Women at war

By Rob Morgan

I picked up a short review of a book called “Women, Armies & Warfare” by John A. Lynn II, the other day. Published by Cambridge University Press in the UK, it’s a short 251-page book. It will probably be some time before I get to see a copy and read it, but the reviewer indicates that it provides some interesting accounts of the involvement of women in military activity during the 1600’s, and not merely those well-documented few who hid their gender for one reason or another.

Some references from Lynn’s work intrigued me. The defence of Brunswick in 1615, in which the women of the city, led by one Frau Gesche Meiburg, held off the enemy, is not an action I’m familiar with. While the assertion, with which the reviewer agrees, that …

“A Cavalry Brigade of 3,000 men would have been accompanied by a ‘camp community’ of at least 4,000 non-combatants”

… during the 30Years War must obviously have significance for the table-top wargamer. More so, since the bulk of these people were women, serving as sutlers, washerwomen, etc., and who would frequently play an active role in the fighting, when necessary. Even perhaps a decisive role on occasion?

I’ve always liked the concept of the early modern army (and the Medieval and later ones, for that matter) as a semi-permanent mobile town, which gives much so more potential to the wargame.

Lynn uses the term “aggregate contract armies” to describe the fighting forces involved, and, of course, as he asserts the numbers of camp followers loping along with the army did decline as the period went on, he suggests some time after 1650, but this choice of date probably only reflects the decline in mass military activity across Europe with the Peace of Westphalia and the end of the 30 Years War in 1648.

Worth a lot more investigation in wargames terms alone, obviously: “Yes, you’ve still got two Regiments of Foot, but I’m using my strategic reserve of 2,000 washerwomen and chancers.”

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