It’s 1498. After king Charles VIII died, his cousin LouisXII, the Duke of Orleans takes the throne. Four years before Charles had successfullyinvaded Italy claiming the throne of the Kingdom of Naples. Louis now has similar plans. His claim is to the Duchy of Milan. Milan used to be ruled by the Visconti.
Gian Galeazzo Visconti was it’s first duke,followed by Gian Maria Visconti, who was followed by Filippo Maria Visconti who died withouta legitimate heir. At this point the duchy descended into chaosand a republic was declared. The former condottiero, Francesco I Sforzaseized power,
claiming legitimacy by marrying the illegitimate daughter of the last Viscontiduke. According to Louis the duchy should have beeninherited by his family, his grandmother being the legitimate daughter of the first Viscontiduke. At the time of the Sforza seizing power, Louis’sfamily was in no position to assert their claim, however now Louis is king and has thefull power of the French state behind him. As before,
Italy is divided again. The root of the discord is the conflict between Pisa and Florence. Pisa used to be an independent republic that was conquered and incorporated into the Florentine state a hundred years ago. Exploiting the chaos of Charles’s invasion they had revolted against Florence and are now fighting for their independence. Jealous of Florence’s power, Milan and Venice are backing Pisa. Just as Ludicrous Sforza invited the French to settle his conflict with Naples, Florence now plans to invite the French to swing the balance of power in Italy in its favor.
Before invading Milan, Louis makes sure torenew all the treaties of neutrality with England, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire ashis predecessor had done. In Italy he already has one ally, Florence. Pope Alexander VI soon joins his cause. He has a son, Cesare Borgia…. Yes, the pope has a son! And now with French help he intends to transformthe Papal States, a clerical land into the personal hereditary property of his son. Seeing the tide turn,
Venice also joins Louisagreeing to divide up Milan between them. Left without allies, Ludovico Sforza fallsinto French hands, and Louis easily conquers Milan in 1499. However he is not done yet. He also has a claim to the Kingdom of Naples,be it a weak one, only based on the familial claims of his predecessor and cousin,
CharlesVIII. To the derision of his contemporaries, he decides to involve Spain in the conquest of Naples. In 1500 a treaty is signed in Granada stipulating that Spain will get the southern part of the kingdom and France will get the northern part,including the city of Naples itself. The armies of the two kingdoms move in, and Frederick IV, the last king of Naples goes into exile in France.
The Spanish occupy Cabral and Puglia andthe French take Campania and Abruzzi. However between them there is a no man’sland that for some reason – intentionally or not was not covered in the treaty. It was probably intentional because when adispute breaks out over a flock of sheep, none of the parties seeks a peaceful resolution. Open hostilities begin in July 1502. The French governor, Louis d’Armagnac,
Dukeof Nemours has around 10.000 men under his command, Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, the Spanish commander only has 4000. The French clearly have the upper hand, andforce the Spanish to retreat to the coastal fortress of Barletta. At this point they make the first mistake. They split their forces sending a contingent south into Calabria to harass a smaller Spanish force. Meanwhile they contend themselves to ineffectiveness the main Spanish force in Barletta. Realizing his enemy is making a mistake,
Cordobais content not to interrupt him. He bides his time reorganizing his army and waiting for reinforcements to arrive. He knows from past experience that he cannot face the French in an open battle with the forces he has. In 1495 at the First Battle of Seminara while helping Ferdinand of Naples reconquer his realm; he suffered a crushing defeat at thehand of the French. Facing them on an open battlefield with nothing more than skirmishers, he was run over by Swiss pikemen and the superior French heavy cavalry.
He is adamant not to make the same mistake again. Reinforcements finally arrive in April, include Landsteiner pike men sent by Maximilian. When Cordoba receives news that the smaller French force sent into Calabria was defeated, he decides to act. He moves out of Bartlett and on the 28th of April sets up camp on a hill near the town of Cerignola. He has around 6500 soldiers under his command,including a small number of heavy
cavalry, light Modeler cavalry useful for skirmishing,Spanish light infantry, 3000 Landsteiner pikemen and around 1000 Spanish Albuquerque. Landsteiner are a new formation of German soldiers who model their tactics on the Swiss. Like the Swiss they fight with 18 foot pikes,organized into densely packed and impenetrable infantry squares. Cordoba’s Spanish Albuquerque are the mainstriking force in his army.
Although lightly armed, one volley fired bythem could stop even the most heavily armored men at arms. He organizes his soldiers into so-called colunellasmade up of around 1000 men each. Arquebusiers in the front, pikemen in therear. The plan is for the arquebusiers to fire avolley as the enemy closes, then retreat to the protection of the pikes. To enhance this plan, Cordoba also ordersa trench dug and a palisade erected in front of his colunellas.
Cavalry and light infantry are placed on thewings and in reserve, artillery in the front. Cordoba’s French opponent, the Duke of Nemourscommands around 9000 men. His army closely resembles that of CharlesVIII at the Battle of Fornovo. His main striking force is made up of Frenchmen at arms, the foremost heavy cavalry in the west, and Swiss pikemen who have no equalon the battlefield. There are also contingents of light cavalryand crossbowmen.
Most of the artillery had not arrived yetso Nemours plans to postpone the attack and use the day to scout out the Spanish position. He is however overruled by his lieutenantswho want an immediate attack. The French form up in three battle groupsecheloned from the right to the left. Cavalry on the wings, Swiss pikemen in themiddle. First to attack is the left wing cavalry. Since no reconnaissance was done,
they are oblivious to the trench and palisade in front of the Spanish line. The arquebusiers unleash murderous fire, andthe first ranks of the French cavalry fall. The attack staggers at at the trench, andthe Landsknechts move forward and repulse the French. Still unaware of the trap Cordoba prepared,Nemours charges the Spanish left at the head of his men at arms. Smoke and dust blinds them and they stumblein the trench, all their momentum gone.
The Spanish arquebusiers unleash a storm offire killing hundreds of French including Nemours himself. The French cavalry retreat in disarray. Seeing the cavalry fail, the captain of theSwiss assumes command and charges the Spanish at the head of his men. After firing their guns,
the arquebusiersretreat and the Landsknechts take their place. A bloody melee ensues as arquebusiers circleto the flanks and fire into the Swiss from the side. This is too much even for the Swiss. As they retreat, Cordoba orders a generalattack. Many of the French are cut down as they flee. At the end of the battle less than an hourafter it began, 3000 French lie dead on the battlefield. The Spanish had lost only a few hundred.
A combination of pikes, firearms and trencheshad triumphed over the strongest heavy cavalry in the world, and the Swiss who haven’tlost a major battle in 200 years. To Nemours goes the distinction of being thefirst army commander to be killed by a handgun. After his stunning victory, Cordoba decidesto immediately press on. Naples falls to the Spanish on the 13th ofMay. The Castel del’Ovo surrenders after a hugemine is exploded, also a first such even in history. As before, Cordoba decides to press on, ruthlesslypursuing the French up to the fortress of Gaeta.
He proceeds to besiege them however the Frenchhold out being resupplied by sea by the Genoese. In October they receive reinforcements andthe balance of power swings in their favor. In this situation Cordoba decides not to acceptbattle and retreats to the river Garigliano. The French pursue him and try to force a crossing,but Cordoba repulses them every time. As winter sets in, the French pull back mostof their forces to the town of Minturno only leaving small contingents to guard the mainriver crossings. Cordoba also pulls back to winter quarters. The French have superiority in numbers andthus believe no major action will take place until spring. C
ordoba however has a plan. He orders the construction of a mobile pontoonbridge and goes on the attack just before dawn on the 28th of December. He marches north with half of his army andusing the pontoon bridge he crosses the river at Suio. The small force left to guard the crossingis quickly overwhelmed. 6000 Spanish troop are now on the French sideof the river still unbeknown to the French commander.
Cordoba quickly moves south and occupies thetown of Castelforte. The troops left to guard the town flee andalert the French headquarters at Minturno. The next morning the other half of the armytakes the bridge across the Garigliano and moves to the far side to form the left flankof the attack.
The French realize they are in the middleof a carefully executed pincer movement and decide to retreat in haste. Cordoba ruthlessly pursues them again allthe way to Gaeta. The French army is only saved from destructionby the brave delaying action of the Chevalier Bayard. However with their morale and offensive capabilitydestroyed they surrender and leave Naples on the 1st of January, 1504. In 1505 a treaty is signed between Spain andFrance. Louis abandons all claims to Naples in favorof the Spanish. Spain keeps Naples and France keeps Milan. Cordoba stays as governor until 1507 afterwhich he returns to Spain to never fight a battle again. He dies at the age of 63 in 1515. His legacy however will live on. The pike and shot formation he developed willbe the standard tactic of Spanish armies in the battles to come. Whether they will be successful or not isa later story.