By Rob Morgan
I somehow didn’t get around to reviewing the Osprey on the Carolingian age, I intended to, but it seems to have slipped away from me, as have a number of others. It’s been my intention to review most of the Medieval titles in the series, but there we are!
I think Jonathan’s a little unfair on this particular Osprey for a couple of reasons. After all, this is No. 150, published originally in 1984, a long time back. Most medievalists, most medieval wargamers had little or nothing available to them dealing with this substantial period of time. I don’t think I’d seen an article on Charlemagne, or Carolingian armies and wars in any journal or magazine, beyond the dry academic, or a short piece in History Today perhaps. The content was, certainly, groundbreaking for the wargamer, and for those who had been brought to create forces using conversion from Airfix figures especially, in the way that writers like Bob O’Brien and Terry Wise did in Airfix Magazine and “BATTLE!” in the Seventies.
The remit, intended or implied was vast, more than 250 years of warfare, from 741 AD to 1002AD, one of the reasons I bought No.150 (for which I paid, if the sticker on the back cover is correct, £3.25) was the intriguing time line. The king’s names were incredible: Pepin the Short, Charles, the Bald … the Fat … the Simple. What about Louis? The Coward, The Pious, The Child. A dip into this period seemed likely to bring prizes for the modeller and wargamer. David Nicolle wrote beautifully, and though then as now, arguably, information on fortifications and line drawings of stirrups and of arrow-heads are of limited value to the table-top enthusiast, it all went to more than whet the appetite of those who before, had little or nothing. That certainly was the value of this early Osprey title, and many others.
It was a start then. Now we live in more sophisticated times.
I, for one, did have something else to fall back upon when I read this title. A book which should certainly still be used in conjunction with it. Ian Heath’s Wargames Research Group book “Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066,” published eight or so years earlier, which contains a dozen pages of sound line illustrations and comment supporting the Osprey. Read them together and more will become clear, that’s my suggestion. But, if you asked me what sold the Osprey to me, it’s Angus’ plates. I might have used the line drawings in Ian Heath’s book to produce a few figures, in 20mm scale and plastic, naturally. Angus decided me to dip in.
Using just four Airfix packs, Robin Hood, Sheriff of Nottingham, Ancient Britons and one or two from the Romans, I pottered around the Empire. The first set of these provided plenty of variants of the examples at Angus’ plate B3, and C3, and of the levy at F1; and from the Sheriff set, the swordsman on foot, provided E2, easily. The long hauberked mounted knight was ideal to produce any of B2, E1 and H2 with little effort. The pennon bearing mounted figure needs little work to create E1 or C1. Some musing over the other figures in these two packs will provide you with a decent small force, the unharnessed horseman (is he the Sheriff?) is an obvious simple conversion to E3. While the Sheriff’s archer makes G1 just as simply!
A glance at the Ancient Britons will come up with a few of the types shown at Angus’ plate C2, the foot slinger figure’s typical, I think. The axeman and two-handed swordsman are ideal too. These were virtually the only reasonably priced packs available 35 or so years ago, and yes, I did convert a few from my spares box — well, Airfix sets were cheap then. I thought of writing a note up, but naval matters took me away. I’ve always been too lazy to paint an army man by man! I enjoyed painting a couple of banners though!
The handful of Charlemagne’s warriors I converted are long, long gone, but if there had been a couple of packs of plastic 20mm figures around then, I’d probably have bought them and made up a decent border raiding force if not an army. Problem is there are only one or two packs around now, decades later. Charlemagne clearly is not that popular.