Battles of Cerignola and Garigliano 1503 - Italian Wars DOCUMENTARY
Charles VIII returned to France following the Battle of Fornovo, but the French ambitions in the Italian peninsula persisted, as did the war there. The conflict continued to rage on in southern Italy where a second important actor of the Italian Wars came into the scene. Welcome to the second episode of the Italian Wars, where we will cover the second and third Italian wars and the Battles of Cerignola and Garigliano.
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By the end of May, a combined Neapolitan and Aragonese army of 6000 men disembarked in Calabria, but they were defeated in June of 1495 at Seminara. The previous king of Naples Ferdinando of Aragon then departed Sicily with a navy and on the 6th of July, the same day as the battle of Fornovo, he entered Naples with the help of a popular uprising and besieged its citadel which fell in the winter. By then much of Campania revolted, while the Venetians occupied Monopoli and Polignano.
Although Italian condottieri helped secure Abruzzo, the situation worsened for the French: the Spanish army led by Gonzalo de Córdoba advanced in Calabria and Venice made a landing in Apulia. The French army, plagued by a lack of supplies and desertions caused by late payments, attempted to take Foggia, but was repelled. From that point, the French were chased around central Italy until they were surrounded at Atella in July 1496 and were forced to surrender. Ferdinando did not enjoy this victory, as he died of sickness in October 1496.
The crown passed to his uncle Federico. The last French holdings in Gaeta and Taranto surrendered over the next 2 years allowing Federico to pacify his kingdom. He gained a new ally in the Pope after helping him recapture Ostia.
Another player was about to join the Italian wars. The Habsburgs were on the rise since the thirteenth century, and by the time of the events of the first Italian War, emperor Frederick III controlled a vast empire and was locked in a struggle with France over European hegemony. His son Maximilian was the king of the Romans, and when the town of Pisa became a point of contention between Milan and Venice, he attempted to solve the situation in the favour of the Milanese. Still, the Venetians gained the upper hand becoming the de-facto protectors of Pisa. Ludovico started to look for other avenues to harm his Venetian rivals: he began to support Florence against Pisa, considered to finance a return of Charles and instigated the Ottomans to attack Venice. Charles had assembled a strong army with the intention of returning, but he unexpectedly died in April 1498.
His cousin assumed the throne as Louis XII. The ambitious new king made no secret that he intended to return to Italy but first had to secure his own succession. He decided to divorce Jeanne of France, who had not given him heirs after 20 years, and marry the widowed queen Anne of Brittany to strengthen the French position in Brittany. He needed papal authorization, which he obtained by granting the Pope’s son, Cesare Borgia, the title of Duke of Valentinois, a marriage with Charlotte of Albret, and the help to conquer Romagna, while the Borgia family promised that they would help the French in Italy. Louis’ interests in Lombardy came from a claim to the Duchy of Milan but the political situation in France hindered this inheritance.
Now with the full force of the French state behind him, Louis could claim what he considered was rightfully his. Ludovico’s short-sighted diplomacy had alienated Venice and Louis reached an agreement with Venice: The republic would subsidize his army and attack Milan in exchange for Cremona, Ghiaradadda, and French support against the Turks. Ludovico’s situation wasn’t good: His main ally Maximilian had been defeated by the Swiss in the Swabian War, while the Neapolitans were late to send troops and the Florentine preferred to see how the situation evolved.
He tried to bribe the French king but to no avail, while both the repair of fortifications and the recruitment of troops were behind schedule. Small raids took place in July, but the hostilities of the Second Italian War started in the middle of August 1499: an army of 30.000 men led by Ligny, d’Aubigny, and Trivulzio departed from Asti and bombarded Rocca d’Arazzo and Annone. The forts were quickly destroyed, while the population and defenders were massacred using the terror tactics of Charles VIII. This terror and promises to lower taxes forced Voghera and Tortona to quickly surrender, allowing the French to encircle a Milanese army of 10000 at Alessandria.
The commanders escaped, leaving the army leaderless, while the defenders of the city were massacred. Ludovico had always been unpopular, so he determined that it would be impossible to defend Milan and left the capital in September with his loyal supporters and the treasury. The fortress of Milan surrendered 10 days after the French troops had entered the city, while the Venetian army of 15000 men occupied the territories promised to them.
Louis entered Milan in October and stayed there for a month before returning to France. He set up a new government similar to that of a French province, creating a Senate composed of local nobles to run the regional matters with Trivulzio administering it. It did however not take long for the Milanese to be fed up with the French troops and the high taxes, so riots started in November.
Aware of the discontent in Lombardy, Ludovico Sforza descended from the Alps with 13000 Italian, Swiss, and German mercenaries in January 1500 and occupied the northern valleys. After a first assault that was pushed back, Como fell on the 1st of February and two days later Sforza’s army entered Milan. The 9000 strong French retreated west towards Novara and Alessandria garrisoning the citadels of the major cities. Sforza advanced towards them but he was indecisive when it came to using his superior numbers.
He headed to Novara in early March and besieged the city, which he took by the 20th. The two armies clashed outside of the city wall in what ended in an indecisive battle, but during the evening the Burgundians and the Swiss under Sforza fraternized with the French, managing to obtain free passage back to their homelands. Sforza tried to hide among the Swiss to escape, but the French captured him. He would die in a French prison seven years later.
The French reoccupied Lombardy and the duchy was reorganized by Cardinal d’Amboise with a greater military presence: around 15000 men were left as garrisons, while the most important positions were held by French officers. Episodes of looting increased, and the cities that had rebelled were required to pay an enormous fine, while the Italian states that had given support to Ludovico, could choose between paying large sums of money for protection or be attacked by the French. Meanwhile, Cesare Borgia had already started his campaign to carve out a state in Central Italy. His father, Pope Alexander VI, appointed Cesare the governor of Cesena and Fano, while Louis sent troops, bolstering Borgia’s force to a total of 15000 men. His first target was the cities of Imola and Forlì, headed by the regent Caterina Sforza.
The city of Imola opened its doors, the garrison of the fort surrendered in December, and the city of Forlì also quickly followed suit, while Caterina retreated to Ravaldino. She held out valiantly for two months until the French cannons breached the fort. The campaign restarted the following autumn, with Cesare taking Pesaro and Rimini. Only the town of Faenza resisted for 6 months, surrendering in April 1501. Following this victory, Cesare was made the Duke of Romagna. His next objectives were Bologna and Firenze, but Louis, concerned by the growing state, put a veto on any action against those, though Castel Bolognese was still handed over to the Borgian state.
After solidifying his control over Lombardy, Louis now intended to take the crown of Naples, but he had an obstacle in the King of Aragon Ferdinand II. By that point, the union of Castille and Aragon finished the Reconquista conquering Granada, and were now ruled a vast realm. The Aragonese had a long history of interests in Italy, and Ferdinand would continue this tradition. He had for a long time considered taking the throne of Naples from the Italian branch of his Trastamara dynasty. In order to prevent another bloody war for the control of the kingdom, in autumn 1500 Louis and Ferdinand signed the Treaty of Granada, dividing the kingdom. The former was given the title of King and the regions of Campania and Abruzzi, while the latter received the title of Duke, alongside Calabria and Apulia, while the revenues were divided between the two.
The hastily prepared agreements were also confirmed by the Pope, in the hopes of creating space for his son, Cesare Borgia, to expand his power base. King Federico was unaware of the agreements between the two powers, and therefore desperately prepared against the French invasion, even asking for support from the Ottomans. Many of his barons, aware of the imminent attack, rebelled, cutting much of the support and income the king relied upon. In the summer of 1501, a 15000 strong French army invaded the kingdom from the north, preceded by the excommunication of Federico.
In the meantime, de Córdoba, the Gran Capitan, landed in Calabria with the Aragonese army unopposed. Federico was left alone, without resources, and stunned by the Spanish involvement, but he still tried to defend Capua with 9000 men. Cannon fire was exchanged for a few days but soon the walls of the town were breached, the defenders scattered and the city ravaged in one of the most horrific sacks of the Italian Wars.
The French army reached Naples in late July and forced it to surrender in August. The city was forced to pay a fortune to not be sacked. Federico retreated, hoping he could reach an agreement with Louis and reobtain parts of his kingdom, but in the end, he had to settle for a pension in France and the county of Maine, giving up his rights to the Kingdom. The Spanish army was slower to take control of their areas, as they had landed a smaller army and had to besiege the city of Taranto that did not fall until the following spring. Following the conquest of Naples, Cesare Borgia continued his campaigns by conquering Piombino, Urbino, Senigallia, and Camerino.
But he had to face the revolt of his Italian condottieri, who were worried that they would lose their fiefs in Marche, Umbria, and Lazio. Borgia promised that he would pardon them, and instead massacred them. As members of Orsini and Colonna were also assassinated, the rival families banded together against Borgia, withdrawing their support to the French. Borgia went to Lazio to confront them, taking on the way Città di Castello and Perugia. It did not take long for France and Aragon to find reasons to quarrel. Two regions - Basilicata and Capitanata were ignored in the treaty of Granada, and both now claimed these lucrative regions.
Skirmishes between the contesting forces in the summer of 1502 started the Third Italian War. de Còrdoba was ordered to not engage the French army, as he was outnumbered 2-to-1, so he retreated to Barletta, leaving garrisons in some fortresses, and waited for help from the sea, where the Iberians had the superiority. In mid-August, the French army commanded by the Duke of Nemours, Louis d’Armagnac, reached Apulia to engage the Spanish. The duke attempted to draw de Cordoba out for a pitched battle by blockading the Spanish army but instead was bogged down with skirmishes lasting for 9 months, which allowed Spanish reinforcements to trickle into the region. By April 2000 Landsknecht joined de Còrdoba, giving him a comparable force to Nemours’ and on the 21st the Spaniards defeated the French near Seminara, where the Iberian infantry overwhelmed the Swiss pikes. On the 27th of April de Cordoba left Barletta with his army and was pursued by Nemours.
The following day the two armies met at the outskirts of the town of Cerignola after an exhausting march in the hot Apulian countryside. The Spanish army had arrived a few hours before and had set up camp in a defensible position. Also, a ditch was widened and an embankment was built in front of the camp under the orders of Prospero Colonna, while the French garrison in the town harassed them.
Behind this ditch were positioned the 2000 German mercenaries and the 2000 light Spanish infantry, while 300 men at arms were stationed on the left flank under Colonna. These forces were covered by around 2000 arquebusiers and 20 canons, while 800 light horses defended the right flank, with de Cordoba commanding the reserve of 400 men at arms. The French army, composed of 850 men at arms, 1100 light horses, 3000 swiss pikemen, and 4000 French and Italian infantry arrived at Cerignola an hour before sunset. Nemours was compelled by his officers to attack as soon as possible, even though his army had marched all day and lacked water. Before the battle commenced, a spark lit the Spanish gunpowder supplies, rendering their cannons useless, but de Còrdoba cried out that it was a sign of god and that they would win.
250 French men-at-arms led by the Duke of Nemours himself frontally charged the Spanish center, but they were cut down by the arquebus fire and got trapped between the pikes and the ditch that had not been noticed. The continuous volleys of fire created chaos in the attacking line, with many commanders including the duke himself perishing; they were followed by the infantry who suffered the same fate: unable to cross the ditch, they were flanked by the Spanish cavalry; de Còrdoba ordered the reserves to counterattack and many Spanish infantrymen jumped the ditch and cut down the infantry in hand to hand combat with their knives. In less than an hour, the battle was won by the Spanish. The French army suffered 3000 casualties and more captured, including the baggage train and the artillery: only the rearguard under d’Alègre managed to escape, while the Spanish only lost 100 men. It was the first time in history that mass arquebuses had been used on the battlefield.
With the total destruction of French armies in Apulia and in Calabria, the majority of the kingdom declared itself for the Spanish, and on the 16th of May Cordoba entered Naples. The surviving French forces and allied barons retreated to Gaeta to wait for reinforcements and were besieged by de Còrdoba. Louis was not going to give up on Naples, so in summer he sent 5000 men under Marquis of Saluzzo as the new viceroy of Naples to Gaeta, which forced de Còrdoba to lift the siege. At the same time, two armies moved towards the Spanish border from France, and a third army was being assembled in Lombardy departing in August. On August 18th, 1503, Pope Alexander passed away and a conclave was called to elect a new Pope. The French army set up camp outside Rome hoping to intimidate the cardinals into voting a francophile pope into office, but instead, the anti-French Francesco Piccolomini was elected Pope as Pius III, leaving the French command disoriented.
By this time the French armies in the Pyrenees had been blocked either because of the lack of pay or by the fortifications, so no more actions were taken on that front as a truce was signed for that theatre. The confusion in Rome gave time to de Còrdoba to set up a line of defense harassing his adversaries while slowly retreating. By the end of October, the French reached the town of Traietto, where they placed their camp on the right side of the river Garigliano, while de Cordoba had retreated to the other side of the river not wanting to be surrounded.
The French army was composed of at least 8000 infantry from Gascony, Normandy, Switzerland, and Corsica, 1500 heavy and 3400 light horses. The Spanish army was composed of 10000 infantry, of which 2000 German, 300 men at arms, and 500 light horses. Both sides had a number of artillery pieces, the French having the upper hand on that front. The Spanish had already started preparing earthworks and trenches in the most easily traversable points, where French attempts to cross were stopped by Iberian shooters. On the 5th of November, the French army built a pontoon bridge under the covering fire of the French artillery, which suppressed the Spanish cannons, arquebuses, and crossbows, while the defenders attempted to disturb the construction effort with explosive rafts.
The following day a French contingent crossed the bridge, where they destroyed the garrison left by de Còrdoba and took their encampment. The Spanish and Italian cavalry counterattacked, but after a fierce battle, where transalpine cannons floating on rafts were decisive, the French managed to hold a fortified bridgehead on the left side of the river. The French commanders were however not able to exploit these successes, as their men were too exhausted to continue, so it was instead decided to fortify the camps and to wait for the spring where better weather would help the operations, as only smaller raids harassed both sides. The marshy lands of the area and the incessant rains made both armies miserable; the Italians in the French army were ordered to guard the flank and back, which created frictions between them and the transalpine soldiers, so many deserted, including Gonzaga who left his command on the pretext of sickness.
Because of the terrible condition in the quagmire along the river, many soldiers on both sides got sick. The French retreated much of their army back to the hills in healthier positions, as some of their camps were flooded. In the meantime, more Spanish reinforcements arrived, increasing the cavalry up to 3600 men at arms and 1000 light cavalry. The condottiero d’Alviano suggested building a new boat bridge behind the Spanish lines and on the morning of the 28th of December, it was assembled four miles north of the french bridge under the cover of a heavy mist.
3500 Spanish infantry and a number of men at arms crossed the bridge before the french lookouts noticed them. They were followed by the German mercenaries led by de Còrdoba and 200 light horses, while the rest of the army attacked the French spearhead keeping them busy. The castle of Suio was taken as the defenders fled, which was followed by those at Castelforte. The marquis of Saluzzo, now in command, tried to organize a response, but the forces scattered and as many soldiers were sick it was impossible to oppose the Iberians. In the evening the main force began to retreat, leaving behind some artillery pieces while others were lost in the river as boats sank.
The following day the Spanish found the enemy encampments empty and pursued the retreating French forces causing many casualties. A first assault by the Spanish was repulsed but the arrival of the rest of the Spanish infantry demoralized the French who escaped to Gaeta. The losses the French took were catastrophic, 1300 lances, 3250 light horses, and 7400 infantry as of d’Alviano’s recounting.
The remnant of the French army retreated to Gaeta, where they surrendered 3 days after; the French army was allowed to return home and prisoners were released on both sides, but the Neapolitan barons that had not supported the Spanish would not be allowed to leave for France. So, ended the war for the kingdom of Naples, which would remain in the hands of the Spanish crown for two centuries. Next episode we are going to see what happens when you get too ambitious in expanding on the back of your allies, as we will cover the war of the League of Cambrai and the battles of Agnadello and Raveenna, so make sure you are subscribed and have pressed the bell button to see it. Please, consider liking, commenting, and sharing - it helps immensely. Our videos would be impossible without our kind patrons and youtube channel members, whose ranks you can join via the links in the description to know our schedule, get early access to our videos, access our discord, and much more.
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