Saturday, 13 February 2016

Late Medieval Flanders:
Building Nergenshuizen

The town of Nergenshuizen c.1477. It is in fact an impression of what Thérouanne looked like in 1550, but it was too good to pass up, as it was just what I was looking for.

Like many of you I suspect, after decades of wargaming, serious researching and generally maturing as the years go by, I still retain an inner child that once played with toy soldiers, often named some or all of them and imagined the world in which they existed. This inner child, like many children can of course be both more egotistical and demanding than others. The worst cases perhaps descend into role-playing games where the immersion into imagined worlds is far greater than is generally the case with wargamers.

For my Franco-Burgundian Wars project, I wanted to have an overarching narrative for the games, which did not have to follow the course of events of the conflict itself too closely, yet remained part of them all the same. The 'big picture' is already mapped out through historical events and so I wanted my own milieu to parallel that while still leaving whatever I do un-stifled by real world events. To that end I created Nergenshuizen (Nowheresville), an imaginary town which my games would be set in or around.

Nergenshuizen is a somewhat generic small market town on the very border between Flemish-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Hainault, specifically the region known as the Tournaisis; the area that was dominated by the city of Tournai (Doornik). Back in 1477 Tournai was a 'French' city; it was technically a fief of the French king, although part of 'Greater Burgundy'.

Shortly after the war broke out Tournai was persuaded to declare for the French and was rapidly reinforced by them. The Burgundians were able to effectively hem Tournai in to the North and North East and it became a battleground between the two sides. Nergenshuizen therefore effectively falls within this 'no-man's-land' between Tournai and the Burgundian bases of operations at Courtrai (Kortrijk) and Espierres (Spiere). Possession of the town and its environs therefore becomes a strategic concern for both sides.

That I also have some vague plans for 17th Century games set either in the Franco-Spanish War (1635-1659), the end of the Eighty Years War (1635-1640), or both, also means that I can effectively extend Nergenshuizen's 'story' somewhat further and of course re-use the bulk of the buildings created or purchased for the earlier project.

With adventure games of 'En Garde!' and skirmish battles with 'Lion Rampant' and its forthcoming 17th Century variant in 2017, there might be a lot going on in Nergenshuizen and its hinterland!

The Town

Nergenshuizen perseveres a siege in the 16th Century. The town is built on a hill, to the left it drops down to the suburb named Klerelijer, named after the River Klere which runs on the opposite side of the town walls. There is a drawbridge across the river, defended on the opposite bank by a fortified gatehouse known as the Klootzack, because of its twin protruding circular towers. To the right the town once more drops down the hillside to the working class suburb of De Reet and the second of the town's gates, De Achterdeur. In the foreground is the monastery of Sinte-Sebastiaan.
A plan view of the town with the River Klere at the bottom and the Achterdeur at the top. The large church of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) dominates the town centre and is surrounded by the marketplace, the stadhuis and the houses of the wealthier of the town's inhabitants. The smaller church of Sint-Matteüs serves the generally middle class area to the south west of the centre.

While having an idea of what the town looks like is all well and good, apart from skullduggery in the back streets and courtyards a la En Garde!, there is not much use for a great deal of internal detail. At best a siege game will feature an area outside the walls, the walls themselves and those buildings which lie close to the walls. Like any medieval town or city though, Nergenshuizen as its suburbs; semi-shanty towns that lay near to the town walls, but did not qualify for town taxes, nor were they subject to monitoring by the town watch.

London for example famously had Southwark and the not so famous 'Clink Liberty' manor, a notorious red-light district. Brothels licensed by the Bishop,'Winchester Geese' or prostitutes likewise licensed (to be 'bitten by a Winchester Goose' was to catch an STI), Bear-baiting and that most unholy of pursuits, theatre, all went on just over the river. Nergenshuizen has its own much smaller version of Southwark, known as Mesthoop, which lies on the far side of the Klere.  
Mesthoop by day. The walls are artistic licence; the place has an overwhelming sense of its own importance. In truth the locals would have stolen the stones for their own use quicker than such walls could be built.
The Hinterland

Towns are not self-sustaining and are reliant on what is called their hinterland for almost everything they need. Towns turn things into other things and then typically sell them back to their original suppliers for many times their original cost. Towns are hungry and need fairly large quantities of food and raw materials to sustain them and to allow them to grow. The municipality itself taxes goods on the way in, taxes money on the way out and Mesthoop does its best to relieve newly-moneyed farmers and suppliers of what they have left when they stop off for cheap drink and food before setting out on the road home.

Naturally there are satellite villages across the area, each with their own satellite hamlets and farms. Then there are the watermills, windmills, monasteries, priories, roadside inns and of course châteaus. In some cases the latter belong to individuals actually involved in the fighting, although not necessarily on the right side. In the current unpleasantness, which all things considered is exactly the same as all the others before, both sides fight over these same villages, farms and hamlets to feed their armies and where they are owned by an enemy, just for the sheer hell of it. They tend to draw the line before a settlement is razed to the ground, as of course they need it to continue producing food for them.


The Project

This relatively short post (as far as my posts usually go at least) is essentially an introduction to my terrain project to complement the armies I want to raise for the Franco-Burgundian War. I find that having an anchor for any concept to be very useful and opposed to just ending up with an assortment of generic medieval buildings and scenery, there will be items produced that have a concrete place within an overall theme and this section is where I will be featuring them.

As I mentioned above, if I was planning to create a siege as the setting for a few games, all I need are the walls, ditches and other defences, as well as the siege lines of the attacking force. What I don't need is the church of Sinterklaas, or a model of the Stadhuus, just some generic 'town buildings' to place inside the walls. Likewise most 'open-field' battles tend to take place in open fields; if there is a settlement or farm, it is generally on the periphery of the battlefield and actually plays little part in it.  

If I go down the route of also playing games using En Garde!, then a different tack is needed as the action typically takes place away from the battlefield and in the streets of Nergenshuizen, or the courtyard of an inn, for example. For such games part of the visual effect are the centre-pieces others have produced for similar low-level skirmish games and which is an entirely different ball game.