Battle of Fornovo

Battle of Fornovo

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The Battle of Fornovo took place 30 km southwest of the city of Parma
Parma
Parma is a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna famous for its ham, its cheese, its architecture and the fine countryside around it. This is the home of the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world....

 on 6 July 1495. The League of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

 was able to temporarily expel the French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 from the Italian Peninsula
Italian Peninsula
The Italian Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula is one of the three large peninsulas of Southern Europe , spanning from the Po Valley in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. The peninsula's shape gives it the nickname Lo Stivale...

. It was the first major battle of the Italian Wars
Italian Wars
The Italian Wars, often referred to as the Great Italian Wars or the Great Wars of Italy and sometimes as the Habsburg–Valois Wars, were a series of conflicts from 1494 to 1559 that involved, at various times, most of the city-states of Italy, the Papal States, most of the major states of Western...

.

Antecedents


Charles VIII
Charles VIII
Charles VIII may refer to:* Charles VIII of Sweden, actually Charles II of Sweden, Charles I of Norway * Charles VIII of France, "the Affable" * Carlos VIII , regnal name of two claimants to the Spanish throne...

 dreamed of his own crusade against the infidel and of recapturing Jerusalem for Christendom. This was to be preceded by the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples
Kingdom of Naples
The Kingdom of Naples, comprising the southern part of the Italian peninsula, was the remainder of the old Kingdom of Sicily after secession of the island of Sicily as a result of the Sicilian Vespers rebellion of 1282. Known to contemporaries as the Kingdom of Sicily, it is dubbed Kingdom of...

, to which he had a nebulous claim through his paternal grandmother, Marie of Anjou
Marie of Anjou
Marie of Anjou was the Queen consort of King Charles VII of France from 1422 to 1461. Her mother, Yolande of Aragon, played a leading role in the last phase of the Hundred Years' War.-Family:...

 (1404–1463).

To have his hands free in Italy, Charles made ruinous pacts with all his neighbours, so they would not interfere. Henry VII
Henry VII of England
Henry VII was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor....

 was given cash, Ferdinand II of Aragon
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Ferdinand the Catholic was King of Aragon , Sicily , Naples , Valencia, Sardinia, and Navarre, Count of Barcelona, jure uxoris King of Castile and then regent of that country also from 1508 to his death, in the name of...

 was given Roussillon
Roussillon
Roussillon is one of the historical counties of the former Principality of Catalonia, corresponding roughly to the present-day southern French département of Pyrénées-Orientales...

 and Maximillian
Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
Maximilian I , the son of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor and Eleanor of Portugal, was King of the Romans from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1493 until his death, though he was never in fact crowned by the Pope, the journey to Rome always being too risky...

 was given Artois
Artois
Artois is a former province of northern France. Its territory has an area of around 4000 km² and a population of about one million. Its principal cities are Arras , Saint-Omer, Lens and Béthune.-Location:...

 and Franche-Comté
Franche-Comté
Franche-Comté the former "Free County" of Burgundy, as distinct from the neighbouring Duchy, is an administrative region and a traditional province of eastern France...

. This handing out of territory is symptomatic of Charles' lack of foresight. However, Charles was willing to do this in his attempt to establish his Neapolitan base for his crusade.

The fighting between the many independent towns of Italy was done by establishing a contract, condotta in Italian, between the town leaders and the leaders of mercenary bands, who came to be called Condottieri
Condottieri
thumb|Depiction of [[Farinata degli Uberti]] by [[Andrea del Castagno]], showing a 15th century condottiero's typical attire.Condottieri were the mercenary soldier leaders of the professional, military free companies contracted by the Italian city-states and the Papacy, from the late Middle Ages...

. This led to the developing of fighting tactics destined to establish field supremacy, gaining wealthy prisoners to be ransomed, and minimizing casualties, as it was basically a business. These tactics were going to be put to shame when the motivated armies of France and Spain descended upon the Italian peninsula.

Campaign


Charles VIII was on good terms with the two powers in northern Italy, Milan
Duchy of Milan
The Duchy of Milan , was created on the 1st of may 1395, when Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Lord of Milan, purchased a diploma for 100,000 Florins from King Wenceslaus. It was this diploma that installed, Gian Galeazzo as Duke of Milan and Count of Pavia...

 and Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

, and both had encouraged him to make good his claims over the Kingdom of Naples
Kingdom of Naples
The Kingdom of Naples, comprising the southern part of the Italian peninsula, was the remainder of the old Kingdom of Sicily after secession of the island of Sicily as a result of the Sicilian Vespers rebellion of 1282. Known to contemporaries as the Kingdom of Sicily, it is dubbed Kingdom of...

. Thus he assumed he would have their support when he moved against Alfonso II of Naples
Alfonso II of Naples
Alfonso II of Naples , also called Alfonso II d'Aragon, was King of Naples from 25 January 1494 to 22 February 1495 with the title King of Naples and Jerusalem...

, especially as the rival claimant was Ferdinand II of Aragon
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Ferdinand the Catholic was King of Aragon , Sicily , Naples , Valencia, Sardinia, and Navarre, Count of Barcelona, jure uxoris King of Castile and then regent of that country also from 1508 to his death, in the name of...

, King of Spain. At the end of August 1494 Charles VIII led a powerful French army with a large contingent of Swiss mercenaries
Swiss mercenaries
Swiss mercenaries were notable for their service in foreign armies, especially the armies of the Kings of France, throughout the Early Modern period of European history, from the Later Middle Ages into the Age of the European Enlightenment...

 and the first train of artillery seen in history into Italy. He was granted free passage through Milan, but was vigorously opposed by Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI , born Roderic Llançol i Borja was Pope from 1492 until his death on 18 August 1503. He is one of the most controversial of the Renaissance popes, and his Italianized surname—Borgia—became a byword for the debased standards of the Papacy of that era, most notoriously the Banquet...

, and Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

.

On his way to Naples, Charles crushed every small army that the Pope and Naples could send against him and massacred any city that resisted him. This shocked the Italians, who were accustomed to the relatively bloodless wars of the Condottieri.

On 22 February 1495 Charles VIII, with his general Louis II de La Trémoille
Louis II de la Trémoille
thumb|Portrait of Louis II de la Trémoille by [[Domenico Ghirlandaio]] or one of his assistants.Louis II de la Trémoille was a French general. He served under three kings: Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I...

, entered Naples almost without opposition. The speed and violence of the campaign left the Italians stunned. Realization struck them, especially the Venetians and the new Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza
Ludovico Sforza
Ludovico Sforza , was Duke of Milan from 1489 until his death. A member of the Sforza family, he was the fourth son of Francesco Sforza. He was famed as a patron of Leonardo da Vinci and other artists, and presided over the final and most productive stage of the Milanese Renaissance...

, that unless Charles was stopped Italy would soon be another province of France. On 31 March in Venice the Holy League was proclaimed; the signatories were the Republic of Venice, the Duke of Milan, the Pope, the Spanish King, the English King, and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
Maximilian I , the son of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor and Eleanor of Portugal, was King of the Romans from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1493 until his death, though he was never in fact crowned by the Pope, the journey to Rome always being too risky...

. The League engaged a veteran Condottiero, Francesco II of Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua to gather an army and expel the French from Italy. By 1 May this army was threatening the garrisons that Charles had left in a trail down Italy to guard his communications with France. On 20 May Charles left Naples leaving behind a garrison to hold the country and proclaiming that he only desired a safe return to France.

As a footnote, Charles' army had picked up a terrible malady while in Naples. While it is unclear whether it was imported from the New World or a more virulent strain of an Old World disease, the first known epidemic of syphilis
Syphilis
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. The primary route of transmission is through sexual contact; however, it may also be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy or at birth, resulting in congenital syphilis...

 had broken out in the city. As the French Army returned north this malady would be spread across Italy, and eventually all of Europe. Spread by the returning soldiers, it would be known through most of Europe as the "French disease".

Besides syphilis, Charles was taking with him both his large siege train and a baggage train that was loaded with the rich booty from Florence, Rome, and Naples. On 4 July the French reached the village of Fornovo and found their passage blocked by the main League army camped just north of the village.

Battle



The battle was described by physician Alessandro Beneditti in his Diaria de Bello Carolino'

On 27 June the Venetians and their allies established camp near Fornovo di Taro
Fornovo di Taro
Fornovo di Taro is a comune in the province of Parma, in the Italian region Emilia-Romagna, located about 100 km west of Bologna and about 25 km southwest of Parma....

 (44°41′N 10°06′E), some 30 km southwest of Parma
Parma
Parma is a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna famous for its ham, its cheese, its architecture and the fine countryside around it. This is the home of the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world....

, to wait for the French. They would not have to wait long. But the Venetian Senate was not unanimous on fighting the French. Some members wanted to attack the rear guard of the French to try to seize the bounty, while others cautioned that Italy was risking too much in this battle, while for the French it was only one army.

On 4 July, Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara
Ferrara
Ferrara is a city and comune in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy, capital city of the Province of Ferrara. It is situated 50 km north-northeast of Bologna, on the Po di Volano, a branch channel of the main stream of the Po River, located 5 km north...

, Charles' strongest ally in Italy, wrote to Charles to tell him that the Senate had not yet decided. But Charles was anxious, seeing the enemy numbers growing, while he had no hope of reinforcements. When an effort to sway the undecided forces of Parma was thwarted by the Venetians, Charles instead sent a messenger to request free passage to return to France, but the Venetians replied that he would have to restore all his conquests before such could be considered. The messenger, having scouted the troops, reported back to Charles. The forty soldiers Charles subsequently sent to reconnoiter were quickly routed by the Stradioti (a mainly Albanian mercenary force), whose ranks consisted of many veterans from the Albanian-Turkish Wars (1443-1478).

Two days later, 6 July, Charles decided to offer battle because the French were short on provisions. The League armies, mostly Venetians, were at the right side of the Taro river, and the French decided to keep the left side of the river. The French position was deemed to be good for defense because the Venetians had not cleared the field, and the rain had made the river banks slippery and impassable for the cavalry. Charles organized his army in battle groups. The first group, a troop of about 2,500, was led by Gian Giacomo Trivulzio
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio was an Italian aristocrat and condottiero who held several military commands during the Italian Wars.-Biography:...

. The second, the largest, was led by Charles himself. The final group, of about 1,400, was led by Francesco Secco, who rode in conversation with prisoner Count Niccolò di Pitigliano
Niccolò di Pitigliano
Niccolò di Pitigliano was an Italian condottiero best known as the Captain-General of the Venetians during the Most Serene Republic's war against the League of Cambrai...

. There was in addition a large phalanx of spear soldiers. Artillery ranged before the first line and protected the second line on the side of the Taro.

Melchiorre Trevisan promised the League soldiers the spoils of battle if they were victorious, igniting their combat ardor. Francesco Gonzaga divided his forces in nine lines. His battle plan was to distract the first and middle groups of the French by two lines while flanking the rear. Once the French groups were disorganized, the rest of the Italian troops would attack.

The light cavalry attack on the French front was impeded by the terrain conditions, as the French anticipated, and its result indecisive. While the battle was at its most delicate point, the Stradioti saw that the French guarding the baggage train were being driven out by the assigned Italian light cavalry, and they immediately left their positions to fell upon the rich baggage to plunder it. What had been a battle slowly evolving towards the Venetian advantage now turned into a bloody exchange. The French artillery did not play a role because the rain wetted the powder. The Venetian reserve entered battle. Niccolò di Pitigliano, managing to reach the Venetians, told them that the French were demoralized. A number of the Italians were fleeing the battle, but Pitigliano and the Venetian proveditors were instrumental in turning back many by convincing them that the battle was being won or that, even if it were not, it would be better to die in battle than be executed for the loss.

After over an hour of fighting, the French were forced back to a hilltop. Both sides took to camp. The French had lost about a thousand men, while the Venetians lost twice that many. Many nobles had died. The French had lost the booty of the Italian expedition. A day's truce was declared for burial of the dead. The dead and even the wounded were looted by the victorious League infantry and then the local peasantry.

The following evening, Doge Agostino Barbarigo
Agostino Barbarigo
Agostino Barbarigo was Doge of Venice from 1486 until his death in 1501.While he was Doge, the imposing Clock Tower in the Piazza San Marco with its archway through which the street known as the Merceria leads to the Rialto, was designed and completed...

 and the Venetian Senate received a report in which they were told that the Venetian army had not been destroyed, but that the result of the battle was uncertain because they had many casualties and deserters, but they did not know the enemy casualties. Due to the lack of details in this and due to other private correspondences, the Italians first believed they were in worse position than before, but the next day's detailed report declared victory. Though expressing dismay at his financial losses, Charles also voiced pride at the conduct of his soldiers and in the limited loss of soldiers.

Consequences


Charles left Italy, without having gained anything. He attempted in the next few years to rebuild his army, but was hampered by the serious debts incurred by the previous one, and he never succeeded in recouping anything substantive. He died two-and-a-half years after his retreat, of an accident — striking himself on the head while passing through a doorway, he succumbed to a sudden coma several hours later.

Charles bequeathed a meagre legacy: he left France in debt and in disarray as a result of an ambition most charitably characterized as unrealistic, and having lost several important provinces that would take centuries to recover. On a more positive side, his expedition did broaden contacts between French and Italian humanists, energizing French art and letters in the latter Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

.

Charles proved the last of the elder branch of the House of Valois, and upon his death at Amboise the throne passed to a cousin, the duc d'Orléans, who reigned as King Louis XII of France
Louis XII of France
Louis proved to be a popular king. At the end of his reign the crown deficit was no greater than it had been when he succeeded Charles VIII in 1498, despite several expensive military campaigns in Italy. His fiscal reforms of 1504 and 1508 tightened and improved procedures for the collection of taxes...

, who would try to make good his clearer claim to the Duchy of Milan
Duchy of Milan
The Duchy of Milan , was created on the 1st of may 1395, when Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Lord of Milan, purchased a diploma for 100,000 Florins from King Wenceslaus. It was this diploma that installed, Gian Galeazzo as Duke of Milan and Count of Pavia...

.

However, for Italy the consequences were catastrophic. Europe knew now, from the French and German soldiers in Charles' expedition, of an incredibly rich land, divided into easily conquerable principalities, and defended only by mercenary armies that refused to fight at the slightest disadvantage. Italy was to be the scene of a dispute between the main continental powers, where the Italians were left with only a secondary role in their own destiny. Basically only Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

with its exemplary (for the time) system of government was going to survive the invasion of Italy as a completely independent state, but with the greatest difficulties, and at the cost of her strength and impulse.