Second only to my love of slingers, I have a strong affinity for those crude, awkward, smokey, fearsome boomsticks of war: the medieval handgonne. I think they share with slings that aura of primitive ersatz simplicity. As the first hand-held gunpowder weapons, they're direct ancestors of today's small arms. We've gone from handgonne to S-Mart's top of the line and it only took about six centuries.
The Handgonne at War
Gunpowder came into European warfare in the 13th century. Where it came from is still a matter of debate. Conventional wisdom in the 19th c. claimed that it originated in China and came through Middle East trade routes or perhaps in the Mongol invasion ca. 1240.
Unconventional wisdom in the 18th c. had it that gunpowder was discovered accidentally by a German monk/alchemist named Berthold Schwarz who was trying to cook up something else when the crock-pot exploded. However, there is no evidence that Berthold Schwarz ever existed.
|Brother Berthold discovers gunpowder, to his dismay|
It's the propulsive properties of gunpowder that sparked a revolution. Artillery was invented first, but ribauldequins, which were carts mounting several very small cannon, inspired the handgonne, which was simply one of these small cannons, mounted on a short pole that could be managed by one man. Ten guys with handgonnes were tactically more versatile than one ribauldequin with ten barrels.
The majority opinion is that a handgonne was a terribly inaccurate weapon due to it lacking any aiming features, as well as the need to hold it in one hand while using a fuse held in the other hand to ignite it. But modern reenactors have shown that the opinion is mostly false and pointed out that other hand-held missile weapons, such as bows, crossbows, slings, and javelins, lack aiming features also but users can achieve incredible accuracy nevertheless.
|Swedish reenactors shooting a handgonne|
|Death shoots a pale handgonne|
The slow rate of fire made handgonners particularly vulnerable to attack when they were used in the open field. For this reason, hangonnes were most effective when used in sieges (attacking or defending) or in defending field works. Gonzalo de Córdoba's great victory at the Battle of Cerignola in 1503 marked the point when firearms started to replace earlier hand-held missile weapons en masse and the start of the long-held dominance of the Spanish pike and shot tactics.
Inspired by my new painting velocity using The Miracle Dip™, I've been looking at a handful of abandoned projects to kick-start back into life. One of these projects goes back more than 20 years when I bought a few packs of Grenadier fantasy figures.
The old Grenadier fantasy range had, in addition to orcs, elves, dragons, goblins, etc., a line of humans that were modeled after 15th c. Burgundians—the army of Charles the Bold. These are very nice figures, sculpted by Mark Copplestone in the '80s. The whole range included all kinds of variety with multiple poses for each type: mounted and dismounted knights, mounted men-at-arms, pikemen/spearmen, longbowmen, crossbowmen, halberdiers/billmen, artillery, and handgonners. Charles would approve.
Just before Christmas, I resolved to finally do it. Only instead of finishing what I'd started, I was going to strip them and start over. I've only done this a few times. It's not pleasant. I use the Pine-Sol soak 'n' scrub method. I do it the manly man way without gloves, which is supposed to ruin my hands, but so far not. Nevertheless, I'm still prepared to stop if I see a finger dissolving.
The first step was to pry them off the thick plastic bases I'd put them on. Though I recall that when I started painting them, they were just glued to cardboard squares for better handling. I put them on the 20mm x 25mm plastic bases when I was doing a late medieval variant for Tod Kershner's Pig Wars skirmish rules. One of the reasons I hate rebasing is that I base so thoroughly that it's a tough go to de-base the figures. I have sold armies of painted figures rather than rebase them.
Once off their bases, I put the lot in a plastic food container and drowned them in Pine-Sol. The Pine-Sol doesn't dissolve the paint, but it breaks it down so that scrubbing with a firm toothbrush will remove the paint. Theoretically.
|First scrub (more to do)|
|Block painting complete; ready for the satin enamel spray|
Once I've completed the dip, I give them a spray of Testor's Lusterless (i.e., dullcote) as the penultimate sealer before basing and flocking.
|Dipped and dullcoted|
|Cutting bases from 1/8" tile sheet styrene|
I glue the figures to the base using Gorilla super glue and then slap some Golden coarse pumice gel around to hide the rather thick base that comes on the casting. I learned the coarse pumice gel trick from Kevin Smyth. I apply the medium with a palette knife and let it dry for 12-24 hours. The surface is rough and lends itself well to painting and drybrushing.
I had a small pumice crisis to overcome first. I used to get the medium from Michael's, but every store I tried didn't have it. I was afraid it might be a discontinued item (that happens to me a lot). I finally went to Aaron Brothers art supply and got a 8 oz. jar at half price, as well as several Windsor Newton University Series 233 brushes in 000 and 00 sizes in their 1¢ sale (buy one, get one for 1¢). I've used these brushes for years to do my detail painting. Nothing else works for me as well.
When the medium is dry, I trim off the excess with an X-Acto knife. I use slightly thinned Vallejo Mud Brown as my base color and after that dries, I drybrush Vallejo Yellow Ochre over it to bring out the rough texture of the pumice gel medium.
I flock the bases with Woodland Scenics Earth Blend blended turf, leaving patches of 'bare ground.' Then I apply a second layer using Woodland Scenics Light Green coarse turf. After the glue is well dried for the coarse turf, I use some tweezers to pluck it short. The desired effect is a rough surface; tweezing reduces the puffiness of the turf. (I also need to tweeze out the bits of cat hair that get into my flocking, otherwise the bases might look like they have the kind of wispy beards that older women get.)
When the turf is all right, I go over the base edges with some Vallejo Mud Brown, and then give the figures a final spray of Krylon Matte Finish. The Krylon matte is a not-quite dullcote, but not quite a satin either. It leaves just a glint of satin finish on the figure that softens the harsh lusterlessness of the Testor's dullcote.
|20 years in the making! Handgonners completed.|
I'll use the figures I have as seed for one or more Lion Rampant retinues. I wanted to get medieval earlier, but nothing came of it because I couldn't really find a set of rules that I liked and that I could reasonably expect to find other people willing to play (and contribute to by painting minis). Lion Rampant changed that. It's very popular around here. The Tacoma gamers have regular Lion Rampant game days.
Early gunpowder weapons didn't make the cut in Daniel Mersey's published rules. Mersey did, however, provide some stats for them on a Boardgame Geek forum. because, as he notes, "there are some lovely models available for early handgunners." (As we see above.)
Below is a formatted version of the handgonne rules from the forum post.
|Unit Name: Handgonners||Points: 4|
|Shoot||8+||Shoot Value||6 /12"|
|Armor||2||Special Rules||Bang, Panic|
- Models per unit: 6
- Bang: All units count as Armour 1 against Shooting by this unit (Armour 2 if in cover).
- Panic: When this unit Shoots, the target unit must take a Courage test regardless of the number of hits inflicted.
- Pavises @ 2 points per unit. As for Crossbows.
Also, one poster to the forum suggested an option for having a handgonne blow up. Like the "lucky blow" rule, when the handgonners shoot, roll 2 x D6. On a double-one, remove one handgonner.
More good news is that Grenadier Models aren't dead and gone. Mirliton in Italy produces the full range. Packs of 5 foot figures or 2 mounted run about €8,16 (about $8.86 USD). The kicker is shipping. They charge a small fortune to ship. Unless you're ordering a lot of figures, you're getting soaked. Happily, Mirliton offers 10%, 15%, or 20% discount based on the amount of the sale. That makes shipping costs easier to swallow. At some point this year I'll use my tax refund to make a big purchase so I can get several units for Lion Rampant, enough for two retinues or to be able to mix 'n' match to make a lot of variations on one retinue.
I'm not aware of any US distributor for Mirliton. There is a UK distributor, but their prices are nearly twice the Mirliton prices, plus shipping costs from the UK.