The Women of Waterloo

Logo_smallThis month we commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, which was fought 200 years ago on 18th June. What would be more appropriate than to also remember the women who fought and died on this day?

It’s not very surprising that women should have been present at Waterloo. For a start, there exists a long tradition of women donning men’s cloths and joining the army, a tradition that reached its peak in the 18th century. Yet we have only scarce evidence of women disguised as men at that battle. One is that among the dead, a woman was found in the uniform of an officer of the French hussars.

Much more numerous were the camp followers. Every army of this time relied on women to keep going. They did the washing and cooking, cared for the wounded and provided all kinds of comforts to the men. Often, the wives of soldiers and officers accompanied their husbands into battle. Wellington’s army was accompanied by several thousands of women when it arrived in Belgium. Although he ordered all women back behind the lines immediately before the battle of Waterloo, several disobeyed the orders and decided to stay.

Cantinière of a French line regiment.
Cantinière of a French line regiment.

In the French army, the ‘official’ female camp followers were organised into cantinières (or vivandières, the terms were used interchangeably) and blanchisseuses. Cantinières were officially allowed to sell food and drink and had to be married to a soldier of the regiment. Blanchisseuses were responsible for the laundry. Each infantry battalion had up to four cantinières attached – meaning there were probably around 600 of these women present on the French side at Waterloo. However, there certainly were an unspecified number of ‘unofficial’ camp followers, such as wives, lovers or prostitutes.

Camp followers often hovered around close to the battalion when it was deployed in the field. They brought brandy, water and sometimes ammunition to the men and helped to carry back the wounded. Being that close to the action meant that they were as affected by enemy fire as the soldiers. At Waterloo, a cannon ball killed a cantinière of the Old Guard grenadiers when the battalion was positioned at the Brussels road. The wife of a sergeant of the 28th foot was wounded when she dragged her injured husband into safety. After the battle, corpses of French as well as British women were found among the dead.

A cantinière in action.
A cantinière in action.

In the heat of battle, the line between ‘proper’ soldiers and non-combatants could blur. Cantinières could and did fight (while, on the other hand, there were soldiers known to vanish miraculously each time a battle was about to get serious). One eyewitness writes:

“As is common in the camp, the camp followers wore male attire, with nearly as martial a bearing as the soldiers and some were even mounted and rode astride.”

Most cantinières were armed and fought to defend themselves when caught up in an attack or threatened by marauding cavalry. Some were even known to join the firing line. The most famous example of such a fighting woman is Marie Tête-de-Bois. Working as a cantinière during the First Empire, she had to leave the army during the Restauration, which cut back on cantinières as it suspected them of harbouring pro-napoleonic sentiments. When Napoleon returned, she immediately rejoined the army and received a position with the Imperial Guard. She was known to be dependable, brave and ready to enter the fray. One of her officers wrote:

“Her place on a day of battle was at the most perilous point… Marie knew how to fire a musket and follow up with a bayonet thrust.”

At the Battle of Waterloo, she stayed with the Guard till the end and died in their last stand.

Cantinière fighting.
Cantinière fighting.

Putting those women back into the picture also shows that napoleonic battlefields were not exactly the neat parade grounds so beloved by wargamers and diorama builders, where ramrod straight formations march in perfect order over deserted fields. Judging from contemporary reports, there was a constant to and fro of people: Officers riding around trying to understand what’s happening elsewhere, men falling to the rear to help wounded comrades, to replace a broken musket or just to make themselves scarce, others heading towards the front bringing ammunition, water or simply hoping to get some plunder – and women were in the midst of the fray. This chaos is modelled by rules such as Sharp Practice, but it is seldom represented on a visual level, that is with figures.

So what figures are available to represent the women of Waterloo?

WestfaliaCantiniere
Westfalia Cantinière

In 28mm, Westfalia Miniatures has a splendid French cantinière depicted in the act of loading a musket. Warlord Games has another one that can be fitted with a pistol, ready to defend herself and her donkey. Foundry also offers a suitable figure, as does Eureka Miniatures.

Elite Wargames and Models have a selection of female napoleonic figures, including a female French hussar and a cantinière. For more information, please contact elitewargamesmodels [at] gmail.com.

Dave Ryan at Caliver Books was kind enough to send me a sample of the lovely 15mm Minifigs Vivandière set, which comes with a cart and two Vivandières, one driving the cart and the other walking.

Minifigs Vivandière
Minifigs Vivandières

Stonewall Figures offers three 15mm Sutleress in their Les Carabiniers Cassique range. Warmodelling also had some suitable figures on offer, but they are out of production at the moment. However, Dermot Quigley of Campaign Game Miniatures told me they might be recast, so watch their website.

If you prefer 1/72, Schilling has two sets, one with a vivandière’s cart on the move and one with a camp scene.

 

Bibliography

Barbero, Alessandro: The Battle. A New History of Waterloo, London: Atlantic Books 2006.

Cardoza, Thomas: Intrepid Women: Cantinières and Vivandières of the French Army, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2010 (the author also has a homepage dedicated to the subject).

historynet.com: Napoleonic Wars: Women at Waterloo

 

First Game of Lion Rampant

Most of the wargaming stuff is already packed up in boxed for the big house move, but last weekend we nevertheless managed to have a first game of Lion Rampant. K. took El Cid and his retinue while I played the Almoravids. I put together two retinues based on what looked plausible to me and without following the army lists in the rulebooks. We ended up having two 25 points forces: The Spanish had two mounted Men-at-Arms, one of them being drilled, one unit of Mounted Serjeants, one of Foot Yeomen and one of Crossbowmen. The Almoravids had three units of Foot Serjeants, one of mounted Serjeants, one of Archers and two Bidowers.

The game was a simple straight-on battle (the ‘Bloodbath’ scenario from the rulebook) to familiarise ourselves with the rules. Each of us just plunked his or her units on the table and the fun could begin!

During the first couple of turns, I was extremely unlucky with activation rolls and my guys stood rooted to the ground. This wasn’t that bad as the Almoravids prefer defensive tactics anyway (the Foot Serjeants are better at being attacked than at attacking), but it meant I was hovering precariously close to the table edge with little space for retreating.

The set up.
The set up.
The Spanish retinue.
A still peaceful village.
Almoravid infantry prepares to receive the charge.
On the right flank, Almoravid infantry prepares to receive a charge…
…and repulses the attack.
…and repulses the attack.
The Cid advances.
The Cid advances in the center.
On the right flank, the mounted Serjeants keep up the pressure.
On the right flank, the mounted Serjeants keep up the pressure.
The Spanish knights charge the Archers.
The Cid and his knights charge the Archers.

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Another attack against my center.
Another attack against my center…
…which starts to crumble.
…which starts to crumble.
My leader being killed, the center breaks down completely.
My leader being killed, the center breaks down completely and the Spanish knights mop up the flank.
The last Almoravid infantry forms a Schiltron and makes a last stand.
The remaining Almoravid infantry forms a Schiltron and makes a last stand.

That was a fun game! K. won very clearly after breaking through my center with her heavy cavalry and killing my leader.

We got some things wrong at the beginning: we kept forgetting about the 3″ Zone of Control, especially concerning friendly units, and I forgot the Schiltron special ability until the very end of the game, when I finally used it to make a last stand.

Also, my tactics leave much room for improvement: I used my Archers and Bidowers quite stupidly and lost them without them making much of an impact. Mounted Men-at-Arms are very tough nuts to crack in this game, so I’ll have to think of something when I’m up against them again. I also felt my retinue lacked in offensive power, so I might take Mounted Men-at-Arms myself next time – some time ago, I’ve painted up Yusuf’s Hasham, his personal bodyguard, to use as heavy Almoravid cavalry.

Anyhow, we both greatly enjoyed Lion Rampant. It gives a very fast and fluid game and the mechanics are simple yet elegant – after a couple of turns, there was almost no need to consult the Quick Reference Sheet. We’ll certainly have a go at some of the scenarios soon.

Joining the Rampage

We are in the process of preparing a major house move, so don’t expect many battle reports in the next weeks. There may be one exception, however. After reading lots of great reviews, I finally caved in and ordered a copy of Lion Rampant from Annie at Bad Squiddo Games.

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I’ve read it and it looks very good. Being one of the Osprey Wargames series, it has the high production values usual for the publisher. However, the rules mechanics are also very clever. I particularly like the activation sequence: Troops are more or less likely to be activated according to their profile and what you want of them. Mounted men-at-arms, for example, are easy to activate for attacking but harder for moving around, while archers are of course more willing to shoot than to enter melee. I also like the ‘Wild Charge’ special rules for mounted men-at-arms. If they are near enough to reach an enemy unit, they have to test if they will charge it, even if this is unfavourable to them. This reminds me of a great scene in The Poem of El Cid:

“‘Stay where you are, my men’ (said the Cid), ‘and let none break ranks till I give the word of command.’ But Pedro Bermúdez could hold out no longer; he held the standard and spurred on his horse […] The Cid cried, ‘Stop, in Heaven’s name!'”

This quote gives you already a hint what figures we’ll use: namely the 15mm El Cid figures. Now those are based as elements for playing mass battles, however there is no reason why Lion Rampant won’t work with elements – we will just use markers to indicate hits.

Finally an outing for the archers!
Finally an outing for the archers!

While Lion Rampant is intended to model skirmishes, I think they will also work for small battles. Some of the rule mechanics already give the feeling that a unit is more than the 12 or fewer individuals it would represent on a 1:1 scale. For example, friendly units can’t move through each other, not even when they are retreating. Or rough terrain is handled as a zone where all units are on a similar footing and have equal values for attack and defence. On the Dux Rampant forum, the rules author Dan Mersey also published some optional rules for flank and rear attacks, which we will use as they feel more appropriate for the way my figures are based.

The only other change I will make is to reduce all distances by one third. Playing with 15mm figures on a smallish table, this is something I’m used to doing and it always works well.

Lion Rampant is all over the place at the moment – no wargaming magazine is without a scenario or rules amendments. I’m looking forward to seeing for myself what all the fuss is about and having a game. I’m also very much looking forward to breaking out the Almoravids and early medieval Spanish once again and giving them a good fight!