Author Topic: The Italian Job  (Read 1210 times)

Longmane

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The Italian Job
« Topic Start: July 23, 2013, 05:47:07 PM »
PT 1

This thread concentrate's on a chapter taken from the same book as my last one, and while this will also be rather long it'll certainly not be as long as that was.    (Now if I decide get around to posting "Fortifications and Siege", that will be "long"  ;D

THE ITALIAN JOB

War has always provided opportunities for adventurers and mercenaries, as the story of the Najera campaign and the Lithuanian crusades illustrates so well, and the early decades of the Hundred Years' War saw many other examples of men fighting in armies for the personal gain that could come either from loot or from an agreed fee. In many cases, however, mercenary companies or individual 'soldiers of fortune' are indistinguishable from the rest of an army in the overall operations of siege and battle, and it is only during times of truce that real mercenary activity can be identified.

The Peace of Bretigny in 1360 provided just such an opportunity. Large bodies of troops were suddenly disbanded, and instead of returning home, sold their skills to the highest bidder, and even, when no bidder was available, started wars of their own. It is with a sense of shame that one records the name of Sir Hugh Calveley and Sir Robert Knowles as leaders of these despicable bands.

Profit had once been made from the capture and ransom of the rich. Now it was to be scraped from the bottom of war's empty barrel. A stable government, such as that exercised by the Black Prince in Aquitaine, could close its borders to them, but this only put the pressure on to neighbours in turn. As a result the so-called 'Free Companies' flourished where the populace was weakest to withstand them, and where relatively unspoiled lands promised rich pickings. All that was necessary was for them to take a few castles and hold the populace to ransom.

Local defence against them was almost non-existent, although the towns built as fortified bastides fared better than others. As for getting rid of these brigands there seemed little alternative to paying them to go away and attack someone else - a scarcely satisfactory arrangement, unless the alternative place were a distant country. As Lithuania, which provided working holidays for the nobility, was hardly a convenient dumping ground for unwanted plunderers,' a much more promising location was to be found in Italy.


CONDOTTIERI WARFARE

Service in Italian wars was not a new phenomenon, and in fact the curse of 'the mercenary was to afflict the peninsula for a further century and a half. When the French king Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1494 and captured Naples within six months, his rapid success was blamed on the predilection of the Italians for employing mercenaries. According to influential commentators such as Machiavelli, the Italian states were crushed so easily because for centuries they had hired others to fight on their behalf rather than relying on their own militias. To name names, Italy owed its latest disaster to the long and disreputable history of the condottieri.

The condottieri were the captains who represented the supply side of the mercenary equation. They owed their title and their continued livelihood to the granting of a condotta or contract between an employer, usually a prince, a baron or a city, and the captain who would supply soldiers to fight on the commissioner's behalf. Machiavelli's sense of outrage was given additional colouring from a long humanist tradition that cherished the notion of free citizens rallying to the flag to defend their homes, and despised and vilified the very notion of the mercenary. He was not alone. Another Florentine politician wrote of a contemporary condottieri captain that 'in general all men of his occupation disgust me, because they are our natural enemies, and despoil all of us, and their only thought is to keep the upper hand and to drain our wealth'.

These were perceptive comments, because, although mercenaries clearly had their uses, they were a highly volatile and extremely dangerous commodity. Stories abounded of mercenaries coming to a halt within sight of an advancing enemy and refusing to engage in battle until they were paid in advance, and of condottieri captains changing sides so frequently that even their own men were unsure whom they were expected to fight. In 1441 the condottiere Piccinino insisted on a guarantee that he would be given the fief of Piacenza before he would agree to attack the Venetian army, which provoked an explosive outburst from the man who had hired him to do just that.

Most employers of condottieri no doubt appreciated that any contract to provide such an unpredictable service as mercenary warfare, where the signatory faced his own possible extinction, was naturally prone to ambiguity and wide open to exploitation. But to Machiavelli condottieri warfare was an inferior product compared to the heroic deeds that could be expected from a national militia. Indeed, he claimed, the wars waged by condottieri had not been real wars at all, but bloodless mock battles contested by rival mercenaries who were concerned only to give the show of conflict for the benefit of their respective paymasters, who could then each be threatened with real force if the cash was not forthcoming. 'Wars were commenced without fear,' he wrote in a famous passage, 'continued without danger and concluded without loss.'

In fact Machiavelli was sorely mistaken about the true nature of condottieri warfare. At the Battle of Anghiari in 1440, according to Machiavelli, 'one man was killed, and he fell off his horse and was trampled to death', but according to reliable eyewitnesses the list of dead topped 900. At Molinella in 1467, where 'some horses were wounded and some prisoners taken but no death occurred', the actual losses were 600. The one justification for Machiavelli's exaggerated comments may lie in the fact that in these battles, as in similar encounters throughout contemporary Europe, the bulk of the casualties tended to be lower-class troops who were both more numerous and less well protected than their betters, and out of 170 named condottieri captains only a dozen actually died fighting, and some of these deaths may have been as a result of assassinations carried out under the convenient cloak of anonymity that a battle provided.

In part 2 "THE FIRST CONDOTTIERI
« Last Edit: July 23, 2013, 05:50:33 PM by Longmane »
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.  "Albert Einstein"

Longmane

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Re: The Italian Job
« Reply #1: July 25, 2013, 07:24:11 PM »
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.  "Albert Einstein"

Longmane

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Re: The Italian Job
« Reply #2: July 26, 2013, 07:40:45 PM »
Pt 3

THE WHITE COMPANY

In 1361 a new force appeared on the Italian scene in the persons of the famous White Company, so-called because they kept their armour so brightly burnished. They were also known as the 'Inglesi', because they were mostly men who had taken part in the Hundred Years' War, but they were not all Englishmen, and their first leader was in fact a German. Nevertheless it was under an Englishman, Sir John Hawkwood, that the company achieved its greatest renown.

The knights of the White Company preferred to fight on foot in units of three: two men at arms and a page who kept their horses in readiness. One very 'English' characteristic about them was the use of the longbow, but they were also equipped with siege weapons, and provided a well-disciplined and ready-made army for anyone who wished to employ them. So formidable was their reputation that on one occasion when they were late turning up to fight for Pisa against Florence, the Pisans dressed their own men up to look like the White Company, and the Florentines withdrew.

Sir John Hawkwood was born in about 1320, and is described by Froissart as being 'a poor knight having gained nothing but his spurs'. He is believed to have fought at Crecy, but it was as a condottiere in Italy that he achieved renown, serving several masters, but each in turn, because treachery during a campaign was not acceptable to the condottieri code, even if extortion may have been.

In 1368, for example, he defended Borgoforte, a castle that commanded a vital river crossing of the Po, against the German emperor Charles IV  The action included flooding the emperor's camp by breaking an embankment holding back the fierce winter river. In this Hawkwood was providing a service to the whole of Italy, but it was Bernabo Visconti, Duke of Milan, who had employed him on loan from Pisa and, being the paymaster, Visconti's own reputation was enhanced as much as that of the Englishman who did the actual fighting.

In such ways did Sir John Hawkwood and his White Company provide a high quality service for their Italian employers. There were many grumbles, because being a soldier of fortune meant having to make a fortune out of being a soldier. To put it bluntly, mercenaries murdered for money, and any mercy that a condottiere might display through declining to slit the throat of a captive had more to do with the greater value of the man ransomed than with Christian charity. Looting, too, could be regarded as an economic necessity, either to provide goods for one's employer from which he could cover the agreed fee, or to make up any shortfall should payment be delayed. In this the Church was Hawkwood's worst employer, and on one occasion the pope, who no doubt felt personally safe from the White Company, simply terminated Hawkwood's contract while it was still in financial arrears.

It was about this time that St Catherine of Siena addressed a letter to Hawkwood beseeching him to give up the life of a condottiere and lead a crusade. In a very perceptive sentence she urged that Sir John, 'from being the servant and soldier of the Devil, should become a manly and true knight'. This belief, that a mercenary was not a 'true knight' and indeed an inferior being, summed up the feelings that many people already had about these companies upon whom too many people were coming to rely too much.

Hawkwood was equally dependant on receiving a succession of contracts, and in 1375 had little choice but to accept a new contract from the pope when the alternative was unemployment. The job given to the White Company was to invade Tuscany, and in May 1375 Hawkwood set out in that direction with an army that included the latest versions of bombards for demolishing Florence's walls. He was not surprised when Florentine envoys met him at the borders of their territory. While not wishing to persuade him to change sides, they assured him, what would be a reasonable sum for them to pay him to cross Florence off the list of cities to be captured? Sir John named his price, and when the Florentines had picked themselves up off the floor they negotiated an indemnity for their city for five years at the price Hawkwood demanded.

News of the deal quickly spread, and before long Hawkwood had negotiated similar non-aggression pacts with Siena, Arezzo, Pisa and Lucca. It was the most profitable and least warlike campaign that bold Sir John had ever engaged in, and confirmed a true side for the caricature of 'mock battles' that Machiavelli was later to paint, except that these were not mock battles, but rather no battles at all. Not surprisingly, the pope soon got to hear that the bombards remained unfired and that the walls of Tuscany were still upright, and quite understandably withheld Hawkwood's pay, a situation that lasted until the noble Sir John kidnapped a cardinal and held him to ransom.

Yet within a year of this romping farcical tale of 'mercenary as mobster', the story of Sir John Hawkwood took a sickening turn. A certain Cardinal Robert of Geneva had occupied the town of Cesena with his own mercenary troops, who were mainly Bretons. They began looting the town as mercenaries regularly did, at which point the citizens put up a fierce resistance. Being unable to defeat them, the cardinal tricked the people into surrendering their weapons in return for a guarantee of safety. But the affair was not to end there, because Cardinal Robert wanted revenge, and knew that his small force were insufficient to provide it.

Sir John Hawkwood's White Company were not far away, and as they were in the employ of the Church, they could be required to 'administer justice', as the cardinal put it. After initially protesting that he could persuade the citizens to lay down their arms by peaceful negotiation, Hawkwood succumbed to the cardinal's evident intentions, and joined the Bretons in a brutal and thorough massacre. The piazzas of Cesena were heaped with bodies, and the moats were full of dead people who had drowned rather then face the swords waiting for them at the gates.

Well might later chroniclers record that Hawkwood 'let many escape' and historians argue that he was only obeying orders. Where was the negotiator, the profit-hungry but shrewd mobster who had brought off  half-a-dozen Tuscan cities? Where indeed was the chivalrous knight, the bold tactician of Borgoforte? Sir John Hawkwood now stood exposed as the servant and soldier of the Devil, just as St Catherine of Siena had anathematized him. Here was the essential weakness of the whole condottieri system. No contract could ever give an employer total control over a mercenary band. There was always this huge grey area of unpredictability which went far beyond the simple fighting of battles, and could manifest itself either as farce or as tragedy, as rape or racketeering.


The year 1385 was to find Sir John fighting much more honourably for Padua against Verona, and pulling off a stunning victory at the Battle of Castagnaro, where he abandoned the siege of Verona in a false retreat and lured the Veronese army to its destruction beside the River Adige. With the Battle of Castagnaro the reputation of Hawkwood as a commander and a military hero were dramatically enhanced. More campaigns followed, and on his death in 1394 a personal request from King Richard II, no less, was received asking that the body of 'the late brave soldier' be brought back to England for honoured burial. No absentee mercenary could have asked for more.


In part 4, "THE SFORZAS OF MILAN"
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.  "Albert Einstein"

Longmane

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Re: The Italian Job
« Reply #3: July 27, 2013, 07:12:45 PM »
PT 4 (The last part)


THE SFORZAS OF MILAN

With the death of Hawkwood the time of the foreign Condottieri in Italian service began to fade, and from this time on the most prominent names in the annals of Italian wars were no longer English or German but Italian. The pattern of employment also changed, producing in one outstanding case, that of Francesco Sforza, an example of a man who started off as a mercenary captain and became a lord in his own right.

Francesco Sforza was the son of a certain Muzio Attendolo (1368-1424), a rough and illiterate soldier who earned himself the nickname of 'Sforza' ('the Force') through his prowess as a mercenary captain. On the death of his father Francesco inherited his command and his long tradition of service to the Visconti dukes of Milan.

Sforza was one of two condottieri whom Visconti employed. The other was a certain Piccinino, and an understandable rivalry grew up between them, a jealousy probably fostered by Visconti, who saw it as a way of keeping them from revolting against him. Piccinino had overall command of the Visconti forces, while to Sforza had long been promised the hand of Visconti's daughter.

In the early 1430s Sforza was sent south with an open brief to take the sides of the hill towns against the new and unpopular pope. So successful was he in this that Visconti became alarmed by the following and the lands that his employee was amassing and, in breach of his contract, was also retaining for himself. Meanwhile Piccinino had been sent elsewhere on a similar expedition and had obediently handed over all his conquests to Visconti.

As his relations with Visconti deteriorated and the prospects of marrying his daughter receded, the opportunistic Sforza, a condottiere if ever there was one, threw in his lot with Milan's great rival, Venice. A full-scale war with Milan erupted in 1438, but Sforza kept prudently in the shadows, allowing the famous condottieri Gattemalata and Colleoni to take the lead in Venice's battles against his old colleague and rival Piccinino. He finally took the field against Piccinino at the Battle of Anghiari in 1440, the bloody encounter later to be dismissed by Machiavelli as having only one casualty.

The greatest casualty at Anghiari, however, was Piccinino's reputation. Defeated by Sforza, he asked Visconti to retire him, at which the duke realized that the time was ripe to negotiate. The terms were quite straightforward. If Francesco Sforza would arrange a peace between Venice and Milan then he would receive the long-promised Visconti daughter and a large dowry. Victory was indeed sweet. Francesco's marriage to Bianca Visconti proved to be both happy and highly profitable. Bianca was also a redoubtable woman in her own right. On one occasion when Francesco was off campaigning some rebels seized one of his castles. Not wishing to have her husband distracted from his contractual duties Bianca led an army herself and recaptured the fortress.

The summer of 1447 found the Venetian army dangerously close to Milan. Sick and near to death, the old Visconti duke summoned Sforza's army to his aid, and while on the march Sforza received further news that the duke had died. Through his marriage and his unquestioned military skills Francesco Sforza had every chance of succeeding to the dukedom, but the citizens of Milan had other ideas. Suddenly they had the opportunity to throw off the old regime of dukes and their hired condottieri, and unilaterally declared the birth of the 'Golden Ambrosian Republic'.

But even a republic needed an army, and being stuck fast in the Italian mercenary tradition, Milan chose Francesco Sforza to be its captain general! Realizing the amazing opportunity he had been given, Sforza persuaded Milan to recruit the great condottieri Colleoni as well, and began a series of campaigns on the republic's behalf that promised nothing but personal success for the Sforza fortunes.

By 1448 Milan was running short of money, so Colleoni changed sides and went back to Venice. Sforza stayed on, thus demonstrating his great personal loyalty to the Milanese. A few months later his army was surprised early one morning by the Venetians at Caravaggio between Brescia and Milan. Keeping totally calm, Sforza sent a cavalry detachment round to the enemy rear while he held on against the frontal assault. The result was one of the most convincing condottieri victories of all time. Thousands ofVenetian prisoners were taken, and so devastating was the defeat that Venice was forced to sue for peace.

Negotiations, however, were conducted with Francesco Sforza himself, and not with the leaders of the Golden Ambrosian Republic, and a deal was struck whereby Sforza would receive Venetian support for his eventual takeover of Milan in return for a pledge on certain disputed territories. It was the sort of private arrangement that only a condottiere could make, and, like many a condottieri arrangement, it was as easily broken, because when Sforza did not deliver within almost a year Venice struck its own peace deal with Milan, leaving Francesco Sforza completely isolated.

Swift action was needed, so Sforza rapidly laid siege to Milan, and as the citizens grew hungry for bread, pro-Sforza sympathizers in the city stirred up a popular feeling for an honourable surrender. In February 1450, therefore, Francesco Sforza rode in triumph through Milan's open gates.

Thus did the son of an illiterate soldier rise to become one of the princes of the Renaissance through the greatest example of personal gain from mercenary service. Yet it was not to the glory of the Sforzas that Machiavelli and his contemporaries were to look when they searched their souls for the reasons for Italy's collapse in 1494. To them it was the earlier condottieri such as Hawkwood who had planted the seeds of Italy's humiliation through a form of warfare that men like Sforza had done nothing to control, and which was to leave such a bitter legacy behind it.
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.  "Albert Einstein"