Friday 1 April 2022

The assault on Ruvo, 1503

This weekend Stuart visited and we played through a couple of early renaissance games set in different theatres. For the first of these games we chose an Italian Wars battle that I have been interested in for a while now, Gonzalo de Cordoba's storming of the French held town of Ruvo in 1503, As Stuart had recently finished a Jacques II de Chabannes command base, we thought that this would be an interesting event to cover. It allowed us to get Chabannes on the tabletop as well as making for a more unsual game as the historical battle was not fought in the open but within the walls of the town of Ruvo.

Ruvo, 1503

The winter of 1502 -1503 saw Gonzalo de Cordoba, El Gran Capitan, and his Spanish army holed up in the Italian coastal town of Barletta. Following the French invasion of Italy in 1494, and subsequent clashes between French and Spanish troops in the Kingdom of Naples, Louis XII of France and Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain came to terms with the Treaty of Granada on 11 November 1500. By this treaty the Spanish and French monarchs would share southern Italy between them, meaning Louis XII could hold onto the Duchy of Milan in the north. Exactly how the Kingdom of Naples was to be shared was ill defined in the treaty.

July of 1501 saw De Cordoba land in Calabria tasked with taking the provinces that had been allotted to Spain in the treaty of the previous year. In the following months both the French and Spanish armies were keener on taking new territory into their hands than making any attempt to divide the kingdom equally. Discussions between De Cordoba and Louis d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, the French commander, over what to do with disputed areas took place between April and June 1502 but these came to little. As De Cordoba awaited instructions from Ferdinand and Isabella skirmishes with the French developed into war. Lacking disciplined pikemen that could match the Swiss mercenaries of the French as well as the heavy cavalry to match the French gendarmes in the open and being outnumbered by the French forces in the peninsula the Spanish retreated to Barletta whilst garrisoning some outposts. 

As Spanish reinforcements made their way to southern Italy De Cordoba played for time. He saw an opportunity to strike in February 1503 whilst the Duke of Nemours was occupied by the town of Castallaneta. The townspeople had attempted to surrender the town to the Spanish, being incensed by the conduct of the French garrison forced on them, and Nemours had led troops to the town in order to take punitive action. Hearing of Nemours absence De Cordoba sortied from Barletta with a force, which included the Italian Condottieri Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna, and made a night march to the town of Ruvo. After a short cannonade he breached the walls of the town and two columns, one under himself and one under Diego Garcia de Paredes, later to become a Spanish folk hero known as the "Samson of Estremedura", assaulted the town. 

The town was held by a French garrison under Jacques II de Chabannes de La Palice who had a force of possibly 300 lances and a similar number of infantry under his command. His men put up stiff resistance, leading to a fierce house to house battle. Eventually La Palice was wounded in the head and forced to surrender. La Palice surrendered to a man at arms under the command of the Spanish captain Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, reportedly throwing away his broken sword declaring "Neither you nor another will have it. Never by my hand". The Spanish also captured a large quantity of supplies which they took back to Barletta. On being reinforced by 2,000 landsknecht, sent by Ferdinand's ally Maximilian I, De Cordoba would march out of Barletta in April 1503 and defeat Nemours and his French army at Cerignola.

The table from above. The Spanish retinues enter from the breach and the escalade positions in the bottom left. Their objective is get three units into the town square tile at the top. If a Spanish unit reaches the gates to the right then they can add three mounted units to Gonzalo de Cordoba's retinue and these will enter from the gates. Some of the French units are hidden in the buildings within Ruvo.


The "Chroniques de Louis XII" by Jean d"Auton, d.1527, describe La Palice as putting up a dramatic defence of the town and we used this source as inspiration for the game. The names of some of his captains in the game are taken from the chronicles as is the idea of a Spanish escalade, or ladder assault.

The game represented the Spanish attack on Ruvo with the Spanish entering from a breached wall and over another wall to represent the escalade. Diego Garcia de Paredes' retinue would make the escalade attack whilst the troops under the command of De Cordoba would enter from the breach. The aim of the Spanish was to get three units into the town square at the end of a turn. The French would try to stop them. The photo above shows the entry positions and the objective. As always we played the game using our heavily modified and ever evolving "Renaissance Rampant" adaptation of Lion Rampant. Stuart took command of Ruvo's French garrison under La Palice whilst I took command of De Cordoba's Spanish.

Hidden Units

At the start of the game the French player could place any infantry units that did not have attached organ guns or carry pikes into buildings within Ruvo noting down where they were located. The Spanish player did not know where the hidden units were. During the French turn these hidden units could exit the buildings they were hiding in with a shoot, attack or move activation. In the attack or move activation they left the building to carry out the action. If they shot they would also be placed outside of the building in the direction which they were shooting to represent them emerging from cover to shoot. If a unit failed an activation whilst hidden in a building it was still placed outside of the building in the direction it would have acted in. This represented the troops giving away their position but failing to act. Once out of a building a unit was committed to the fight and could not re-enter. 

The Gates

If the Spanish player could get a unit of infantry to the town gates, see the photo above,  they could try and open them to allow cavalry in the following turn. To open the gates the Spanish player had to have a unit in base to base contact with the gate scenery piece and make a successful move activation. If they succeeded they could then bring on the following:

2 Units of Jinetes
1 Unit of Men at Arms

These three units would count as part of Gonzalo de Cordoba's retinue and could enter the game via move activations the following turn from the gates.


Diego Garcia de Paredes Spanish retinue entered the game from the wall via an escalade. A unit within this retinue had to make a move activation to move from the base of the wall in order to enter the town. They could not shoot or attack until the move activation had been made.

The Breach

De Cordoba's Spanish retinue entered the game from the breached wall. A unit within this retinue had to make a move activation to move from the base of the breach in order to enter the town. They could not shoot or attack until the move activation had been made.

Victory Conditions

The Spanish would win if they could occupy the town square with three units at the end of a turn. The French would win by preventing this. If any of the Spanish units were battered and in the square they did not count towards the three units needed to achieve the victory.

The town square - the Spanish objective - is defended by Jacques II de Chabannes, La Palice, with his gendarmes and supporting men at arms.

A view inside the walls of Ruvo. Some of the French defenders hastily prepare for the Spanish assault.

After a brief cannonade Gonzalo de Cordoba's guns have made a breach in the walls.

The Spanish storm Ruvo through the breach and over the walls in an escalade.

The breach in the walls of Ruvo.

The armies

The French defenders under Jacques II de Chabannes de La Palice

Jacques II de Chabannes de La Palice

1 Unit of Gendarmes (Jacques II de Chabannes, La Palice, retinue leader) 
1 Unit of Men at Arms 
1 Unit of French Pike 
1 Unit of French Halberdiers 
2 Units of Aventuriers 

French Infantry

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Jacques de Monsenayns, retinue leader) 
1 Unit of Foot Knights (Pierre de Côuidrez) 
1 Unit of French Halberdiers 
1 Units of French Archers 

The French could also assign two Organ Guns to two infantry units (which could not hide in buildings). Stuart decided to assign these to one of the aventurier units and the French pike unit.

The Spanish of Gonzalo de Cordoba, El Gran Capitan

Gonzalo de Cordoba, El Gran Capitan

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Gonzalo de Cordoba, El Gran Capitan, retinue leader) 
1 Unit of Foot Knights (Diego Hurtado de Mendoza) 
1 Unit of Spanish Pike 
1 Unit of Rodeleros 
2 Units of Spanish Arquebusiers

This retinue would enter via the breached wall.

And if the gates could be opened:

2 Units of Jinetes 
1 Unit of Spanish Men at Arms

The cavalry would enter from the gates.

Diego Garcia de Paredes, the "Samson of Estremedura"

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Diego Garcia de Paredes, retinue leader) 
1 Unit of Rodeleros 
1 Unit of Spanish Arquebusiers
2 Units of Italian Infantry (the Italian Condottieri Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna)

This retinue would enter via an escalade from the walls.

A short account of some of the action is below but the pictures and captions are probably the best way to get an idea of what happened. These "street battle" games are chaotic and it is difficult to give a blow by blow account of what took place!

Spanish jinetes and men at arms wait outside the town gates.

Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and his dismounted men at arms are the first into the breach. The are met by a hail of shot from a French organ gun.

Italian infantry under Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna are first over the walls in the escalade, closely followed by Diego Garcia de Paredes and his Spanish infantry.

Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Gonzalo de Cordoba lead Spanish infantry into the town in the foreground, in the background the Colonna come under fire from another French organ gun that has been wheeled into the streets.

French aventuriers fall back as De Mendoza's men push into the streets of Ruvo.

The attack started with Gonzalo de Cordoba's retinue hesitating to enter the breach, only Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and his men at arms rushed forward through the crumbling walls. The escalade was more successful with Diego Garcia de Paredes and the Colonna cousins leading their Spanish and Italian infantry down from the walls and into Ruvo. The French garrison wheeled organ guns into the narrow streets and attempted to blast the attackers back. This did little to deter the Spanish and the aventuriers facing the initial attack were slain as they attempted to fall back.

Two distinctive areas of fighting now developed. There was a brief clash at the breach as French halberdiers garrisoning the town rushed out from the towers and tried to halt De Cordoba and his men. The Spanish numbers in this area were far too great and the French counter attack came to little. Outside the main church of the town the French were more successful with their archers being able to inflict casualties on the advancing Spanish and Italian troops.

Outside the church French archers and halberdiers hastily prepare a defence.

A view from above. The Spanish are pushing into the town but the French still have plenty of unengaged troops in the streets as well as units hiding in the buildings.

Spanish rodeleros and pikemen flood into Ruvo... they do so French halberdiers charge from one of the towers and a fierce melee takes place.

The fighting does not last long as the Spanish pike and rodeleros, supported by their arquebusiers, quickly overwhelm the defenders.

The Spanish surge into the town.

Outside the church the French archers send a storm of arrows into the Italian infantry.

The church courtyard is the scene of chaos as Diego Garcia de Paredes leads his men into the fight.

The Colonna infantry are forced back in the fighting outside the church.

The Spanish arquebusiers use a walled garden as cover from which to fire at the French defenders.

Diego Garcia de Paredes lives up to his name as the "Samson of Estremedura" by defeating one of the French captains, Jacques de Monsenayns, in single combat outside Ruvo's church.

Spanish infantry storm through the town.

The fight outside the church developed as more units entered the fray. The French captain, Jacques de Monsenayns, charged out into the courtyard and in a fierce melee defeated both Fabrizio and Prospero Colonna, sending the Italian infantry back. The "Samson of Estremedura", De Paredes, challenged Monsenayns from accross the courtyard and as the two met in a personal duel De Paredes lived up to his name and slew the French captain. His victory was short lived as De Paredes and his dismounted men at arms then received a charge from their mounted French counterparts. De Paredes was felled with his men. A hail of shot from a group of Spanish arquebusiers then sent the French horsemen reeling back.

With his troops being defeated piecemeal La Palice realised he had to act. Holding his horseman's pick aloft he charged down a unit of Spanish arquebusiers as they rushed into the town square. Flushed with this success he then drew his sword and led his men into a unit of Spanish pike who were headed towards the centre of the town. This charge was not as successful and loosing some of his gendarmes in the clash La Palice was pushed back. Caught off guard his retreating men were caught by a charge led by the first man through the breach, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. La Palice was unhorsed in the melee and casting away his sword he swore ""Neither you nor another will have it. Never by my hand". As La Palice surrendered to De Mendoza and his men De Cordoba's small army took the town. Ruvo had fallen to the Spanish.

Diego Garcia de Paredes is brought down by a unit of men at arms...

...who are in turn defeated by a volley of shot from some of the Spanish arquebusiers.

As his troops are pushed back, Jacques II de Chabannes, La Palice, surveys the scene.

La Palice charges down some of the Spanish arquebusiers who have made it into the town square.

Surrounded on all sides La Palice then takes on the Spanish pike who drive his gendarmes back.

Jacques II de Chabannes de La Palice, the garrison commander is defeated in combat with Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and forced to surrender. Ruvo has been taken in a lightning assault. 

A different take on the normal Italian Wars clashes this game was a lot of fun and it was great to try and recreate part of Ruvo on the tabletop. It did become a little one sided as Stuart's French suffered from being slowly fed, unit by unit, into an oncoming Spanish steam roller. Regardless of the defeat Chabannes, La Palice, put in a great first performance on the wargaming table and ended up being defeated by troops in Diego Hurtado de Mendoza's unit, which is what happened in the historical battle! My victory on the tabletop was to be short lived when I took command of the French against Stuart's Tudor English in a game set on the Franco-Spanish border, a write up of which is to follow shortly.


  1. As ever a wonderful spectacle! I could look at any of your games all day and still miss details!

    1. Thank you David, I am glad you enjoy all the attention to detail!

  2. Gorgeous work on these. Tables look fantastic, and the colours leap out of the pics.

    1. Thank you, these were some particularly colourful games with all the different terrain and units.

  3. I really enjoyed this report and look forward to the next one.
    Sometimes reading of someone else's adventures in a period I don't have figures for is enough to feel I've participated and learnt in a small way. Thank you.

    1. Cheers Stephen, I love to hear that you get something out of the reports. The effort of researching and writing them up does seem to lead to more rewarding games.

  4. Oli, your battle reports and scenarios always provide a wargaming spectacle. Superbly executed and truly inspirational.

    1. Cheers Jonathan, it was great to use all my Italian fortifications, I feel they haven't been used half as much as they should be yet.

  5. An exciting report. And fabulous models.

    1. Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the write up.

  6. Bellissimo report grande scenografia, vorrei anche io un tavolo così.

    1. Grazie Ronin, le guerre italiane sono una grande fonte di scenari

  7. Agree with David, your Renaissance games are very inspirational....I look forward to a return to the Scots/English border sometime soon!

    1. Cheers rross, there will certainly be a return to the Anglo-Scots border at some point as I am currently working on a 1540s Scottish force to play out scenarios from the "Rough Wooing" against my 1540s English.

  8. Extremely informative as ever with some beautiful figures.Thanks for all your hard work.

    1. Cheers Robbie, it was a lot of fun to set the table out as Ruvo and play through the scenario.

  9. Gorgeous looking battle, nice to see your battlements out and the church is ace!
    Best Iain

    1. Thank you Iain, I need to do some more games with the Italian style fortifications, they do work well.

  10. That looks amazing Oli, another great set up. You always manage to engineer intruiging scenarios. Look forward to seeing more in the future.

    1. Cheers Tom, hopefully the Novara scenario will be of the same level. We will have to do an Italian Wars scenario involving an assault on these walls at some point in the future as well.