In Western Europe the Sixteenth Century was a turbulent period. The sweeping political and religious changes of the Renaissance and the Reformation led inevitably to conflict, and the century was marked by a series of wars embracing the whole continent. It is not the purpose of this article to provide a history of these, but the chronology in figure 1. is useful background information. What I hope to do here is demonstrate the far reaching military developments which came from the wars and show how, in the space of a century. warfare made the transition from a mediaeval style of conflict to a form which would last well into the Eighteenth Century. In order to do this I shall describe, and present as wargames scenarios, six major battles of the period:
Novara (1513), Bicocca (1522), Ceresole (1544), Dreux (1562), Coutras (1587) and Nieuport (1600).
Although I have limited the scope of this article to Western Europe the reader should he aware that outside influences cannot really be discounted. The foremost of these was the Turkish threat to the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe which absorbed so much of the resources of Spain and the Hapsburg dominions, but there were many others.
Figure 1 . A chronology showing some of the military events in Western Europe during the Sixteenth Century.
1494-1559 The Italian Wars. Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, united under the Hapshurg Emperor Charles V from 1519 to 1556, fought a long and ultimately successful war against the French for control of Italy. Spanish domination of Italy was secured by treaty in 1559.
1512-1513, 1522-1523. 1543-1545. On three separate occasions England invaded France in attempts to regain territory lost in the last century. Henry VIII had his own ambitions but the main effect of these wars was to distract the French from Italy.
1546-1552 A series of Protestants rebellions in Germany proved a continuing trouble to Charles V. The Treaty of Passau (1552) and the death of the Elector Maurice a year later permitted a peace of sorts to endure for the rest of the century.
1562-1598 The French Wars of Religion. A complicated series of wars between Protestant, Catholic and Royalist factions. In the later years of the wars there was substantial Spanish intervention. The Protestant Henry IV attained the throne in 1589 and secured his position over the next decade.
1568-1609 Dutch War of Independence. A religious war which took on the characteristics of a national struggle. Events frequently became blended with the wars in France. A truce which lasted twelve years was signed in 1609, but the war did not end until 1648.
1588 The Spanish Armada. England was a major source of support for the Protestants in France and Holland, in direct opposition to Spain. The failure of this attempt to conquer England allowed the ultimate Protestant victories on the continent.
The first and foremost of the military innovations of the century was the introduction of effectively drilled and armed infantry. In the latter half of the Fifteenth Century the Swiss infantrymen, armed with pikes, had destroyed Charles the Bold's dreams of empire at the battles of Morat, Grandson and Nancy. Other European countries hastened first to employ and then to copy the Swiss so that by the early Sixteenth Century the Germans and Spanish could produce infantry which, if not as good as the Swiss, was better than any of the other infantry of the time. These troops were often maintained on a long term basis (a necessity for efficient training) and were professional soldiers rather than levies. They were not, however, particularly well organised. The largest body of any permanence was the company of several hundred men. Companies were brigaded together on an ad hoc basis as required, frequently only for a single battle. I shall return to this subject later.
Technological changes taking place at the same time, primarily the invention of the matchlock, allowed the mass production of efficient infantry firearms. The decisive impact of these weapons in the hands of properly trained infantry was a feature of many battles early in the century, notably Cerignola (1503). Bicocca (1522) and Pavia (1525). The arquebus was the dominant firearm of the century, though it was progressively replaced by the musket from the 1540s onwards.
Two battles fought early in the Italian Wars clearly show the effectiveness of the new infantry, Novarra (1513) was the last great victory of the Swiss. It was fought and won in the old style; a rapid and resolute attack by three columns of pike armed infantry with virtually no support of any kind. Bicocca (1522), fought only nine years later, was a complete reversal of the earlier battle. A similar Swiss attack was repulsed by Spanish and German arquebusiers holding a strong defensive position. The balance was moving from shock to firepower.
Incidentally the interested reader may like to compare Bicocca with the battles of Morat (1476) and Ravenna (1512), where a similar defense was defeated, and with the battle of Nagashino (1575, Japan) to see how far the European innovations had spread.
The Battle of Novara, 1513
In 1512 Maximilian Sforza and a force of Swiss mercenaries had seized Milan from the French. Sforza, the heir to the Duchy. was placed on the throne but was by no means universally popular. Thus it was that when a French army under Louis, La Tremouille invaded the Duchy in 1513 the city of Milan was betrayed from within. Sforza and 4,000 Swiss foot were in Novara, from where the Swiss captains had sent home for reinforcements, but were not strong enough to challenge the French. Most cities in Milan surrendered fairly quickly and La Tremouille set about investing Novara. While this was in progress about 6,000 Swiss had been raised and were marching to relieve the city. They arrived literally in the nick of time. The French artillery had breached the walls in several places and La Tremouille had made plans to assault the place.
On June the 5th La Tremouille received warning of the approaching Swiss and withdrew to the small town of Trecate, two miles away. There the French camped for the night. What happened next was a total surprise to them, because when the Swiss reinforcements reached Novara they did not stop to rest for the night. Instead they chose to make an immediate attack on the French.
Whilst scouts determined the disposition of the sleeping French army the Swiss stopped for a brief rest. The relieving troops plus a contingent from the garrison then formed into three columns which, with the help of local guides, moved into position to attack the French. Allowing for the time required for all this the attack must have come near dawn. The first warning that La Tremouille had of all this was when Swiss skirmishers attacked the guards around his lodgings. He just had time to escape, partly armed, from the back door. The French began to form up, in great confusion, expecting an attack on Trecate.
But this was not the Swiss plan. One weak column supported by 200 Milanese horse made a holding attack against the camp to the north of the town. In fact they were strong enough to drive off the few troops there, and went on to loot the baggage. The centre column, slightly stronger, made a demonstration against the town (the cause of La Tremouille's rude awakening) before attacking the French and Italian infantry south of Trecate. These were totally surprised and routed immediately. The largest Swiss column, 6,000 men, was detailed to attack the artillery park where the landsknechts were encamped. These had managed to form up in some sort of order and bring a few guns into action. The Swiss took heavy casualties as they charged in. Nevertheless when they reached the landsknechts the fighting was vigorous but brief. The Germans broke, taking heavy casualties as they ran.
La Tremouille was able to escape with his cavalry, but he had lost his army and the Duchy of Milan. The Swiss followed up their victory by invading France, but were quite happy to make peace in return for a substantial payment from Louis XII.
Points to note
1. The success of the Swiss relied on surprise, speed and determination.
2. The French artillery, even though brought into action in a hasty and disordered fashion, inflicted heavy casualties.
3. These casualties did not stop the Swiss.
4. The French cavalry did not intervene effectively in the battle.
Had they done so the Swiss would have had to halt to fight them off.
Swiss: 9,000 Swiss infantry; 200 Milanese men at arms. When scaled down and defined according to WRG rules this gives the following wargames army.
Pikemen: HI or LI, B class, fanatic, pike, close order.
Crossbowmen: LI, B class fanatic, crossbow, order.
Milanese: EHC, B class, lance, mace, order.
Unit A) 10 HI Pikemen, 40 LI Pikemen (organised as a unit and sub-unit) with a sub-unit of 10 Crossbowmen.
Unit B) 16 LI Pikemen, with a sub-unit of 5 Crossbowmen.
Unit C) 10 LI Pikemen.
Unit D) 3 Milanese men-at-arms (sub-general with two bodyguards).
French: 6,000 Landsknechts, 4,000 French infantry, 1,000 Gendarmes and 1,000 Light horse.
This scales down to produce the following wargames army.
Landsknechts: HI or LI, C class, pike, close order and LI, C class, crossbow, order.
French: MI, E class, crossbow, order and LI, E class, crossbow, order.
Gendarmes: EHC, A class, lance, mace, order. Light horse: MC, D class, javelins, mace, shield, open order.
Unit 1) 10 Light Horse.
Unit 2) 5 Gendarmes.
Unit 3) 5 Gendarmes.
Unit 4) 10 French pikemen with a sub-unit of 30 French crossbowmen.
Unit 5) Landsknechts. 10 HI and 40 LI Pikemen with a sub-unit of 10 Crossbowmen.
Artillery: 2 Heavy guns, each with 5 C class crew.
Comments on Wargaming Novarra
1. This was very much a surprise attack. Therefore players may like to apply the following rules.
a. All French units are disordered for the first three periods.
b. All French units start the game without orders.
c. NO FRENCH unit may move for the first period in any case.
d. NO artillery may fire on the first period.
e. All French units count -2 for being surprised when they first test reaction.
2. IN order to balance the game players may like to use some of the following suggestions.
a. Assume the French were warned of the attack. All French units are formed and ready to fight, but without orders.
b. The French had, but did not use, a quantity of palisades.
Allow the French player to deploy twelve inches of palisade in his deployment area.
3. The French are commanded by a general Louis, La Tremouille.
The Swiss have no general, but their cavalry is commanded by a sub-general, Maximilian Sforza.
The Battle of Bicocca, 1522.
In 1521 the French had lost control of the Duchy of Milan to Prosper Colonna's Imperialist forces. In 1522 the French Viceroy of Milan, Lautrec, was sent with a greatly reinforced army to regain the losses of the previous year. Aided by a Venetian army Lautrec recaptured Novara and laid siege to Pavia. By doing this he hoped to bring the Imperialist army out into the field and he was almost immediately successful. Colonna marched out of Milan, but then confounded Lautrec by fortifying his troops in the Certosa monastery ten miles from Milan towards Pavia. This position was too strong to be safely attacked, so the French marched around it and threatened to cut Colonna off from Milan, forcing him to leave an ideal defensive position.
Lautrec was no fool and his strategy of dictating the enemy's movements until battle could be joined at a time and place well suited to the French seemed likely to win him the campaign. Unfortunately he had reckoned without one factor. The Swiss mercenaries in the French army chose this moment to go on strike, demanding the immediate payment of pay owing to them or an immediate attack upon the enemy. If one of these conditions was not met they would march home. Despite assurances from Lautrec that their pay was already being convoyed to them the Swiss would not change their minds. Powerless without the Swiss Lautrec had no choice but to attack.
The Imperialists meanwhile had marched to a new position. The Park of Bicocca stood four miles north of Milan, and was as strong a position as that at the Certosa monastery. Ornamental gardens and a large country house were bounded on three sides by deep ditches and on the fourth by a sunken road. The road was deepened and a rampart thrown up behind it by the Imperialists. The surrounding land was flat and full of irrigation ditches to the north. To the west the ground was soft and marshy, effectively impassable. It was this position which the Swiss demanded to attack.
After driving in outlying pickets Lautrec deployed his forces. The Swiss in two columns were to make a frontal assault whilst a flanking force of cavalry was to endeavour to force its way into the enemy's rear. The remaining French and Venetian troops were intended to support the Swiss. This they had no chance to do however, because the Swiss instead of waiting just outside gunshot for the French guns to batter the Imperialists position, rushed head on into the attack. They suffered heavy casualties from the start, perhaps 1,000 men (out of 8,000) before they reached the sunken road. Here they came to a full halt, and as they attempted to cross took four successive volleys from the arquebusiers lining the ramparts. Even after this they continued to attack and in some places managed to cross both road and rampart. This heroism was all in vain though and the attackers were rapidly thrown back by the Imerialist pikemen. After half an hour of desperate fighting the Swiss withdrew leaving more than 3,000 men dead on the field. The Imperialist reserves were more than adequate to deal with the French flanking force and following these defeats the French retreated. They were not pursued.
The next day the remaining Swiss marched home, their morale broken.
The French were too weak to campaign offensively without them and retired from Milan, leaving the Imperialists in possession of the Duchy.
Points to note
1. Mercenary troops, no matter how good they are, can be a liability to a general.
2. Despite appalling casualties the Swiss were not stopped immediately by the Imperial arquebusiers.
The Imperialists still had to fight to hold the ramparts.
3. Defensive tactics only work if the enemy can be made to attack you.
French: 8,000 Swiss; 3,000 Italian mercenaries; 6,000 Venetian mercenaries;
1,000 French gendarmes; 500 Italian men-at-arms; 6,000 French infantry; 1,000 Light Horse
(these figures are conjectural for the most part).
Scaled down and defined according to WRG rules this gives the following wargames army.
Swiss: HI or LI, A class, fanatic, pike, close order.
Italians: LI, M class, arquebus, order.
Venetians: MI, M class, pike, close order and LI, M class, arquebus, order.
French: MI, D class pike, close order and LI, D class, crossbow, order.
Gendarmes: EHC, A class, lance, mace, order.
Italian men-at-arms: EHC, C class, lance, mace, order.
Light horse: MC, D class, javelin, mace shield, open order. Unit A) 5 Italian men-at-arms.
Unit B) Venetians. 10 Pikemen with a sub-unit of 20 Arquebusiers.
Unit C) French. 10 Pikemen with a sub-unit of 20 Crossbowmen.
Unit D) 5 Gendarmes.
Unit E) 5 Light horse.
Unit F) Swiss. 5 HI, 15 LI Pikemen.
Unit G) Swiss. 5 HI, 15 LI Pikemen.
Unit H) Italians. 15 Arquebusiers.
Artillery. 2 Heavy guns, each with 5 C class crew.
Imperialists: 4,000 Spanish Infantry; 6,000 Landsknechts; 6,000 Milanese infantry;
500 Spanish men-at-arms; 400 Milanese men-at-arms; 1,000 genitors.
(These figures too are conjectural). This gives the following wargames army.
Spanish: HI, B class, pike, close order and LI, B class, arquebus, order.
Landsknechts: HI or LI, C class, pike, close order and LI, C class, arquebus, order.
Milanese: MI, D class, halberd, order and LI, D class, crossbow, order.
Milanese men-at-arms: EHC, C class, lance, mace, order.
Genitors: MC, C class, javelin, shield, open order.
Unit 1) Spaniards: 10 Pikemen.
Unit 2) Spaniards: 10 Arquebusier.
Unit 3) Landsknechts: 10 Arquebusier.
Unit 4) Landsknechts: 5 HI, 15 LI Pikemen.
Unit 5) 5 Spanish men-at-arms.
Unit 6) 5 Genitors.
Unit 7) 5 Italian men-at-arms.
Unit 8) Milanese: 10 halberdiers with a sub-unit of 20 crossbowmen.
Artillery: 4 medium guns, each with 5 C class crew.
Comments on Wargaming Bicocca
1. The ditches and sunken road were major obstacles. Infantry only may cross them, at quarter speed.
2. The Swiss pikeblocks must be given orders to advance and attack the troops defending the sunken road.
3. Both armies are commanded by a general, Prosper Colonna or Lautrec.
To be continued next month.