Italian Wars 7.10 - The 15th Century - Prelude

Italian Wars 7/10 – The 15th Century – Prelude

It’s 1513. With Pope Julius dead and the French expelled from Italy, the Holy league loses its leader and its purpose. The new pope, Leo X is far less belligerent. Venice is at odds with not only the Swiss who occupy Milan, but also with Maximillian who covets most of Venice’s land.

The Swiss are also at odds with Maximil lianand Ferdinand, who insist that Milan should be governed by a Habsburg instead of Assimilation, the puppet governor installed by the Swiss. Feeling increasingly isolated, Venice makesan alliance with France.

Louis promises Venice all the territory ithad lost since 1509 if Venice backs him in obtaining Milan. A treaty is signed and as a good will gesture Bartolomeo Alviano who was captured at Agnadello is released. Louis also signs a truce with Spain providing that no more hostilities will take place on France’s border with Navarre, Navarre havingalready been captured by a Spanish-English army. With this done, Louis decides to mobilizehis army for an invasion of Milan. He gathers 20.000 men, including 2.000 cavalryand 6.000 Landsknechts and descends on Italy in May. Genoa immediately capitulates to the French,and the Milanese offer very little resistance. The Spanish decide to pull back their armyto Naples and let the Swiss deal with the French.

Alviano under order from the Venetian senateis only allowed to join France if the Swiss are joined by Spain. After capturing Milan, the French move tobesiege Novara where a sizeable Swiss garrison is holding out. After an unsuccessful attack the French decideto pull back to the village of Trecate, East of Novara. They settle in for the night planning to developa proper siege the next day. Unbeknown to them,

a Swiss relief army of13.000 reaches Novara that night. After 3 hours of sleep, the Swiss form upfor the attack. Their army is entirely made up of pikemen,with almost no cavalry or artillery. The French are completely unprepared. Their cavalry is positioned to the left ofthe village, while most of their infantry and their artillery is on the other side. Between Trecate and the French infantry thereis marshy ground, unsuitable for deployment. The Swiss right is the first to attack, howeverthis is merely a ruse meant to occupy the attention of the French cavalry.

The main body moves to attack the French guns. Volleys are fired; however the Swiss have masked there advance behind the tall crops just outside Trecate. When they emerge they fall upon the Lands knechts guarding the guns and bloody close quarters combat ensues. On the other side the French cavalry is complete lyoccupied by the diversionary attack launched by the Swiss vanguard. When the rear guard joins the main Swiss attack,the Lands knechts begin to fall back. The Swiss capture the French guns and quickly turn them on the Lands knechts.

On the other side, the cavalry manages toextract itself, however all is lost by the time they could intervene. Many Lands knechts are cut down without mercy,and only the Swiss army’s lack of cavalry saves them from complete destruction. Even so the French lose 7.000 to only 1.500Swiss dead. Once again the French are forced to leaveItaly in ignominy.

The Swiss pursue them all the way to Dijon,and to compound their humiliation, Louis is forced to bribe them to leave. However the defeat at Novara is only the firs tact in a string of French defeats. While the better part of the French army was away in Italy, the English still at war with France began to land troops at Calais.

Henry VIII himself disembarks on the continent to meet with Maximilian. The king and the emperor decide to join their forces against the French and push all the way to Paris. At the end of June they begin their advance,however they get bogged down at the siege of Therouanne.

Louis is determined to break the siege, sohe sends a strong detachment of cavalry to relieve the town. They are met at Guinegate by a superior English and imperial force and they are routed in what became known as the Battle of the Spurs. 3000 French are killed or captured. Next the allies move on Tournai and capturethe city by October. While Henry is on campaign in France,

gravenews arrives from Scotland. King James IV of Scotland invoking the AuldAlliance with France declares war on England. James hesitates for a month and when he finallyattacks, the English are well prepared to receive him. Using superior renaissance tactics, the Englisharmy annihilates the Scots, killing King James himself. With the campaign season over, and both theFrench and the Scots vanquished,

Henry and Maximillian decide to halt the attack. Even though France was defeated twice, little territory was lost. Meanwhile back in Italy, France’s unexpected defeat had thrown Venice in a precarious position. Ferdinand decides to exploit the Republic’sweak position. He orders his Spanish troops in Naples towhead back to Lombardy. He aims to take back all the territory fromVenice’s that had been lost after the Battle of Ravenna. Alviano wisely decides to retreat to Paduaand puts his trust in the modern fortifications of the city.

The Spanish besiege him, but fail to take the city or inflict any serious damage. To draw out Alviano they decide to ravage the countryside inflicting never before seen damage on the Republic’s towns and villages. The ploy works. Alviano receives fresh reinforcements anddecides to face the Spanish in open battle. The two armies meet at La Motta, near Vicenzaon October 7, 1513. Alviano has superior cavalry, however as faras the infantry is concerned,

he mainly relies on inexperienced city militia. The Spanish army has fewer cavalry; howeverthe infantry is made up of experienced Spanish and Landsknecht soldiers. Alviano launches his cavalry on both flanksand achieves initial success against the Spanish. However when the two infantries meet, thedisciplined musketry and solid pike squares of the Spanish and the Landsknechts push backthe Venetian infantry. Almost instantly a rout ensues and the largerpart of the panicked Venetian infantry is cut down without mercy.

Alviano again retreats with the remnants of his army to the safety of the impregnable defenses of Padua. Unable to dislodge him, the Spanish fail to exploit their victory. 1514 is spent with piecemeal skirmishing between the armies, bringing even more ruin to Venice’s territories. However the Republic is ultimately saved fromtotal destruction. Meanwhile in France a peace treaty is signed with the English. Louis XII starts to ponder a new invasion of Italy; however he dies on January the 1st 1515 before he could realize this plan. His successor, the young and ambitious FrancisI is even more resolute to take back Milan and achieve French hegemony over Italy. To this end he gathers one of the largest armies ever fielded by a French monarch. 20.000 Landsknechts,

10.000 French infantrynow organized in the Swiss-German fashion, and over 3000 men at arms, and 72 artillerypieces. The Swiss still in control of Milan are wellaware of this danger. They decide to preempt the French invasionby blocking all the major mountain passes leading into Italy. All the major passes that is, except one inthe south. With exceptional haste and professionalism,the French cross the Alps at this unguarded pass, and fall upon the unsuspecting Papaland Milanese cavalry annihilating it. Next the French press on towards Milan,

forcingthe Swiss to also rush back to the city. Francis positions his army between the cityand the Spanish army waiting at Piacenza. A Venetian army is also waiting one days marchfrom the French position; however Alviano is again under orders to only risk his armyif the French gain the upper hand. Francis’s intention is to first clash withthe Spanish, and take care of the Swiss by other means. To this end he offers an exorbitant bribeto the Swiss. Some take the bribe and decide to leave, howeverthe majority,

around 22.000 decide to stay and fight. On the 13th of September 1515, the Swiss issue out of Milan and by late afternoon form up on the plain before Marignano. Unlike at Novara, the French are prepared for them. Francis had ordered entrenchments to be dug,and organized the French army in three mutually supporting battles, each with its own infantry,cavalry and artillery. Like at Novara, the Swiss army is almost entirely infantry organized into 3 columns that advance simultaneously and with great haste.

A forlorn hope is detached from the main body that rushes the French guns. As they crash into the Landsknechts guarding the artillery, Francis launches a ferocious counterattack with his cavalry. The Swiss vanguard is beaten back, howeverwhen the rest of the Swiss army arrives, the French vanguard is forced to retreat. To counteract them, Francis orders his artillery and arquebusiers further back to fire on the Swiss flank.

This is followed up by furious charges byhis men at arms. The Swiss take more flanking fire and cavalrycharges, and by evening are forced to disengage. During the night both armies remain at theirstations, and sporadic skirmishing continues. Word is sent to Alviano asking for the Venetiansto intervene. Francis also reorganizes his forces in a morelinear formation. At daybreak the Swiss renew their attack. They are met with furious cannonade and arquebusfire, killing and wounding many, but not slowing their advance.

The main focus of their attack is on the flanks,while the center is meant to check the French center. While the Landsknechts and the French infantry hold the line, the French heavy cavalry again launches furious attacks on the flanks of the Swiss pike squares. Soon all forces are engaged on both sides. At this crucial point of the battle Alvianoappears with the Venetian cavalry. With great ferocity, he falls upon the Swiss. A simultaneous push by the French encircle sand annihilates the Swiss left flank.

With the battle clearly lost, the Swiss grudgingly retreat. Francis chooses not to pursue, as he know she might still rely on Swiss mercenaries in future campaigns. In any case the Swiss are in no position to oppose him, having lost 10.000 to 8.000 French killed. Hearing of the French success, the Spanish army chooses to retreat to Naples. Francis marches into Milan and the following year signs a treaty of perpetual friendship with the Swiss. This treaty will stay in effect until 1798. He also meets the Pope and makes peace with him.

A treaty with Spain is signed at Noyon, providing that Milan will remain a French possession, while Naples will belong to Spain. In 1516 Maximillian launches another attemptto recapture Venetian territory, however this invasion grounds to a halt due to lack ofmoney. Isolated and without a prospect of swift victory,Maximillian also decides to make peace with France and Venice at the treaty of Brussels.

Thus this episode of the war that started in 1508 with the League of Cambrai is over. However the war is far from being finished. With the death of Ferdinand in 1516 and Maximillianin 1519, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire will be united as one, bringing the war to its most decisive phase.

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