on the field and as the last games we played at his were set in the wilds of 16th century Ulster,, this time we wanted to use his walls and gatehouse for some very different scenarios.

"Likewise the Almaynes on foot would diverse times issue out with handgonnes, and morish pycks" 

Henry VIII's siege of Thérouanne in 1513 began in the English King's absence. George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury and Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert, in command of the vanguard and rearward respectively, began the formal siege on 25 June 1513 before Henry had even set foot on continental Europe, arriving in Calais on 30 June. Shrewsbury and the vanguard occupied a position to the northwest of the town whilst Herbert and the rearward lay to the east. They set about entrenching their respective wards to protect themselves from the guns of the French defenders and to enable their own artillery to be positioned within effective range of Thérouanne's walls. 

No major events took place whilst they waited for Henry's arrival, which wasn't until 1 August, but during this time the defenders sallied out on numerous occasions as Hall describes in his chronicle:

"While the siege laye thus before Tyrwyn as you have harde, the Frenchmen diverse times issued out on horseback and many a staffe was broken & many a proper feat of armes done. Likewise the Almaynes on foot would diverse times issue out with handgonnes, and morish pycks & assaile the Englishme, but by force of the archers thei were ever driven home agayn, & every day the Englishmen shott at the towne and dyd them muche displeasure".

The 1,300 or so Landsknecht who formed an important part of Thérouanne's garrison were under the command of Fritz (possibly Hans) Brandhec a man of Swiss origin who would command Landsknecht in the service of the French into the 1520s.

The setting for our first game was one of the sallys by Brandhec and his landsknecht from Thérouanne's garrison, supported by some of the men at arms who "diverse times issued out on horseback".

The English gun positions in front of Thérouanne.

German gunners man some of Henry's expensive guns.

The Scenario

As always we played the games using our heavily adapted "Renaissance Rampant" adaptation of Lion Rampant.

The game began with only the English and French guns in position, these were immobile and could activate outside the normal retinue activations of each of the players turns. The two English culverins were positioned behind earthworks and were objectives for the French. The two French guns were positioned on the walls.

Units for each army had to arrive from their designated areas. The French and landsknecht units could emerge from the gate and from behind a tower at the end of the board (this was to represent a hidden sally port). The English could arrive to defend their siege lines from two locations within their earthworks. The French and landsknecht force would take the first turn.


The objective of the landsknecht sally was to attempt to destroy the two English gun positions and pull two wagons, located within the English siege lines, back into Thérouanne to achieve victory points.

To destroy a gun position, a landsknecht unit had to move into base to base contact with it. The French cavalry could not destroy the gun positions. To achieve the victory points the landsknecht player had to have at least one base from a unit in contact with the earthworks of the gun position at the start of their activation phase. As an ordered activation, they could use that unit to destroy the position (instead of moving, attacking, or shooting). If there were 7 or more models in the unit the position was destroyed on a roll of 8+ on 2D6; if there were 6 or fewer models in the unit then the position was destroyed on a roll of 9+ on 2D6.

The wagons could be picked up by an infantry unit in base to base contact with them. The unit could then move a maximum of 6" per turn and would loose the wagon if the unit was defeated in combat or battered. The unit could not attack but could shoot whilst it had the wagon. Both landsknecht and English units could move the wagons but the English could not deliberately move them off the table.

Victory Points were awarded as follows:

Landsknecht and French

5 Points if George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury was slain
3 Points for each gun position destroyed
2 Points for each wagon brought into the fortress
1 Point for each enemy unit destroyed or routed


5 Points if a unit could get into Thérouanne via the gate
3 Points if Captain Brandhec was slain
1 Point for each enemy unit destroyed or routed

The Organ Guns

Henry VIII took 120 organ guns on this campaign with 40 being assigned to each of the 3 wards, the vanguard, mainward and rearward.

Stuart and I have not been happy with the rules we have used for organ guns and we wanted try a different approach with them, having them as unit "add ons" as opposed to units in their own right.
Rather than operating as separate units in this game we instead had three of them attached to three English infantry units. A unit could move as normal but would loose the organ gun (it being removed from play) if any of them moved into difficult terrain.

Instead of a normal activation the unit could instead fire the organ gun. It would activate on a 7+ on 2D6 with a range of up to 8”, rolling 10 dice to hit on a 5+ (4+ if the target unit was in schiltron). Hits from the organ gun conferred a -1 to the targets armour. Once fired it was then removed from play. The unit could not do anything else that turn. If the organ gun failed its activation the organ gun remained in play and and could try and activate again. If the unit was charged whilst having the organ gun attached it could also try and fire at the attackers on a 7+ on 2D6 as described above.

If a unit with an organ gun was  battered or attacked in hand to hand before the organ gun had fired (and it failed to fire in defence) it was considered lost.

The French men at arms and Brandhec's landsknecht sally out of the gates. The landsknecht arquebusiers spearhead the attack.

English troops rush to the scene of the attack to defend their siege lines.

The Armies

The English of the vanguard of George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury

2 Units of Demilancers (One represents George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury)
1 Unit of Mounted Archers 
1 Unit of Foot Knights
1 Unit of Garrison Bill
2 Units of Shire Bill
1 Unit of Garrison Bow
2 Units of Shire Bow

Plus 3 organ guns to assign to 3 of the English infantry units

2 Culverins (Immobile) in the earthworks.

The French and Landsknecht of Thérouanne

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Captain Brandhec)
3 Units of Landsknecht Pike
3 Units of Landsknecht Shot
2 Units of Landsknecht Halberdiers
1 Unit of Gendarmes
2 Units of Men at Arms

2 Culverins (Immobile) on the walls.

For this game Stuart took command of the English and I took command of the French and landsknecht force. The best way to follow the action if through the photos but a brief summary of the chaos follows!

Thérouanne's gates are briefly open and the portcullis is raised.

A view from the walls of Thérouanne showing the fight developing below.

As the town's defenders sally out, on the left, the English rush to their siege lines, on the right.

English archers and supporting organ guns are brought up to hold their lines.

As the gates of Thérouanne opened landsknecht arquebusiers rushed out supported by French gendarmes. Any hopes that they would take Talbot's siege lines by surprise were quickly crushed as they faced an oncoming wave of English reinforcements which included the Earl of Shrewsbury himself. Some of Brandhec's German mercenaries (or "Almaynes" as they were called by the English) took up positions in the sconces and ditch outside the walls. Another landsknecht force of chosen men armed with two handed swords and all manner of vicious looking polearms headed straight for one of the English gun positions.

Within moments the two sides had clashed with the gendarmes charging down some of the English archers before then engaging with Talbot and his mounted body guards. The melee was inconclusive. As Talbot and his cavalry drew back the gendarmes faced one of the organ guns and were dispersed by a combination of shot and arrows from the English lines. Outside the open town gate another force of English archers dismounted and attempted to send a rain of arrows into the landsknecht but they were close to the arquebusiers in the sconce and became targets themselves. As more French men at arms rode into the fighting they too became a target for the English artillery like the gendarmes who had sallied out first.

The landsknecht arquebusiers rush into the sconces whilst the pike hold the gate to secure the retreat.

French gendarmes charge down some of the English archers.

A view of the attack from the English siege lines.

Some of the landsknecht rush to the undefended English wagon. 

George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his body guards engage in a fierce melee with the French gendarmes, "many a staffe was broken & many a proper feat of armes done".

The gendarmes have managed to hold back the English reinforcements but have ridden within range of the organ gun.

The fighting continues in front of the gates.

From the safety of one of the gate's turrets, Antoine de Créquy, captain of the garrison, watches the sally.

As they reach the English siege lines Captain Brandhec leads his chosen landsknecht, armed with polearms and two handed swords, and they assault the gun positions.

As Antoine de Créquy, captain of the garrison, looked on from Thérouanne's walls, Brandhec and his "verloren hoop" or forlorn hope of picked men reached the English siege lines. They managed to secure one of the English wagons and to attack and destroy one of the gun positions that had been threatening the town gate they had sallied from. Whilst this was happening some of the English billmen and archers made their own assault on the gate in an attempt to turn the surprise attack on their lines to their own advantage.

The English attempt on the gate initially looked threatening as the landsknecht arquebusiers were driven back from the sconce and some of the English bill got dangerously close. Brandhec had not left the gate undefended though and with German pike and shot guarding the gate Talbot's infantry were driven back. The fighting within the English earthworks continued with many of the landsknecht storming party being killed in the fighting with the English infantry. Brandhec made it back to the safety of the garrison and one of the captured English wagons was also drawn into the town to loud cheers from the walls. Still within range of the landsknecht arquebusiers the Earl of Shrewsbury withdrew from the field. He needed the time to think up an excuse for Henry as to how the surprise attack on his siege works had succeeded during his command.

The landsknecht assault party reach the guns.

Finding himself within range of the landsknecht arquebus shot Shrewsbury retreats from the field.

The gun position is over thrown.

Whilst the landsknecht attack the guns some of the English counter attack the gate. English billmen push the landsknecht arquebusiers back from the sconce.

Whilst the sally may have gone well it costs the defenders dearly as many of the landsknecht are slain in the fighting in the siege works.

One of the English wagons is captured and drawn back into Thérouanne.

Reinforcing the Garrison

Our second game was based on a letter to the Signora of Florence written by Roberto Acciajuolo, Florentine Ambassador in France. He wrote to his fellow citizens that on 21 July 1513 200 French cavalry escorted 100 pioneers into Thérouanne. In the skirmish to enter the town 10 French men-at-arms were killed along with 300 English. How accurate these figures are may be open to debate but this formed a good basis for our second scenario.

The Scenario 

The French entered from one entry point on the crest of a slight hill and had to try and get as many units as possible into the gate at the other end of the table. The English started with two units on the field, defending their siege lines, but the rest entered from a point next to their gun positions (the English guns were for scenic purposes only in this game). The English could attempt to bring on units once the first French unit had entered the game. Units for each army arrived from their designated areas on a move activation each turn.

The objective was simple, the French had to try and get as many units a possible into Thérouanne via the gate. We intended to use the "dice bag" method of activation for this game to make it even more random and uncertain but unfortunately we forgot this so will have to try that another time!

From behind the English siege lines a force of French men at arms is silhouetted against the skyline.

The mounted archers race to defend their siege lines.

The Armies

The French relief force

2 Units of Gendarmes (One is the retinue leader)
2 Units of Men at Arms                                          
1 Unit of Mounted Archers                                    
2 Units of French Halberdiers (representing the pioneers) 
1 Unit of Stradiots

The English defenders

1 Unit of Foot Knights (retinue leader) 
2 Units of Demilancers
2 Units of Garrison Bill
2 Units of Shire Bow
1 Unit of Mounted Archers

We decided not to switch sides for this game with Stuart taking command of the English and me the French.

As the French archers dismount to support the attack with their archery the English forces block the route to the gate. 

The relief force is close to the walls of Thérouanne but the path is blocked by the English with more troops still arriving.

The French cavalry move towards the English lines.

Some of the border horse who were patrolling the area are also drawn to the defence of the siege lines.

The English rain arrows on the French horse.

As the French gendarmes with supporting men at arms and archers crested the hill in front of the siege lines they were dismayed to see that the English forces were already well aware of their presence and were hastily taking up positions to defend their earthworks and prevent any route to the gates of Thérouanne. To make matters worse a troop of border horse who had been patrolling the area had also learnt of this relief attempt and ridden to the scene, reinforcing the English lines. The French were temporarily stalled by this as they argued amongst themselves whether it was possible to break through the troops in front of them.

This stalling only made matters worse as the English archers advanced on the French and sent a hail of arrows into the horsemen. Galled into action the French cavalry then charged into the English ranks and were initially very successful. The drove off many of the archers and sent some of the English horse back as swirling cavalry melees took place.

The path is blocked but the armoured French cavalry try and punch through

French gendarmes and supporting men at arms lead the attack.

The English form a solid wall between the gates and the relief force.

Fighting breaks out in front of the English earthworks.

As their cavalry engage the French pioneers and supplies appear over the hill.

The pioneers head for the gates, shielded by the men at arms.

Both sides have taken casualties and it looks as though the pioneers may be able to get through the English lines and into Thérouanne.

With the fighting in full swing the French pioneers arrived with wagons laden with supplies for the town. It looked as though the relief effort may have paid off. There were still plenty of French heavy cavalry on the field to defend them as they crossed the English siege lines and the "no man's land" between the English and the town walls.

The English may have lost some of their archers but their demilancers and billmen were still a force to be reckoned with. These troops struck back at the French cavalry who after the arrow storm and a series of melees lost their cohesion and fled the field. The French captain and his gendarmes tried to buy time for the pioneers and supplies but they were defeated by the demilancers and border horse. Caught in the open and undefended the pioneers put up brief resistance with their polearms but they too were soon scattered. Roberto Acciajuolo, the Florentine Ambassador in France, would certainly not be writing back to the Signoria of Florence to tell how three hundred English had been slain in this encounter! The French relief force had been completely destroyed.

The English demilancers and French men at arms engage in a swirling cavalry melee.

Similarly the gendarmes clash with more of the English demilancers and both sides suffer losses.

The French horse are defeated and driven off by the combined efforts of the English infantry and horse. The pioneers are close to the gates but are scattered by the English never managing to get through the siege lines. The relief of Thérouanne has failed.

 These were two really fun and spectacular looking games. Stuart's English and French armies are both specifically set around the 1513 Siege of Thérouanne so it was a joy to see them fielded in two scenarios set around it. The first game was a strong win for the French (or perhaps more accurately the landsknechts) and the second game was an even more spectacular victory for the English, not a single French unit made it into Thérouanne! Inspired by these games we are keen to set some more during the 1513 campaign and Bayard's capture at the battle of the Spurs, defending a bridge by a mill, is in the pipeline already. Let's see what 2022 brings.

Happy New Year.


  1. Amazing looking game and great background. thanks for sharing

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Willie, it's always fun to play out scenarios on Stuart's terrain

  3. As always, fantastic looking games with beautiful figures and scenery, and scenarios full of character!

    1. Cheers rross, the Anglo French early 16th century games are always fun

  4. Spectacular games as ever, a joy to follow that through.

  5. An excellent account and scenarios as always Oli and that’s before all the great photos you have taken in very brief windows of good light those winter afternoons. I really enjoyed these games and as you’ve mentioned they’ve provided me with inspiration to fill in more gaps in the collection. Looking forward to more from Hall

    1. Cheers Stuart - as your collection and terrain is specifically for Thérouanne it was great to play out these scenarios. From the photos you would never guess how dark it was! I am looking forward to seeing Bayard and Chabannes painted up.

  6. A splendid, colourful and entertaining start to my day. I particularly enjoy the contemporary quotations as they bring things to life. I look forward to more.
    Happy new Year

    1. Thank you Stephen, I am glad you enjoyed the photos and write up. I love the contemporary quotes as well - they do add extra flavour to the games.

  7. Awesome looking game and it sounds like a ton of fun!
    Best Iain

    1. Cheers Iain, yes these games were a great pre-Christmas event!