Once upon a time there was a teen-age wargamer who discovered the early middle ages (or the Dark ages as they are still, alas, called) via his Dad’s copy of Charles Oman’s England Before the Norman Conquest (written before the Norman Conquest as my future superviser remarked at my University interview) and especially through Michael Wood’s classic TV series ‘In Search of the Dark Ages’…
The thing that got me hooked was the air of mystery about the whole business: the darkness of the ‘Dark ages’, the idea that there were people living in the forested regions of Worcestershire where I grew up, a thousand years ago, about whom we knew nothing. The Wyre Forest for that reason forms my mental template or picture of the Dark Ages (in terms of its wooded, hilly, rolling geography, that is, not so much in its backward social and political views, though there would be something in that). We might yet find things out about them – that was part of the attraction for sure – but there were lots of things that we could never know and only ever imagine.
Up to that point my main historical interest (and main wargaming one) had been the Thirty Years War and in particular the campaigns of Gustavus Adolphus and his successors. Now I switched to Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, ‘post-Roman British’ and the rest. I invested in hundreds of 15mm metal figures, mostly from a now (indeed a shortly-afterwards) defunct range by Freikorps 15. Soon I realised two things: that there was much more to the ‘Dark Ages’ than Saxons, Vikings and Normans’ and the battles of 1066; and that much of what was available to wargamers on the topic seemed to be well wide of the mark. In particular wargames rules didn’t permit a historically plausible Dark age wargame (they still don’t). I started, with the ambition and arrogance of youth, to write articles on the subject and between 1983 and 1986 published a series of articles in Miniature Wargames on British Early Medieval Battles. This may well have been my most successful wargames writing and earned me some brief celebrity.
In the 1990s, after starting my first University lecturing job I wrote a rather scattered and drawn out series for Wargames Illustrated on ‘The Merovingian Franks’ (the area of history where my own PhD had led me), which seemed fairly successful but started to earn me a reputation as a pedantic history bore. Fair enough in some ways. I also got into a public row by responding to a piece of right-wing nonsense about history in Wargames Illustrated, which added ‘academic snobbery’ to my growing list of sins. All this I’ll deal with anon. Probably. Nonetheless, some credibility was restored by my ‘The Age of Arthur’ series in W.I. which spanned maybe 9 or 10 parts over 2 or 3 years of Wargames Illustrated and in spite of being history-heavy (earning further criticism) apparently went down well, especially when I got round to the wargaming parts. ‘The Age of Arthur’ ground to a halt as a result of W.I.‘s then editor and his – shall we say idiosyncratic? – means of payment. I was owed payment for three articles (about £300 as it turned out, as I recall). The editor and I had over the years evolved a system wherein he paid me when we saw each other at Wargames shows (usually Salute) but alas I always seemed now only to meet him when he had just signed his last cheque or didn’t have his cheque book with him… Rather than stack up further debts, I hung on but by the time I got paid the project had rather run out of steam. Apart from a piece about Franks and Vikings a few years later that was my last wargames writing. To date, anyway.
Instead, in the latter half of the ‘noughties’ I moved to try and put my knowledge of the early Middle Ages at the disposal of wargamers and ‘lay historians’ (something to which I am quite committed) through Internet discussion groups, such as ‘AncMed’, the WAB Discussion Group, ‘Roman Army Talk’ and ‘Arthur Wars’. What this produced, very quickly, was a great deal of hostility. Being a qualified academic historian seemed to act as a red rag to every self-appointed amateur ‘expert’ on the Web. After being generally insulted and/or told how to do my job by various pompous ignoramuses on these sites (you know the sort) I decided that the best thing to do was to start my own discussion list: ‘After Rome’. I could also make the site into something of a resource and posted a lot of material there. This worked pretty well for a while but after a couple of years of being (again) the only person on the list who was the object of personal abuse it all ground me down. For that and various other reasons, including the fact that things on the personal/professional front were tough at the time, I quit. I later rejoined but things didn’t seem to have changed much, and the old type of arrogant (but ignorant) self-appointed authority re-surfaced. I quit again and took my ball home.
As a result of all this and a continued commitment to trying to make academic work on the early Middle Ages and its warfare available to wargamers and ‘lay historians’, for the simple reason that there really isn’t much available out there that is reliable, I have set this blog up as a place where I can post information for all (both) of the people out there who might find it of interest and of use.
My (usually) serious history blog is here