Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Why the English Civil War?

This post concerns two interlinked questions:
  • Why do I wargame the English Civil War? 
  • Why do I refer to the 'English Civil War'?

I deliberately use the old school term here, and not the Wars of the Three Kingdoms or the British Civil War(s). I do wonder if the 'BCW' as a bit of a misnomer as there wasn't really a polity referred to as Britain at that time and the inclusion of Ireland stretches the point even further. I have nothing against the term the Wars of the Three Kingdoms - this is more accurate than BCW if we're considering the wider series of conflicts that occurred in these islands in the period 1639-1651. I'm not one of those people who says things like 'It's political correctness gone mad'. It's just that I have restricted myself to action in England (and Wales!). That's not to say I won't, in gaming terms, venture north of the border at some point, though it's less likely my gaming will take me across the Irish Sea.

Technically, I'm even more restricted to gaming the First English Civil War, and mostly pre-New Model Army. Despite the narrow temporal and geographical scope, there is still plenty of variety to go for. Pitched battles range from a couple of thousand aside, to monsters like Marston Moor. There are raids, ambuscades, leaguers and assaults. Sieges against re-inforced castles, and medieval city walls augmented by earthern work artillery fortifications. There is a lot of scope for focussing in on particular regions or even counties (supported by a wealth of literature). Campaigns could be at the national, regional or local level. Thanks to its geology, England has a wide variety of landscape in a relatively small area, so lots of scope for different topography on a campaign map if not on a single table.

There are several reasons for me personally to get into the English Civil War, after decades of interest in the Seven Years War. For a start the primary and secondary sources are almost exclusively in English! This is different from the SYW where a good level of literacy in French and German are necessary if we are to go beyond Duffy, Showalter and Szabo.

Secondly, it is easier to visit places of interest and battlefields. Within a ten minute drive of here is Surbiton where there was a skirmish in 1648. Within a 30 minute drive of here there are Syon House, Brentford and Turnham Green. In under 90 minutes I can get to Newbury, Oxford, Cheriton, Portsmouth, Basing House. Not much longer and I could be at Edgehill or Cropredy.

I've already mentioned the variety of scenarios open to the ECW wargamer, and the varied landscapes that games could be played out on. The ECW is also rich in 'uniform', if this term could be used at all pre-New Model Army.  Gone are regiment after regiment in Prussian Blue, or Imperial White, instead we have red, white, blue, grey, green, yellow and even purple. On both sides! If you really want variety you can have different hat types (broad brimmed, Monteros, Monmouth caps), helmets (Morions and lobster pots in all their divers types). With or without breastplates. And a lack of consistency within any unit if you wish.

At a more 'worthy' level, what happened in the 1640s still matters today. Whilst no one seriously still holds to the traditional Whig view, the principle that the war was fought over still holds. Parliament rules - even if it took a second ovethrow of the Stuarts to re-establish. The wars also opened up the possibility of tolerance of other (protestant) sects, democracy and a sort of socialism (though the war was not fought for these reasons). The wars also had the first large cross-border military collaboration. The alliance between Covenenters and Parliamentarians (indeed the Committee of the Two Kingdoms) reflected the common interests that led to the Act of Union 60 years later. It's also a cliche, but still one that holds some truth, that people can be characterised as Roundhead or Cavalier in their approach to life. Personally speaking, whilst having a somewhat cavalier attitude in some respects, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Levellers and their ilk (one of the great 'what ifs' of history).

Lastly, there's the aesthetics. Not just the colour, but the style of dress. The look of the thing. And the florid language used.

For once,  judging by the amount of ECW gaming in the blogosphere, I’m in tune with the wargaming zeitgeist.


  1. Been building towards actually having enough minis and terrain to do some games justice in the ECW period.

    Plenty of scope for interesting story telling and games in just the 'first Civil War' period.

    1. Exactly. And there is some great inspiration out there in the blogosphere as welll as in print.

      Good luck with building up your forces and terrain. Be interested to see how that develops.