I continue on with my reading of The Accursed Kings series by Maurice Druon with The She-Wolf (La Louve de France in the original). I a little surprised when the author not only suddenly moved the narrative from France to Britain (OK, I could figure that much from the title),but also skipped over entirely the reign of Philip V (Philippe le Long), whose coronation ended the preceding book in the series. This is about a five year gap.
The introductory chapter starts with Baron Roger Mortimer in prison, thinking of escape. Philip is dead and has been succeeded by his younger brother, Charles IV (le Bel). In England, the Despenser wars have been fought and won by Edward II.
Feeling a little put out at missing out on half a decade, I got out a user-made scenario covering the Battle of Boroughbridge, the loss of which ended the rebellion and the life of Thomas of Lancaster, leader of the Baronial faction. Alas, it did not quite satisfy.
The actual battle had Lancaster’s army trapped and outnumbered. Bad intelligence meant that Lancaster was caught between Edward’s army, pursuing him, and a force blocking his only path of escape, the bridge over the river Ure. Lancaster had no choice but to force a crossing against a defender who had his own force outnumbered.
From the listing of the noblemen who were at the battle, it seems likely that while Lancaster had an inferiority in overall numbers, he held a superiority when it came to the heavy horse. It is therefore quite possible that had he met the force under Andrew Harclay, 1st Earl of Carlisle on an open battlefield, his knights would have won the day. Instead, he was forced to dismount his knights and attempt to take control of the bridge in a tactical act of desperation. Simultaneously, his cavalry attempted to cross at a nearby ford.
I have complained before about the inability of Field of Glory to represent a bridge and about the lack of modeling, in pretty much any game, of the fighting across a bridge. Once again we have a battle whose entire focus is on “the bridge,” and we have to fudge that feature of the battle. We also have that feature where the scenario author has created a set of impassible cliffs to overcome the inability of units to enter over the course of the scenario. Like Lancaster, I think the Field of Glory engine would have preferred to make this engagement as a stand-up fight across an open field.
Fundamentally, the game’s AI does not understand the choke points in the terrain. Furthermore, the more aggressive AI in FoG(U) makes for an extra-lopsided battle in favor of the player. The smart move, and the historical move, for the Royalist player is to hold back behind the bridge and the ford and wait for the numerically inferior Rebel player to attempt the crossing. This is made further evident by some house rules that declare any kind of draw to be a Royalist win. The Rebels must cross the bridge and they must defeat the Royalists on their defended ground. In FoG(U) the AI will not only contest the crossings, but if the player’s fortunes lag, they will charge back across the river and attempt to bring the fight to the opposite shore. As a result, Royalist losses pile up, marching inevitably toward the win.
I replayed the game in the original Field of Glory, and it did turn out slightly better. The AI sticks to the defense and the battle looks considerably more like the historical record. I still won, but toward the end I was a tad nervous whether I would rout the enemy from the field in time. The key (in fact in both versions) was to successfully force the crossing over the ford. In FoG(U), having done so also resulted in enough Royalist losses that it was essentially game over. In the original Field of Glory, once I crossed, the battle still had yet to be won. My knights were now moving into open ground facing a largely disorganized and demoralized enemy. Winning required a maneuver which swung them into the enemy flank (the portion of the enemy defending the bridge itself) and therefore rout the remainder of the enemy.
Even while the defensive AI of the original Field of Glory plays a better game, it still can’t quite understand the choke points in the terrain. Success for the Royalist player in this scenario would likely come from minimizing the number of units defending the bridge crossing to only those needed, and using the rest of the foot soldiers to hold the ford. The AI, on the other hand, stacks up reserves behind the bridge in anticipation of engagement the Rebel force, waiting across the river.
In the actual battle, the Royalist used Scottish-style Schiltron formations to defend the ford from the Knights on horseback crossing it. That and longbow support was enough to hold. In the bridge itself, the narrow pathway was easy to defend with pikemen blocking the way. There is one story of the battle that tells of a lone pikeman who crept beneath the bridge. From there, he was able to stuff his spear through the planking of the bridge and into the asshole of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, killing him in a particularly gruesome and painful fashion. It may well not have happened this way at all. The graphic death of Hereford would seem to portend the end of the Edward II and his encounter with a hot poker, another story whose authenticity is in doubt. Did history seem so boring to the English that they had to liven it up with the insertion of anal defilers into otherwise sparse narratives? Can this help to explain the plight of England today? I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader.