By Rob Morgan
The weather column in ‘The Times’ recently reported some research, with clear medieval or early Renaissance wargames campaign potential, by a Dr. Pribyl of the University of East Anglia, reconstructing the climate of that part of England from crop harvests and other indicators between 1256 and 1431, busy times in terms of war, rebellion and conflict. There were, it seems, some interesting patterns. If a short run of average or cool summers was followed by a warm dry summer “a plague epidemic would often follow.”
The pattern — there were regular cycles — followed the changes in rodent population, rats possibly, but Dr. Pribyl suggests more likely the humble vole, and its fleas, naturally! A mild or moderately cold winter would also help the plague, but a bitter winter would kill off the rodents, and so would a wet one, which flooded burrows.
The potential for the wargamer is obvious, and arguably not just for that then rather prosperous part of these islands. The inference is that many parts of Europe suffered similarly. In Asia the effects of plague on campaigns were often recorded: The problems caused by a plague outbreak on the raising of a military force or of its fortunes when finally gathered, its commanders’ reluctance to pass through areas with an outbreak, the problem of foraging or of feedstuff for horses when there’s been an outbreak. These, among other things, have potential to disrupt the conduct of warfare. Just a simple dice throw to determine the weather over the previous years would do the trick initially.
Incidentally, I do remember a series of articles by Don Featherstone, oh, almost 50 years ago, in John Tunstill’s Miniature Warfare on the effects of weather on wargames, but I don’t recall any rules or consideration of outbreaks of plague. Yet plague and war often went hand in hand.