By smacdowall, May 20 2016 06:53PM
Readers who have been following my Battle of the Dunes project may recall that the young James Duke of York was captured at Ardes after leading his life guards in a wild charge against the full might of the French cavalry. Since then he has been enjoying Marshal Turenne’s hospitality. But there are problems.
Samuel Fairclought, a radical puritan preacher has been stirring up Turenne’s English Commonwealth allies. While they are digging entrenchments in the cold and rain around Dunkerque James Stuart has been living a life of luxury at Ardes. Despite many attempts by the English to force their French allies to hand the prisoner over for a ‘just and fair trial’ followed by execution. Marshal Turenne has so far refused. This presents Major General Lockhart, commander of the Commonwealth troops, with a difficult situation. Urged on by Rev. Fairclought, his forces are on the brink of mutiny unless he takes action to get his hands on James Stuart.
Learning of the mutinous mood amongst his English allies, Cardinal Mazarin decides that the Duke of York must be spirited away to Paris and safety. He is too valuable a bargaining chip to allow to fall into the hands of the murderous heretics. In secret orders, not revealed even to Marshal Turenne (who is after all a Huguenot), he charges le Marquis de la Salle to bring James to Paris under cover of escorting a re-supply convoy from Ardes to Dunkerque. At some point along the route de la Salle is to turn off towards Paris with the important prisoner.
Spies are everywhere and word reaches King Charles II in exile of Cardinal Mazarin’s plan — probably from les Gendarmes Écossais who Mazarin has detailed to form part of the escort. James Duke of York had been their commander before the break between France and the Royalist English in exile. King Charles appoints Colonel Thomas Blague of Horringer to command a small force to ambush the French convoy and free his younger brother. Readers may remember than Blague was the hero of the delaying action at Blancard. Since then he has been knighted and his valiant troop of horse promoted to lifeguard status. Prince Condé, leader of the French ‘fronde’ rebels has agreed to support the English Royalist plan.
Word also reaches Lockhart at Dunkerque who decides to seize the moment to prevent mutiny by attempting to intercept the French convoy and take James under his control without breaking the alliance.
This map shows the area of operations. De la Salle is at Ardes preparing to escort James and the re-supply convoy ostensibly to Dunkerque. At some point he will need to whisk James away to Paris. Lockhart is at Dunkerque and is devising a deception plan to draw several companies of Englishmen away from the siege lines to intercept him. Meanwhile Sir Thomas Blague, reinforced by some Scots arriving from overseas and additional troops from Condé, is making his way to Watten. From there he too hopes to intercept the convoy.
Each player (de la Salle, Lockhart and Blague) were free to chose their routes and make their plans. Blague and de la Salle had some troops assigned to them and a pot of cash from which they could acquire others. Lockhart had to decide how many companies he could withdraw from the siege lines without raising suspicion. Their decisions and the follow-on strategic moves were conducted as a series of email exchanges between the three players and myself as umpire. As an added twist de la Salle was aware that Blague was on the move but neither he nor Blague were aware that Lockhart was also in the game.
After several exchanges, following which I fed back appropriate intelligence to the players, the situation was this:
Lockhart withdrew 8 companies from Dunkerque ostensibly to escort sick and wounded to Calais and from there to move to Ardes to pick up supplies. De la Salle intended to move from Ardes to Audruicq and then let the supply convoy head on to Dunkerque while he would take his cavalry and turn around back to Ardes taking James with him and then turn south towards Paris. Blague’s plan was to establish his foot at Audruicq, use his light cavalry (Scots and Croats) to shadow the convoy and block off retreat. His main cavalry force would be kept to the south ready to strike once the head of the convoy reached Audruicq.
The various strategic decisions each player took left me as umpire with a couple of problems which could have resulted in no table top battle or a battle in which James was not present. De la Salle’s plan to do an about turn with James could have taken him out of harms way before any troops met. Fortunately Blague ordered his light cavalry to shadow the convoy and block off retreat.
Rather than taking the direct route from Dunkerque to Audruicq, Lockhart had decided to go via Calais and then get ahead of the convoy. The timings he set in his strategic orders would have seen his English Commonwealth troops arriving at Audruicq at the same time as Blague’s Royalists and a day ahead of de la Salle. The result would have been a punch-up between the two after which James would be out of harm’s way. This would not do. Fortunately Lockhart’s plan involved moving on a Sunday so I called on the Reverend Fairclought to intervene. In a 3 hour long sermon he spoke of the evils of working on the sabbath after which the Commonwealth troops refused to move. This delayed Lockhart’s move by a day and so he was trailing de la Salle’s convoy rather than getting ahead of it.
So, on the afternoon of 12 May, Blague is waiting for de la Salle at Audruicq with his cavalry shadowing the convoy. De la Salle’s advance guard of dragoons are approaching the village while his rearguard has spotted some unidentified foot (Lockhart’s men) following up a kilometre or two behind him.
How the game played out will be reported in the next entry