Tuesday, 28 July 2009


The Guelphs were the political opponents to the Ghibellines. They opposed Imperial control in Italy and generally supported the Pope or, later, the Angevin rulers of Naples. As with the Ghibellines, many states changed their allegiance at different times as different parties gained the ascendency. Within a city, different areas could support a different party. This was often the result of following the patronage of a great family although party differences could exist even within families.

This shows a game using my Guelph figures. The cavalry are Mirliton with Black Hat spearmen and peasants.

This shows the main Guelph standard bearer at Montaperti, Jacopo del Nacca, of the house of Pazzi. He was the victim of one of Dante's most damned characters, Bocca degli Abati. I haven't painted this individual for two reasons - one is that his arms aren't very interesting but the other is that I didn't want to put a traitor in the midst of my forces - no point in tempting fate :)
Abati was a Ghibelline from Florence but hadn't gone into exile. He was in the forces facing the Ghibelline from Siena and elsewhere at Montaperti. Once the battle, Abati made his way towards Pazzi and, without warning, struck at his arm holding the banner. The severed hand and Florentine flag fell to the ground; the Guelph cavalry facing treachery and the assault of the Germans, soon broke. The infantry were less able to escape and although they put up substantial resistance the battle ended with thousands dead.
In his poem, Dante was crossing the lowest circle of the Inferno, the circle of traitors, when he accidentally kicked the head of a sinner embedded up to his neck in ice. Dante thought he recognised the face but the traitor refused to give his name, though he alludes to Montaperti. Dante tried to get his name by pulling out the damned man's hair though he only discovered that he had been talking to degli Abati when a neighbouring soul gave away his name.

Crossbowmen comparison

Here are some painted 15mm crossbowmen.

The stand on the left is Black Hat and Touller, the next stand is Essex and the stand on the right is Mirliton.

This is a close up of the Black Hat and Touller figures. They mix well, including the crossbows which are different styles in the other makes. The outer two are Black Hat, the centre two are Touller

One of the distinctive features of Italian warfare was the wide use of pavesarii, shield bearers protecting the crossbowmen behind.

These are Mirliton figures. The Mirliton figures with pavise, CO11, are the same as the 'Assorted infantrymen' CO10. I decided to replace these with the ones attacking with lanze longhe - CO12.

The pavises were marked in the colours of their state. http://www.heraldica.org/topics/national/tuscany.htm has some information from Villani. Much of the information is in Italian - unfortunately for me only some of Villani is easily available in an English translation.

Before the Battle of Campaldino, the shortsighted Bishop of Arezzo is said to have asked "Whose walls are those?" receiving the reply that they were the enemies' shields. Dino Compagni's account is here

If you can get access to a copy of Sercambi's illustrations they are chock full of examples of painted pavises. They are from the later 14th century but are still useful. My local university library has a copy.

Incidentally, David Nicolle says that the Genoese at Crecy had spear carrying pavisarii with them and that it was their pavises which were left with the wagons. His essay is here
I haven't read much about Crecy, so I don't know how secure this idea is.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Emperor and the Empire

Dante's "Divine Comedy" features a number of the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire.
Frederick II is shown as a heretic, burning in a tomb on the sixth level of the Inferno. Henry VII was reserved a seat in Paradise. These two are the only ones in this period who were technically emperors, since they had travelled to Rome to be crowned. Henry's journey is shown in a splendid set of pictures made by his brother about twenty years after the event. They can be seen here
It is a great resource for heraldry although the armour is more representative of the time it was made (c.1340) rather than the period it depicts (c.1310). Fashions changed fairly quickly at this time.

Those who had been elected as ruler of the Empire bore the title "King of the Romans". Others were appointed or proclaimed as King of the Germans (rex teutonicorum), such as the sons of Frederick who had been left in control while the Emperor was campaigning in Italy and beyond. Frederick's opposition to the Pope led to the creation of Anti-kings such as Willian II of Holland.
See the sentence of deposition here

Incidentally, Frederick was a great fan of falconry, writing a book on the subject. This is an illustration from it - useful for painters with its portrayal of clothing:

The period from 1257 to the mid 1270s was known as the Great Interregnum. There were two claimants to the throne - Richard of Cornwall and Alfonso X of Castile - but neither had any effective power in the Empire. Once Richard had died, Rudolf von Habsburg was elected as King of the Romans. He later renounced any claims in Italy and referred to himself as King of the Germans. Dante put him amoungst the negligent rulers at the base of Mount Purgatory.

He who sits highest, and the semblance bears
Of having what he should have done neglected,
And to the others' song moves not his lips,

Rudolph the Emperor was, who had the power
To heal the wounds that Italy have slain,
So that through others slowly she revives.
(Purgatory, Canto VII)

Dante's disdain aside, I decided to paint a figure as Rudolf. Charles Oman's "Art of War in the Middle Ages" has a description of the battle of the Marchfeld in which Rudolf defeated his rival Ottokar (another of Dante's negligent princes). Oman quotes from the Salzburg Chronicle which gives some useful information for painters. Rudolf was accompanied by a large red flag with a white cross, carried by the Burgrave of Nuremburg, Frederick of Hohenzollern.

Figures are Mirliton 15mm, from CC29 - Frederick II command group. Usefully, the standard bearer in this pack has the right 'horned' crest for Hohenzollern. Note the single headed eagle - the double headed eagle was used earlier but is not always used, even by Emperors.


This is a picture from Villani. The picture is supposed to be of Heinrich IV, Emperor at the end of the 11th century, but is a better representation of an emperor in Villani's time - the early 14th century.

In DBA and DBM much of the German cavalry of this period is based with double depth. Various discussions on the TNE and DBMM groups suggests that this depth is not appropriate until later in the Middle Ages so the new Medieval German list is likely to lose 13th century double based elements. If it does, I shall probably rebase mine although I do like the look of them. Luckily I haven't many of them.


This represents the German mercenaries sent by Manfred of Sicily to support Siena against Florence in 1260. The story was that he initially only sent a small number with his banner (probably the eagle on white). The Sienese were dismayed by the small numbers but, according to Villani, they got the Germans drunk, promised them double pay and persuaded them to attack the Florentine camp. The Germans initially did well, catching the Florentines by surprise, but were eventualy overwhelmed and Manfred's banner was dragged through the dust back to Florence.
When Manfred heard about this he sent a further 800 knights to support Siena. One of these was Walter von Astimberg, who demanded that he be allowed to lead the charge against the Guelphs at Montaperti. The figure at the front shows him, followed by his wyvern standard. Note how the wyvern faces the flagstaff - arms on the reverse of flags were reversed like this. The figure carrying Manfred's eagle is based on one of the plates from the Manesse Codex, the opponent in this plate.


The leader of this group, Albrecht von Heigerloch, is again from the Manesse Codex. One of the interesting points in the original plate is that the banner bearer holds the staff in his left hand, allowing him to wield a sword. Perhaps a figure manufacturer might oblige!
There is a problem with this paint job. Like many of the plates, the arms are shown as including black. I'd already noticed that arms I knew included white had black instead - apparently the colour had oxidized and there probably aren't many places in the Codex where black is right. However, I only recently thought to check this one and the Heigerloch arms should be white over red.Checking the plate, a couple of traces of white can be seen. I like the look of the red and black combo so may leave it, but it will nag at me!
The character at the rear with the very bucket shaped helm carries the arms of Frankenstein.


This is the Archbishop of Cologne with his standard bearer Adolf of Nassau, later King of the Romans. Adolf was the Archbishop's brother in law and carried his standard at the Battle of Woerringen.
The figure of the Archbishop is a slight conversion - I added a mitre made from Milliput to the top of his helm. The story of Medieval bishops avoiding the use of swords seems to have been apocryphal - there is a picture of the Bishop of Trier splitting a man's head in two with a sword in the pictures of Henry VII journey to Italy linked to above.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


The period I'm covering in this blog is characterised by the conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. These were essentially two political parties with, broadly speaking, the Ghibellines favouring Imperial control of Italy with the Guelphs opposing it. Many Guelphs saw the leadership of the Papacy as the best way of removing Imperial interference although once the Angevins took control of the Regno* they were increasingly seen as being more vital in opposing the Emperor than the Pope was.

In many cases, a city or families within a city chose the allegience of one party because their political opponents had opted to support another. When Henry VII made his journey to Rome, he found that the old rivalries having survived the previous 4 decades of minimal Imperial interference. He began by trying to treat each party equally but the Guelphs resisted him more and more, leading to open conflict.

*"the Kingdom" - Southern Italy and, at first, Sicily. More on this another time.

These are some of my Ghibelline cavalry - again 15mm Mirliton figures.

The majority are Sienese, with coats of arms taken from this book:
Montaperti . Where information on heraldry is available, I try to use it as much as possible, rather than relying on my imagination! This has led to spending too much on books just for a couple of nice pictures, plus many hours scouring the web. I like handpainting the shields although many are available as cut out and glue paper versions from Mirliton. Most of my flags are homemade although some nice ready made ones are available from various sources to download or buy. One method I have used is to paint a much larger version and scan it in to a computer, printing at a smaller size. This takes a bit of playing around until you are happy with the detail, but it can help with some of the fiddly details as well as making sure that the reverse is a correct reversed copy of the other side.

The red flag with white cross is that of one of the terzi of Siena - these are the three main areas into which Siena was divided at the time. The white and black flag is the banner of Siena. The flag with the leopard is that of the Ghibelline cavalry at Montaperti.

The leading knights are Florentine exiles, carrying the original colours of the flag which became associated with the Ghibellines. The centre one is Farinata degli Uberti, placed by Dante in the Sixth circle of the Inferno. He was excommunicated, after his death, for heresy - supposedly having denied the doctrine of life after death. He had been a leading Ghibelline in Florence and was one of the leaders at Montaperti "The rout and massacre
Which stained the stream of the Arbia red"
(Inferno, Canto X).
After Florence's defeat, the neighbouring Ghibelline states wanted to raze Florence but Farinata opposed them, putting loyalty to his city above his party allegience.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Figure Comparisons: 15mm Crossbowmen

A lot of threads on various sites ask about comparative sizes of various makes of figures and whether they would work together.
There are some good sites around but I thought I'd do a few comparisons of my own with my narrow focus.
First up are crossbowmen - unpainted to begin with.

Left to right on each row: Black Hat, Alain Touller, Mirliton, Donnington, Legio Heroica

The last two are a bit heftier than the others though part of the LH height is due to the helmet. I have mixed Black Hat and Touller figures on the same stands - and I'm pretty fussy about such things :)
The LH figures are from the Crusades range, representing late 12th century, as I ordered the wrong codes. They'll find a good home somewhere though.

I have some Essex crossbowmen too, though none unpainted. I really like the look of the Vexillia ones though they are designed for a later period so only a few have the right headgear for the period I'm looking for. I shall keep my eye on the Khurasan Swiss range which is in progress to see if crossbowmen are included as these should fit.

I'll try to get some pics of painted crossbowmen figures soon.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Personalities: 1 - Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri became one of Italy's most famous poets with his composition of the Divine Comedy.

In his youth he was a member of the Guelph party in Florence and fought as part of the avant garde at Campaldino.

Soon after, the victorious Guelphs split into two parties - the Blacks and the Whites - and eventually Dante was exiled.

When Henry of Luxembourg travelled to Italy to be crowned as Holy Roman Emperor, Dante wrote to him, demanding that the Black Guelphs ruling in Florence be removed. Henry did besiege Florence but Dante is thought to have left Henry's army, possibly to avoid attacking his home.
Wikipedia covers Dante's life in more detail:


You can read a roughly contemporary account of his life in Giovanni Villani's Chronicle

This is my figure of Dante (the one on the right of the photo).
The flag carried by his companion is the banner of Guelph Florence. The original flag, as later carried by Ghibelline exiles, had the colours reversed.
Figures are 15mm Mirliton.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Our most recent game.

The Pope's Catalan mercenaries fight the Emperor's Germans

This blog will cover a wargamer's perspective of the wars of the 13th and early 14th century - roughly the lifetime of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy. He fought in the service of his home city, Florence and mentions many of the main players of the events of the wars in Italy and beyond.

I was first drawn to this period by the appearance of the armies but I also became interested in the history. This is the time of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, of the Sicilian Vespers, of Popes and Emperors. It saw the end of the Crusader States in the Holy Land and the establishment of the Mongol empire.

I play wargames using 15mm figures and usually the De Bellis... sets of rules - most frequently DBMM and occasionally DBA. I try to play games with historical opponents - or at least ones which are reasonably close to being historical.