Battle of Ravenna (1512)
|Battle of Ravenna|
|Part of the War of the League of Cambrai|
Battle of Ravenna (woodcut by unknown artist, 16th century)
Duchy of Ferrara
|Commanders and leaders|
| Gaston de Foix †
Jacques de La Palice
Alfonso I d'Este
| Ramón de Cardona
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Ravenna, fought on 11 April 1512, by forces of the Holy League and France, was a major battle of the War of the League of Cambrai in the Italian Wars. Although the French drove the Spanish-Papal army from the field, their victory failed to help them secure northern Italy, and they would be forced to withdraw from the region entirely by August 1512.
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Beginning in February 1512, the French forces in Italy, newly commanded by Gaston de Foix, Duc de Nemours, had been engaged in capturing cities in the Romagna and the Veneto, in an attempt to deny control of those regions to the forces of the Holy League. Although he had been successful in a number of sieges, Nemours was aware that the impending invasion of France by Henry VIII of England would cause much of his army to be withdrawn, and he was determined to force the main army of the Holy League into battle before that occurred. Thus, in late March, Nemours, together with an Italian contingent under Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, marched east from Bologna and laid siege to the city of Ravenna, which was defended by Papal troops.
Julius II, alarmed at the prospect of losing his last stronghold in the Romagna, demanded that an army be sent to relieve the city; Ramón de Cardona had to comply, and the Spanish army set out for Ravenna with a company of Papal troops in tow. By 9 April, they had passed Forlì, and were advancing north along the Ronco River towards the city, and on the next day had reached Molinaccio, only a mile south of the French positions, but still separated from them by the Ronco. Nemours, short on supplies and increasingly anxious to give battle before he was forced to withdraw from Italy, ordered a general attack for the following day.
The strengths, relative positions, and commanders of the component elements of both armies are unclear, and different arrangements are given by historians. The French army formed up in an arc to the east of Cardona's fortified camp; closest to the river were about 900 men-at-arms of the "vaward", under Jacques de La Palice and Alfonso d'Este. Next to this cavalry was the bulk of the infantry. According to Charles Oman, it consisted of three separate units: 3,500 Gascon crossbowmen, 5,000 landsknechts under Jacob Empser, and 3,000 Picards and Gascons under Thomas Bohier, the Seneschal of Normandy. Frederick Taylor groups the infantry into only two units: 9,500 landsknechts under Empser and 8,000 "Gascon archers and Picard pikemen" under the Seigneur de Molart. The men-at-arms of the "main-battle", consisting of 780 men, was commanded by either Bohier alone, or by Bohier together with the Vicomte de Lautrec, Louis d'Ars, and the Chevalier de Bayard. This cavalry occupied one of two positions: according to Oman and Thomas Arnold, it was placed in the arc to the left of the French infantry, while Taylor has it behind the cavalry of the "vaward", next to the river. Farther to the left of the French line—beyond the cavalry of the "main-battle", according to Arnold and Oman, or directly flanking the infantry, according to Taylor—was the "rearward" corps of the army, commanded by Yves d'Alégre. It consisted of about 4,000 mostly Italian infantry under Frederigo de Bozzolo, flanked, on the extreme left, by about 2,000 light cavalry under Gian Bernardo Caracciolo.
The arrangement of the Holy League army is similarly a matter of dispute; Oman comments that "the array of Cardona's army, though elaborately described by more than one narrator, is not very easy to make out." At the north end of the camp, near the river, was the cavalry of the "vaward", consisting of about 670 Papal men-at-arms under Fabrizio Colonna. Farther along the river were two more bodies of men-at-arms: the "main-battle", consisting of 565 men under the Marquis of La Palude, and the rearguard, consisting of 490 men under Alfonso Carvajal. Taylor divides the Holy League infantry into four blocks: three divisions of Spanish infantry, each consisting of four colunellas of 500–600 men each, and one formation of Papal infantry, numbering about 2,000, all under the general command of Pedro Navarro; Taylor places the formations of infantry in a deep column parallel to the river, on the far side of the cavalry, and perpendicular to the entrenchments. Oman and Arnold place the infantry in three lines running along the length of the entrenchements; no number is given for the first of these, but the second is given as consisting of 4,000 men, and the third, placed as a reserve, as including "three Spanish foot regiments" as well as the 2,000 Papal infantry. Beyond the infantry—to the far side of it from the river, according to Taylor, or at the end of its line, according to Oman and Arnold—was the light cavalry, consisting of 1,500–1,700 Spanish ginetes and Italian mounted arquebusiers under the command of Fernando d'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara.
The advancing French troops halted about two hundred paces from the enemy lines. The sporadic exchange of artillery fire that had been taking place since the French had begun to cross the Ronco now developed into a full-scale artillery duel between the two armies that lasted more than two hours. A new tactic, the open-field exchange of artillery fire was "the most violent cannonade between armies in the field that the world had yet seen", according to Taylor, and "the first of its kind in the historical record", according to Bert Hall.
De Foix placed the bulk of his artillery in front of the French right wing, directing its fire into the Holy League's camp. Navarro ordered his infantry to take cover—the troops hid in the trenches, or lay prone on the slopes of the river embankments—but Colonna's men-at-arms had no shelter available, and began to take heavy casualties from the cannon fire. The Spanish artillery, meanwhile, ignored the French cavalry and concentrated its fire on the massed Gascons and landsknechts in the French center. The Spanish fire was, according to Oman, "excessively murderous", and casualties among the French infantry were substantial; as many as 2,000 men were killed, and the Gascons were so shaken by the fire that the landsknechts were forced to push them back with pikes in order to keep them in line.
Not content with bombarding the camp from one side, the French moved to enfilade it from the flanks. The Duke of Ferarra, who had apparently been acting independently of the main army since the crossing of the Ronco, had moved twenty-four of his cannon around the rear of the French position, finally bringing them up on the left flank, facing Pescara's light cavalry. From this position, d'Este's guns inflicted heavy casualties on Pescara and Carvajal's cavalry; so intense was the fire that some of it overshot the camp, inflicting casualties on the French troops on the other side. Yves d'Alègre, meanwhile, had devised a similar plan on the other flank; re-crossing the Ronco with two heavy guns, he positioned them across the river from the Spanish camp—directly to the rear of Colonna's position. The fire of these two guns inflicted massive casualties on Colonna's closely packed cavalry.
Pressed from both sides by the fire of the French and Ferrarese artillery, the Holy League's cavalry could not hold their positions indefinitely. The first to move were the heavy cavalry of the rearguard under Carvajal, riding out from the entrenchments towards the Ferrarese guns on the French left; according to Taylor, Carvajal's advance was disorderly and possibly spontaneous. Carvajal was quickly joined by Pescara's light cavalry and by the Marquis of La Palude, both having been sent forward by Cardona; together, these bodies of cavalry advanced on the French line, Palude moving directly forwards while Pescara attempted a flanking movement. The target of the cavalry attack is inconsistently named among contemporary sources; both Oman and Taylor agree that it must have been the heavy cavalry of the French "main-battle", commanded by Foix, Lautrec, and the Seneschal of Normandy, which had apparently moved towards the French left.
Carvajal, Pescara, and Palude converged on the French cavalry, which split into two bodies and met both Spanish attacks head-on. The initial Spanish charges were unsuccessful in breaking the French line; Taylor attributes their failure to the depleted morale of the Spanish cavalry after the artillery bombardment, the effect of "ditches and vegetation" on the Spanish formations, the better tactics of the French, and the arrival of reinforcements sent by La Palice from the French vanguard. The bodies of French and Spanish cavalry then engaged in a lengthy fight along the left of the French positions.
Meanwhile, Fabrizio Colonna, having seen the other Spanish cavalry engaged, rode out between the Ronco and the Spanish trenches and charged the French line; his target is similarly the subject of disagreement among contemporary sources, but Oman and Taylor agree that he must have attacked the portion of the French vanguard under La Palice which the latter had not sent to assist Foix in the center. As Colonna and La Palice fought along the French right, d'Alègre, who had earlier been summoned by La Palice, arrived with 400 fresh heavy cavalry, as well as the infantry of the French reserve. Colonna's formation, pressed from multiple directions, began to disintegrate, with some of his men-at-arms fleeing the field and others retreating south to where the other Spanish cavalry was engaged.
D'Alègre followed the retreating Spanish troops to the center, where the remnants of the Spanish cavalry were engaged in a desperate melee against the French. Finally, when a part of the French vanguard joined the fight as well, the Spanish cavalry broke; Pescara and La Palude were taken prisoner, Colonna retreated back into the Spanish entrenchments, and Carvajal and Cardona fled south-west towards Cesena. A large part of the French cavalry pursued the retreating Spanish, while the others turned to take part in the infantry fight which had unfolded in the meantime.
As the Spanish cavalry was making its initial attack, Foix had sent orders for the French infantry to advance on the Holy League's camp. A mixed group of 2,000 Gascon crossbowmen and 1,000 Picard pikemen, gathered from Molart's and Bozollo's troops, advanced towards the camp; according to Taylor, they moved along a path between the embankment and the river, and were shielded from view by the former. The Gascons advanced to the edge of the Spanish entrenchments and began to fire onto the Spanish infantry; according to Oman, they were immediately driven back by "a blistering fire of arquebuses and swivel guns", while Taylor writes that Navarro moved the Papal infantry forward to engage them.
The main column of landsknechts had meanwhile made its way to the edge of the Spanish entrenchments, and begun to force its way into the fortified camp. Jacob Empser and his lieutenant Fabian von Schlabendorf were both killed in the initial push, but parts of the German column finally crossed the ditch and engaged the waiting Spanish infantry hand-to-hand. The Spanish swordsmen inflicted massive casualties among the landsknechts—who were unable to defend themselves with long pikes at such close quarters—and the German column recoiled back across the trenches, having suffered more than a thousand casualties.
The landsknechts and the Gascons proceeded to attack once more, with even greater casualties. Fabrizio Colonna, who had by this time returned to the camp with the remnants of his cavalry, charged into the flank of the attacking infantry; he would write that "with 200 lances he could have retrieved the fortune of the day". Two companies of Spanish infantry attacked the Gascons engaged on the riverbank, breaking their formation, killing Molart, and pursuing them back towards the French artillery positions. The remaining infantry on both sides continued meanwhile to struggle across the entrenchments.
At this juncture, the French cavalry—both those that had returned from the pursuit of Cardona and those that had remained on the field—descended on the Spanish infantry from all sides. Together with the German and Gascon infantry, which had reformed and now renewed its attacks, the French cavalry overwhelmed the Spanish formations, inflicting terrible casualties; Colonna and Navarro were both wounded and captured as they tried to rally the defenders. A few thousand of the Spanish infantry managed to escape, fleeing towards Cesena and Forlì; the others were "ridden over and trampled down", according to Oman.
The two Spanish companies which had earlier routed the Gascons, having found their path north barred by the French rearguard under the Bastard du Fay, had meanwhile retraced their path along the river back towards the camp. Marching south along the embankment, they were attacked by Gaston de Foix and his personal staff, numbering about fifteen; in the ensuing melee, the French knights were scattered, Foix was killed, and the Spanish proceeded to withdraw from the field. A few miles from the battlefield, the Spanish infantry encountered Bayard, returning from his pursuit of Cardona; lacking the numbers to break them, Bayard let them pass, not knowing that they had just killed his commander.
The death of Gaston de Foix was a huge blow to the French, and his men were very sad to hear of his death. The young, talented general had a very high command level and had masterminded a remarkable string of victories in Italy. He was inspiring and faithful to his men. The Italian Wars might have taken a very different course had he survived the battle.
Following the death of Gaston de Foix, command of the French army fell to La Palice, who had little interest in pursuing the retreating Spanish forces, preferring instead to return to the siege of Ravenna. The city soon fell, and the French proceeded to thoroughly sack it. However, much of the French army was withdrawn to France following the battle, and La Palice was forced to extricate himself from Italy in August by renewed efforts on the part of the Holy League.
The Spanish forces in Italy were almost entirely destroyed at Ravenna, but Cardona would raise another army and appear in Lombardy in 1513. In the meantime, both Navarro and Colonna would see combat, Colonna in command of an Italian army and Navarro in the service of Francis I of France.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 134–138, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 182–185, 206–207. Taylor relies primarily on the accounts by Guicciardini and Pandolfini for the positions of the units, and on the account by Sanuto for the numbers; he notes that Sanuto apparently records the official strength of each army, rather than the number of men actually present. Oman also notes that he follows Sanuto's numbers, as he considers them "more trustworthy than later details and figures given by Guicciardini and others" (Oman, Art of War, 134).
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 134–135, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 182. Taylor gives the number of men in the vaward as 910.
- Oman, Art of War, 134–135, 143. Oman notes that the second group of French infantry was actually part of the "main-battle" rather than the "vaward". Arnold gives the identical positioning of units, but does not mention their numbers or commanders (Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166).
- Taylor, Art of War, 183.
- Oman, Art of War, 134; Taylor, Art of War, 182–183. Taylor names only Bohier as the commander, while Oman lists him together with the others.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 134–136, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 182–183, 207. Taylor notes that he follows Guicciardini's account in placing the cavalry behind the main line. Oman acknowledges this point by Guicciardini, but considers it "difficult to reconcile with the details of some of the later fighting given by other writers"; he believes that "it would seem more likely that they were in the true centre of the array" (Oman, Art of War, 135–136).
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 134–136, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 183.
- Oman, Art of War, 134–136, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 183. According to Oman, the light cavalry included 300 Ferarrese mounted arquebusiers, as well as French mounted crossbowmen and stradioti. Taylor also mentions the presence of about 1,000 dismounted archers with the light cavalry; Oman includes a further 300 men-at-arms under d'Alégre.
- Oman, Art of War, 137.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 137, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 184. The Papal cavalry was positioned close to the gap in the entrenchements near the riverbank.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 137–138, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 184.
- Taylor, Art of War, 184. The Papal infantry is the third formation in the column, between the last two Spanish divisions. According to Taylor, Carvajal's cavalry was farther back than the last of these.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 137–138, 143. Oman notes that Guicciardini records the strength of the Papal infantry as 4,000, but considers it to be "probably an exaggeration". He gives a number of possibilities for the commander of the Papal troops: he was "a captain called Ramassot" according to Fabrizio Colonna and Bayard, "Cornelio Romaeo of Bologna" according to Köchlein, and "Hernan Magote" according to Spanish sources; Oman comments that "he is otherwise unknown" (Oman, Art of War, 138).
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 166; Oman, Art of War, 137, 143; Taylor, Art of War, 184. Taylor gives the lower bound for the strength of the light cavalry, while Oman gives the higher.
- Taylor, Art of War, 188.
- Black, European Warfare, 73–74; Hall, Weapons and Warfare, 172; Oman, Art of War, 138; Taylor, Art of War, 187–188. Taylor gives a number of figures from contemporary sources for the length of the cannonade; according to Fabrizio Collonna, Jacopo Guicciardini, Francesco Guicciardini, Coccinius, and the Rélacion, it lasted two hours, while Pandolfini and Floranges record it as lasting three. Black notes the cannonade's "unprecedented length" (Black, European Warfare, 74).
- Hall, Weapons and Warfare, 172; Oman, Art of War, 138; Taylor, Art of War, 188.
- Oman, Art of War, 138.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 167; Hall, Weapons and Warfare, 172; Oman, Art of War, 138; Taylor, Art of War, 188–189.
- Hall, Weapons and Warfare, 172; Oman, Art of War, 139; Taylor, Art of War, 189.
- Oman, Art of War, 139; Taylor, Art of War, 189. Oman cites the accounts by Coccinius, Bayard, and Floranges for depictions of the casualties; he notes, however, that Coccinius is "rather propagandistic in praising the steadiness of his compatriots, and depreciating that of the French" (Oman, Art of War, 139). According to Oman, Coccinius and Bayard relate that Philip of Freiberg, the landsknechts' second-in-command, and a Gascon captain named De Molard, were "cut in two by the same cannonball, as they were talking together between their lines" (Oman, Art of War, 139). Hall merely notes that the French center was "pounded mercilessly" (Hall, Weapons and Warfare, 172).
- Taylor, Art of War, 189.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 167; Oman, Art of War, 138–139; Taylor, Art of War, 209–210. The route taken by d'Este is unclear. Taylor notes that some contemporary accounts, including Pandolfini and Castello, make mention of guns that were moved from the French right to the French center, and that Guicciardini assumes that it was the Duke of Ferrara who was responsible for the move. Taylor, however, believes that Giovio's account, which has d'Este maneuvering independently from the beginning, is more accurate, since his heavy cannon could not be moved across the broken terrain immediately behind the French position. Oman echoes this argument; he writes that, as "no 'point-to-point' movement was possible", d'Este could not have been initially involved with the cannonade on the French right, and must have moved directly to his final position after crossing the river (Oman, Art of War, 138–139).
- Oman, Art of War, 138–139; Taylor, Art of War, 190. Taylor cites Giovio for the account of d'Este causing casualties on his own side; he notes it as indicating that the Ferrarese guns were able to enfilade the entire length of the Spanish camp.
- Arnold, Renaissance at War, 167; Hall, Weapons and Warfare, 172; Oman, Art of War, 139–140; Taylor, Art of War, 189–190, 208. Arnold has d'Alègre move the guns later in the battle, after the cavalry engagement had begun; Hall attributes the move to the Duke of Ferrara instead of d'Alègre.
- Oman, Art of War, 139–140. Oman notes that Colonna, after his capture, related that he had seen a single cannonball kill thirty-three of his men-at-arms.
- Oman, Art of War, 140; Taylor, Art of War, 190–191. Oman writes that the artillery fire exerted an "intolerable pressure" on the cavalry, and that Colona "made up his mind that he would have to charge at all costs" (Oman, Art of War, 140).
- Oman, Art of War, 140; Taylor, Art of War, 191, 211–213. Taylor, citing the Relacion, writes that Carvajal's movement was "dictated by panic, and undertaken perhaps without the viceroy's permission" (Taylor, Art of War, 191). Black also notes that the cavalry advance was "unplanned" (Black, European Warfare, 74).
- Oman, Art of War, 140; Taylor, Art of War, 191, 211–213. According to Oman, Pescara followed Carvajal immediately, while La Palude was sent out later, and "had difficulty in joining the rest" (Oman, Art of War, 140). Taylor, meanwhile, writes that Pescara and La Palude both followed Carvajal "on instructions from the viceroy" (Taylor, Art of War, 191).
- Oman, Art of War, 140; Taylor, Art of War, 191, 211–213. Taylor presents a lengthy analysis of the contemporary chroniclers and their differing accounts of the Spanish charge; he cites Bayard, Pandolfini, and Vignati as indicating that the Spanish target was the main body of French heavy cavalry (Taylor, Art of War, 211).
- Taylor, Art of War, 191–192, 211–213.
- Taylor, Art of War, 191–192, 211–213. Taylor notes that because of the broken ground, Palude was "able to muster only one-third of his men for the vital shock" (Taylor, Art of War, 192).
- Oman, Art of War, 140. Oman writes that "the Spanish horse are given by all authorities a fine testimonial for their repeated charges" (Oman, Art of War, 140).
- Oman, Art of War, 140–141; Taylor, Art of War, 192–193, 211–213. According to Oman, Bayard claims that Colonna attacked the French "main-battle"; but Oman notes that this is inconsistent with Colonna's claim that he did not attack until the other Spanish formations were engaged. He cites Pandolfini as the only chronicler who "says definitely that Colonna fought La Palice, which seems to have been the fact" (Oman, Art of War, 141). Taylor writes that Colonna had suggested that Navarro attack as well, but that the latter, having "opposed the decision to launch the cavalry", demurred (Taylor, Art of War, 193). He also notes the inconsistency between the accounts of Pandolfini and Bayard.
- Oman, Art of War, 141; Taylor, Art of War, 193, 212–213.
- Oman, Art of War, 141; Taylor, Art of War, 193, 212–213. Taylor writes that "Fabrizio soon found that his command had all but disappeared" (Taylor, Art of War, 193).
- Oman, Art of War, 141; Taylor, Art of War, 194, 212–213. Taylor writes that "for half-an-hour all that survived of the Spanish cavalry supported a bitter hand-to-hand struggle with the bulk of the French gendarmerie" (Taylor, Art of War, 194).
- Oman, Art of War, 141–142; Taylor, Art of War, 194, 212–213. Oman writes that "Ramon of Cardona—much to Colonna's disgust—left the field with the broken squadrons, while Pedro Navarro and the infantry were still making a gallant bid for victory" (Oman, Art of War, 142).
- Oman, Art of War, 142; Taylor, Art of War, 194.
- Oman, Art of War, 142; Taylor, Art of War, 195. Oman notes that the infantry had been "waiting for orders under a devastating fire" (Oman, Art of War, 142).
- Oman, Art of War, 142; Taylor, Art of War, 195. Oman makes no mention of the path by which the Gascons advanced, and states only that they were ordered to "press on towards the Spanish line" (Oman, Art of War, 142).
- Oman, Art of War, 142; Taylor, Art of War, 195–196. Oman notes that the "swivel guns" may have been those mounted on Navarro's carts. He does not mention the engagement of the Papal infantry until later in the battle.
- Oman, Art of War, 142–143; Taylor, Art of War, 195–197.
- Oman, Art of War, 143–144; Taylor, Art of War, 196–197. Oman writes that Schlabendorf was killed as he "made a gap in the line of Spanish pikes by taking his own pike by the butt and using it like a flail" (Oman, Art of War, 143).
- Oman, Art of War, 144; Taylor, Art of War, 197. Taylor writes that the swordsmen caused "terrible carnage" in the German formation (Taylor, Art of War, 197).
- Oman, Art of War, 144. Oman writes that "nine of the twelve German landsknecht captains were killed or wounded" (Oman, Art of War, 144).
- Oman, Art of War, 144; Taylor, Art of War, 197. Oman notes that Colonna's view was "optimistic" (Oman, Art of War, 144).
- Oman, Art of War, 144; Taylor, Art of War, 196–197. Taylor cites Floranges, the Loyal Serviteur, Pandolfini, Guicciardini, and Peter Martyr as sources for the rout of the Gascons. He notes that the Spanish charge must have taken place after the end of the cavalry engagement, since Alègre was present and was killed trying to rally the French infantry.
- Oman, Art of War, 144–145.
- Oman, Art of War, 145; Taylor, Art of War, 198. Oman and Taylor both note that the French cavalry entered the camp both through the gap between the river and the entrenchments, and by jumping over the ditch itself. Taylor mentions that the Duke of Ferrara "left his guns... and joined the general assault" (Taylor, Art of War, 198).
- Oman, Art of War, 145; Taylor, Art of War, 198–199. Oman mentions that Colonna attempted to bring up Ramassot's infantry, which Taylor lists as already having been committed.
- Oman, Art of War, 145; Taylor, Art of War, 198–199.
- Oman, Art of War, 145; Taylor, Art of War, 196.
- Oman, Art of War, 146; Taylor, Art of War, 199, 214–215. Taylor comments that there is some confusion in contemporary accounts about where and how Foix met his death; he follows the account of the Loyal Serviteur in placing his death at the hands of the retreating Spanish companies.
- Oman, Art of War, 146–147. Oman cites passages from the Loyal Serviteur for this episode.
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Further reading and historiography
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