Tuesday 26 March 2019

Piero the Unfortunate and the Garigliano

This weekend a friend of mine visited who is also a keen painter and collector. Tom specializes in the Hundred Years War and has recently started his own blog, https://englandswarsinfrance.blogspot.com/, which is definitely worth a look. Tom was keen to try an Italian Wars battle and I thought this was a great chance to get out my early Italian Wars collection and write up a scenario set during the war for Naples, fought between the generals of Louis XII of France and Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain at the very start of the 1500s.

The Banks of the River Garigliano 29th December 1503

Gonzalo de Cordoba, El Gran Capitan, had defeated the French at Cerignola in April 1503. This began the turning of the tide in a war in which both France and Spain attempted to conquer the Kingdom of Naples. Following their defeat the French had successfully reinforced the garrison of Gaeta forcing Gonzalo to retreat and defend the coastal route to Naples against an advancing French army. Gonzalo's army held the banks of the river Garigliano while the inland route to Naples was defended by determined Spanish garrisons. A stalemate developed along the banks of the river in which the French attempted to force their way across the Garigliano using a pontoon bridge but the Spanish doggedly defended the banks using trenches and earthworks. Through early November 1503 the French launched three attacks from their bridgehead but could not dislodge the entrenched Spanish. The stalemate was finally broken by a Spanish surprise attack, and subsequent Battle of Garigliano, after they had built their own pontoon bridge further upriver at the end of December 1503.

The scenario is set as the stalemate between the Spanish and French armies both entrenched on the soaked and sodden river banks is broken by the daring attack upstream. Gonzalo de Cordoba and the Italian Condotierre Prospero Colonna have crossed the river on a bridge constructed in stealth with the Spanish Vanguard and have begun to role up the demoralized and soaked French troops in their billets.

Further down stream and nearer to the coast the French still hold the fortified bridgehead which they established weeks beforehand under the leadership of Francesco Gonzaga, the Marquis of Mantua, but were unable to break out from, hemmed in by Spanish trenches and earthworks. With the success of the attack upstream Fernando de Andrade, in charge of the Spanish Rearguard which has remained in the trenches, has launched an attack upon the fortified bridgehead with a force that includes a body of German Landsknecht sent by Maximilian I as well as Spanish Light Cavalry.

Amongst the French force is Piero de Medici (also known to history as the Unfortunate), the ousted ruler of Florence. Piero di Lorenzo de Medici was the eldest son of the famed Lorenzo de Medici, ruler of Florence in all but name. Following his father's death he also assumed de facto control of the renaissance city but was unable to rule in the same manner. His unassertive behaviour in the face of the advancing French in 1494 led to an uprising in Florence, the people being stirred up by the apocalyptic preaching of Girolamo Savonarola. While Savonarola himself came to an unpleasant end, the Medici were exiled from the city until Piero's brother, Giovanni de Medici, became Pope, assuming the name Leo X.

Despite his priveledged start in life Piero did not have the same success as his younger brother, Giovanni. He was serving as a captain in the French army and was at the French bridgehead during the Spanish assault at Garigliano. According to Charles Oman's "Art of War in the Sixteenth Century", Piero was organising the evacuation of the French guns from the bridgehead back across the Garigliano and had boarded a large boat with an artillery piece. As he moved off some routing infantry clambered into his boat and capsized it, all of them drowning in their armour, including Piero. Hence the moniker "the Unfortunate"!

Piero de Medici or Piero the Unfortunate

We join the game during the attack of the Spanish Rearguard, under Andrade, on the French bridgehead. In the chaos Piero de Medici must attempt to load up some of the French Guns as the army retreats back to Gaeta in the face of the Spanish advance. He must then try and escape himself, avoiding a dip in the Garigliano! A rather grisly event to focus on perhaps, but his potential escape does make for an interesting "what if".

The shoreline part of the table, seen in the photo below, represents the banks of the Garigliano and the boats to evacuate the French forces. The pontoon bridge itself is not represented on the table but is assumed to be somewhere behind the French defences. Three Guns can be seen further up the table. They can be picked up by other units and moved as per the War Chest Wagons in the scenario the "King's War Chest" on page 51 of the Pikeman's Lament. They could not fire or fight as they were assumed to be in the process of evacuation. I have to admit we made a bit of an error during the deployment here as 4-6 points of Piero's retinue were meant to be positioned with the guns, awaiting their Italian comrades but we forgot this part of the scenario and placed all the Italians advancing from their side of the table. I think it could have made a big difference if a unit had already been placed with the guns. The deployment of Piero de Medici and Fernando de Andrade's retinues can be seen below.

As soon as a gun was moved from position we diced for the reinforcement retinues entering. They would enter on a 5-6 on a D6 the first turn after a gun was moved, then a 3-6 and then automatically. The reinforcing units could enter on a move activation.  The French reinforcements would arrive from the within the French earthworks by the small church and the Spanish from their own trenches which can be seen just beyond the guns in the photo below.

The objective of Piero was to drag the guns with his retinue to the shoreline and thus evacuate them. Once this was done he was then free to board a boat and leave as well. The Spanish objective was to stop Piero's escape and drag the guns forward, leaving the table between the French earthworks and their own trenches.

The initial deployment. On the right is Piero de Medici's Italian retinue in French service. They are attempting to defend the original French bridgehead. The banks of the Garigliano can be seen in the foreground and the guns that need to be withdrawn are at the far end of the table, beyond which lie the Spanish Trenches. Fernando de Andrade's retinue are on the left. The French reinforcements will arrive along the river bank by the Church, they are assumed to have been defending the bridgehead slightly further up the river. The Spanish reinforcements will arrive at the far end of the table from their own trenches.

As always we played the game using the ever evolving Renaissance Rampant rules that Stuart Mulligan and myself have been adapting from Lion Rampant and The Pikeman's Lament. Tom chose to lead Piero, and his Italian and French forces, so I took the Spanish under Fernando de Andrade. The photos are all from the actual game. Again as always the best way to follow the action is probably to read the narrative under the photos. I appreciate there is quite a lot going on in this scenario, the historical Battle of Garigliano was itself quite a disjointed spread out event, so I hope it is relatively easy to follow!

The French at the bridgehead

Piero de Medici's Italians in French Service

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Piero de Medici)
2 Units of Italian Infantry
1 Unit of Italian Pikemen
1 Unit of Italian Arquebusiers
1 Unit of Italian Crossbowmen
1 Unit of Italian Mounted Crossbowmen
1 Unit of Stradiots

French Retreating Reinforcements

1 Unit of Foot Knights (The French Captain)
2 Units of French Pikemen
2 Units of Aventuriers
1 Unit of Franc Archers
1 Unit of French Ordonnance Lancers

The Spanish Rearguard

Fernando de Andrade's Landsknecht and Light Cavalry Assault

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Fernando de Andrade)
2 Units of Landsknecht Pikemen
1 Unit of Landsknecht Arquebusiers
3 Units of Spanish Jinetes

The Spanish reinforcing from their trenches

1 Unit of Foot Knights (The Spanish Captain)
2 Units of Spanish Arquebusiers
2 Units of Rodeleros
1 Unit of Spanish Jinetes
1 Unit of Stradiots

The Landsknechts and Jinetes under Fernando de Andrade race towards the guns while Piero de Medici's Italians also surge forward in an attempt to get the guns to the river.

The Italian Stradiots have clashed with the Jinetes in the open ground between the trenches and earthworks. Around the gun battery the Italian Crossbowmen and Landsknecht Arquebusiers exchange fire.

The Landsknecht Auxilliaries sent by Maximillian I have grabbed one of the guns and start to fire into the Italian infantry who are grateful of the cover provided by the trench.

Initially both the Italians and Spanish facing them advanced in an organised manner, keeping close together ready for the oncoming fight. The Italians had left their arquebusiers to defend the earthworks by the river bank. As the Italian Crossbowmen grabbed one of the artillery pieces so to did the Landsknecht Arquebusiers. The Jinetes pushed back the Italian Stradiots while the Landsknecht Arquebusiers began a ranged battle with the Italian Crossbowmen at the gun battery.

In the centre the Landsknecht pike assumed a close ordered formation and withstood a couple of bloody assaults by the Italian shield armed infantry. Having lost the Stradiots on their flank the Italians were now harrassed by the Jinetes as well as having to face the advancing Landsknecht. One body of Landskencht Pike were badly mauled in the fighting but the melee mainly swung in favour of the Spanish and suddenly Piero's position was starting to look dangerous.

The Spanish Jinetes ride out to harass Medici's forces.

The Italian Swordsmen and Mounted Crossbowmen attempt an attack on the massed Landsknecht Pike but they are constantly under attack from the Jinetes on their flank.

The Italian Pikemen have secured a gun and begin to drag it back to safety. Their crossbowmen, both mounted and on foot have been seen off by the Landsknecht and Jinetes while the Italian Infantry have come off the worse in a series of bloody clashes with the Lansknecht Pike.

As the Italians make an attempt to get back to the banks of the Garigliano they are looking more and more vulnerable to the Spanish.

As Andrade's reinforcements poured forward from the Spanish trenches Medici, with his Pikemen dragging one of the guns, began his attempt to get back to the riverbank. This became something of a chase scene with the Italian Pikemen being defeated by the deadly combination of Landsknecht Pikemen with Jinetes skirmishing all around. Piero managed to grab the abandoned gun with his bodyguard and slowly pulled it back to the river, all the time being pursued and skirmished with by the Jinetes. They whittled his bodyguard down one by one with their javelins but miraculously Piero managed to get back to the French earthworks where more French Infantry and a few light cavalry had arrived to support him.

At this point Piero's resolve finally broke and he fled, dissappearing anonymously into the ranks of the advancing French. Did he drown in the river as happened in the historical battle? Who knows. The French reinforcements had arrived and flooded into their earthworks in an attempt to halt the Spanish advance, maybe being able to recapture their guns in the process.

Spanish Infantry emerge from their trench line and begin to advance on the beleaguered French bridgehead.

As infantry pull the gun to safety Piero de Medici's position is looking more and more precarious.

The French infantry, who have been holding the bridgehead with the Italians, enter the field. Can they get to Medici in time to save him or any of their guns?

Attacked by the Jinetes and Landsknecht Pike the Italian Pike block is defeated leaving Piero extremely isolated and being pursued by Fernado de Andrade!

A view of the whole battlefield. The second Spanish retinue can be seen emerging from the Spanish trenches and passing through the French fieldworks. Medici can be seen in the top left being pursued accross the field by the Jinetes and Andrade. The French can be seen entering the field in the distance.

Having seen the Italian contingent disintegrate the Landsknecht being moving the captured cannon.

Spanish Arquebusiers cross the first line of French defences that have been protecting the French bridgehead since November.

Still attempting to bring one of the guns back safely and having lost most of his return to the javelins of the Jinetes Piero is attempting to reach the lines of his French allies.

The Spanish have two of the three guns and are now fully accross the initial line of French defences. Piero de Medici can still be seen , he has made it to the French ranks but his retinue has been destroyed and he now dissappears in the chaos. The French prepare to take on the Spanish assault.

The final line of French defences are manned by Crossbowmen on the left, Archers in the centre and Italian Arquebusiers on the right. The Arquebusiers are the only remaining troops from Medici's retinue.

The French bravely tried to stem the tide but things simply went from bad to worse. Their cavalry sallied out of the earthworks only to be defeated by the Jinetes while the only remaining body of troops from Piero's retinue, the arquebusiers, looked to be in the perfect defensive position. They were ensconced within the earthworks with the Spanish advancing into range. As they were about to put the matches to their guns they leapt from the earthworks and charged into the Spanish Arquebusiers, in a moment of heroism or madness! They were defeated in the brief melee and fled.

As the Spanish began to drag the captured guns from the field yet another stroke of bad luck struck the French. The Spanish Arquebusiers, flushed from their victory in the melee with Piero's men, stormed the French earthworks and then opened fire from one of the earthern bastions. The French Captain, who was doing a good job of maintaining the discipline in a chaotic situation, was struck dead instantly in the hail of shot. This led to morale crumbling amongst the remaining French who desperately tried to escape the Spanish assault by running to the pontoon bridge, taking to the remaining boats or simply trying to swim for it. The Battle of Garigliano at this stretch of the river was over.

The Italian Arquebusiers role a double one in an attempt to activate and shoot the Spanish - a blunder - as a result they go charging into their Spanish counterparts. Is this heroism or insanity? They come off worse in the clash and flee the field.

The Spanish prepare to overwhelm the French bridgehead. Their Arquebusiers can be seen on the right, about to climb over the earthworks.

Some of the Spanish troops are detailed with safely removing the captured guns.

When it looks as if nothing more could go wrong for the French and Italians defending the bridgehead they are struck another deadly blow. The Spanish Arquebusiers mount the French earthworks and then fire upon the retinue's captain and his bodyguard. The French captain falls dead in the volley and discipline in the French force evaporates. The bridgehead has been taken and the French guns captured by Andrade and his Spanish troops.

It was a fun game, especially the drama of Piero's attempted escape while being chased and constantly attacked by the Spanish Cavalry. He very nearly made it to the boats as well! I do regret that we forgot the Italians were initially meant to have troops at the guns as it could have made things a lot closer. That being said it's not the first time I have forgotten something key in a wargame and certainly won't be the last! Despite some appalling dice roles and failed activations Tom is keen to revisit the Italian Wars for another game so I am sure in the future there will be another clash. It was great to have a chance to use all my very early Italian Wars stuff, much of which I haven't gamed with before.

The table is still up and ready to be transformed into the 16th Century Low Countries for my next clash with Stuart. The Siege of Venlo, 1511...


  1. I chuckled that Maximillian I would send troops! He was notorious for promising aide and never following through! That said, LOVE this post! A nice big LR game with lots of units and a well thought out scenario based on so thoughtful research! Gives the game a great narrative hook with Piero. Great work and I look forward to the forthcoming seige!

    1. Thanks Spencer, I am glad you enjoyed it.

      It seems Maximilian's aid became a key part of Gonzalo De Cordoba's plan in this campaign. At the start of 1503 the Spanish were holed up in Barletta and Gonzalo was reluctant to take on the French in the field, being rightly fearful of their Gendarmes and Swiss Infantry. He had learnt from previous defeat how effective they were. However once Maximilian had sent 2,000 -2,500 Landskencht to help the Spanish war effort, Gonzalo was confident enough to take the field. Defeating the French at Cerignola in April 1503, and leading by the end of the year to the fighting around Gaeta.

  2. Awesome table and wonderful looking armies, what a splendid looking game!!

  3. Inspiring table and great looking minis.
    Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Cheers Ratmaul, always a pleasure to post up the battle reports.

  4. Thank you Oli despite my almost systematic poor luck it was an intriguing game with a well thought out scenario, and I very much look forward to more Itallian Wars adventures in time to come.

    1. Thanks Tom, it was a fun scenario and things did seem to go from bad to worse for the Italian Contingent. We will indeed return to the Italian Wars for another game.

  5. Ambientazione perfetta. Gioco molto divertente.

  6. I've said it before but those boards are awesome, they really make your collection stand out and the thought you put into them lends them to great versatility. Excellent scenario too, I really like your Spanish figures.

    1. Cheers Stuart, they are indeed great for loads of different types of games. Of course I had to have the trenches for all the 16th Century Sieges!

  7. It's so sad that the French had to lose to those Spaniards, but a very nice game nonetheless!

    1. Thanks Ryan - yes it became a it of a rout towards the end, no unlike the real Battle of Garigliano.

  8. Beautiful. I so enjoy reading your posts and seeing the images of such a wonderful collection. I particularly like your terrain boards. Have you ever posted a tutorial about how you made the boards?

    1. Thank you Snuffles, I am glad you have enjoyed my 16th Century Ramblings.

      I didn't make the boards, I love painting miniatures but am not keen on the terrain making side of the hobby. I commissioned the boards from David at TM terrain, he can be contacted and his work seen here: https://en-gb.facebook.com/Tmterrain/

  9. Fantastic looking battle,lovely to see your toys on the table! Now I need more jinnetts!
    Best Iain

    1. You can never have enough Jinetes Iain!

  10. Beautiful setting. and hilarious game, but the flags are interchangeable?

    1. Cheers Ronin - yes the flags are all on brass or copper tubes so I can change them - I got the idea from James Roach: http://olicanalad.blogspot.com/2010/07/top-tip-flags.html

  11. Grazie per il cinsiglio eccezionale . Aspetto il prossimo match.

  12. Grazie per il consiglio eccezionale . Aspetto il prossimo match.