Cauldron

Battle of Pavia - Italian Wars - Feb 24, 1525

Episode Summary

This week, let's go back to Northern Italy, and a power struggle between King and Emperor. Let's go back to the enclosed hunting ground of Visconti Park, with its Castle-like lodge, wide-open fields, boggy canals, and wooded thickets. Let's go back to a time when Swiss mercenaries were just as likely to win you a battle as they were to walk away, all depending on the pay—when the german Landsknechtes fought like lions at carnival, ferocious but decked out in outrageously colorful garb. Where a military revolution was well underway, one that combined modern weapons with old ways, let's go back to a place where a King was captured, and the common man became a threat to everything and everyone. Let's go back to February 24th, 1525, and the battle of Pavia.

Episode Notes

"My God! What is this?!" cried Francis I, the bewildered and soon to be captured King of France. Or at least that's what has come down to us; I'm always suspicious of battlefield quotes. Who heard him, and how did they hear him?? But, if it is what the desperately shocked monarch screamed outside the city of Pavia as his army died around him, it would make sense. Francis's feudal outlook on the world was rooted in a system 500 or more years old. For most of that time, the idea that it would or could change would have been ludicrous, even blasphemy….

 

This week, let's go back to Northern Italy, and a power struggle between King and Emperor. Let's go back to the enclosed hunting ground of Visconti Park, with its Castle-like lodge, wide-open fields, boggy canals, and wooded thickets. Let's go back to a time when Swiss mercenaries were just as likely to win you a battle as they were to walk away, all depending on the pay—when the german Landsknechtes fought like lions at carnival, ferocious but decked out in outrageously colorful garb. Where a military revolution was well underway, one that combined modern weapons with old ways, let's go back to a place where a King was captured, and the common man became a threat to everything and everyone. Let's go back to February 24th, 1525, and the battle of Pavia.

 

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Sources - European War 1453-1815 Edited by Jeremy Black, Thomas F. Arnold's The Renaissance At War, Military History Monthly, Fighting Techniques of Medieval World by Bennett, DeVries, Bradbury, Dickie, and Jestice

Music:

Journey in the New World by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Source: http://www.twinmusicom.org/song/258/journey-in-the-new-world

Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org

Art - Melhak @ Fiverr

Episode Transcription

 

"My God! What is this?!" cried Francis I, the bewildered and soon to be captured King of France. Or at least that's what has come down to us; I'm always suspicious of battlefield quotes. Who heard him, and how did they hear him?? But, if it is what the desperately shocked monarch screamed outside the city of Pavia as his army died around him, it would make sense. Francis's feudal outlook on the world was rooted in a system 500 or more years old. For most of that time, the idea that it would or could change would have been ludicrous, even blasphemy.

 

To put it another way, had Charlegmane been plopped down onto the throne of France in 1400, and given a week or two to get caught up on things, what do you think the outcome would be? I don't think the world looks that different to him. I would wager he picks up where he left off and within a few years has most of Europe under his control. I'm not so sure he has a clue what's going on a mere 100 years later.

 

Let's say the Renaissance went from 1400 to 1600, and obviously, that could be debated, but for the sake of discussion, lets just put it at those 200 years. In the 1400s, the black plague savages Europe on a horrific scale. A traumatic psychological experience for Europe that left us in terror of unseen killers to this day. Coronavirus, we are looking at you. So the Black Death was terrible but not exactly a new experience, the Antonine plague may have been just as bad if not worse. And there were hundreds of outbreaks of different diseases between the two, and before and after.

 

There was the rise of the Italian kingdoms and duchies with all their attendant wealth, art, and power, but that was old hat. The Greek city-states of the Ancient World would have rolled out a Pericles for every Lorenzo Medici, a Plato for every Da Vinci, an Athens for every Venice.

 

The printing press was new to Europe but not the world, China, as usual, was printing for 100's of years, and Ancient Rome was a highly literate society.

 

Then you have, the much-debated and argued over today, the discovery-ish of the New World. This one is where I think the shift starts. This is where maybe Charlegmane starts to feel like he's on shaky ground. But it's still a thing that can be understood. Colonies have always existed, and the Far East was known to Alexander even if it seemed impossible to reach. The Reformation and Martin Luther are another that would be tough for Charlgemane to tackle. But religions splinter or evolve, and who knows maybe he'd have been a Protestant?

 

No, for me, the real difference-maker, the world moving earth-shattering, society crumbling shift of the renaissance age is the advent of the gun.

 

Again China was screwing around with sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter 100's of years before the Europeans knew it was a thing. The Chinese even saw the military applications, using it for grenades, bomb-like devices, and early vase-shaped cannon. They just never got around to perfecting the whole gun thing. In Europe, you had tinkerers and alchemists experimenting with the recipe for gunpowder, types of delivery methods, and shapes and sizes of projectiles. Hand cannons, no more than a metal tube on a stick, became arquebuses able to fire a lead ball through plate mail. The Age of Gunpowder was at hand, a military revolution was underway, and Europe was never to be the same.

 

And this is where I think things get truly interesting and why Francis's indignant exclamation, his absolute confusion makes sense to me. It would seem to me that if we apply his question, "What is this?" not to his immediate vicinity or what was happening at that moment, I think we hit the core of it. If Francis's cry is aimed more at the rapidly changing world around him, things kind of fall into place. This was a man singled out by God himself to rule. To reign supreme amongst all his countrymen and count maybe half a dozen others as possible equals. For the duration of his life, he would command his country, own anything he wanted, and bow to no man, save maybe a brief dip for the Pope every now and then.

 

But by the time Francis gains the crown, things had changed. The realities of the battlefield had shifted. No longer were Kings and nobles safe in their armor enclosures, no matter what divine entity had selected them to be prosperous and powerful. For the first time, really, Kings were vulnerable. And not in the sense that they might fall majestically to another king in single combat or a glorious final charge of mounted men. No. By the time of Francis Valois, a king could be killed just like any other ordinary man. And even more befuddling, and outrageous to men like Charlgmane and Francis, they could now be killed by any other ordinary man. Because in Europe, we did spend time perfecting the whole gun thing. And then we just kept on tweaking it.

 

This week, let's go back to Northern Italy, and a power struggle between King and Emperor. Let's go back to the enclosed hunting ground of Visconti Park, with its Castle-like lodge, wide-open fields, boggy canals, and wooded thickets. Let's go back to a time when Swiss mercenaries were just as likely to win you a battle as they were to walk away, all depending on the pay—when the german Landsknechtes fought like lions at carnival, ferocious but decked out in outrageously colorful garb. Where a military revolution was well underway, one that combined modern weapons with old ways, let's go back to a place where a King was captured, and the common man became a threat to everything and everyone. Let's go back to February 24th, 1525, and the battle of Pavia.

 

Louis, the 12th of France, inherited an obsession for the prosperous kingdoms and territories of Northern Italy. It was an obsession that would consume his reign and one he would ultimately pass on to his heir Francis I.

 

Louis was particularly fascinated by the wealthy, powerful commercial hub of Milan and surrounding Lombardy. Situated it the top of the peninsula, where the boot meets Europe, Milan was within striking distance of France. But if Louis was hellbent on ruling the Italian city, another Monarch was hellbent on ruling the world.

 

The Spanish King Charles the 8th was rapidly becoming the most powerful man in Europe. The discovery of the New World and other colonies set Spain apart from the other kingdoms and would eventually make her fabulously wealthy. All Charles needed to do was keep the other players from gaining too much power before the silver and gold started pouring into his coffers. The back and forth chaos of Italian politics and warfare was just the right kind of diversion to keep his rivals focused on the wrong thing. Like a magician, he hoped the enemy would see what he wanted them to see, not what he was actually doing. Louis of France obliged.

 

The ensuing struggle is known as the Italian Wars. Decades of fighting that saw a constant seesaw struggle, one side gaining power because of a genius Captain in the field. The other side achieving success through technological developments or modern tactical techniques. Imagine two boxers, both heavyweights. Each man is 6'5 250lbs. Each fighter is a great pure puncher and sound defenses. Neither has an edge. But as the fight goes on, one guy gets a new trainer that notices a weakness. For three-rounds, the fighter with the new trainer pounds away at his opponents' weak point. In the fifth round, it looks like that guy might go down, but the ref stops the fight. Now, the ref declares, we are using MMA rules. The fighter that was just losing figures out quickly how to grapple. Using an excellent technique to bring his opponent with the trainer, the guy that minutes ago was the clear powerhouse winner, to the ground. And then... well you get the idea, the Italian Wars were a legit back and forth brawl.

 

At Ravenna in 1512, the French army won a great battle against Spain and the Papal States, gaining control of Milan. It was a tentative victory, though, and in 1513, only a year later, at Navara, France loses the power over Lombardy and its prized city. In the aftermath, France is seen as a weakling, and all the other vultures show up. The Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, England all join Spain in a war on Louis. Wheeling and dealing, Louis is able to meet with each enemy individually and broker a bunch of separate peace deals. It was his last act as in 1515 Louis the 12th dies and his heir Francis the I claimed the throne. He almost immediately declares Milan as a French possession and goes about taking the city, starting the whole cycle over.

 

In a clever bit of bribery, Francis offers to buy the city from its Swiss garrison. He gives the half that accepts his offer all the silver in his camp and sends the other half that refused the offer packing. In short order, Francis had control of Milan. Soon after, in a real drop-down drag-out battle at Marignano, France defeats another Swiss army, solidifying French control of Lombardy. He didn't know it at the time, but 1515 to 1519 would be the high point of Francis's reign in Italy.

 

In 1519 Maximillian 1st, the Holy Roman Emperor died. Because this was a title that was bestowed by vote and not gained by lineage, several claimants were in the running. The two clear leaders of the pack were Francis, and the fresh-faced 19-year-old new King of Spain Charles the 5th. The Pope was playing his little games in the shadows, pitting the great powers against each other, and as a result, Charles won out. Now France would have Charles on both borders, as King of Spain in the west and Holy Roman Emperor in the east. It was unconscionable to Francis and must have really rubbed him raw. He'd been done dirty and now not only was his country in danger but his city, Milan, was within striking distance of the enemy!

 

Back in that battle of Marignano, where Francis won Milan, he also, in a way, lost it. A big reason for the victory in that battle was one of his generals, the Duke of Bourbon. Bourbon thought he had deserved some lavish rewards for his role in the French success, and on getting shafted, he rebelled. He fled France for her rival Spain and went to Charles the 5th, directly appealing for his aid. Never one to miss a trick, Charles agrees to back Bourbon for the throne and help him win it. Bourbon was given troops and money and sent to Italy to campaign.

 

Francis lost Milan at the battle of Bicocca in 1522. In an attempt to regain the city, Francis sent his most trusted adviser, the Admiral of France, Guillaume Bonnivet, into Lombardy. Bonnivet marched with an army of 36k half french half Swiss. Thinking the enemy in Milan had an equal number (the French actually outnumbered them two to one!), Bonnivet went into winter camp. In 1524 there was a growing threat to Bonnivett's army in its camp from Bourbon and the Viceroy of Naples, Charles De Lannoy. Bourbon brought a large number of the vaunted German landsknechts into the Imperial camp. Added to these were Lannoys army and some Venetian forces. Bonnivett got antsy and started to withdraw towards the French border. Things unraveled quickly; at one point, 13k Swiss walked away from the army over a pay dispute. Then at the Sesia River, an injured Bonnivett was forced to watch as Spanish arquebusiers shot his army to pieces. In the crossing, the Swiss rearguard ceased to exist, and the retreating French pikemen and cavalry were mauled. Unable to counter the Spanish use of light cavalry and arquebuses, the French went into a full retreat, finally dragging itself across the border into France.

 

Bourbon could smell the throne, and so with Charles the 5ths permission, he invaded Provence. But 10k Spanish men, more Lansknechts, and a couple of dozen cannons were not enough to take Marseille. After a couple of failed assaults, Bourbon was stuck. Then Francis and his friend Bonnivett arrived in Avignon, right behind Bourbon's position. Beating a hasty retreat, Bourbon was forced to shed his cannons to move the army along faster. The fear was so high in the Imperial army, and the need to move quickly was so great that men were tossing their armor and pikes to the side of the road. Once back safe in Italy, Bourbon was left to lick his wounds. The French had only wanted to frighten him away from the Provence area. Francis had other things in mind.

 

For the French King, Milan was always on the mind. After seeing Bourbon off his land, Francis swung North and prepared to invade the Duchy of Milan again. This time though, he had a horde of happy and confident french men and even had put out feelers to the Swiss cantons to get pikemen to meet him in Italy. Splitting his army for the campaign, both to make him more difficult to pin down and make his army easier to feed, Francis began his attack. In three columns - the right column with 5k Landsknecht and Italian light cavalry, the center with 7k mixed French infantry, and the left with 10k heavy cavalry, archers, and Francis himself- the French army crossed the Alps and headed for Milan.

 

Francis was in the city of Turin when he got his response from the Swiss cantons. It came in the form of 14k mercenaries. With his three columns advancing through Northern Italy, Francis now had 24k men, and he was trying to pin down and destroy the much smaller, split up Imperial forces. Bourbon and his Landsknechts, Lannoy and his Imperial army, and the talented Pescara with his 8k Spanish troops all tried to stay just ahead of the French advance. Because Francis's army was split up, coordination and communication became difficult, and the Imperial forces remained out of reach. But only just so, Pescara and his army were in a dire situation.

 

On October 22nd, Francis was only a day march from Milan. He and Lannoy, the leader of all Imperial forces, sent out scouting columns to get an idea of what the other was planning. Lannoy didn't want to give up Milan. Still, the combination of a larger French army and a recent outbreak of plaque in the city convinced him to move his army to Lodi. He conceded Milan but sent a garrison to the south. Their job was to hold the city of Pavia for future operations that Lannoy would launch against the French now in Milan. The garrison under General Antonio Leyva, Duke of Terranova, got to Pavia with Francis hot on its heels. Leaving a holding force of 4k in Milan, the French King brought his whole army to Pavia, arriving on October 28th. Now he had a choice.

 

Francis was not a terrible king. In many ways, he was a good ruler; he could have just done whatever he wanted without any input. Recognizing that he had advisors for a reason and wanting to hear from them, Francis called a war council. In it, there were two sides. The majority of the veteran commanders wanted to follow Lannoy and the main Imperial force. They recognized the threat the enemy commander possessed; if he were left in the field, he would cause trouble. And they had him outnumbered and on the run. There was the possibility that the Pavia garrison might be able to retake Milan or even attack the French rear. Still, both situations could have been dealt with in due course. The main point was ending the war by coming to grips with Lannoy and crushing him. The other option was to consolidate the current position, root out the Pavia garrison, and secure Milan. Bonnivett convinced Francis the second option was the better one, even if it was less exciting and sexy. So the French army headed to Pavia for a siege.

 

What the French didn't know was Lannoy at Lodi had not had time to prepare defensive positions, and his army was disheartened and in disarray. Had they charged hard after him, it's likely the Imperial army would have been destroyed with ease. But Francis chose Pavia and found a tough nut to crack. The man in control of Pavia's defenses, de Leyva, was a crusty old war dog who knew his business well. He would use every trick in the book to maximize the already strong city defenses. The walls of Pavia were thick, tall, and secure as hell. The coming contest would be a race to see which was more potent and which would break first the city walls or the French army.

 

When Francis arrived outside Pavia, he set up his siege positions. At all four sides, he placed a detachment of men. To the east, he had men in the area of the Five Abbeys. In the west of Pavia, Francis sent men to hold the hamlet town of San Lanfranco. South of the city and the river Ticino was a smaller force meant to hold the hamlet of Borgo Ticino on the far bank and make sure nothing went in or out of the town on that side. The main body directly under Francis set up camp in the kite-shaped hunting grounds of Visconti Park just to the North of the city.

 

Shaped like a kite, with Pavia at the tail, Visconti Park was a little over five sq miles of fully enclosed hunting grounds. The wall was no picket fence, coming in at 15ft high and solidly made it would prove tougher to bust open than it looked. Randomly all around the park were strongpoints that had gates for entry and exit. Within the park walls were some woods and wide-open grounds. There was plenty of room for an army (or soon to be armies) to maneuver, but the earth itself wasn't ideal. Wet, damp, boggy low areas were all over. Added to the irrigation ditches and canals, and the small stream that ran through the park, some places would be dangerous for cavalry. Francis made his HQ at the lodge, home of the Park Warden, Mirabello Castle. The structure was impressive and decked out with a moat and drawbridge, even though it wasn't an actual castle.

 

 

On Halloween, October 31st, the French artillery rolled into to camp. Francis had the cannon split into two batteries and placed one on the east side of the city and one on the western side. As the French army took up its positions all around Pavia and the batteries were set up, De Leyva captain of the garrison was not idle. Inside the city, he had 9k men ready to hold out for some time. Pavia was well stocked with food and ammunition. There were also a good number of artillery pieces that could be used in defense of the walls. The only two things De Leyva lacked were gunpowder and money.

 

The gunpowder stores would hold for a while, but De Leyva was desperate for money to pay his Landsknechts. The German mercenaries were excellent fighters, but they had no emotional attachment to the cause. If the pay wasn't regular or in the agreed amount, they'd be just as likely to walk out the front gate as they would turn over the keys to the French. Getting creative, De Leyva had the city's church plate and ornamentation melted down to pay his men.

 

As November wore on, the rain kept the two sides quiet. Then as drier weather arrived, the French bombardment of Pavia began. Hundreds of shots struck the city walls, over and over. Even with these early cannon, there was a surprising amount of accuracy that could be achieved. Eventually, the continuous pounding punched a couple of breaches into the old walls. Francis led an assault on one and ordered an assault on the other; both attacks failed. As the french fought there way through the breach, they found the defenders had thrown up inner ramparts and dug ditches. These secondary walls killed the french momentum and easily fended off the successive attacks.

 

Francis called another council to try and figure out the next steps of the siege. After his beating in the breaches, Francis was told by his commanders to go home. They didn't want him to suffer more defeats, and all the veterans knew the siege was going to be long and hard, may be fruitless. The pleaded with him to go home reputation intact and let them sort out the city. Francis feared to look the coward and again ignored his council's advice. He would stay and fight to the end.

 

The winter brought wet weather and stagnation. French cannons couldn't fire with damp powder, so they stayed silent. As the siege settled into a period of watchful pause, the Pope in Rome did his thing - he meddled. Pope Clement the 6th wanted the Vatican to regain the power it had held at the height of the medieval period. He could sense the shift of the crowns of Europe moving away from the Church, and he wanted to reverse the trend. To keep any single crown from having too much power, the Vatican always played nations off each other. The Italian Wars were no different.

 

During the siege of Pavia, the Pope paid Charles of Spain 6k ducats for him to go out and buy more mercenaries. At the same time, he entered into a secret agreement with Francis trading Papal support throughout Italy for martial strength. Clement had his eye on the Kingdom of Naples, and he wanted Francis to use some of his armies to take the southern Italian kingdom for the Papal States. What Clement assumed was that Francis would wait until after the Milan situation was settled. What Francis actually did was send a force of over 6k men south to perform the Holy Sees new quest.

 

It was an idiotic decision. In the middle of winter, the men he sent only made it a couple days march from Pavia. Then, because of the diverse makeup of the small army, there was some kind of dispute. A fight broke out between the French and Swiss, who decided the whole thing was not worth the effort. Several thousand Swiss pulled up stakes and went home. The tiny army leftover made it to the Tiber River before calling off the Naples expedition entirely. Francis had significantly depleted his army to accomplish a non-urgent task 100's of miles away while trying to starve one enemy and keep another at bay. Like I said idiotic.

 

As Francis was sending 1000's of his men off on wild goose chases, Lannoy in Lodi was bolstering his own army. From Vienna, Charles's little brother sent 15k more Landsknecht along with two renowned commanders Georg Von Furnsberg and Mark Sittlich. Mark seems like such a regular name for a heroic german mercenary. With the reinforcements and his own army gaining more and more confidence, Lannoy was ready to make things happen. He ordered his army to move out and head for Pavia.

 

By the end of January, the Imperial army under Lannoy had captured some small French outposts. It was within 30 miles of the city. Lannoy paused to divide his army, like Francis had earlier, into three columns. The vanguard was under the French turncoat Bourbon, Lannoy himself was in the center column, and the talented Pescara brought up the rearguard. By the end of day February 2nd, the Imperial army's vanguard under Bourbon arrived outside the eastern gate of Visconti Park.

 

 

As the Imperial forces built up a camp and started to dig their cannon battery, the French responded in kind. A French battery was moved over to the eastern part of the hunting park and began to trade fire with their opposite number. Lobbing shot back and forth kept both sides busy, but time was running out for Lannoy. His 24k man army had to break the siege and get the 9k men inside Pavia out. De Leyva inside the city was running low on money, and the mercs were grumbling about the pay issues. Soon they might walk, or worse, join the French for the promise of regular pay. That would be a catastrophe for the Imperial army.

 

The situation for Francis was challenging but not impossible. He was confident that in a pitched battle, he could win so long as he kept the two parts of the enemy army apart. The problem was that to pen the garrison in, Francis had to split his own army into four separate sections. Now that a relief army was in the field against him, the concern was that if the Imperials attacked one isolated portion at a time, would the other french forces be able to support it in time? Lannoy only needed to make a hole in one spot to give the garrison the exit path it required.

 

While the two top commanders tried to puzzle out what to do, Bourbon kept the french army on its toes. Launching a night raid Bourbon probe the French western defenses. The next night he launched another probe this time at a specific gate into Visconti Park. The imperial force killed hundreds of French troops and even captured an artillery battery before a french relief force beat the Imperials off. Bourbon hadn't won the battle by any means, but he might have shown the way.

 

The French did not have a monopoly on war councils, and so Lannoy called his own council on February 21st. He explained to his fellow commanders that word from inside the city was terrible. There was no money left, and if the garrison wasn't rescued within 3 or 4 days in Lannoys words, "all is lost." Because the French army was so dispersed, Lannoy had no way of knowing that at the moment, he actually outnumbered the French by a reasonable amount. Had he launched an full attack, there would have been no way for Francis to cope with the scale of the attack. But the fog of war tends to assert itself at some point, and so Lannoy did not launch a massive assault. Instead, he planned a modified version of Bourbon's raids from the previous nights.

 

Sending a force of engineers to the northern section of the wall, the Imperial plan was to breach and then send a contingent of arquebusiers into Visconti park. Once inside, they were to move quickly to the Castle, still believed to be Francis's HQ and take it. After that, they were to reach the city defenders. While the arquebusiers acted as the advance party, the rest of the Imperial army would enter the park through the breach in the North. It was hoped that the garrison would sally out to join the attack and so would be reached and that the attack on Mirabello Castle would capture Francis or force him to retreat from the park. Francis, however, wasn't at the Castle at all. He had moved his HQ further to the west and northern corner of the park. This would prove an essential aspect as to why the battle unfolded the way it did.

 

The Imperial breach did not go as planned. West of Porta Pesarina, the engineers, started the breach, but progress was slow. The walls were thicker than anticipated, and even 2k engineers with hammers and picks moved at a snail's pace. Lannoy wanted to attack in the early morning dark, so he had dressed his arquebusier advance party in white tunics. Now, though, this was going to be unnecessary as the breach wasn't done until almost dawn.

 

At 5 am the 3k arquebusier moved into the park and headed for the Castle. Using the woods as cover, the strike force, made up of Spanish and Italian gunmen, had been trained and prepared by Pescara himself. Moving in support of the arquebusiers was a contingent of Spanish and Italian light cavalry. They rode along in the open space next to the woods and covered the strike forces flank. By 6 am, the Imperial army was forming up in the northeast portion of Visconti Park.

 

Then a literal fog of war played a role. The Ticino river creates a dense soupy fog on the winter mornings, and as it rolled over the park, the armies inside were consumed by the mist. The thickness of it made communication and coordination far more difficult for both armies. But on the offensive, you have a slight edge, the defense is all about coordination, and if that becomes impossible, collapse is likely.

 

The battle began because of the murky conditions. French pikemen and light cavalry, rushing to the supposed breach, bumped into Spanish light cavalry. The French also had gone right by the fast-moving Arqubusers, and again because of the fog, they missed them. The Spanish light cav beat a hasty retreat, and the French force continued north only to stumble on another Imperial unit. This time it was an Imperial field battery, the gunners ran for it, and the French captured more than 10 cannons. Bonnivet joined the small force to better gauge the Imperial troops in the park. He went back to Francis and assured his King that the enemy had been sent packing. Bonnivet had mistaken the Spanish cavalry and cannon as the main enemy body. He believed since he had destroyed them, then the day had been won for France. Around that time, three salvos were heard in the distance. The garrison was sallying out of Pavia.

 

De Leyva and his Landsknechts swarmed the small force of french sentries left to guard the southern entrance to Mirabello. By overrunning this key position De Leyva and the Imperial army now had a wedge between the leading French army and its splinter sections. Francis had 7k men outside of Visconti park, and he had no idea if they would come when he needed them or even if he could reach them at all.

 

At 630, the arquebusier strike force stormed Mirabello castle. The small French force guarding it was stunned and hadn't lifted the drawbridge in time. Because the Castle had been the King's HQ originally, there was a large number of camp followers, and the army's supply train still camped at the Castle. When the Imperial forces poured over the castle defenses, they were in a frenzy. The camp followers, servants, and merchants that had traveled with Francis were massacred en masse. It took old Pescara himself to bring the arquebusiers to heel and restore the organization.

 

By 7 am two columns of Landsknechts had made their way through the breach. The first one led by our guy Mark Sittlich came into contact with 3k french pikemen under one of Francis's captains named Florance. The Imperial column had 8k men, outnumbering Flourance's french force almost 3 to one. It was a quick affair as the weight of Sittlich's column pushed the french back. The second column, a mix of Spanish infantry, Landsknechts, and Spanish cavalry, held fast and was ready to reinforce Sittlich or the Arqubusers at Mirabello Castle as needed.

 

 

Francis made sure to build his new camp in an area that was well prepared for defense. The surrounding trees had been cleared so his cavalry would be unrestricted. If the Imperials showed up, the french would have 4k landsknechts and 2k men at arms to hold them and 3,500 heavy cavalry to smash them. The heavy cavalry would act as the French sword, the infantry the shield. And the Imperials did, in fact, show up. Emerging from the woods across from the french was a line of Spanish infantry and light cavalry. The Imperial forces formed up and immediately came under artillery fire from the French battery in Francis's camp. But fog and an abundance of cover diluted the cannon fires effect. Francis, deciding that since Bonnivet had told him the enemy in the park was no more than a raiding party and was mostly defeated, decided to finish the enemy with a charge.

 

Surrounded by his nobles and advisers, Francis formed his gendarmes into a diagonal line going Northwest to the southeast. The Imperial infantry across from him had dispersed for cover, so he was facing only around 2k mixed Spanish cavalry. The Spanish line was outnumbered and severely outweighed by the French, but Lannoy himself was on the scene. The French heavy cavalry, and I mean these guys were in plate mail head to toe even the horses were fully protected with steel, was four rows deep. They carried large, heavy, thick lances that would be used to impale their target and then be tossed away. Then they would draw a sword or hammer or ax and just slash hack or smash anything nearby. These were the tanks of their day, extremely expensive, and, if used correctly, highly effective. But as we will see, not impervious or unbeatable.

 

Lannoy watched the French form up and said to the men nearby, "There is no hope left but God. Follow me and do as I do." Then he charged the larger, heavier enemy. It was a smart move; by moving first, he was trying to keep the French from building up momentum and speed, both of which it needed to maximize its power. Seeing this, Francis charged, and the two sides met in the middle of the clearing. A true cavalry charge must have been an incredible scene. It's a moment that plenty of movies have done, but it's impossible to get it just right. The sound of all that metal smashing into metal, into horses, into men must have been so loud and discombobulating. The dust and earth and mud that would be flying through the air, not to mention the body parts. The chaos and gore would have been too much to process, a bystander would have no idea who was winning. But the men in the fight would, and they certainly did at Pavia.

 

The Spanish fought hard and fiercely, but the French were just too many. The pressure proved too much, and Lannoy and his men fled. Spanish cavalry rode hard for safety, fleeing to the southeast portion of Visconti park. The French and Francis followed for a short while, about 400-500 yards, but the terrain and success made them stop. The French King wanted to let his men recover and enjoy their victory for a moment, then they would deal with the imperial infantry that lingered. It wasn't even 8am, and Francis felt pretty damn good about his victory.

 

Until the crack and pop noises that came from his right. The Spanish arquebusiers started pouring fire into his flank. His heavily armored gendarmes melted under the onslaught. Plate was great against arrows and swords, it even worked against glancing hammer blows, but nothing stopped lead death. The arquebus shots punched right through the steel and proceeded unfazed into the flesh, bones, and vitals of the unlucky victim. No man was safe or spared either. Most of the gendarmes of France were nobility, or of high birth, almost all were wealthy, their status alone should have kept them safe. Status plus armor and these guys believed themselves invincible. They were not.

 

As the hailstorm of fire shredded his flank, Francis found himself unable to move. The ground, not ideal to begin with, too wet, was now sloppy. The cavalry fight had churned the field into a muddy quagmire. The charge had also put his cavalry smack in between the pesky imperial infantry and his own cannon, which meant no artillery support was coming. A retreat was out, the big guns were out, what about the attack? Also out. The clever Imperial general Pescara had seen the cavalry fight and used the distraction wisely. First, he sent a runner to get Bourbon and Frundsberg to bring their Landsknechts, Pescara could tell this was where the real battle would be won. Then he'd ordered the Spanish arquebusiers to take up firing positions in the canals and ditches. Firing from these low waterlogged trench-like spots, the cavalry was unable to reach them.  Able to just fire away, the arquebusiers played havoc on Francis's stalled out cavalry, so he desperately sent for reinforcements.

 

By 8am more Imperial infantry had appeared on both the right and left flank of Francis's position. It was like shooting fish in a barrel, the nobility of France were whales in a teacup. Shot after shot found it's mark, the tightly packed men and horses would have been hard to miss. Neither horse nor man was spared, and all around him, Francis witnessed the carnage. His friend Bonnivett, the man most responsible for the current battle, was turned into an Imperial pin cushion by pikes. Stabbed or shot gendarmes died astride their horse. Or they were dragged and pulled to the ground, there they were bashed and smashed to death. Unable to stand or fight, a thin blade would be slid into an eyehole or slipped into the armor gaps at the neck or groin or armpit. Everywhere men were dying quick and dirty or slow and painfully.

 

The French camp sent all the infantry it had, but even the 6k men that showed up could do little to stem the bleeding. The french Landsknechts, turncoats to their countrymen, these guys had the badass, but ultimately unhelpful name of the Black Band, showed up on Francis's right flank around 815. The Black Band fought hard and died hard, but die they did. The Imperial Landsknechts and men at arms killed them almost to a man. The collapse of the right-wing and reinforcements signaled the end of the contest. The French infantry fled and was closely pursued by the Imperial landsknechts, who, in the pursuit, took the Franch camp and cannon. There was much dying to be done, but the battle was over.

 

While the French fate was sealed on the right, the left and center were still fighting. The cavalry now totally alone, and withering was forced to stand and fight to the end. Francis himself was eventually surrounded and unhorsed. His horse was riddled with arquebus shots and collapsed under him. As the King rose to his feet, still fighting, he saw a ring of enemies, all around him were Spanish pikemen and arquebusiers, intent on killing a king. Repeatedly rushed from behind, Francis showed his skill as a swordsmen and fought off the attacks. That heavy-duty plate armor protected him, and although wounded in the arm and face, Francis readied himself for a third rush. This time the Imperial infantry got clever. Instead of taking the King's armor on head to head, they used its own weight against it. By knocking him over, they let the suction of the mud and the heaviness of the armor hold the King down, then someone would be able to slip a dagger into his throat.

 

Before that ugly little scene could play itself out though Lannoy, overall Imperial commander, returned to the battle. Seeing that his men were about to execute the French King, which would eliminate a potential major bargaining chip not to mention maybe foster some kind of unhealthy sense of class equality among his men, Lannoy rode his horse hard into the action. Using his own armor and horse as a shield, Lannoy inserted himself between the grounded King and bloodthirsty Spaniards. Grabbing a group of arquebusiers to act as guards against his own men, Lannoy went to the French King kneeled and kissed his hand. Lannoy noticed the bloody Frenchman's face and said, "Sire, are you severely wounded?" and Francis, according to William Welsh, is supposed to have said, "Hardly at all." Or Lannoy kneeled and gave him his own sword. Or they exchanged swords or Pedro Valdivia future conqueror of Chile, captured him. Or it was some random German soldiers, or... you get it. This is one of those events that have been written about over and over, and nobody really knows what happened exactly. I like the Lannoy kneeling story, so that's what I hope happened, but we have no idea.

 

What we do know is that the French army ceased to exist as a fighting force before 9 am. After only 3 hours of battle, Francis and his men were utterly defeated. The killing didn't end with the King's capture, though. As the enemy army routed, the Imperial forces followed, and at one point, 6k swiss mercenaries were pursued to the river Ticino. 6k armed men tried to cross the river via one single pontoon bridge. You can imagine the carnage as the Imperials ripped the rearmost men to shreds, the swiss on the bridge killed each other in their panic, and most that tried to swim drowned or were shot for their troubles.

 

As the fog lifted and Lannoy surveyed the field, he could see his army was victorious. Pavia had been saved, and the French in Lombardy, destroyed. 10k or more Frenchmen died outside Pavia. The Imperial forces lost maybe 2k men in total. A decisive defeat, the battle of Pavia was a watershed moment in the Italian Wars. France was, for the moment anyway, put in her place. Most of the French nobility died in the arquebus fire, and her King was a captive. After the battle, Francis was sent to Barcelona and the court of his young Rival Charles. The two men brokered a peace that ended the war, ended Francis's claim on Milan, and turned the French province of Burgundy over to Charles's control. After signing the Treaty of Madrid in 1526, over a year later, Francis returned to Paris and his kingdom. Almost immediately, Francis renigged on the deal and refused to give up Burgundy. The war continued but never reached the same fever pitch as before Pavia. Finally, the Valois King and Habsburg Emperor signed a lasting treaty at Cambrai in 1529. Charles gave up his claim on Burgundy, and Francis gave up any claim he had on the Italian duchies.

 

As a final note, the man that started the whole affair, the former French noble Bourbon, never went back to France, he couldn't. But his new master, Charles, unlike his old one, Francis, showed his appreciation for Bourbon's hard work and fighting ability. The Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor gave Bourbon a wealthy, sophisticated city to run. In a final F you to Francis, Charles gave the city of Milan to the french traitor Bourbon.