Thursday 17 June 2021

The Battle of Piltown - Set Up & Action Report


The Battle of Piltown

The Battle of Piltown is a rather unique battle in the Wars of the Roses as it was the only engagement fought in Ireland.  

The Battle itself took place at Piltown, in County Kilkenny in 1462. This is in the south east of Ireland and approximately 20 miles from the major town of Waterford. The area is dominated by the river Suir which runs south into Waterford. The river Pill (which gives Piltown its name) is a small stream that flows into the Suir from the North.

According to one source it is suggested that local memory claims that the Battle of Piltown was so violent that the local river ran red with blood, hence the names Pill River and Piltown (Baile an Phuill – Town of the blood). This would assume that Piltown either did not exist at the time or was renamed after the battle.

The Battle itself was fought between two leading Irish Lords Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Desmond, head of the government in Dublin and a committed Yorkist, and John Butler, 6th Earl of Ormond who backed the Lancastrian cause. It ended in decisive victory for Desmond and his Yorkists, with Ormond's army being driven from the field into hiding.

I have found a great link to the background of hostilities between Butler and Fitzgerald and is worthy of a good read to get more background on the events in Ireland. The link can be found here

Ireland’s Wars: Roses At Piltown | Never Felt Better (

To date I have found no records of the size of forces present at Piltown and very little in the way of named combatants. From what I have gathered it was very much a family affair between the Butlers and the Fitzgerald’s and that casualties ranged from 400 to around 1000 men on the day.

These casualty figures are still significant and working on the basis that 20% of the forces were lost in combat this would give total combatant numbers around 2000 to 5000 men. On the basis that  there was no evidence one side was numerically stronger I will settle on a simple calculation that each side fielded 2500 men each.

These ‘armies’ would still be commanded in ‘battles’ and would be primarily a mix of infantry types.

Using a ratio of 1 figure represents around 10 men this would give both sides a force of approximately 250 figures. As stated so little is known about this battle this is all pure conjecture.

Putting together the orders of battle was relatively straight forward. Each side would consist of ten leaders (including the Earls acting as Battle commanders) leading their troops. Prior to the game I contacted Andy Callan the author of NMTBH and he kindly provided the provisional stats for the Irish troops that would take part. These include Gallowlass, Formed Kern companies etc. Given these are all going to be published at a later point in time I elected NOT to provide these so as not to infringe any copyright.

Both sides fielded mainly Irish Kern companies with a sprinkling of Gallowglass, a couple of men at arms units and light cavalry. Both sides were evenly matched in the number of units.

Given that we have only about 100 Irish Kern figures we pressed into action a large number of Saxon light infantry to double up as Irish fighters.

We were joined in our game by Hu Rhu of the Lead Adventure Forum - he brought along a number of units including some Irish Commanders. These were incorporated into the army lists along with a number of Gaelic Irish names produced through a fantasy name generator off the internet.

Again very little is known about the battle so I elected that it would be fought on the flat plain where the river Pill meets the major river Suir. The Suir flows North - South down towards Waterford. The field was deemed to be relatively flat with a few trees scattered across the field. The two sides would face off across the river Pill. This was deemed to be fordable but would cause disarray for crossing troops. With the river spanning the table it formed a major obstacle to both sides

The picture below shows the set up with the Lancastrians on the left. The Pill river sweep across the table with the Suir in the background. Advantage lay with the Lancastrians as the vast majority of their troops had space to manoeuvre in front of the stream. Gary (Hu Rhu) and Mark F lead the Lancastrian forces whilst John and I commanded the troops loyal to the White Rose. 

Both sides fielded light horse and these were placed on both flanks.

The Lancastrian forces edged forwards towards their foe. The cloth used for this game is my latest battlemat - suitably green for the wetlands of Ireland.

Irish forces under Yorkist command edge through the woodlands.

The Yorkist centre crosses the stream and await the onslaught.

Trees were scattered across the table - these were moved as and when necessary - just there for table decoration.

Yorkist forces move forward

As the Yorkist right flank get closer to the river they halt - taking disarray by crossing the stream seems rather foolhardy.

The Lancastrian centre marches forward with one flank anchored by the small Piltown settlement

With troops edging closer proceeding were opened by the javelin armed skirmishers. Neither side enjoying particular luck.

Eventually the Yorkist skirmishers were driven back

Units of Yorkist light horse charged the Lancastrian centre destroying their opponents (Levy bow) and causing a number of Irish Kern to flee the field.

Despite this set back the Lancastrians pressed home in the centre

Neither side wanted to move across the stream at the settlement.

Across the other end of the table the Lancastrian horse pressed forward .

A major clash of arms appeared in the centre - once again the Yorkists seized the upper hand driving back their enemies.

Melees were breaking out across the field - The Lancastrians keen to use the heavy centre to crush the Yorkists.

More Irish Kern companies entered the fray

With one Lancastrian attack blunted on the stout Yorkist defenders another wave advanced

A brutal melee erupted with the heavily armed Yorkist foot once again seizing the initiative and routing off more Lancastrian troops

It was all looking desperate for the Red Rose - casualties were piling up

In one final push the Lancastrian left flank pushed towards the centre

Yet again they faltered in their advance ...

The Yorkists piled on the agony - more Lancastrian Irish fled the table. The day was won by the White Rose.

Another fun game and an absolute nightmare for the Lancastrian commanders - probably half of all break tests resulted in routs.

A very different game using a variety of new troop types, significantly less archery and most of the chaps on the field had little or no armour. Those that did made their presence known.

Back to England next time..

Stay safe

The Crown Prince in Zululand

Its been some time since my Zulus have seen some action on the table and having rebased the natives on new 10cm coasters during lockdown I was keen to get them out to play.

The scenario I set up was a rather simple affair. The British forces lead by Sir John Butterworth (John) have recently crossed into Zululand over the Buffalo River. Sir John decided to set up a base camp at the ford and send out a cavalry patrol to find the Zulu army known to be operating in the area.

The Cavalry patrol was commanded by Major Frederick Turner (Alastair) and he had the dubious honour of escorting the Crown Prince Leopold of Luxembourg in his ranks. This Patrol would start at one end of the table (returning to camp) whilst the camp would await their return.

Pictures of the defended ford below. As you can see Butterworth took the sensible precaution of defending the ford with wagons and mealie bag walls.

Our game starts when Butterworth realises that the Patrol is late. So he send out a patrol of mounted infantry onto the nearest high ground to see if he can determine their whereabouts. This patrol includes a helio graph team, lead by Lieutenant Stick.

Sticks job is simple - look out for the missing patrol and send a message back to the camp. 

From their vantage of high ground Stick can see the camp to the south and can see dust to the north - this is the returning patrol.

Unbeknownst to the British invaders a large Zulu army is in the vicinity, and before the helio can send either a warning message to the patrol or the camp the small troop is overrun by Zulus.  

Butterworth hearing shots from the high ground send out a squad of local Boers to investigate.

Zulus can be seen massing in the valley to the North - directly between the patrol and the camp.

At long last Turner's patrol enters the table. A motley assortment of Boers, Native riders, Natal Police and Lancers. They also have a small artillery piece.

Its not long until they run into the lead elements of the Zulu army.

Forming up they begin to open fire on the approaching warriors. The artillery quickly dispersing one unit with extremely accurate fire.

The Zulus have decided to try and focus on wiping out the cavalry patrol before turning their attention to the camp.

As the game progresses more Zulus appear from the long grass. The British realise that they are heavily outnumbered.

The camp quickly re-organises its defences and begins to lob rockets and artillery fire into the Zulus hiding in the distance

The Zulus begin to sweep down from the high ground towards the cavalry patrol.

A furious action is now taking place in the North with Zulus crashing into the thin cavalry ranks but not quite destroying them.

As the fighting wears on both sides take heavy casualties. The Lancers draw up ready to charge and sweep the Crown Prince to safety. 

In quick succesion the Boers and Sikhali horse fall to the blades of the locals.

With a tally ho the Lancers charge...and disaster strikes slamming into afresh warband the Lancers are soon routed and Luxembourg is now looking for a new heir.

By now the Zulus are massing up for the assault on the encampment.

They quickly throw themselves against the barricades - its not pretty.

Once again the ranked infantry overwhelm the natives with accurate volley fire. Realising that charging onto this wall of lead would be a futile gesture the Zulu chief withdraws his men to fight another day.

A fun little game and thanks to all those involved.

More soon