Sunday, 17 April 2016

Bretons for Saga: The Dark Ages

6pts of Bretons for Saga
This is an army that has significantly jumped my painting queue - I had no plans at all to paint Bretons, but my local club ( decided to start a Saga campaign (you can look at the battle reports at and so I chose to use this as an incentive to build an army I don't have rather than use one I already own. For the record, our Saga campaign does not use the Age of the Wolf rules, as we started it before these were published.

After some thought I decided to go for Bretons, partly because they are so completely different to every other Saga army I own and also because I had a couple of boxes of Conquest Plastic Normans that I thought would be relatively easy to convert at minimal cost.

There's not a lot known about Breton armies from the Dark Ages. Most of what I have been able to find out has come from less than an hour's worth of material from Wikipedia. The Bretons of the Dark Ages came from Celtic and Roman origins influenced through their interactions with the Franks and their neighbours to eventually become very like the Normans. They fought against the Franks for independence, and made alliances with Vikings and Normans.  Documented battles against the Franks describe their use of mounted warriors throwing javelins - and this is I presume the basis for the Saga list - but it is likely that by 1066 they had fully adopted the Norman method of fighting. Certainly the Bretons depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry are visually indistinguishable from the Normans they are fighting alongside.

My intent was to make up an army that looks good (and look a bit different to Normans) and to paint it fairly quickly, and then to learn a lot by playing a force that is completely different and that I am totally unfamiliar with.

With the expedient of getting an army on the table top as rapidly as possible, my core army list was initially 24 mounted Hearthguard and a Warlord. For a little more flexibility I would paint one mounted banner bearer. The campaign rules, though, meant that if I chose this I would be stuck with it against all comers and in all scenarios, without any option of foot troops. So after a quick rethink my list changed to include a couple of units of Warriors as well:
4 points of Hearthguard
2 points of Warriors (who can be deployed either mounted with javelins or on foot).

Although Bretons of this period are most likely to have been very similar in appearance to Normans, I've taken a few liberties with history and opted for a slightly more Celtic/Gallic impression to give my Breton army its own distinct appearance and sense of identity.


Hearthguard #1
Hearthguard #2
16 figures and 2 standard bearers (see below) made from Conquest Plastic Normans. Because I am not aware of any contemporary depictions of Breton knights (other than those that are indistinguishable from Normans) I've allowed myself some artistic licence in the look of these fellows. I chose to use armoured Norman knights with kite shields painted with designs favouring animals, and a couple of shields that mimic older Gallic patterns. They are all of course equipped with javelins. I chose to add cloaks to them as well as I like this effect.

I cut off their plastic spears and drilled hands to take javelins that I made from 1mm brass rod. Javelin points were made by flattening the end of the brass rod with a blow from a hammer, clipping it to a point, and filing off rough edges, then cutting the rod to suitable length. The javelins are all approximately 25mm long, which I think looks about right.

From a practical point of view, if you are reliant on throwing javelins as your main method of attack, it is reasonable to assume you would have a ready supply of them. While peasants might simply carry extra javelins with them in their left hand, it stands to reason that any well-equipped knight who wants to control his horse would have his personal supply in some sort of quiver, either attached to the saddle (probably) or on his back (in the manner that Roman javelinmen of a much earlier era are thought to have done). I therefore scratch-built quivers to contain spare javelins. After some trial and error I made two different types of javelin quiver, one style for Hearthguard, one for Warriors. And if anyone reading this knows of a better name for these than "javelin quiver"please correct me!

Hearthguard figure showing scratch-built javelin quiver
I made javelin quivers for the Hearthguard from plastic approximately 1.5mm thick. The plastic was actually cut from some of the bases that came with the Plastic Normans that I wasn't going to use. The main quiver body was cut out and filed to shape and drilled at the top to take three spare javelins. I glued on small strips of paper to give some raised detail, then made some extra javelin heads from offcuts of brass road and glued these to an appropriate length in the drilled holes to finish.

Javelin quivers were added to figures on the right hand side of the horse behind the rider, as after thinking about it for a while this seems to me the most practical position to access your supply of javelins if you're on a horse and carrying a shield in your left hand. I decided not to attach quivers to the backs of figures as it seems to me more practical for the quivers to be attached to the horse rather than the rider when mounted. Using strips cut from plastic card I made a sort of harness for the rear of the horses to which the javelin quiver would be attached. Also, it's practical that if a horse was equipped in this way some sort of counterweight would be required for the other side of the harness so I added pouches to fulfil this role on the opposite side of the horse. I know it's all speculation, but at least it is reasoned sensibly.

I filled in any small gaps I could find on each figure with green stuff, and finally added cloaks made from green stuff to all the riders.

To add a little bulk to these figures, which are otherwise very light, I attached two 1p pieces to each mounted base (Renedra 20mm x 50mm) before attaching the horses. Bases were then textured with a mixture of PVA, filler and builders sand, textured on the surface with sprinklings of small stones and Chinchilla dust.

When dry the models were primed with off-while emulsion and painted.

I'll write an article about the approach I use to painting horses at some point, but essentially I have done my best to get a representative mixture of different credible horse colours. There's nothing special to painting the men themselves - I do the faces, starting with the eyes and working outwards, then gradually colours are blocked in, shaded and highlighted. I printed out a selection of what I thought might be appropriate shield designs as templates, and did my best to paint these designs on the finished figures.


Warriors #1
Warriors #2
I made up 16 mounted Warriors with 1 standard bearer. If I am to field these on foot then for the time being I will use my Anglo-Danish Warriors as these look reasonably similar, but I might make  up some specific Breton foot figures in due course. These figures are all converted Conquest Norman Knights, but I've only used the unarmoured figures or the ones without chain armour - these are the few figures in every box wearing what appears to be lamellar armour, which I am assuming is made of leather.

I made the mounted Warriors distinctive from the Hearthguard by giving them round shields, a different quiver design, and bare heads.

West Wind heads
These heads are brilliant and excellent value, from West Wind Games, intended for their Arthurian range. These were attached to the plastic Norman torsos using small lengths of wire inserted into holes drilled in the neck and top of the body. Green stuff cloaks hide the inevitable imperfections.

Warrior showing the cylindrical javelin quiver
I made less fancy javelin quivers for the mounted Warriors. I used a cylindrical design, made by cutting lolly sticks into approximately 15mm sections, to which I added surface detail made from paper strips. I drilled three holes in the top of each quiver and attached extra javelin heads made from brass rod offcuts cut to length to the top of each.


Breton warlord
To make my Warlord stand out from the crowd I used a spare caparisoned horse from the Fireforge Mounted Templar set from which I cut down the saddle to fit the body of one of the Norman knights. I bent the horse into a more dramatic rearing pose. The rider was given a crowned head cut from one of the Perry miniatures personality figures from their Crusades range, attached by drilling head and neck and pinning with a small section of metal rod and glue. Despite my initial fondness for a Warlord called Conan (historically plausible for Bretons, who had at least two kings of that name) and the idea of using a suitably bemuscled barbarian figure, a Warlord with a crowned head is more accurate, mimicking the earlier Duke Salomon, (self-professed) King of Brittany, who was given a crown by Charles the Bald of the Franks and wore it with pride along with a purple cloak. He's depicted in a stained glass window in Rennes Cathedral.

I armed my Warlord with a javelin but decided not to give him horse harness or a quiver - as a king he would almost certainly have a servant carry his javelins anyway. Small gaps were filled with green stuff and I gave him a particularly large green stuff cloak (to be painted purple, of course).

The painting challenge with this figure - which I think from a distance I have achieved (but don't look too close) - was to paint the caparison of the horse in typically Breton colours. This means in heraldic ermine.

Heraldic ermine
I'm completely unsure whether this is actually a pattern that would have been worn or a representation of wearing real fur - or even just tassles - but there are illustrations of this design on horse caparisons of a later time so, well, why not? The finished effect, along with my efforts to paint a rather more complex Celtic-style shield design, I think looks OK.

Standard Bearer

Standard bearers
Made generally in the same way as the Hearthguard, but each holding a standard rather than a javelin.  I could find no contemporary illustrations of Breton banners other than those that are identical to the Norman ones - these it appear come from the Bayeux Tapestry. I therefore painted two flag standards using the ones provided in the Conquest Plastic Normans in designs broadly in accordance with the flag of Brittany (essentially black and white designs). I'm happy with the finished result.

All completed figures were varnished first in gloss (for strengthening) and then in matt (for effect) using Vallejo varnish. I added flock (Army Painter) and grass tufts (Gamer's Grass, from Great Escape Games) to the bases to finish them off.

And off to battle they went...