Women at War

By Rob Morgan

I picked up a short review of a reprinted book called “Women, Armies & Warfare” by John A. Lynn II, in University the other day. Published by Cambridge University Press in the UK, it’s a short 251-page book. It will probably be  months before I get to see a copy, if I do at all, but the reviewer indicates that it provides some interesting accounts of the involvement of women in military activity during the 1600s, 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 30 Years War must obviously have significance for the table-top wargamer. More so, since the bulk of these people were women, serving as sutlers, whores, washerwomen, etc, and who would frequently play an active role in the fighting, when necessary.

Even a decisive role on occasion.

I’ve always liked the concept of the early modern army (and the Medieval one, and the Napoleonic too for that matter) as a semi-permanent mobile town, which gives much so more 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 after 1650, but this choice of date probably only reflects the decline in mass military activity across Europe with the Peace of Westphalia.

Worth a lot more investigation in wargames terms alone. If I recall, Don Featherstone wrote on the subject some 30 years ago. “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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