John Hawkwood

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Engraving representing John Hawkwood.

Sir John Hawkwood (c. 1323–1394) was an Italian condottiere from England in the 14th century. As his name was claimed to be hard to pronounce by non-English contemporaries, there are many variations of it in the historical record. As a result, he often referred to himself as "Haukevvod", and others called him "Giovanni Acuto" meaning "John the Astute" or "John Sharp" referring to his "cleverness or cunning." [1] His legacy has made him a man shrouded in myth and reality in both England and Italy.

Early life[edit]

Hawkwood is understood to have born in Sible Hedingham, which is an old Roman outpost, in Essex. He was the second son of Gilbert Hawkwood. Modern accounts like to present Hawkwood's upbringing as a poor peasant, but the facts tell a different story. Some sources claim that his father was a tanner,[2] but the historical record has uncovered that Gilbert Hawkwood was a landowner of "considerable wealth."[3] His father had property in both Sible Hedingham and Finchingfield.[4] The lack of information about his childhood has created many myths about his childhood. For example, the Florentine chronicler, Filippo Vilani, claimed that the reason his last name was "Hawkwood" was because when his mother was in labor she demanded that she give birth in a forest, so he was literally the "hawk of the wood."[5] However, he did not reside at home for long, and there are records that show that he moved to London to be an apprentice under a tailor. Many scholars have rejected this notion, but in the Middle Ages, tailors often turned into military men.

Career[edit]

Hawkwood began his career in the Hundred Years' War in France under Edward III as a longbowman.[6] It has been argued that he participated in both of Battle of Crécy in 1346 and the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.[7] After Poitiers, he joined the Great Company /White Company, which was an infamous band of mercenaries, with whom he then crossed into Italy in 1361. He became its captain in 1363. Although Hawkwood was knighted, there is no has clear evidence by whom or where. Some sources claim he was knighted by the Black Prince after the Battle of Poitiers, but there is no evidence in the historical record of this. In Italy, all major condottiere were classified as knights, which means the distinction in itself is ambiguous. After arriving in Italy, he fought with numerous factions such as the Pope, Milan and Florence for the rest of his life, ending his career in Florence.

Mercenary in France[edit]

After the Treaty of Brétigny on 8 May 1360, many free companies began to form. The largest, the Great Company, was formed in eastern France. Hawkwood joined this company and eventually rose to be its commander. During his time, the band moved to Champagne, Burgundy, and eventually Avignon. The company seized Pont-Saint-Espirt near Avignon for three months on the night of 28/29 December 1360. This blocked the collection point for taxes to pay for the ransom of King John, who was taken in the Battle of Poitiers. Initially, Pope Innocent VI wrote to the group seeking peace, in a letter which identified Hawkwood as its leader. The group was unresponsive to the Pope's plea and continued to harass the fort. This resulted in the company being excommunicated by the Pope. In March 1361, the company and the Pope made peace by making a deal to contract them to fight for the him "across the Pyrenees in Spain and across the Alps in Italy" with the promise of guaranteed military service, thus splitting the group.[8] Hawkwood joined the group traveling to Italy.

However, before the company arrived in Italy on the orders of the Pope, they joined Marquis of Montferrat and his war against Amadeus VI, ruler of Savoy. The company successfully attacked Savigliano and Rivarolo, and remained in the Savoy territory for a year. Amadeus made his last stand in 1362 in Lanzo and lost to the company. It was due to this victory that Marquis of Montferrat decided to sign a contract with the company on 22 November stating they would now fight the Visconti under him.[9]

Serving Italian factions[edit]

Hawkwood and his company arrived in Italy during the power vacuum following the Great Schism of the papacy, and many different political figures were vying for power. The Pisan–Florentine War was the beginning of Hawkwood's military career there, as he assumed command of the Pisan army in the winter of 1364–65, at the age of almost forty.[10] The Battle of Cascina determined the war. Before the war, John Hawkwood and the Pisan army had met at Malatesta. Hawkwood's tactics in this battle is what distinguished him as a military commander, even though he lost it. He took account of the terrain and conditions of the battlefield and positioned his army accordingly. However, the turning point came when the opposing commander ordered an enveloping move that cut Hawkwood off from the rest of his army. Hawkwood ordered his army to retreat. Modern perception of the battle is romanticized, as it is claimed as a heroic stand against great odds. Yet the defeat is likely to have been due to young, undisciplined soldiers fighting on Hawkwood's side.[11]

The second telling battle in Hawkwood's career was Rubiera on 2 June 1372, fought between papal forces and Bernabó Visconti. Both sides had concluded a formal truce, but in reality they were gathering more troops. Hawkwood and Visconti commanded a force of 1,000 lancers with no infantry. The papal forces were larger, consisting around 1,200 lances and infantry. Hawkwood outflanked and outmaneuvered his enemy and took most of the high-ranking officers captive. The victory shows Hawkwood's ability as a commander, although it had no significant political results and ended in a truce between the Visconti and the Pope.[12]

One of Hawkwood's more important roles was in the Great Raid on Tuscany, which shows the connections of the condottiere and the political prosperity of the Italian states. The raid led directly to war between Florence and Gregory XI and it boosted Hawkwood's career in fame and wealth. Frustrated by not being paid by the Pope, Hawkwood marched toward Tuscany on the Via Emilia toward Florence. Two Tuscan ambassadors met with him to conclude a truce, for which they paid him 130,000 florins.[13] He continued to march through various territories, such as Pisa, Siena, and Arezzo, where he continually pressed for money. Many believed these raids were under orders from the Pope, and so they led to a defensive league between Florence and Milan. Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo, and Queen Johanna of Naples soon followed and joined the defensive league against the company and the Pope. No matter who was responsible for the raid, Hawkwood's raid proved the "casus belli", which eventually led to the War of Eight Saints.[14]

In the War of Eight Saints in 1375, Hawkwood and his company began the war fighting for the Pope, Gregory XI, against Florence. In December, he went to Città di Castello on orders to put down a rebellion, but ended up capturing the city, which was not what the frustrated Pope had intended. Hawkwood did this because he wanted the Pope to pay for his service. As a result, Gregory XI "had little choice but to formally invest him with it, in return for uncompensated services."[15] After capturing Città di Castello, Hawkwood rode to Faenza on 12 February 1376, on orders of the papal governor for protection because he feared revolt. While at Faenza, Hawkwood was attempting to lay siege to the neighboring town of Granarola but was forced to retreat back to the Faenza. The papal governor opened the gates to Hawkwood, who once he had entered demanded that the inhabitants surrender their arms. Being unpaid by the Pope, they sacked the town instead. On hearing this, the opposing side, Florence, bribed Hawkwood not to fight and offered him a pension, as well as forgiveness for all betrayals and wrongdoings that he had committed against Florence. Yet Hawkwood remained with the Pope. Later he took part in the Massacre at Cesena, where he was called to help enforce a decree promising forgiveness to citizens who laid down their arms. Thus Hawkwood and his men joined the attack on the unarmed civilians.[16] This was a turning point in Hawkwood's career, after which he left papal service and began working with Milan, Florence, and their allies.

Hawkwood would eventually sign a contract with Florence after a quarrel with his father-in-law, Bernabó Visconti. After winning a battle against John Horvatí, Hawkwood and Lutz Landau crossed paths with Horvatí and stole some prey from his hunt. Bernabó was unsettled with this, and consequently stripped Hawkwood of Milanese land received in his wife's dowry. Thereafter Florence hired Hawkwood, the Landau brothers and their company for eight months, but the contract lasted much longer.[17]

Last years with Florence[edit]

By 1385, Hawkwood was over sixty years old, with land holdings in both Italy and England. Most of his duties under Florence were defensive, and he had not fought in a major battle in over a decade. However, in the winter of 1385–86, war broke out between Padua and Verona. The most important battle of the war was the Battle of Castagnaro, which is seen as Hawkwood's "finest victory and one of the greatest feats of military prowess of the era."[18] During the battle, Hawkwood saw that the Veronese's left flank was exposed and ordered his men to advance, in this way securing victory for him and his Paduan allies. The Paduan Chronicle claimed that 4,620 fighting men were captured.[19]

Hawkwood's role in the 1390–92 war against Milan was his last major military campaign. No new glory was won, except for his exceptional and wise retreat while in Milanese territory. His last military deed was to help put pressure on an opposing mercenary company under Biordo Michelotti, Broglia da Chieri, and "other unemployed soldiers", which he and his men successfully drove back.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Hawkwood had two wives. Little is known of the first, except that she was probably English, and she gave birth to at least one child, a daughter named Antiochia, who married into a prominent English Essex family, the Coggeshales.[21] His second marriage is well documented. He was married 1377 to Donnina Visconti, an illegitimate daughter of a Milanese ruler, Bernabó Visconti. It was political match; she is described as a "forceful character, in the mold of her father and the Visconti women in general."[22] They had four children: Janet, Catherine, Anna, and John. It is also clear that Hawkwood had many mistresses and illegitimate children, like many men in his profession. Two of his documented illegitimate sons were John and Thomas Hawkwood. Hawkwood used favors of the Pope to get John a position in the church of St Paul in London, while Thomas was taken hostage in 1376 in Bologna and was returned to England, where he started a career as a mercenary captain.[23]

Education[edit]

Some claim that Hawkwood could neither read nor write, based on one event in which he had his contract with Florence read aloud to him in 1385. Nevertheless, this practice was not uncommon for captains of his status, and it should be suggested that he could read or write. In one correspondence with the Count of Armagnac, the Flemish chronicler, Jean Froissart, claimed that he either "read or had read to him."[24] Based on this, it is reasonable to claim some education for Hawkwood.

Appearance[edit]

Although descriptions of other condottiere exist, a consistent description of John Hawkwood is never clearly stated. In a modern account by Joseph Jay Deiss, Hawkwood is said to have been a "heavy set sort, a young ox in the shoulders, powerful of arm and hand... His brown eyes were large, calculating and set wide apart under heavy brows. His nose was long, irregular and came to a point... His straight chestnut hair clung carelessly."[25] The only clear source for Hawkwood's appearance is a fresco by Paolo Uccello. The portrait is not a firsthand account, but rather it is a copy of an earlier portrayal. Physical description is hard to derive as it shows Hawkwood sitting on a horse in partial armor. Recent scholarship has suggested "Hawkwood's very pose is suspect and that the composition was probably a piece of Florentine propaganda, intended to convey the image of the obedient captain conducting an inspection of troops."[26] Given this information by various authors, there is no true observation of his physical appearance, and evidence from pictures must be treated with caution.

Personality[edit]

During his life, the main personality traits used to describe Hawkwood were craft and brutality. Evidence of his craft was seen in his tactics, which included feigned retreats, ambushes, and the use of false information. For example, before fleeing Milanese territory in 1391, Hawkwood accepted his opponent's challenge to meet on the battlefield next morning. However, Hawkwood "picked up camp and quietly escaped through back routes, placing his battle standards and banners high on the trees so that the enemy would assume he was still there. He then detached a contingent of his men and placed them in the woods to entrap the enemy as it pursued [him]."[27] His troops would rape women, murder peasants, and dismember their enemies. This has brought Hawkwood's religiosity into question. He was known to sack monasteries and holy places. He even harassed the Pope in Avignon, but there is also evidence that he was not completely godless, as he requested a portable altar for Mass while on campaign. Today Hawkwood is often described as an "honest" character. Geoffrey Trease gives "fidelity" as his main characteristic, because of his persistent commitment to fulfilling orders from his employers.[28] However, this is not true, as he often flouted his contracts and disobeyed employers. In one case, he abandoned the Milanese army twice.

Death[edit]

Hawkwood died on 17 March 1394 before he was able to retire to England.[29] His funeral on 20 March was followed by an elaborate burial ceremony in the Duomo. It is recorded that the town fathers "furnished three banners with the arms of Florence and a helmet with a golden lion holding a lily in its claw as the crest," and his personal brigade sent "fourteen caparisoned warhorses, bearing the Englishmen's personal banner, sword, shield, and helmet.[30] As his reputation spread through Europe in his lifetime, even Richard II of England requested that Hawkwood's body be transferred back to his "native land."

Memory and monuments[edit]

Originally, under Albizzi government, it had been intended to build a marble tomb for Hawkwood, but the money was lacking. In 1436, the Medici hired Paolo Uccello to paint the Duomo. Uccello painted a portrait of John Hawkwood that survives today in the third bay of the northern wall. Hawkwood is set on a gray-green horse with a commander's baton, dressed in partial armor. Uccello used a technique called terra verde to attempt to emulate a bronze statue in painting.[31]

Hawkwood is also honored at St Peter's Church, Sible Hedingham in England. The structure has canopied arches where there is a symbolic picture of a hawk on an arch, under which is a low altar, where a picture of Hawkwood standing in prayer between two wives used to be, but it has disappeared over time. It had Hawkwood saying "Son of God, remember me," while the first wife says "Mother of mine, remember me," and the second wife "Mother of Christ, remember me."[32]

Notes and references[edit]

References

Other sources[edit]

Fiction[edit]

  • Sir Arthur Conan DoyleThe White Company (originally published in serial form in 1891) is loosely based on John Hawkwood and his exploits.
  • Marion Polk Angellotti wrote a novel, Sir John Hawkwood: A Tale of the White Company in Italy in 1911, which was followed by eight short stories about Hawkwood which appeared in Adventure magazine between 1911 and 1915. The novel and all eight short stories have recently been collected for the first time in The Black Death: The Saga of Sir John Hawkwood and the Adventures of the White Company (2010) ISBN 978-1-928619-89-5 by Black Dog Books.
  • Hubert Cole wrote a series of three novels featuring the adventures of John Hawkwood: Hawkwood (1967), Hawkwood In Paris (1969) and Hawkwood And The Towers Of Pisa (1973)
  • Gordon Dickson wrote a series of several novels called the Childe Cycle making reference to and featuring John Hawkwood as a character. The novels of the main Childe Cycle making reference to Hawkwood include:
  • The Final Encyclopedia (1984)
  • The Chantry Guild (1988)
  • Aidan Harte – The Wave Trilogy, has a John Acuto leading the Hawks Company and is largely based upon John Hawkwood and the White Company
  • Sir John Hawkwood features in the novel The Red Velvet Turnshoe by Cassandra Clark, published by John Murray in 2009 – part of her 'Abbess of Meaux' series.
  • Jack Ludlow (pen name of David Donachie) wrote Hawkwood published in 2016 byAllison & Busby which, while fictional, covers the known facts of his life very well.

Film[edit]

  • The fictional 1985 Paul Verhoeven film Flesh & Blood features an English mercenary captain called 'Hawkwood' (Jack Thompson), but is set in 1501, more than a century after the real John Hawkwood's death.

Documentary film[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 9–10. 
  2. ^ Deiss, Joseph Jay (1966). Captains of Fortune. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company. p. 114. 
  3. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 33. 
  4. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 33. 
  5. ^ Elogia. Giovio. p. 316. 
  6. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 38. 
  7. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 41. 
  8. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 45. 
  9. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 51–55. 
  10. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 97. 
  11. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 109–113. 
  12. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 141–143. 
  13. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 164. 
  14. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 171. 
  15. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 181. 
  16. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 189–190. 
  17. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 205–208. 
  18. ^ Carerro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 261. 
  19. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 265. 
  20. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 302–309. 
  21. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 13. 
  22. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 13. 
  23. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 14. 
  24. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 11. 
  25. ^ Deiss, Joseph Jay (1966). Captains of Fortune. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company. p. 113. 
  26. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 9. 
  27. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 18. 
  28. ^ Trease, Geoffrey (1971). Condottiere: Soldiers of Fortune. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. p. 73. 
  29. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 314. 
  30. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 314. 
  31. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Balitmore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 318. 
  32. ^ Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 328. 

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