Italian Wars 8.10 - The 15th Century - Prelude

Italian Wars 8/10 – The 15th Century – Prelude

It’s 1519. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I is dead. The imperial election is well under way. The main candidates are Francis I, King of France and Charles, the grandchild of Maxilmillian. Charles had already inherited Austria from Maximilian and Burgundy and the Low Countries from his grandmother,

Mary the Rich. After the death of his other grandfather,Ferdinand II he also inherited the Crown of Aragon. From his maternal grandmother Isabella I,he inherited the Crown of Castile and the colonies of the New World. Before his death, Maximilian had offered exorbitant bribes to the 7 princely and ecclesiastical electors in order for them to elect Charles. To counter this, Francis offered even more exorbitant bribes to the electors.

To counter Francis’s offer, Charles borrowed an even larger sum of money to offer as a bribe. In the end it wasn’t money but rather the threat of an imperial army that swayed the electors in favor of Charles. Thus in 1520 the new Holy Roman Emperor, CharlesV sets sail from Spain to Germany for his coronation. The timing of this journey couldn’t be worse,as in Spain he is still viewed as an outsider. Soon the Revolt of the Brotherhoods breakout in Valencia, followed by the Rebellion of the Communes, centered in Toledo.

As his courtiers struggle to bring the situation under control, in the Low Countries a revolt of Frisian peasants is under way, and Martin Luther, the heretic monk who published his 95 point thesis just two years ago is gaining more and more followers. The 20 year old Charles might be the most powerful man in the world, however his position is at best tenuous at the moment. Francis I, six years his senior and alreadya feared and respected leader,

knows this is the best time to act. What many French monarchs before him had feared has come true – France is surrounded by a ring of Habsburg possessions. Something must be done, or else the mere existence-of France might be threatened. However Francis’s possibilities to strike Charles are limited. Henry VIII of England had vowed to act asan arbiter between the Valois and the Habsburgs,

promising he will declare war against the first one to break the peace. Therefore Francis decides to take the covertroute. He commissions two proxy armies and sends one against Burgundy, the other against Navarre. Both of these attacks fail, however they manage to provoke the wrath of the young Emperor. In the summer of 1521 Charles fields a largearmy and attacks Picardy.

After protracted sieges Francis appears within even larger army, and forces Charles to disengage. Back in Italy careful diplomatic maneuvering brings the Pope to Charles’s side. Leo had been initially hostile to the all-powerful, however the reluctance of the French to withdraw support from Ferrara and Charles’spromise to stamp out Luther’s heresy brings the Pope to the imperialist side. Later Henry VIII also joined this anti-Frenchleague, leaving France with only Venice as a reluctant ally. Initially Charles’s lieutenant,

Prospero Colonnasent proxies against Milan and Genoa, however like the French proxies, these also fail. As summer passes into autumn, the imperial army grows while Lautrec, the French commander struggles to pay his troops. Colonna knows the French are short on funds,so by careful maneuvering he avoids battle. By November the French army is stricken with desertion and is greatly reduced in size. Lautrec has to withdraw to Milan.

Colonna closely follows the French. The fortifications of Milan are in a shamble sand he outnumbers the French more than 2 to 1. He decides to take the city by storm. The French are beaten in two hours and are forced to evacuate to Venetian territory. Francesco Sforza, the brother of Assimilation is installed as a puppet governor. By March the next year, Lautrec is reinforced by 15.000 Swiss and a substantial Venetian contingent growing his army to 36.000.

With his forces replenished, he marches to besiege Pavia in an attempt to draw out Colonna for a battle. Colonna instead decides to cut the French lines of supply. When Lautrec breaks off the siege, the imperial army retreats north of Milan to a fortified camp adjoining the manor house of La Bicocca. Lautrec initially hesitates planning to goto Novara to receive even more men and supplies, however a lack of money again frustrates hisplan.

The Swiss have still not received their payand are threatening to march home unless Lautrec forces a battle. On the 27th of April, 1522 the two armies meet at Bicocca. The imperial army numbering less than 20.000is entrenched in a park that is bordered by a drainage canal on one side and a marsh onthe other side. In the front there is a sunken road that was reinforced with a tall rampart and artillery bastions. Pescara commands the Spanish musketeers inthe front, who are backed up by Landsknecht pikemen commanded by Frundsberg.

The cavalry is further in the back, whilethe rear of the camp is guarded by a strong Milanese contingent commanded by FrancescoS forza. Seemingly the French are faced with the same problem as at Ravenna. Lautrec’s plan is to bring up his artilleryand blast the imperialists out of their fortifications the way Gaston de Foix did a decade ago. He also plans to launch a cavalry attack acrossa stone bridge to the rear of the camp. However his plans are thwarted by the impetuous Swiss who insist they will lead the attack and take the camp with all its riches by storm. The Swiss form up into two large pike blocksof 7000 men each.

As they approach the fortifications, they’re decimated by cannon fire and Spanish musketeers. Pescara had trained his men to fire by rank,bringing down murderous fire on the Swiss. Faced by a 3 meter embankment, the Swiss are slowed to a crawl. As they climb over the rampart, they are faced by the Landsteiner of Frundsberg.

Further down the French cavalry reaches the stone bridge; however they are thwarted by the imperial cavalry and the Milanese. Both attacks are crushed in half an hour. The Swiss have lost 3000 men without inflicting any damage on their enemy. Even so, the French still have superiority in numbers; however Colonna wisely chooses not to pursue the retreating troops. With the Swiss, his main striking force intatters and the imperialists still as strong in their fortifications as they were at the beginning of the battle,

Lautrec has no other choice but to retreat. Next day the Swiss leave for home, and the remnants of the French army seek refuge in Venetian territory. Soon they are expelled altogether from Italy. With the French gone, the Imperial army marches to Genoa, sacks the city and installs a new governor, one friendly to the Habsburgs.

In 1523 the Venetians wisely decide to join the anti-French league. With all his Italian territory and allies gone and storm clouds gathering from the east, west, north and south, Francis is in a bind. He needs money urgently or everything willbe lost. A dispute over the inheritance of the Duke of Bourbon offers a perfect opportunity. The king rules against the duke and confiscates all of Bourbon’s estates.

This decision comes back to haunt him as Bourbonis the Marshall of France with a lot of influence across the country. To get back his inheritance, Bourbon decidesto plot against the king. The plot is discovered and Bourbon is forcedto flee to Germany where he enters into the Emperors service.

Meanwhile a large English army lands in thenorth of France. They are joined by imperial forces and together ravage the countryside, even getting close to Paris. Francis had already been preparing for a new campaign in Italy, however faced with the English in northern France and the plot by Bourbon, he decides to stay and sends Bonnivet, the Admiral of France to command his army. Bonnivet descends on Italy in October witha large army of 38.000 men. Opposing them is an imperial army of only 17.000.

Colonna decides to pull back to Milan and-concentrates most of his forces on the defense of the city. Bonnivet hesitates for a couple of days, buying enough time for the defenders. Unable to take the city by assault, the Frenchdecide to pull back to winter quarters west of Milan. During the winter while the French strugglewith disease and a lack of money,

Lannoy the governor of Naples and Pescara bring fresh reinforcements to Milan. More Landsknechts arrive from Germany with Bourbon. In February the Venetians also send a contingent and Lannoy assumes the command. His forces now outnumber the French, so he decides to go on the offensive. At this crucial point most of the Swiss decideto leave the French army since they haven’t been paid for a long time.

Bonnivet decides to beat a hasty retreat toFrance, but first he must cross the river Sesia. This is when Lannoy decides to strike. His army is still far away from the French,so he mounts some musketeers and Albuquerque on horses, and send them together with hi slight cavalry to intercept the retreating French. The infantry dismount and form up on the flanksof the French. Bonnivet sends a detachment of heavy cavalryto scatter them. Instead of scattering, the musketeers openfire annihilating the French.

Next the French send a detachment of Spokeswomen to confront the musketeers. The musketeers again open fire as the lightcavalry charges the flanks. Bonnivet himself gets wounded by a musket shot, so the Chevallier Bayard, the finest knight in Europe takes charge. Notwithstanding his chivalry, he too is shotdown by the musketeers. By the time the main imperial army gets there,the French are already in a rout. Out of the 38.000 that invaded Italy, only6.000 remain in the French army.

Sensing the weakness of the French, Charles orders Bourbon to invade Provence with a substantial imperial army hoping to stir up a rebellion in the south of France. Bourbon advances unopposed, however he getsbogged down at the siege of Marseille. Meanwhile Francis is already gathering a massive army of 40.000 men. When he marches south, the imperial army isforced to break off the siege and beats a hasty retreat back to Italy.

Francis crosses the alps and advances intoLombardy. Rather than pursuing the enemy, he decidesto lay siege to the imperialist occupied city of Pavia. This decision will turn out to be the worsthe ever took…Italian Wars 6/10 – The 15th Century – Prelude

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