On Thirty Years War mercenaries

By Rob Morgan

I expected a flurry of comment following the note on the Thirty Years War by Jim Rohrer, and hopefully the short piece in Lone Warrior No. 215 will persuade a few members to dip into the most incredible conflict in European history. Jim mentioned the “mercenaries” that plagued the war, and indeed they fought on all sides, each nation and army — Spanish, Swedish, Danes, Italians — all of them employed mercenary companies. Wallenstein’s Imperialist army was entirely composed of mercenary troops! More interestingly for the solo gamer, there were bands of mercenaries, drawn from the ranks of a multitude of deserters, criminals and outcasts, with ample numbers of Cossacks, Croats and other “borderland” bandits, paid irregularly by princes or active in their own interest.

Jim’s note reminded me of one such band, easily created by the wargamer, in 20 or 25mm scale. The late Angus McBride painted a plate called “The Carrion Crows” more than 30 years ago. This shows a small mercenary band watching a burning town, at dusk c.1630. It was so well received that Military Modelling offered it as a print a few years later. It featured in the Osprey title “Essential Histories No. 29: The Thirty Years War.” Hopefully someone will review that excellent title soon.

The scenario includes some ideal wargame characters, the mounted Captain, the armed priest, infantry and cavalry figures, in varied costume and armour, with muskets, partisans and glaives. There are camp followers too, and the number of such often lethal hangers-on accompanying armies and columns could be enormous during these wars. I recommend this illustration to anyone considering a small solo unit for these brutal struggles; there are plenty of ideas.

Like the 80 Years War which almost ran in conjunction, there were as many sieges as battles, and encounters often ended with massacres — Munden, Wurzburg and Landsberg, for example, not forgetting Prague. Even now the 1631 sack of Magdeburg, in which 25,000 Imperial troops were involved in the actual siege, but another 15,000 marched to participate in the looting and pillage of the city, is regarded as a landmark in human misery. More later.

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