The Battle of Fornham 1173: re-fought with Ars Magica!

I have written a lot on games recently and not much else, but back to the normal soon.  Despite the title this post is as much about real English history as my game, and therefore possibly worth reading — you can skip the sections with green headings and read the ones with dark blue heading to find the fact rather than the game stuff! I have just finished hosting Grand Tribunal 2012 the Ars Magica roleplaying game convention, and so am still full of enthusiasm for my gaming exploits. This year saw a rather unusual one — trying to recreate a rather important if obscure event in English history (a battle at Fornham, just outside Bury St Edmunds in 1173) with a combination wargame/freeform/rpg game set in the world of Ars Magica, using the 5th edition rules.

However, let’s start with the real world history…

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The battle took place immediately north of Bury St. Edmunds, between Fornham St Martin, Fornham All Saints and Fornham St. Genevieve in the Lark Valley.

Why was there a battle at Fornham? 

During the reign of Henry II Henry was persuaded to grant his son (also called Henry) a coronation, making him effectively “junior king”. From this time on he is referred to as “Henry the Young King” to differentiate him from his father. This was deemed necessary to ensure a smooth succession on Henry II’s death — after The Anarchy of the 1150’s when the rival camps of the Empress Matilda and King Stephen fought a bitter civil war in England over the throne, it seemed like a good idea.

Unfortunately Henry the Young King felt his father had given him the title but none of the power, and rebelled against his father. The rebels fought a campaign in Normandy, then part of the Angevin Empire which Henry II ruled over. Henry, Geoffrey and Richard all attacked their fathers castles, and various baron’s including Hugh Bigod, Earl of Suffolk and Robert Beaumont Earl of Leicester rose in support of the siblings against their father.

Henry II however fought a brilliant campaign, and the rebels were smashed in Normandy despite the French joining them and the Scottish too entering in to the alliance and invading England in the north. Humphrey III de Bohun (the Constable of England) crushed the Scottish invasion and pursued them back north of the border forcing them to end hostilities, while Richard de Lucy (the Justiciar) took the rebel stronghold the city of Leicester and besieged Leicester castle.

In October 1173 Leicester tried a last gasp invasion of England, landing at Walton on the Naze with a formidable force of Flemish mercenaries. He attempted to take the port of Dunwich (which no longer exists, a victim of coastal erosion, except as a couple of gravestones on a cliff and a fish and chip hut as I recall from my last visit) but the townsfolk closed the gates against him and bombarded the besiegers with rocks and the contents of chamber pots.

Leicester withdrew, probably to Framlingham, where he met up with another powerful rebel Hugh Bigod. English history often turns on minor events, and in this case it was a squabble between two women. Bigod’s wife Gundreda and Petronilla de Grandmesnil, wife of Leicester, fell out soon after meeting. The two women simply could not stand each other — and all plans for a united rebel attack on London faltered. This may well have proven to be the disastrous moment for the rebel alliance. Leicester decided march east and try to reach his power base in the East Midlands, and perhaps relieve Leicester castle. Bigod was to proceed south through Essex.  However once Leicester reached Bury St Edmunds where predictably the townsfolk closed the gates against him, and the monks raised a huge force of 1,200 men to repel him, he discovered the forces of Humphrey III de Bohun and Richard de Lucy waiting to prevent him crossing the River Lark.

Where was the battle?

As far as I can make out, the area bounded by Fornham St Martin, Fornham St Genevieve, Fornham All Saints and the Tollgate, Bury St. Edmunds. The Priory near the tollgate had a mural bridge across the Lark, heavily defensible (similar to the one you can see in Eastgate Street, Bury St Edmunds on the edge of the abbey ruins – a few flint remains exist which I discovered when I was fourteen and lived on the battlefield, behind the supermarket car park and to the right – also many oyster shells from the staple diet of the times in a midden slowly collapsing in to the river!)

You can walk along a footpath from Fornham All Saints Bridge down to the Mildenhall road which crosses the golf course and gives you a great view of the battlefield if you wish to take a look, and many artifacts from the battle included some wonderful swords and crested helmets (far more elaborate than I had expected from Ars Magica artwork, looking more like later full plate helms)  can be seen in Moyses Hall Museum on the Buttermarket, Bury St Edmunds (admission free to Bury residents btw!). I worked out where I thought the troops were on the morning of October 17th 1173, and then assigned starting positions, though players had considerable flexibility in their exact set up.

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Map of the battlefield for Fornham 1173

How did we build the battlefield?

I have fought Fornham twice before – once as an Ars Magica adventure as part of my ongoing saga, using tabletop rpg rules, and once as a skirmish wargame. For Grand Tribunal 2012 I decided to combine the two. Counters would be used for the main units, plastic 20mm toy soldiers from the Airfix Robin Hood and Sheriff of Nottingham packs for the leaders and unique characters (each represented by a player) and then a light green king-size bed sheet was painted with the River Lark, villages, fields and water meadows. With help from Tom Nowell, Becky Smith, Phil Jenkins and Hugh Wake we ended up with a simple, cheap-ish and visually appealing set up for the game.

Becky made up paper models of the Priory and two churches, and the remaining church was one Hugh and I had built. They were lightweight and actually all looked rather good on the table, and dark green cloth cut t shape made excellent woods. We had planned to use books to make the hills (just placing them under the sheet) but I forgot to mention it to Hugh who did the set up and this being Suffolk they are more ‘slight rises’ than hills, except for Tut Hill and Barton Hill at opposite corners of the map which are still very low in the terms of anywhere but East Anglia, and almost entirely off map.

The actual Lark Valley is really quite flat, only rising behind my parents’ house as you proceed up what is now the Mildenhall Estate to a ridge line that divides it from the Howard Estate. I created the counters in Paintshop Pro, researching and pasting the correct heraldry on them, and colouring them perhaps confusingly according to the heraldic colours of their leaders, which meant many counters ended up red & yellow, blue & yellow, and so forth despite being on different sides. Reginald the Ear of Cornwall and Robert Earl of Leicester both ended up with blue & yellow counters, which makes it hard to see on the photos who is who. The actual counters used however were very clear as you could see the shields of each leader, though perhaps there was scope for some confusion over heraldry — which would be historically very appropriate — but on the day it never happened. The counters were printed on thick card, then pasted carefully by Phil Jenkins on to cork cut to size.  It was all a bit Blue Peter!

The whole construction process took place over two weeks, though two days would probably be enough if a few of you were involved. The most laborious task was Becky’s – building the churches and Priory, though really this was entirely for scenic effect. You could miss that bit out. Alternatively if more ambitious you could build the houses for the three Fornhams and the tollgate, mural bridge and Fornham bridge. The ground scale used was 1cm to 7 meters, which meant the battlefield was a seventh the size of the real one, as everything in the game worked on 1cm to a meter, roughly the scale of the figures and buildings.

This contraction does not matter because the units counters were made to roughly ground scale, and then cavalry scaled up by a factor of four to show them milling around and their greater “reach” on the battlefield. These choices may seem odd, but they were very carefully designed to make the game run smoothly, and worked very well in practice! Image

The characters

The game as written has 19 characters and supports 19 players. Yes, really. However we fell short of this by a few on the day (some folks were tempted away to play The Jerbiton Summit freeform or other games: there is always a lot of games on offer in each slot at Grand Tribunal), and Jocelin of Brakelond is an optional character who need not be played, and if is should be used to replace someone who has died already.

We did the same with Binna & Banna, and Maggy, and doubled up one of the Royalist commands, and had Walter de Wahull arrive on the battlefield late when a last-minute player showed up. Reading the character sheets will show you who can be doubled up with who to give a player two commands. You could of course play Fornham as a straight battle if you so wish – just get rid of all the “oddball” characters, and fight it with any wargaming rules? Each of the characters had a full Ars Magica character sheet, and I used rules from Hedge Magic Revised, ROP: The Divine,  ROP: The Infernal, ROP: Magic and ROP: Faerie as morale rules from Lords of Men and the core Ars Magica 5th combat system, and especially the group combat and leadership bonuses rules.

I explained all the relevant rules in the character sheets though so in fact we did not have to consult any books during the game! Each character was written with specific aims, often very tangential to actually winning the battle: these victory objectives each scored seven points in the final scoring, and there were a few  bonus points available to each character. Highest score on the day was I think 24; average around 14, and a few players managed to score zero! The victory points system was important because it gives a) competitive players a reason to play in character b) gives the rebels, outnumbered six to one a good chance of actually winning and c) made it quite clear what everyone wanted out of the battle. You could ignore it though if you wanted. The characters were of three types; rebels, royalists and oddballs. The oddballs were various minor characters with no troops but whose action was to have a profound effect on how the day actually turned out, and one of them did end up commanding a unit of knights at one point.

Rebel Characters

  • ROBERT BEAUMONT. Earl of Leicester  

Commands 4 groups of trained knights (36 knights)

  • PETRONILLA BEAUMONT, the Earl’s scheming wife.  

Has a bodyguard group (4 knights)

  • DIGGO OF KASSEL,leader of the Flemish Crossbowmen mercenaries  

Commands 5 units of crossbowmen (100 crossbowmen) and 2 units of archers (40 archers)

  • MENFRID OF GHENT, leader of the Flemish spearmen  Commands 5 units of spearmen (100 men)

Loyalist Characters

  • BROTHER SAMSON OF BURY ST EDMUNDS  

Commands 5 groups of knights (25 knights) and 10 groups of Bury Townfolk (1,200 untrained men with improvised weapons)

  • RICHARD DE LUCY, JUSTICIAR OF ENGLAND  

Commands 12 groups of knights (96 knights) and 3 groups of untrained spearmen (120 men)

  • HUMPHREY III DE BOHUN, HIGH CONSTABLE OF ENGLAND  

Commands 10 groups of knights (90 knights)

  • WALTER FITZ ROBERT OF LITTLE DUNMOW

Commands 5 groups of knights (30 knights)from Essex

  • WILLIAM D’AUBIGNY, EARL OF ARUNDEL

Commands 5 groups of knights (30 knights) from Castle Rising, Norfolk

  • WILLIAM FITZ ROBERT, EARL OF GLOUCESTER  

Commands 5 groups of knights (30 knights) from Bristol

  • REGINALD DE DUNSTANVILLE, EARL OF CORNWALL  

Commands 3 groups of knights (15 knights) from Truro

  • WALTER DE WAHULL, ROMANTIC KNIGHT  

One group of himself and bodyguard (3 knights)

ODD BALLS

  • BINNA & BANNA  

A little girl & her brother.

  • MAGGY  

An elderly lady out collecting sticks

  • JOCELIN OF BRAKELOND

A monk in the wrong place at the wrong time

  • LUCIAN OF GUERNICUS

A Quaesitor on important business!

  • RED HANNAH  

A lady of Fornham St. Martin who has not fled her home.

  • PRIOR ROBERT  

His house is in the battlefield, but he seems strangely distracted!

  • A MYSTERIOUS NOBLEWOMAN  

She rides alone across the battlefield. What does she want and who is she?

The accounts of the (mythic) battle!

Rather than say what actually happened and spoil it in case there is a re-fight, as happened historically Leicester lost. Here follow the accounts of some of the main protagonists, emailed to me by their players after the battle. I think reading them gives you a sense of the fog of war, and I have provided another map of the battlefield in which I have shown the approximate positions and movements of each of the protagonists whose accounts are listed below. Hopefully it is amusing, even if you were not there on the day, and reading it really shows why medieval chronicles are often rather hard to understand when we try and sort out what actually happened in many battles!

Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester. 

Poor Robert of Leceister – Luck and God was certainly not on his side that day! His overconfidence led him to lead a heroic charge to destroy the southern bridge (over a drainage ditch), where he was met by Reginald de Dunstanville, Earl of Cornwall. A battle ensued between the knights of Leceister and Cornwall as the Leceister knights attempted to destroy the bridge. Leciester’s knights suffered 3 casualties and took 3 Kent knights prisoner, but Robert himself was gravely wounded against the Cornish lord, who smote Robert’s head open. Eyes full of blood, Robert botched his retreat and fell from his horse. Taken prisoner by Cornwall, who took him bound to the Priory, he remained there  for the rest of the battle. His leaderless knights were overwhelmed by the Royalists, and Cornwall impaled Robert on a red hot poker and hung him from the Priory walls, as a warning to all other godless rebels.

Historically Leicester’s fate was kinder – see below!

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The critical moment of the battle in a photograph by Hugh Wake: Robert the Earl of Leicester and Reginald the elderly (and deaf) Earl of Cornwall clash with their knights on the bridge over a stream on the waterlogged Tayfen Meadow.

Menfrid of Ghent, Flemish Mercenary Captain

Boldly did Menfrid send his hundred Flemish spearmen up the road to act as a vanguard and escort for the baggage train. Menfrid himself went into the church of St. Martin and prayed and prayed for the intervention of Saint Dympna.  Forty of his men formed a defensive line outside the church to hold the knights coming along the road from the north whilst the rest moved back to defend the baggage train from the knights approaching from the Priory. Suddenly a terrible soul rendering howl emminated from the woods and his men holding the northern road fled into the church leaving their spears behind. They rambled about some big black dog or other. Finally Saint Dympna intervened and Menfrid rallied his men, twenty of whom went off to capture knights lying wounded on the field outside the church for ransom whilst he led another twenty men to relieve the Flemish crossbowmen outside with the aid of another twenty spear men who moved away from the baggage train as needed. The last forty men “escorted” two wagons of the baggage train off the field of war and sensing that the battle was lost Menfrid made a deal with Sir Reginald’s knights and gave up his hostages for safe conduct off the field.

Menfrid’s men escaped, but the Flemish crossbowmen were massacred by the knights of Humphrey.  Only their leader, Diggo of Kassel, was to escape. Let us move on to the royalist accounts…

Reginald de Dunstanville, Earl of Cornwall.

That mumbler Damson (Editor: He means Samson – poor Reginald was deaf in one ear) bungled things from the start by lining his forces up behind the unfordable river where they’d never get into the fray, despite my protestations. The IDIOT actually thought he knew what he was doing! God may move in mysterious ways, but not as mysterious as Damson’s men, ha!

The key to the battle was clearly the bridge in front of the priory, which Damson’s bungling had thankfully left the path clear to for my household. So along the road we trotted, spotting Leicester and some of his knights attempting to take the bridge. Putting spurs to our horses flanks we smashed into them, driving them off the bridge and back into their camp in disarray. In the ensuing melee, several of his knights fell and I personally defeated and captured the rebel Leicester. My knights having the better of the combat, I left them to it and escorted Leicester back to the Priory where Damson (bloodthirsty bugger) insisted he be impaled. I returned to my Knights who were finally receiving some support from the knights under the supposed command of Damson, come belatedly to the battle (the men-at arms never made it, and a good thing too, as all they are good for is holding castles and being ridden underfoot) By this time the left wing of the army had found a fording point and were rolling up the remnants of Leicester’s forces from the North, I having pinned them in their camp to that end. The battle was over.

I did hear after the battle that all manner of weird and wonderful happenings had been reported. The wild imaginings of men green to war if you ask me, inventing stories to excuse their own shortcomings. I never saw or heard anything of the sort!

Brother Samson of Bury Abbey

My Lord Abbot, I beg to report that through Divine favour we have been victorious this day ! I grieve for those who have died in pursuit of our cause but I know that Our Lord will grant them a place of honour at His table for their service. By the Lord’s Grace, I gathered some 1200 men of the area who love their rightful king and 25 knights who owe service to the Abbey and we arrived at Prior Robert’s house in time to stand against the rebel, Leicester. As you know, there is but a small and defensible bridge across the Lark here and the rebel forces appeared few so I gave instruction to Sir Reginald, who had accompanied us, and our own knights to ride forth and seek battle with the ne’er-do-wells while I held back the citizenry to defend the House of God and the crossing of the Lark. I had hoped that some of the local men might know of a ford across the Lark so that they could support the knights but also their knowledge proved false so the entire host was required to slowly cross via the Prior’s house’s bridge.

I believe that to the north the men of the Constable and Justiciar manoeuvred also to bring the enemy to battle, though My Lord de Lucy seemed much hampered by the Lark’s swift flow and thereafter succumbed to diverse diversions rather than pursuing the enemy with his customary vigour. Surely God’s light shined upon Sir Reginald though for in Our service he rode hard for the traitors and he and his knights struck mighty blows against the enemy forces, including Leicester himself. Such was Sir Reginald’s prowess enhanced by God that Leicester himself has struck down and captured ! Truly God moves in mysterious ways for who would have thought that Sir Reginald, in his dotage, should be the instrument of Leicester’s downfall ! However, as the knights directly under my command also advanced to drive off Leicester’s men there came a dreadful smell of brimstone and I was affeared that the chapel in the Prior’s house had been sore afflicted by great evil ! Indeed, such an evil must have been present and must have touched Prior Robert for he joined me on the walls only to give orders to our knights that they should support Leicester ! Surely he was in the thrall of Lucifer !

As my superior though I could not gainsay him but made my way clear of the infernal stench and called upon St Edmund to show him the error of his ways. Ah, glorious day ! I had not thought to be so blessed that I should see such a saint walk upon God’s earth but it was so – St Edmund himself castigated the Prior in such tone that the Prior immediately repented his actions. Alas, the infernal dominion was strong here though for Satan’s minion challenged St Edmund for the Prior’s soul; but no one can match the power of Our Lord and St Edmund carried the Evil One away. Prior Robert is even as I write reconsecrating the chapel. But what of the battle ? Well, I am sorry to say, Your Reverence, that the fighting was so heavy with Leicester’s forces that ten of our knights have fallen and drawn their final breath on this Earth. They shall surely be rewarded in Heaven ! But none were captured – and in conjunction with Sir Reginald’s men we took some nine knights of Leicester captive.

Glory be to God that Leicester himself was also returned to the Prior’s house. I am sad to say though that due to a miscommunication between Sir Reginald and myself, Sir Reginald had him put to death before he could be handed over to the King’s Justice. We have won great victory here, Lord Abbot. A traitor halted, an evil taint removed and a few pennies for Mother Church’s Holy Cause as well ! Truly the Lord smiles upon us ! Your Servant, Brother Samson

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Fierce fighting at Fornham St. Martin and on Tayfen meadow

Richard de Lucy, Justiciar of England

Finally chased Leicester down just north of St Edmund’s Bury. Gave out my orders.  De Bohun ranting about killing mercenaries as usual. That Samson is  an awkward so-and-so, didn’t take the hint about the toll-gates. Both spent  too much time talking about God and not the task in hand. And so we rode out to do the King’s will and crush the rebels, myself in the  centre, de Bohun on the left and Samson on the right. FitzRobert kept pestering me about some legal document he wants me to put my seal to. Have  to watch him. And so, we rode out onto the field. Tricky fellow, Leicester,  got lots of archers. Hope we can buy them off, told de Bohun that we want them alive. He may have been listening. And so we rode forth, our pennons  flying proudly in the breeze. The King’s men were arrayed in serried ranks,  arms gleaming, before us lay the river. Distant sounds of battle came from  the right and to the left the unearthly cries of some hunting beast, howling like a great hound, as I said to Sir Hugh. Most odd. The host rode forth, as yet unopposed, the enemy holding to their positions  beyond the river.

At one pint, the treacherous bank gave way, plunging both me and my horse into the torrent. Emerging, I espied a most curious sight – two children, with skins as green as beans. Yes, most certainly like green  beans. A very memorable simile, suitable, indeed, to be sung by minstrels. Their conversation was most charming, as they danced in the meadows. Indeed,  I was strangely inclined to dance with them myself. However, sterner tasks called. So I bid Sir Hugh to gat down and give his horse to the green children, as I could not bear to be parted from such enchanting creatures, and we rode forth once more. Passing some fleeing knights of de Bohun, we stormed across the river and shortly thereafter a great victory was won, with the news that Leicester himself was taken by Reginald de Dunstanville and his forces destroyed. (Shame about the mercenaries). Good show!

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de Lucy stalled by the River Lark – view looking south-east from Fornham All Saints

Humphrey III de Bohun, Constable of England

Sir Humphrey’s battle diary Good. Run Leicester to ground without most of his allies. Bu**er still has his ru**y mercenaries with him though I see. De Lucy has given me command of the northern flank along with some rubbish about trying to save Leicester’s mercenaries so he can buy them out. I’ve told him that they are all spawns of Satan and he’d be mad to even consider using them. We agreed that any left alive after the battle would be his to recruit so I’ve given orders to my lads to make sure that none of the da**ed crossbowmen survive at least. Lost too many good men to them in the past to let them get off lightly now ! Sound fellow Fitz-Robert ! Wants to go charging off to have at the traitors. Solid fellow ! I’ll follow up with my lads and we’ll crush this treasonous lot my lunch time ! Some rum goings on with that de Lucy bloke. Capering about like some kind of madman. Always thought he was going a bit soft. Probably his age. Wish he’d get his men across the Lark though as we might need his knights to keep Leicester’s footmen off while we kill the crossbowmen. Well, got my lads across the Lark and well on the road to dealing with those ba**ard crossbowmen and what do you know but I come across, Margaret, the young filly who is betrothed to me. Can’t leave the lads for too long during the battle but best get her to a church. Silly gel, doesn’t know what’s good for her like most of her high strung gender !

Tried to run off – probably in terror with the battle only half a mile away. Still, now she’s cracked herself on the noggin she’s appropriately docile. I’ll have a priest look her over and make sure she was just lost round here. Can’t be too careful given her family connections. Time to get back to the lads ! Bl**dy idiots. Some baying dog has scared over twenty of them into the Lark. Serves them right if they drowned for being such lightweights ! Still, they have at least found a ford for de Lucy. Lord knows, he appears to need all the help he can get ! Ha, just getting up towards my boys and they seem to have overrun the remains of Leicester’s baggage train and have arranged a parley with what is left of Leicester’s forces. Da**ed good lads have also dealt with the crossbowmen as well. Never suffer one of those evil little bu**ers to live, that’s what I say. De Lucy can have the mercenary footmen and good riddance to them. Assuming de Lucy ever actually gets here of course. Hopeless. Married Margaret. Not bad but I’ve had better. HdB

The Rules

The game was run using the Ars Magica 5th edition rules. Yes, tabletop rpg rules! The group rules made it very easy to run the battle. Each unit had statistics for an average member, and we used a simple method to declare if the leadership bonuses were being applied to attack or defence each turn. The movement rates (given on each character sheet) were taken from Lords of Men, as were the average stats for the units and the crossbow rules and ranges. Crossbows actually proved fairly ineffective against well armoured knights, perhaps surprisingly. The answer would be to use the knight’s Brawl (Dodge) or Ride as a Defence rather than there melee Defence when receiving missile fire – see Lords of Men for a discussion. We didn’t, because I have not included that on the character sheets. Add Ride + Quickness to work it out and archery will be much more effective; however as those stats are not given on the sheet for the units I’d default to Defence 5 against crossbows. The most important rule was only characters could take actions against other characters. So no matter if all your men were shot down by Flemish croissbowmen, only the leader of them (a player character) could shoot at your character. The game ran in four phases per turn.

1. Movement. Everyone moved simultaneously. If we had used initiative it could have taken much, much longer. You need a lot of rulers,.and if people come in to contact you work out where. It worked well.

2. Talking. The noise rules were important. Communication was 50cm (Voice range in Ars Magica), or 35cm if a melee combat or baying hound or something else noisy was within 50cm of you. You could shout a few words to any other player in that range. In reality we let people talk in character for a couple of minutes (not the few seconds of the Ars Magica combat round) to anyone they were in communication with.

3.Combat We calculated Initiative normally for each normal melee as it happened. Powers and spells used in combat were resolved in this phase using the normal initiative rules. For determining how the Leadership bonus was applied we used a sort of Paper-Scissor-Stones – players chose scissors for attack, or stone for defence, and their Leadership modifier was applied to the relevant combat score. Despite the madness of trying to run a full scale battle using table top rpg rules, it all went surprisingly smoothly, and even those who had never played Ars Magica before soon got their heads around the combat system. We allowed player characters to expend fatigue levels to boost rolls as in the normal combat rules, but ignored this option for units for the sake of simplicity.

4. Powers Magic and special character powers were resolved in this phase, in order of initiative, unless we had resolved them earlier. A second Storyguide (referee) could have sped things up here significantly, as each involved secret discussions between a player and the referee.Still it was all pretty fast. I think we resolved 9-10 turns in the three hour slot, including all discussion and rules explanations etc. Most people had their characters and a copy of the battlefield of map a few days before the game to plan, which is probably a good idea as some of the characters run to about ten pages or more.

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The men of Bury cross the mural bridge in to battle from the Priory. Prior Robert stands on the roof of the Priory Church watching, and Leicester’s captured figure lies on top of a tower with his horse! 🙂

So what really happened at Fornham in 1173?

The historical outcome was not that dissimilar to the game one (though I suspect Black Shuck and the Green Children played a less important role in proceedings).  “During the troubled reign of Henry II the Earl of Leicester staged a rebellion. He landed at Walton-on-the Naze with 300 Flemish mercenaries, a body of archers and some forty knights he had persuaded to join his cause. After unsucessfully attacking Dunwich (then an important port) he marched on to Risby, en route to Leicester where presumably he intended to raise a more substantial force” I wrote in my book Spectral Suffolkback in 1990.

“In the meantime the King’s loyal supporters had not been idle. The Lord Chief Justice of England Sir Richard de Lucy gathered together 300 knights and proceeded to Bury where he was joined by the High Constable Sir Hugh de Bohun and the earls of Gloucester, Arundel and Cornwall. Between them they raised a force of some 1,200 Bury men who were willing to fight for their cause and the future of the Crown. (It is ironic that forty two years later the Barons met again at Bury to draw up and prepare the Magna Carta, designed to limit the power of the Crown.) Battle was inevitable. The Rebel forces took the high ground on Barton Hill, and Leicester’s tiny army attempted to ford the Lark. It is said that the Earl’s men were unable to find a crossing place, although this seems hard to believe today, for the river rarely exceeds four feet in depth, although things may have been different then. Perhaps Leicester decided the crossing would disorganise and weary his men and allow the enemy to fall on them from behind. Leicester must have realised defeat was inevitable. None the less he drew up his men and prepared to make a stand on Fornham meadows with the river protecting his right flank. He made a heroic speech, and seems to have truly inspired his road weary and out numbered forces. The battle began with the heroic charge of Walter Fitz-Robert who was beaten back. Then the Earl of Arundel marched forward, only to be met with withering fire from Leicester’s archers. This was followed immediately by a charge by the High Constable’s knights. It is fascinating to try to imagine the armour, plumes and pennants fluttering from the steel tipped lances as the mighty war horses thundered down the hill and across the meadows towards Leicester’s tired men. One hundred men, mainly archers were captured yet still the rebel ranks held.

De Lucy decided enough was enough and through his main force forward to the attack. Leicester’s wife now fled in terror, losing her jewellery and to no avail as she was captured by the (hopefully) gallant knight Sir Walter de Wahull. Leicester saw his mercenaries cut down and no realised the day was lost. Falling back to the parish church of St. Genevieve (this particular building burnt down in 1782) he and his knights made a desparate stand, until overwhelmed by weight of numbers they chose surrender rather than death. It was a wise choice, for the prisoners were merely deported to Normandy and then confined to Calais for their treason… “

In conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed the project, though some  one hundred and twenty man hours went in to the preparation and construction of the game. Still all worth while, and possible because of the team of people who worked on it: Becky Smith, Hugh Wake, Thomas Nowell, Phil Jenkins and Lisa Langood all played significant roles in getting the game to fruition, and I wrote the characters and designed the whole things of which I am just proud. I have made the game available to Mark from Grand Tribunal America  for use their perhaps in the future, and am happy to share with other Atlas Games promoters from the Atlas Games Special Ops demo team who attend games conventions promoting Ars Magica by running games. Many thanks to John and Michelle Nephew at ATLAS Games, everyone who played and all the delegates of Grand Tribunal  2012.

I’m occasionally approached by other game companies to promote their game by a one off event at a convention – well if I enjoy your game I’m happy to consider it, and you can email me on chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com

Thanks for reaading cj x

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About Chris Jensen Romer

I am a profoundly dull, tedious and irritable individual. I have no friends apart from two equally ill mannered cats, and a lunatic kitten. I am a ghosthunter by profession, and professional cat herder. I write stuff and do TV things and play games. It's better than being real I find.
This entry was posted in Games, History, Reviews and Past Events, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Battle of Fornham 1173: re-fought with Ars Magica!

  1. John piper says:

    Brilliant bit of work ..I worked At padleys as an engineer for many years and believed the mashes were maybe on this site..and while foundations were being dug on site I found some bones buried quite deep one of which had what looked like a deep cut mark on it ….sword or lance mark ??? ..that was 8 or more years ago now..but the local history has always fascinated me where ever I have lived ..from the highlands , herts. , Norfolk , Ireland ,Essex . and Malta ,now there’s a place of ghosts n history , thanks for a brilliant article ..John piper .Coningsby ,Linc’s.. johnkpiper44@aol.com.

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