Offa And The Mercian Wars – Book Review

Offa and The Mercian Wars Book Review

Offa and the Mercian Wars:The Rise and Fall of the First Great English Kingdom
by Chris Peers

In Offa and The Mercian Wars, Chris Peers offers an intriguing look at the powerful Dark Ages Kingdom of Mercia. Beginning around 600 AD in the central part of the island and continuing for nearly three hundred years, Mercia grew to be the region’s superpower. At its peak, Offa’s Mercian Kingdom encompassed most of southern England, including East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex.

Author Chris Peers is well known in miniature wargaming circles, both for his historical writing, and for his gaming rules sets and sourcebooks. Peers’ work in Offa is largely drawn from primary sources such as the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, Bede’s History of the English Church, Malmesbury’s Chronicles of the Kings of England; and from archaeological evidence.

I was surprised and pleased at how much Peers was able to reconstruct of this Dark Ages kingdom and of its greatest ruler, Offa. Fragmentary and sometimes contradictory or biased accounts are supplemented with archaeology and a good dose of common sense.

For example, Peers offers the story of Aethelberht the Martyr, as recounted by one Osbert of Clare. Aethelberht, it seems, was the religious young King of East Anglia, who went on a mission to ask for the hand of Offa’s daughter. While in Merica, he is seized, and beheaded ostensibly at Offa’s order under the urging of Queen Cynefrith. Aethelberht was supposed to have been plotting an invasion, not a wooing. The young pious King’s body, thrown into the River Lugg, is naturally later associated with various miracles.

Of this account, Peers writes:

The story has become well known, but can hardly be accepted at face value. Even if we concede that Osbert or the source upon which he drew preserved a genuine memory of events, their obvious East Anglian bias must be taken into account. The role of Cynefrith cannot be confirmed, and may be a device to avoid putting the blame for the crime onto a respected monarch such as Offa … Osbert remarks in passing that an earthquake as the young king set out terrified ‘the whole war band’, which reminds us that no Anglo-Saxon king would have travelled without a bodyguard. Perhaps his following was large and well equipped enough to me mistaken for an invading army.”

The excerpt above also illustrates, I think, the difficulty of obtaining large amounts of irrefutable evidence from the “Dark Ages.” They’re called that for a reason.

To his reconstruction of the history of the Kingdom of Mercia, Peers adds information on geography; military strategy, tactics and equipment; religion and other background. All of this helped to put the story of Mercia into context.

Offa and the Mercian Wars:The Rise and Fall of the First Great English Kingdom is worthy of a read by folk interested in the Dark Ages period. I enjoyed it a lot, and as usual, after reading such a book, I'm ready to go out and buy some Mercian miniatures.

For The Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare Book Review

For The Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare Book Review

For The Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare
by Ross Cowan
Publisher's Website: Pen and Sword
On Amazon: For The Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare

Grade: A
Teacher's Comments: A "social history" of the men who fought for the Roman Empire.

For The Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare is an unusual military title in that it is more social history than an account of military campaigns. In For The Glory, Ross Cowan focuses on the motivations, emotions, beliefs, and superstitions of soldiers in the Roman Army (and of some of their notable enemies). While some attention necessarily is paid to renowned leaders such as Caesar and Antony (and, as an opponent, Phyrrhus), the vast majority of the book focuses on the experiences of less significant (though still individually identified in the historical record) figures. Among these are Marcus Sergius Silus, who fought with a prosthetic iron hand; Lucius Siccius Dentatus, who in his 40 year career suffered 45 wounds -- all to his front; and the Centurions Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, who were featured in the HBO series Rome.

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Book Review: A Wargamers’ Guide To 1066 And the Norman Conquest

Book Review: A Wargamers' Guide To 1066 And the Norman ConquestA Wargamers Guide To 1066 And The Norman Conquest
by Daniel Mersey
Publisher's Website: Pen & Sword
On Amazon: A Wargamers Guide To 1066 And The Norman Conquest

A Wargamers Guide To 1066 And The Norman Conquest is one of a new series of books from Pen and Sword publishers that bring a wargamer's perspective to critical periods in military history.

Book Review: A Wargamers' Guide To 1066 And the Norman Conquest
Book Review: A Wargamers' Guide To 1066 And the Norman Conquest

Written by veteran gamer and author Daniel Mersey, A Wargamers Guide To 1066 And The Norman Conquest interprets primary and secondary sources on the Norman conquest in "wargamer speak." After a broad description of the events of 1066, Mersey begins the second chapter with a discussion of the various troop and equipment types engaged in the campaigns, equating them in standard wargamer's lingo, such as "Elite Heavy Cavalry," and "Medium Infantry."

The third chapter looks at the individual battles of Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings. For these, Mersey offers brief descriptions from primary and secondary sources, and then extracts key points that a gamer should consider when developing a scenario.

Chapter Four looks at broad themes of the period and how they can be applied to existing rules sets. The fifth chapter takes a look at some existing rules sets -- both commercial and free -- and discusses their merits. Chapter Six is a discussion of available figures.

Finally, the last chapter offers five more general period scenarios for gamers to try after exhausting the fun of the historical battles.

Throughout the book, Mersey offers some nice recommendations for further reading, and follows it up with an appendix with additional titles.

My one wish for the book is that the battle descriptions and scenarios included some maps. While maps of Hastings, et. al. are readily available, it would have been nice to see them in the book with references to things mentioned in the text.

For the newcomer to the period, A Wargamers Guide To 1066 And The Norman Conquest is a nice starting point. It is not a comprehensive history, nor a rule set, but it does offer a road map for beginning to wargame the period.

Veteran gamers also may find something here. I have long been interested in the Norman Conquest, and have large collection of Normans, Vikings and Saxons. I consider myself fairly well-read on the topic, but still found a lot of points to ponder. For example, Mersey offers the question of what might have happened if William had landed much earlier. In that case, Harold might have faced the Normans with a much stronger army; the victor of that battle then would have needed to turn north to take on Harald. That simple twist offers two (or more) completely different historically plausible scenarios to play.

I like the book and look forward to seeing others.