Battle of Cerignola

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Battle of Cerignola
Part of the Second Italian War
Elgrancapitantrasbatalladeceriñola.jpg
Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba finds the corpse of Louis d'Armagnac. Federico de Madrazo, 1835. Museo del Prado.
Date April 28, 1503
Location Cerignola (present-day Italy)
Result Decisive Spanish victory
Belligerents
Armoiries Espagne Catholique.svg Spain  France
Commanders and leaders
Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba
Prospero Colonna
Pedro Navarro
Fabrizio Colonna
Duke of Nemours 
Yves d'Alègre
Pierre du Terrail
Strength
~6,300 men[1] ~9,000 men[2]
  • 650 French gendarmes
  • 1,100 light horse
  • 3,500 Swiss infantry
  • 2,500-3,500 French infantry
  • 40 guns (arrived too late)
Casualties and losses
100 casualties 4,000 casualties

The Battle of Cerignola was fought on April 28, 1503, between Spanish and French armies, in Cerignola, near Bari in Southern Italy. Spanish forces, under Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, formed by 6,300 men, including 2,000 landsknechte, with more than 1,000 arquebusiers, and 20 cannon, defeated the French who had 9,000 men; mainly heavy gendarme cavalry and Swiss mercenary pikemen, with about 40 cannon, and led by Louis d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, who was killed.

Preparations[edit]

Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, called "El Gran Capitán" (The Great Captain), had many strategic advantages. He formed his infantry into new units called "Coronelías," that were the seed of the later Tercios. They were armed with a mix of pikes, arquebuses and swords. This type of formation had revolutionized the Spanish army, which like the French, had also centred upon cavalry from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, in the battles of the Reconquista against the Muslims in Spain. The Spanish troops had occupied the heights of Cerignola, and entrenched his soldiers with walls and stakes. In front of the hillside, a trench was dug in which the arquebusiers took their positions. The Spanish artillery was placed on top of the hill among the wineyards, having a good view of the entire battlefield. The jinetes, Spanish light cavalry, were placed in front of the rest of the army, while the Spanish heavy cavalry under Prospero Colonna were kept in reserve.[3]

De Córdoba's troops faced a professional French army based on the Ordonnance reforms, relying on the heavily armoured cavalry of the Compagnies d'ordonnance and mercenary Swiss pikemen; however, at the same time, this army had more artillery than the Spanish. This paradox would be constant in the French armies through the first half of the sixteenth century. The French artillery however would not arrive in time to take active part in the battle.

The Battle[edit]

The battle began with two charges by the French heavy cavalry, against the centre of the Spanish army, but was dispersed by Spanish heavy artillery and arquebus fire on both occasions. The next assault tried to force the right flank, but many of the French cavalrymen fell into the Spanish trench and the attack was then broken by a storm of fire from the Spanish arquebusiers. One of those killed by the arquebus volley was the French commander Duke of Nemours, making him probably the first general killed in action by small arms fire. With the Swiss commander, Chandieu, taking charge, the Swiss infantry attacked with the cavalry instead of waiting for the arrival of the French rear guard under d'Alègre. At the imminent assault upon the Spanish center the Spanish arquebusiers were withdrawn and the Landsknechts sent forward. The Swiss formations, soon joined by the Gascons, were unable to break into the defensive positions. Shot into the flank by the arquebusiers and harassed by the Spanish cavalry, the Swiss and French were driven back, taking heavy casualties including Chandieu.

De Córdoba then called for a counterattack against the now disorganized enemy by both the Spanish infantry and the heavy Spanish cavalry waiting in reserve. Mounted arquebusiers surrounded and routed the remaining French gendarmes, but the Swiss pikeman managed to retreat in a relatively organized fashion.[4]

Upon witnessing the defeat of both the gendarmes and the pikemen, Yves d'Alègre, the commander of the French rear guard, called for a withdrawal. He was pursued by the victorious Spanish jinetes.[5]

Aftermath[edit]

The battle resulted in a heavy French defeat with the French reported to have lost around 2,000 men, Spanish losses amounting to some 500 men.[6] The French supplies, wagon train and all of the French artillery still in it fell into the hands of the victorious Spanish troops. The end of the battle saw the first time a "call to prayer" (toque de oracion) was issued, a practice that was later adopted by most Western armies, when the Great Captain, upon seeing the fields full of French bodies (who, like the Spaniards, were Christian), ordered three long tones to be played and his troops to pray for all the fallen.

After the battle the defeated French army retreated to the fortress of Gaeta north of Naples. De Córdoba's forces attempted to storm the fortress, but the attacks all failed. The besieged French were prepared for a long siege and were receiving supplies by sea. Thus unable to take Gaeta and fearing the arrival of possible French reinforcements, De Córdoba lifted the siege and retreated to Castellone, some 8 kilometers south of Gaeta.[7]

In retrospect, Cerignola marks the beginning of a near invincible Spanish dominance on European battlefields until the defeat of Rocroi in 1643 and also marked the rise of pike and shot tactics. It is considered to be the first major battle won largely through the use of firearms, comparable to what was to occur in Japan seven decades later in the Battle of Nagashino in 1575.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mallet, p64 - combined strength deducted from contingents
  2. ^ Mallet, p64 - combined strength deducted from contingents
  3. ^ Tafiłowski, Piotr (2007). Wojny włoskie 1494-1559. Zabrze: Inforeditions. ISBN 978-83-89943-18-7. 
  4. ^ Tafiłowski, Piotr (2007). Wojny włoskie 1494-1559. Zabrze: Inforeditions. ISBN 978-83-89943-18-7. 
  5. ^ Tafiłowski, Piotr (2007). Wojny włoskie 1494-1559. Zabrze: Inforeditions. ISBN 978-83-89943-18-7. 
  6. ^ Tafiłowski, Piotr (2007). Wojny włoskie 1494-1559. Zabrze: Inforeditions. ISBN 978-83-89943-18-7. 
  7. ^ Tafiłowski, Piotr (2007). Wojny włoskie 1494-1559. Zabrze: Inforeditions. ISBN 978-83-89943-18-7. 

Sources[edit]

  • Batista González, Juan (2007). España Estratégica. Guerra y Diplomacia en la Historia de España. Sílex. ISBN 978-84-7737-183-0
  • Losada, Juan Carlos (2006). Batallas Decisivas de la Historia de España. Punto de Lectura. ISBN 978-84-663-1484-8
  • Mallet, Michael and Shaw, Christine. The Italian Wars 1494-1559. Harlow: Pearson Educated Limited (2012) ISBN 0-582-05758-6.
  • Tafiłowski, Piotr (2007). Wojny włoskie 1494-1559. Zabrze: Inforeditions. ISBN 978-83-89943-18-7

Coordinates: 41°16′N 15°54′E / 41.267°N 15.900°E / 41.267; 15.900