Sunday 1 October 2023

Seigneur de Bayard in Navarre, 1512

A couple of weekends ago my friend Tom visited and we continued our series of siege style wargames. We decided to focus on an action that took place during the first French attempt to wrest control of the Kingdom of Navarre from the Spanish which Jacques de Mailles' near contemporary account of Bayard's life describes in detail.

Bayard in Navarre

The Kingdom of Navarre was located along the western Pyrenees, on the borders of Spain and France. Nestled between parts of northern Aragon and northern Castile and containing passes between Spain and France this meant it was a key strategic location for the more powerful Spanish and French kingdoms. Using an English invasion of southern France as a diversion (see July of 1512 saw the Spanish King Ferdinand order troops into Navarre under the command of the Duke of Alba. The Navarrese king, John III, retreated to Orthez and by early September 1512 most of Navarre was in Spanish hands. The presence of the English under the Marquis of Dorset had meant the French did not cross into Navarre and attempt to stop the invasion however by October the English had returned home realising they had been duped by Henry VIII's father-in-law, Ferdinand. 

With the English threat gone the French counterattacked with three columns entering Navarre. One column besieged Hondarribia and Donostia whilst a second under Louis I d'Orléans, duc de Longueville, defeated the Spanish at Ainhize on 19 October 1512. As the Spanish retreated to Pamplona a third column under the command of the King of Navarre, John III, and Jacques de la Palice, Lord of Chabannes, entered via the valley of Roncal besieging the Duke of Alba in Pamplona in November. The siege lasted for a month but with Spanish reinforcements on the way under the Duke of Nájera and the autumn weather making conditions in the siege lines difficult the French and loyalist Navarrese were forced to withdraw. The French suffered on the retreat across the Pyrenees as the weather conditions had worsened and Spanish skirmishing forces harassed them as they made their way back.

Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, was in the third French column that besieged Pamplona and was given a force of gendarmes, aventuriers, landsknecht and artillery with which to take a nearby castle. It was defended by a garrison of around 100 Spanish troops who posed a threat to the French siege lines. Sources seem to differ on where this castle was some giving it as Tiebas, about 15km from Pamplona, whilst others refer to it as being at Puente la Reina which was some 25km from the city. We will turn to a translation of Jacques de Mailles story of Bayard's life for an account of the events:

"At four leagues from this town was a castle, whose taking became interesting in detail, not because it was very strong in itself, but because it could contain enough men to succour the town, or at least to make the besiegers uneasy. The King of Navarre and Chabannes begged Bayard to accept the charge of making himself master of it. He accepted the commission in the spirit of a man who had never found any difficulty in anything. He took with him his company, who were as well disposed for war as he was, and composed of men, who had most of them, as we have already said, commanded themselves. He there joined the company of Captain Bonneval, another excellent officer, many adventurers, and about 800 lansquenets, and went in open day straight to the castle. He began by sending a trumpet to summon those who were there to give it back to the King of Navarre, to who it belonged, assuring them that their lives and baggage should be saved, but if they were taken by assault, no quarter should be shown to anyone.

Those within the castle were all good soldiers, 100 Spaniards, very loyal to their king, and they had been put there by the Duke of Naxara and the Alcalde of Donzelles, both whom Ferdinand had appointed, the one viceroy, the other lieutenant-general in the kingdom of Navarre. Their answer was that they would keep the place , and not give it up, still less would they submit personally. As soon as this answer had been reported to Bayard, he had a battery constructed, furnished with four large pieces of cannon, and beat a breach without delay. The besieged, on their side, had a good number of arquebuses with two falconets, and answered very well to the French artillery; but notwithstanding all this, in less than an hour, the breach was large enough, although difficult of access, because it was necessary to get up to it. Then Bayard sounded to the assault, and commanded the lansquenets to march and do their duty; but it was necessary, before arranging them, to come to terms with them; they told him, through their interpreter, that, according to their treaty, when a place was taken by assault they should receive double pay; that if this demand were acceded to, they would go cheerfully to the breach, otherwise not. Bayard was ignorant of this treaty; however he promised them that if they took this place by assault their demands should be satisfied. But they undoubtedly expected to be paid in advance, for not one moved from his place. The adventurers alone marched boldly, and found work to do, for, if they knew how to attack, those within knew equally well how to defend themselves.

Bayard, seeing that three attacks had been unsuccessful, had had the retreat sounded, and afterwards caused cannons to be fired, apparently to enlarge the breach, but really to throw the besieged off the track, for there had entered his mind one of those expedients which were never wanting to him when occasion required. To put it in execution, he addressed himself to one of the men-at-arms, whose bravery and good conduct he knew, named La Vergne, and said to him: "Companion, will you do a bold deed, for which I will richly reward you? Do you see that large tower which forms the corner of the rear of the castle? I want you to take with you thirty or forty brave men, and whilst I give the assault, and occupy the enemy at the breach, you shall lead  your men, supplied with ladders, to enter it there. I am sure you will find no one, and you know what you have to do".

La Vergne was a man skilled in the art of war, and it was not necessary to say anymore to him. He understood the plan, and executed it to perfection, while Bayard had the assault given with more impetuosity than the first time. The besieged were all at the breach, and were strangely surprised to hear behind them the cry of "France! France! Navarre! Navarre!" And to see themselves charged from the back by La Vergne and his fifty men. They wished, however, to defend themselves, but at that instant the besiegers entered by the breach, which they knocked all to pieces or very nearly so, and then plundered the place. Bayard left a small garrison there under the charge of a gentleman belonging to the King of Navarre, and as he was preparing to set out to rejoin the French camp, the lansquenets who had refused to serve, and who had done nothing, had the impudence to ask him, through their interpreter, for the double pay which he had promised them. The proposition irritated him. "Tell those rascally lansquenets", he replied, "that I would sooner give each a halter to hang himself with. The cowards wouldn't go to the breach, and now they ask for double pay. I will inform the Duke of Suffolk (Richard de la Pole, the "last White Rose"), their commander, of it, and the Lord of Chabannes, that he may get rid of them; they are worth nothing". Their interpreter, having returned them this answer, they began to murmur loudly, like men just ready to revolt. But Bayard sounded to the standard, and assembled his adventurers, and his men-at-arms, resolved to exterminate them to the last man, if they made the least movement. They chose the better part, which was to be quiet, and return with the others to the camp at Pampeluna."

In preparation for the fourth assault Bayard "caused cannons to be fired, apparently to enlarge the breach, but really to throw the besieged off the track".

One of the French guns fires at the breach.

The Scenario

The game focused on the final fourth assault by Bayard and his men, with the surprise attack by La Vergne and his "brave men" coming from the tower to the rear of the Spanish garrison. As normal the game was played using an amended version of Lion Rampant that we have changed and adapted for 16th century warfare. Tom chose to play the Spanish in this game so I took on the role of Bayard and the French.


Each player commanded two retinues. The game started with the Spanish deployed inside the fortress. 
Bayard's retinue and the landsknecht element of La Vergne's retinue (see the lists below) started at the foot of the slopes in front of the breach. The four French guns described in the above account were shown in a battery but these did not have any effect on the game. La Vergne's company did not start on the table.

The French player took the first turn with Bayard's retinue acting first.

The Breach

Crossing the breach and fighting on it counted as difficult terrain. Units could not see over the breach but could shoot at units on the other side of it once in the breach. Similarly once in the breach units could be shot at by units on the other side. The breach did not provide cover.

La Vergne's company

La Vergne's retinue was divided into two elements, La Vergne's company and the landsknecht. Whilst the landsknecht started on the table La Vergne and his dismounted "brave men" did not start on the table. There were two large towers at the ends of the walls on the other side of the fortress from the breach (see the photos below). Before any troops were deployed on the table the French player noted down which of the two large towers La Vergne's company would emerge from and on what turn this would happen. As I was in command of the French I decided to go for really late in the game and chose, probably unwisely, turn 20! The failed activation element of Lion Rampant means it is really hard to know how long turns will be.

When that turn arrived the French player would announce the arrival of La Vergne and his men and declare from which of the two towers they would spring. Scaling ladders were placed to represent the escalade. The French player would role a D6. On a 2+ La Vergne's three company units could emerge from the base of the tower. They could move or attack when they first arrived. If a one was rolled the French player had to attempt to roll a 2+ on a D6 again the following turn but the Spanish player would know for certain where the French would be arriving from.

If a unit failed its activation the retinues turn would end as normal. Any units that had not left the tower could attempt to leave the following turn and so on until the were deployed.

The landsknecht

To represent them being "rascally lansquenets" the landsknecht were very difficult to control in this scenario. Every time the French player wished a landsknecht unit to act it had to pass its activation twice. If it failed either time the turn for that retinue ended. If a unit rolled a double 1 on either activation then the blunder chart would be rolled on.

The Sally Ports

On either side of the breach the walls had a sally port, a small doorway, in them. The Spanish units could move or attack through these as they wished with no movement penalty. If a French unit could get to a sally port on the inside and the door was uncontested then French units on the other side of that sally port could move through it as they wished with no penalty. There always had to be a French unit on the inside by the sally port to allow this movement to happen.


Victory in this scenario was simple - the French had to take control of the fortress and defeat the Spanish garrison. If at the end of a turn French were in the fortress and the only Spanish units left in the game were outside it then this would count as the French holding the fortress. 

A view of the table. Two sets of the castle walls are shown. The French comprising Bayard's forces and the landsknecht are in the foreground outside the castle walls. The Spanish are deployed inside the castle beyond the breach. At the top of the photo the two large towers can be seen one of which La Vergne and his "brave men" can attack from. At either end of the set of walls in the foreground there is a sally port

A view of the castle from the other side. The two towers where La Vergne can launch the surprise attack from can be seen with the Spanish deployed in the courtyard of the castle.

Bayard's troops prepare for a fourth assault on the breach. The aventuriers can be seen in the foreground.

Inside the Spanish garrison brace themselves for another attack...

...the Spanish form a semicircle around the breach and await the French assault.

The Armies

Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard's, French contingent

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard - retinue leader)
1 Unit of Foot Knights (Captain Bonneval)                                                                   
3 Units of Aventuriers
2 Units of Aventuriers with Halberds                                                                               

La Vergne's company and the landsknecht

La Vergne's Company who would attack in the rear by escalade:
1 Unit of Foot Knights (La Vergne - retinue leader)
1 Unit of Foot Knights
1 Unit of Armoured Halberdiers (representing dismounted men at arms and "archers" from a gendarme company)    

The Landsknecht: 
2 Units of Landsknecht Pike                                                                                                 
1 Unit of Landsknecht Arquebusiers                                                                                
1 Unit of Landsknecht Halberdiers                                                                                    

The Spanish Garrison

First Retinue

1 Unit of Foot Knights  (Spanish Garrison Captain - retinue leader)  
2 Units of Arquebusiers                                                                       
2 Units of Rodeleros                                                                              
1 Unit of Armoured Halberdiers                                                      
1 Culverin                                                                                                  

Second Retinue

1 Unit of Foot Knights  (Spanish Captain - retinue leader)  
2 Units of Spanish Arquebusiers                                                      
1 Unit of Rodeleros                                                                              
1 Unit of Armoured Halberdiers                                                       
1 Culverin                                                                                                 

A brief description of the game is below but as always a great way to follow the action is by reading the photo captions. This captions for this particular game read almost like those of a comic strip.

The French forces storm the breach.

The landsknecht have been persuaded to fight and a party of halberdiers is first into the breach. They are brought down in a hail of shot.

Landsknecht pike follow only to be quickly brought down by cannon and arquebus fire. Perhaps they would've been better to refuse to aid in the assault!

The scene around the breach as the French push on with the attack.

The French have sustained horrendous casualties at the breach. Captain Bonneval and his dismounted gendarmes are next into the fortress. Their heavier armour means they survive the storm of shot that is fired into them.

A view from above the walls. The Spanish defensive formation can clearly be seen on the left with the French units crossing the breach in the centre of the picture.

To the sound of drums the aventuriers and landsknecht advanced towards the breach. Bayard was surprised to see the landsknecht were first to the attack. They led the assault with a party of halberdiers clambering through the rubble and into the courtyard of the castle. This "Verlorener Haufen" was met with murderous volleys of arquebus fire and slain to a man. Landsknecht pikemen followed their comrades into the breach only to be met by yet more arquebus fire and a blast of grapeshot from one of the garrison's "two falconets". The German mercenaries had paid dearly for their bravery, perhaps they would've been wiser had they refused to join the assault!

Next to emerge from the breach was Captain Bonneval followed by the aventuriers, some carrying crossbows whilst others had taken up polearms for the assault. Being armoured head to toe in full harness Bonneval and his men at arms managed to push through the hail of gunshot that was sent their way. Many of the aventuriers were killed or wounded by the Spanish arquebusiers whilst a determined group of landsknecht arquebusiers charged into the courtyard. Their success was short lived as moments later these landsknecht were driven back by a determined charge from the garrison's rodeleros, although the landsknecht fought them bravely and slew many of the Spanish in the melee.

Following Captain Bonneval aventuriers armed with halberds and crossbows storm the walls along with landsknecht arquebusiers...

...the landsknecht arquebusiers find themselves facing defenders on all sides...

...and are quickly driven back by Spanish rodeleros.

The bloody scene around the breach.

A determined Spanish counterattack drives many of the attackers back.

Just outside the breach Bayard senses that the momentum of the attack may have been lost.

Captain Bonneval is still inside the walls...

...accompanied by his heavily armoured men at arms he drives back some of the Spanish arquebusiers and...

...manages to open one of the sally port doors, letting in a group of aventuriers.

The aventuriers shoot at the defenders in the castle courtyard but are quickly slain.

The fighting raged around the breach with Spanish halberdiers and swordsmen clashing with the aventuriers as they tried to enter the fortress. Having already been fired upon by the defenders cannon and arquebusiers the aventuriers were quickly broken and sent reeling back from the breach. Captain Bonneval remained inside the courtyard and succeeded in driving back the Spanish defenders that opposed him. Bonneval managed to reach one of the castles sally ports and opened it allowing in a unit of aventuriers who had not yet engaged in the assault. Hoping for loot these rough and ready French crossbowmen charged into the castle but it was not long before they were brought down by the defenders.

Whilst the attack was happening through the sally port the commander of the French force, seigneur de Bayard, stormed across the breach and took on one of the garrison's captains in a personal duel. The Spaniard was no match for the legendary Bayard, "le bon chevalier sans peur et sans reproche", and was quickly slain. With a unit of landsknecht pike behind him Bayard led his men into the courtyard driving back the Spanish defenders in front of him. Just as it looked as though the assault might succeed a volley of shot was fired across the courtyard and Bayard fell, the French troops at the breach had lost their valiant captain!

Bayard enters the fortress and kills one of the Spanish captains in a one on one duel.

Bayard then attempts to lead his men in an attack on the Spanish garrison and drive them back...

...but, like many of the French and landsknecht in the assault, he is brought down by the effective fire of the Spanish arquebusiers.

As Bayard falls at one end of the castle, from the walls of the other cries of "France! France! Navarre! Navarre!" are heard...

...covered by the noise of the fighting at the breach La Vergne has led his dismounted gendarmes and men at arms in an escalade over the walls...

...taken by surprise a unit of rodeleros are quickly defeated.

The Spanish defenders rush to fight off the new attack.

The action at the breach, in the top of the picture, is over whilst the bottom of the picture shows the attack by La Vergne's men in full swing.

La Vergne and his heavily armoured troops fight the Spanish garrison in the courtyard...

...but having seen off the attack on the breach the Spanish are able to bring one of their cannons and their arquebusiers to bear on the attackers.

Just as the assault on the breach was coming to an end the Spanish defenders were shocked to hear cries of "France! France! Navarre! Navarre!" coming from behind them. To their horror they turned to see heavily armoured gendarmes and men at arms descending from one of the castle's large towers and charging towards them. A unit of rodeleros was taken by surprise completely and overpowered instantly.

As they were no longer occupied by the attack on the breach the Spanish garrison had just enough time to reorganise and meet the surprise attack head on. The surviving Spanish captain directed his remaining cannon and arquebusiers to concentrate their fire on the armoured Frenchmen whilst his halberdiers and swordsmen clashed fiercely with them in the courtyard. La Vergne cut a path through the melee to engage in combat with the Spanish captain only to be defeated and slain in the fight. The rest of the gendarmes and their supporting men at arms were driven back, their surprise attack having been too little too late. As the surviving gendarmes were taken prisoner by the Spanish it was clear the attack was over and the fortress had been held by Spain, despite the surprise attack and the valiant efforts of the 
"rascally lansquenets"!

A savage melee emerges around the tower that La Vergne led the attack from...

...but he is killed in combat with the remaining Spanish captain. The Spanish have triumphed and the French assault has failed.

This was a game that was full of dramatic tension as the French tried to storm the castle and gain an advantage over the Spanish defenders. This being Lion Rampant the fact that turns could switch suddenly on a bad dice roll really added to the chaos and drama around the breach. As you can imagine playing a force that was trying to coordinate an attack was pretty tricky and made the game very entertaining. The defenders could suddenly fail activations as well which meant the attackers surged forward unexpectedly and ruined the defensive plans.

I probably made a mistake by setting the surprise attack for turn 20 but due the activation rolls in Lion Rampant it is hard to know how many turns will play out and I was keen for some of the French to be well across the breach when the surprise attack came. Initially I thought Tom had made a terrible mistake by placing his Spanish defenders so far from the breach but the trap worked really well as my units would charge into the courtyard only to be defeated one after the other! It was such a different style of game from the pitched battles or ambushes we have played. We will definitely be trying out some more siege rules again as they can make for exciting games, this one playing out like a scene from a movie!