The battle of Fornovo (6 July ) was an unsuccessful attempt by an Italian army to stop Charles VIII of France during his retreat from Naples. Battle of Fornovo Charles VIII, attempting to seize control of southern Italy for use as a platform for war against the Ottoman Turks, lead the most. Nicolle, David. Fornovo France’s Bloody Fighting Retreat. Oxford: Osprey, Santosuosso, Antonio. “Anatomy of Defeat: The Battle of Fornovo in
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Alessandro Beneditti, The Battle of Fornovo () » De Re Militari
Charles VIII, attempting to seize control of southern Italy for use as a platform for war against the Ottoman Turks, lead the most powerful army in Europe at that time down through Italy, defeating one Italian province after another. The Italian states opposing this venture evolved into the League of Venice and at Fornovo brought the French juggernaut to a standstill. This battle would mark the beginning of gunpowder weaponry and the start of the bloody Italian wars.
Beneditti was a physician working for the Venetian forces and started his diary in Mayand a month later, was an eyewitness to this battle. This section covers chapters 29 to 60 of Book 1 of the Diaria de Bello Carolino. And so on 28 June they sent scouts ahead with orders to reconnoiter, and these learned from the natives that the forces of the French were approaching. Some pointed out that the number of the enemy being led through the valleys of the Apennines was about twenty thousand, others put it at only fifteen thousand, on the ground that a useless group of people-servants, camp-followers, a throng of women-and a great mass of baggage swelled the numbers of the enemy.
But at the proper place I shall reckon the number of the Latins, whose soldiers were arriving every day. And now King Charles reached the last pass of the valley and pitched camp beyond the summit of the mountain two miles from Fornovo. Saintly men offered their vows continuously at the shrines, and nuns prayed in the churches that Almighty and All Merciful God might defend the Venetian Senate through the mediation of its protector St.
After these religious rites various opinions were aired in the Senate. At length the opinion prevailed that the battle should be entrusted to fate.
Already the report had gone around that the Venetians would by no means fight with the French, and therefore Ercole, duke of Ferrara, had sent a letter to the King in which he declared that the Senate had as yet not authorized the Venetian proveditors to fight.
He had great credence and authority with the King, since he had left his son as hostage, and he wanted the Frenchman to acquire the rule and become arbiter over all Italy. Nonetheless the Frenchman was filled with anxiety when he learned from spies that contrary to expectation the army of the Venetians had been assembled with tremendous speed and was increasing in numbers daily.
The hunger of his soldiers and the meager fodder in the Apennines added to his anxiety, and he began to deliberate on flight, or peace, or a truce, since there was no fixed hope of reinforcements: He feared that divine justice might suddenly plunge down from the loftiest heights to the lowest depths that very fortune which earlier seemed to promise the entire world.
And so as is wont to happen when a time of crisis draws near, his usual assurance changed to anxiety, his earlier daring to fear, his swollen pride to humility.
At length, when he saw that it was necessary to fight, he put all his trust in the courage of a few soldiers, in the strength of the Swabians, and in the wonderful mastery of his engines, and feigning hope on his countenance he seemed like a man entirely happy and of ready daring in arms.
Yet he decided to seek for peace or a truce first with all his powers and with every device, and otherwise undergo the risk of war, and he reflected in particular, on the counsel of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, that the victory would be readily assured if he brought over to his side the vacillating citizens of Parma, and that this could easily be done if the forces of the Venetians pitched their camp beyond the Taro.
But on the contrary the Venetian proveditors, suspecting the loyalty of the people of Parma, took Oppiano and dashed the hopes of the Frenchman that the people of Parma might dare to desert. When the Frenchman heard of this he turned a mind which was fierce in other respects rather to suing for peace and sent a herald to the Venetian proveditors, Luca Pisani and Melchiorre Trevisan.
This messenger the French call in their own tongue heraut. He was admitted other leaders were present also wearing a blue linen mantle decorated with gold lilies; he stated that his King was no little astonished that the new army of the Venetian Senate had blockaded the roads: The herald was conducted to another room and the matter was considered, and I heard that when he was admitted again one proveditor said to him that they had no authority from the Senate to make peace or a truce, but that if he wished peace he should first lay down his arms and return Novara to their ally, Duke Lodovico, and restore the cities and towns of the Pope which he had taken by violence.
The herald however replied that his King wanted free passage and that otherwise he would cross in blood over the dead bodies of the Italians. The herald, who was no ignorant man, was dismissed after observing the army of the Venetians this is indeed the usual practiceand he reported to the King what he had seen and heard, that vast forces of the Venetians were at hand awaiting battle with joyful spirits and ready to endure to the end rather than afford free passage.
On hearing this, the King went on 4 July to the highest point of the mountain, and when he saw from it the vast forces of the Venetians, he exclaimed with a deep sigh that he had been deceived. But Gian Giacomo Trivulzio and Francesco Secco, together with the nobles, freely encouraged the spirits of the King, saying that he need not doubt that the enemy would be turned to flight by the royal name alone.
And so when he saw that he had to fight, he decided to undergo the risk of battle and sent about forty soldiers ahead to reconnoiter. A scout reported that the French were now approaching the camp of the Venetians; almost all the men sprang up eagerly to grasp their arms, and since they were swifter footed light-armed soldiers who were called stratiotes to about the number of six hundred were the first to go and meet the approaching enemy.
The French with their leader were in the front and gave the appearance of an advancing army. These the Greek soldiers at once attacked unexpectedly, turning some to flight and killing others. The victorious stratiotes, exulting over the first clash, affixed the heads of the enemy to their light lances, entered camp, and were welcomed with great enthusiasm.
This success in a small sally indicated the outcome of the whole affair. Those who had fled struck fear into the King, and since he could not draw in his troops he halted on 5 July at the edge of the valley and reviewed the strength of all his forces.
In these he put his entire hope of safety and resolved not to await hunger longer, but to undergo the risk of battle. The valley itself extends beyond Fornovo from a narrow passageway into the open plains with two hills on either side, to the right and to the left; the former direction is toward Oppiano, the latter toward Medesano, and the river Taro flows almost through the very middle of the plain.
The Venetians, as we have already said, had taken their position on the right slope opposite the Parmesans. But when mass had been said the French Kingdecided on the advice of all his nobles to keep to the left in the direction of Medesano, a very well-protected place. On 6 July he ordered his soldiers first to care for their bodies and then to arm themselves.
He intended indeed to pass through a very well-protected place, that is, along the slopes of the hill, which were rendered fully secure from passage of the enemy also by ditches, muddy depths, the river Taro, the height of the banks, and moreover the shrubs and thickets.
Here the enemy could not arrive without great trouble, and even if they wanted to attack precipitately and obstinately they would be overcome and routed by their own weariness.
This seemed a wise way of planning, that between these narrow passes they might safely await the Venetian enemy, who through some folly or rashness of mind had not leveled the ground where they were to fight. Some ascribe this lapse to the suddenness and confusion of the battle, others to the scarcity of mercenary soldiers, who had not yet come to the camp.
In the opposing army there were farmers of Parma who knew the terrain. Likewise a great deal of rain had made the fields slippery and impassable for the cavalry. Meanwhile the King drew up three enormous battle groups. He put Gian Giacomo Trivulzio in charge of the first, which consisted of three hundred horsemen, two hundred light-armed soldiers, and two thousand German foot soldiers equipped with spears, who were surrounded by men carrying small hand-machines and armed with axes and hatchets.
After a short space Count Niccola of Pitigliano and Franceso Secco rode alone in front, the first one the prisoner, the second the leader, and they were talking with one another about the outcome of affairs. A little after them followed the second group, of which the King himself was in command.
It consisted of six hundred horsemen, and this group the French call the real line of battle; it was conspicuous for its very lofty standard, and in it were all the mounted bowmen which I have enumerated and of the German foot soldiers the flower of almost all the troops of the King.
After a like space came the last group, in which were four hundred horsemen and about a thousand foot soldiers. The rest of the spear-bearing foot soldiers made up one line or vast phalanx which advanced not far from the lines of the horsemen.
Machines protected the first line from the front and the second toward the Taro, and they were drawn up properly and with such military discipline that nothing was out of the right order and neither soldier nor footman wandered off from the line. The King himself was riding up to the lines with two cardinals close behind, and with as much eloquence as was possible among those who are untaught for French princes neglect letters he was urging on all his commanders and horsemen and foot soldiers to the battle.
With his bold spirit entirely unbroken he incited each one by name, and the French, who regard their king with a certain wondrous reverence, straightway replied in these words: He pointed out that the soldiers of Duke Lodovico were unfit for war and that there was moreover no hope in flight but only in victory.
I see that the Venetians carry nothing but arms. The trumpeters rode in their midst, encouraging the soldiers in the name of the King to aim at the throats and eyes of the enemy. Meanwhile the commander Franceso Gonzaga with his colleague, his uncle Rodolfo, forrnovo set his camp in a very safe spot and fortified it with a rampart and ditch, although it was already secure in large part by its very nature because of the steep hill in the direction of the Taro; on hearing of the arrival of the French, and after mass had been said to All Merciful God, they were introduced into the room of the proveditors with all the leaders.
Battle of Fornovo – Wikipedia
And first Melchiorre Trevisan with the approval of his colleague said a few words in their midst. Mark, guardian of our city. A triumph is assured for you, Francesco Gonzaga, and for you other leaders, and to all the soldiers rich spoils have been offered.
The French enemy who has not spared divine and human affairs labors under scarcity and hunger, as is usual in a blockade; he is weary from many marches and steep passes; surrounded on all sides by the enemy and without hope of aid, he has been so wholly forsaken by divine fate that after failing to find an occasion for flight under the preferred guise of truce he is plunged into utter desperation at events and will seek safety by the sword and make a way for himself by force.
Even though we have mighty forces, the readier spirits of veteran soldiers and the fierce spirits of fresh soldiers, and each one is possessed of a longing for battle, there is nevertheless need of sagacity and military discipline, all of which things are also useless without obedience.
Those huge spoils of the Neapolitan kingdom which he carries with him are yours if you overcome the French today in battle. At once joy pervaded the entire assembly. The leaders feared that the Venetian Senate might postpone the war. Wherever the danger is greater, I shall leave the duty of commanding to my uncle here and will myself with javelin and sword and a chosen band cut a path among the enemy; neither the magnitude of the enterprise nor the utmost desperation of the French disturbs my spirit.
Thereupon the ranks, their leaders, and the arrangement were determined. The entire force was divided into nine lines, according to the French practice, the purpose being to harass the first and middle line of the French by two Italian lines in closer fighting, so that they could not forget the last group and turn back; the commander himself and his uncle along with Ranuccio Farnese would thus attack the rear of the enemy on both sides, and when that group had been scattered those in front would easily be thrown into confusion by the fugitives, and the other lines, standing in readiness, would at once carry out the commands given them.
The first line consisted of six hundred lightly armed Greek soldiers commanded by Pietro Duodo, who had been ordered to seize the highest point of the mountain from the rear, provoke the enemy, and throw them into disorder. The second was composed of Italian mailed horsemen under Ranuccio Farnese and Luigi Avogadro; the third, a phalanx of infantry, numbered four thousand, with Gorlino of Ravenna and other leaders in charge.
To this, so that it might not be far distant from the line of the commander, they assigned a place from which it might bring aid at once if those in front wavered.
Between these two lines two thousand foot soldiers were distributed. In the sixth line Alessandro Colleoni fornobo Taddeo dalla Motella led soldiers, and they had orders to assist wherever a wavering line needed help, and to take their stand accordingly a short distance away.
Count Antonio of Urbino also was told to follow at a like distance. Then, when the assembly had been adjourned and the soldiers were caring for their bodies, scouts announced the arrival of the enemy, asserting that three companies of them were not far distant.
When this report had been carried throughout the camp, straightway the sound of trumpets aroused the soldiers to arms; they were eager to fight, and they took their stations at their horses, some still hungry, others refreshed, and the soldiers quickly fell into their companies. The Venetian proveditors awaited the outcome of the affair near the last ranks, so that if there was any need they might perform the duty of the general. But between themselves, since the result of the battle was dubious, they weighed the deadly peril for Italy and indeed for almost the whole world: They agreed nonetheless that the impending battle must be fought.
In the meantime the French King was leading his troops over the hillside, and he kept the baggage train of the entire frnovo, which was endless, wondrously compact and evenly spaced in spite of the fact that it was raining, and the host of women he kept at fronovo top of the hill; the infantry and artillery surrounded the lines. And so as the Venetians approached the French were the first to hurl their artillery 145 the lines of the enemy, producing more fear and disorder in the ranks especially among the new recruits than they did destruction.
Then the Venetians, who were unbelievably anxious to fight, raised a mighty shout through the lines as soon as they heard the signal of the trumpets; they dornovo ordered to advance zealously in the ranks to which they had been assigned, and they attacked the forces of the enemy.
Francesco Gonzaga along with Count Bernardino Fortebraccio and another company assaulted the last line, the Count of Caiazzo the middle one, all rushing at almost the same moment against the enemy who because they were confronted with a ditch, an inaccessible rampart, the river Taro, and the thickets and shrubbery which lay between, and because it was raining, scattered and rushed headlong against the ranks of their enemy in a vast assault. Some of the infantry followed quickly, but the cavalry almost alone completed the battle.
Many fell, rolling in the muddy ditch, others did not cross the river, and some slid from the slippery rampart into the mire. Many, fearing the difficulties of the terrain, halted this side of the river, but those who had zealously entered upon the struggle were soon in disorder and, not foronvo by one command, wielded their swords in varied confusion; the slaughter increased on all sides, and the victors could not be distinguished from the vanquished.
Others were cramped by the narrow quarters and tried in vain to carry out their orders. Count Antonio of Urbino, leader of one line, failed to advance because of the difficulties of the terrain. The Venetians indeed fought with greater spirit, the French with greater industry, for a fear far from moderate had invaded their minds and the huge numbers of their enemy terrified them.
Battle of Fornovo
The commander Francesco Gonzaga, acting more as soldier than general, pierced the chest of an enemy with a deadly javelin in the first charge, disturbed the ranks, and then fighting keenly with his sword penetrated with much slaughter inside the lines and returned to his men to replace his horse which had been hit.
Then Rodolfo, though covered with blood, also encouraged the cavalry and infantry to fight and called upon the men in the name of their ancient courage. Upon these followed Greek soldiers who had looked down upon the whole proceeding from the top of the hill and swooped down like eagles; butchering the enemy forjovo also some of their own side they plundered the baggage train, and after them came a great many Latin foot soldiers who, contrary to military law, had left their ranks because of greed and were bent on destruction.
So pillaging was vast and chaotic. During this confusion Rodolfo Gonzaga, who had fought a memorable battle in the midst of the enemy lines, opened his helmet, was seriously wounded on the face, and straightway fell.
Several of the French together overcame Ranuccio too after he had killed many.