Italian Wars 9.10 - The 15th Century - Prelude

Italian Wars 9/10 – The 15th Century – Prelude

It’s 1524. As imperialist forces led by Bourbon besiege Marseille, Francis I, King of France gathers an army of 40.000 to counter the invaders. As he heads south, the numerically inferior imperialists break off the siege and head back to Italy. Francis follows them and crosses the Alpsin October. The imperial army manages to escape, howeve rLannoy, the captain general of the Army decides he can’t hold Milan. Instead he leaves behind a substantial force of 9.000 to defend Pavia and retreats to Lodi with the rest of his army.

Francis enters Milan unopposed. His war council recommends he continue the pursuit of the imperial army, however on the advice of Bonnivet, Francis decides to instead reduce Pavia first. The King takes most of his forces, and on October the 31st begins to lay siege to Pavia .

A few days later the French build a pontoon bridge across the Ticino and surround the city on four sides. Soon enugh two breaches are made in the walls of the city and the French begin their assault. The attack is beaten back with heavy casualties so the French decide to starve out the defenders. Antonio de Leyva, the commander of the garrisonis well prepared for a long siege, with enough food and ammunition to last him until nextyear. While the siege is going on, other opportunitiespresent themselves.

There is turmoil in Genoa with fighting betweenthe pro-French and pro-Habsburg factions of the city. Francis decides to capitalize on the eventsand sends a detachment to help out the pro-French faction. With the assistance of the Genoese admiral,Andrea Doria, the French occupy the city and oust the pro-imperialists. Emboldened by this success, Francis decidesagainst the advice of his councilors to also send a contingent to Naples.

5.000 soldiers are dispatched to Naples, anumber that is made up by the arrival of the Black Bands, an elite Italian musketeer unitwho have been fighting for the Emperor until then. Francis also makes a secret pact with PopeClement VII, who promises free passage to the French army. Clement is still officially on the Emperor’sside; however this is more due to fear than loyalty.

Francis also receives supplies of gunpowderfrom his longtime ally, the Duke of Ferrara. As the French army marches south, Lannoy triesto intercept them, but he is in turn intercepted by the French and is forced to retreat aftertaking heavy casualties. In January the fortunes of the two armiesbegin to turn. 5.000 Swiss leave the French army, while theimperial army receives a reinforcement of 16.000 Landsknechts.

Pescara insists that since the two armiesare now evenly matched, they must first strike the main French army, and worry about thecontingent marching to Naples later. Thus, the imperialists begin their march toPavia, reaching the outskirts of the city on the 3rd of February 1525. Although short on money and gunpowder, deLeyva is still holding out with around 6000 soldiers.

The besieging French army numbers around 25.000. Heavy artillery is placed in fortified redoubtsto the east and to the west of the city. 5.000 French are stationed to the east ofthe city. Around 6.000 Swiss and 1.000 light cavalryare to the west of the city at the abbeys and at Porta Gallo, backed up by some fieldartillery.

A small contingent of around 1.000 is guardingthe southern access to the city. Francis himself is stationed in a large parkto the north of the city, with 3.600 men at arms, 3.000 Landsknechts, 2.000 French infantryand substantial artillery. Visconti Park stretches for around 3 milesand is surrounded by a 5 meter wall. At its center is Mirabello castle, a smallmedieval fortification.

A road and a small stream bisect the parkwith patches of woodland and marshy areas here and there. The imperial army also numbering around 25.000sets up to the east of the park. Three weeks are spent with tentative attacksand skirmishing. A small troop of light cavalry manages tosneak into the city, bringing orders and much needed supplies to the defenders. By the third week of February,

the situationis getting dire for the imperialists. Money is running out and the garrison is shorton supplies. By this time Pescara is in effect in command. He concludes that retreat without a battleis an impossible option as the garrison would soon be overrun and his army might break upfor lack of pay and low morale. He decides he must attack the French by surpriseand he must strike them where it hurts the most – in the middle. His plan is to covertly march by night tothe back of the park,

where the French least expect an attack, breach the walls, enterwith a substantial contingent backed up by a rearguard and assault Mirabello castle. He believes this might be the headquartersof the French king. If he can capture the king and link up withthe garrison, this might so demoralize the French that they will give up the siege andretreat. On the night of February the 23rd 1525, Pescaramarches north to meet his destiny. The lead force of 3.000 Italian musketeersis designated with taking Mirabello.

They are backed up by 1.000 light cavalryand light artillery. Heavy cavalry and infantry follow closelybehind. The vanguard reaches the back of the parkby 5AM. Spanish engineers are already hard at workbreaching the park’s wall as silently as possible.

Pescara had left behind a small contingentwith the heavy artillery, and ordered them to make as much noise as possible to maskhis movement and the noise created by his engineers. Even so, French scouts notice the marchingarmy, however the commander of the Swiss concludes this must be a retreat and decides not toinform the king. Pescara had chosen a heavily wooded area ofthe park to create the breech,

so this activity remains completely hidden from the French. Pescara’s musketeers soon enter the park,and move towards Mirabello in the concealment of the forest. The light cavalry and the artillery move outinto the open to the left of the musketeers. This is inevitably noticed by the French.

The commander in the west alerts the kingthat the Spanish are in the park, and orders 3.000 Swiss and the light cavalry to formup for battle. The French light cavalry charges the imperiallight cavalry. When the Swiss arrive, the cavalry and thegun crews break and retreat towards the main army. By dawn the gates of the park have been openedand more and more imperialist soldiers pour into the park.

The musketeers easily take Mirabello; howeverthey fail to capture the king, since he is in the north-west with his cavalry. Suddenly the imperial artillery stops firing,then after a couple of minute’s silence three shots ring out in short sequence. This is the cue for the defenders of Paviato sally out.

They charge outside with great determination catching the 3.000 Swiss to their right by surprise. They occupy the narrowest position betweenthe walls and the stream, cutting off the Swiss from the rest of the army. Meanwhile the imperial artillery outside thewalls and within pours down fire in support. The musketeers at Mirabello try to link upwith them, but heavy fire from the French guns at Porta Gallo forces them to back off.

As dawn breaks, a heavy mist covers the battlefield. Bonnivet rides out and seeing the imperial cavalry routed, reports back to Francis that all is well, the enemy has been suppressed. Unbeknown to him, Pescara has already entered the park with 8.000 Spanish infantry and Landsteiner, and 1.600 Heavy cavalry. Frundsberg has also entered with 8.000 Landsknechtsto face the Swiss. Outnumbered 2 to 1, the Swiss fight doggedlyin a desperate push of pike where no prisoners are taken and no quarter is given. Inevitably the Swiss are beaten and forcedto retreat to Porta Gallo, closely followed by the Landsknechts of Frundsberg.

Meanwhile the French forces with the kingform up for battle. As the imperial heavy cavalry and Pescara’sinfantry emerge from the woods, Francis orders a charge. The French heavy cavalry charges the imperialheavy cavalry. After a short and bloody engagement the imperialisthorse rout, and Pescara’s infantry is forced to take cover in the woods. The French artillery would be in perfect positionto fire on them, but with their king so close to the enemy, they are forbidden to do so.

Pescara’s Spanish musketeers on the otherhand are in a perfect position to fire on the French. As the Landsknechts in French service catchup with the cavalry, Pescara orders the musketeers at Mirabello to fire on their flank. He also asks for help from Frundsberg, whodefeated the Swiss to such a degree, that he can send 4.000 Landsknechts to relievePescara. Meanwhile Bourbon circles around on the otherflank with another group of infantry. Now the French are in a double pincer.

The men at arms refuse to retreat. The Landsknechts in French service can’t retreatbecause the Landsknechts in imperial service view them as traitors. No quarter is given, and the French Landsknechtsare annihilated. Baron after Baron falls around the Frenchking as the imperialist ring tightens. Francis’s horse falls and traps the king underneathit. The King of France is a captive now.

The few men who manage to escape alert theFrench commander in the west who has been oblivious to what was happening until now. The commander immediately realizes that allis lost, and orders the remaining French to retreat. On the other side the two groups of Swissare running for their lives. The pontoon bridge collapses as the Landsknechtsare in hot pursuit. Many Swiss drown trying to swim across theice cold river; others are cut down by their pursuers. The French have lost half of their army, mostof the nobles of their country, and the King of France. This is a defeat of the magnitude of Poitiersor Agincourt.

Pescara’s daring plan had worked. By taking the center of the battlefield andproperly exploiting his initial advantage, he completely paralyzed the decision makingprocess of the French, then defeated them in detail. Superior tactics and strategy, better weapons,better coordination, the ability to exploit advantages as they come and the ineptitudeof the French command all played a part in this victory. After their defeat, the French pull out ofItaly. However the victors also have their own problems.

As soon as the battle ends, the victorioustroops of the imperial army whose pay had been in arrears for a long time start to riot. Pescara, the only man who could have heldthings together languishes from his wounds and dies by the end of the year. Bourbon is put in overall command. Charles plans to exploit his victory mainlyon the financial front. He intends to extort the Italian states andforce them to pay for their own occupation. Needless to say, the Italian states are nothappy. The first one to suffer is Francesco Sforza.

He gets involved in a plot against the Emperor,and when this is discovered, all his lands are taken away. However for now this is the most Charles cando, as his unpaid soldiers simply refuse to fight. Meanwhile Francis is transported to Madridwhere he languishes in captivity until he accepts the terms put forth by Charles. These are: complete cessation of hostilities,a renunciation of all French claims in Italy, and the handing over of the Duchy of Burgundy. Francis grudgingly signs the treaty,

however reneges on it as soon as he is released, claiming he simply does not have the authority to give Burgundy away. In any case, the Emperor doesn’t have the money to field an army to take it. While Francis was in captivity, Francis’smother had been in charge. She proved to be quite the able diplomat,convincing the English that an all-powerful Emperor would not be in their best interest. Therefore Henry VIII cancels his plan to attack France meaning the kingdom’s north is secure for now. More controversially, she also opens negotiations with the Ottomans. Suleiman the Magnificent,

The sultan of the Ottoman Empire concludes that with the main European powers occupied, the time is ripeto strike at the heart of Europe. His plan is to take Vienna and invade thereat of Europe from there. To get to Vienna however, he first has to deal with Hungary, an ally of the Emperor. The alliance with France gives him a perfect pretext to attack – not that he needed one. On the 29th of August 1526, he crushes the Hungarian army at Mohacs under eerily similar circumstances to the Battle of Pavia.

Hungarian knights are cut to pieces by Janissary musketeers. The king himself is killed together with most of his nobility. After this battle, the country will be splitin three. The central part will be occupied by the Ottomans,the western part will be used by Archduke Ferdinand, the Emperor’s brother as a buffer zone, and the east with Transylvania will struggle to exist as a quasi-independent principality.

Back in Italy, the Pope has other things onhis mind. In May, 1526 he organizes the Holy League of Cognac, an anti-imperialist alliance with the participation of the Papal States, France,Venice, Florence and the Sforza. For now, the Emperor can do little againstthis league as his army is still mutinous and is barely sufficient to hold on to Milan. Things improve somewhat by the end of theyear. Frundsberg arrives with 16.000 Landsknechts,most of them Protestants. Charles now has a large army in Italy, however he still doesn’t have the means to pay them. His soldiers riot and attack Bourbon. Strindberg is exasperated and suffers a nervous breakdown.

When the Pope attacks Naples, it gives Charlesa perfect pretext to send them south. The protestant Landsteiner are eager to gosouth to punish the Pope and also to finally make up for their missing pay via the riches of Florence and Rome. As they march south, the League army closely shadows them. However most of their forces are Venetians,who are not at all eager go into a decisive battle that they might lose. Through clever maneuvering they beat the imperial army to Florence and set up a strong defensive position there. Bourbon has no other choice but to press on south. When he reaches Rome,

he demands the Pope surrender and pay up. Clement refuses in spite of only having 3.000 militia to defend against the 20.000 seasoned soldiers of Bourbon. On the 6th of May 1527, the imperial army assaults the city and takes it after a brief fight. Bourbon is one of the few imperial soldiers to die. Now the already mutinous army is without aleader who can control it. The Lands knechts run amok and kill 10.000 civilians, pillaging everything that can be carried. Soon they are joined by bandits and the killing,raping and pillaging goes on for months. The League army, ever cautious fails to intervene. Clement just barely escaped the sack,

andsurrenders in June, agreeing to pay as much as is needed. To compound his problems, in the same timethe Medici are ousted from Florence. Clement too is a Medici and his family losingtheir ancestral homeland hurts him the most. Invasion of NaplesWhen news of the Sack of Rome reaches Charles, he is deeply regretful. When Francis hears of it, he sees an opportunity. He immediately puts together a large armyand sends Lautrec to aid the Pope. The French go directly to Genoa and take thecity.

Next they make a detour to Pavia, captureit, and sack it without mercy as revenge for their king’s humiliation that was sufferedthere. Instead of finishing off the imperialistsin Milan, Lautrec now joined by the Venetians marches south. Since the Pope already sued for peace, thearmy sent to help him instead turns to Naples. In early 1528 the League army crosses intoNaples. By this time plague had broken out in Rome.

Many in the mutinous imperial army had died,others had left for home. The Emperor appoints Philibert of Chalon,the Prince of Orange commander, who finally manages to restore order. By now he only has 12.000 troops against Lautrec’s20.000. He has no other choice but to retreat to Naples and face a siege. The Venetians take Abruzzi and Apulia while the French besiege Naples. In spite of a naval blockade, the imperialists manage to sneak in supplies from Sicily. By clever diplomacy,

the Genoan admiral, AndreaDoria is brought to the imperial side. Soon the besiegers turn out to be the besieged. Lautrec’s army shrinks to 7.000 and he isforced to retreat. Orange mercilessly pursues the exhausted French,killing or capturing most of them. De Leyva also receives reinforcements andgoes on the attack, clearing out the last League strongholds in Milan. Andrea Doria takes Genoa and installs a pro-imperialistgovernment. The French invade again, however their armyis so small this time,

that they are only able to capture and sack Pavia once more. In June 1529, the French are sent reinforcements;however these are intercepted and destroyed by De Leyva. Francis sees the inevitable, and finally is ready to concede. Negotiations for peace are conducted by Francis’smother, Louise of Savoy and Charles’s ant, Margaret of Austria. Francis agrees to renounce all claims to Italy,he agrees to pay a large indemnity and to send ships to the fleet bringing Charles tohis coronation as Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope.

In return the imperial claim to the Duchy of Burgundy is dropped. In 1529 Charles disembarks in Genoa with alarge army. He meets the Pope in Bologna, and after his coronation agrees to help Clement with restoring Florence to the Medici. Orange is dispatched to lay siege to the city. With the Ottomans closing in on Vienna, Charlesis eager to settle things, and departs for Germany. After a 10 month siege, Florence surrenders. The Medici are back and pledge to help out the Emperor with a large sum of money. Peace is concluded with Venice after Charles agrees to restore Francesco Sforza to Milan, knowing well that after the childless Dukedies,

Milan will revert to him. Venice agrees to hand back the cities in Naples that it still holds, and both Italian states agree to pay a substantial indemnity. Charles forms the Italian League, a coalition of all Italian states, that is explicitly intended to make Italy pay for its own occupation. Peace finally comes back to the land after45 years of on and off fighting… But this is only an illusion. Peace will only be for some. For others war will continue for another 30years.

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