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Battle of Fornovo, 1495

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 Francesca II Gonzaga versus Charles VIII: A League army under Gonzaga seeks to destroy a French army marching home under Charles, but the Taro River  separates them. Will Gonzaga’s audacious attack plan overcome not only the terrain but one of the most reputable armies in all of Europe? Click on images below to view PowerPoint presentation. | Legend |
 
 
This battle is classified as a draw and had little eventual consequence but did create a situation in which decisive results and consequences were possible. In a strategic sense, the French were able to achieve their objective of continuing on to France as a result of their tactical victory over League forces on every front. However, League cavalry was able to loot the French baggage train, claiming 180,000 gold ducats as well as forcing most French soldiers to go without tents, dry clothes and food for the night (Nicolle, 1996: 73). Aside from sowing tensions among the League commanders, the League army may have been in a better state compared to the French after the battle, suffering proportionately fewer casualties and possessing more fresh soldiers. Of course, neither army followed up the battle with any bold action, and thus the battle is remembered as an indecisive draw.
 
Gonzaga’s plan of attack appeared faultless but obviously had significant problems. Contradictorily, the League’s goal was the enemy’s total destruction and yet over a quarter of its soldiers guarded the camp. Taylor explains that the battle is notable for the “bad choice of ground by the [League], and for the over-elaboration of their tactical scheme. Lack of determination prevented tem from driving their attacks home or from making use of their reserves, while indiscipline ruined the most promising feature of the plan – the diversion of the [light cavalry]” (1973: 115). The League plan correctly identified the French center and Charles as the most promising target and allotted 10,000 men in the battlegroups of Gonzaga, Garlino, Fortebraccio and Montefeltro to defeat the 3,900 men of the French center and rearguard. However, the above factors eroded the mass and energy of the main thrust: “Thus, at the moment of confrontation, Gonzaga and Fortebraccio were left without support, and the French probably outnumbered them” (Santosuosso, 1994: 242).
 
Following the failure of the League plan, League commanders showed some initiative in securing the fords Gonzaga and Fortebraccio’s battlegroups used to retreat as well as firing off artillery to deter any French counterattack.
 
 
Numbers for this battle are drawn from Santosuosso who describes the composition of each army’s many moving parts in detail (1994: 228-232). Nicolle’s Osprey edition was extremely helpful with the battle’s events, with only a few difficult reconciliations between the two sources. However, Nicolle appears to have forgotten to multiply the number of French lances, which denote units of six, not individuals, and as such Santosuosso is favoured in this regard. I did however add the 1,000 low-quality infantry to the French baggage train that Nicolle mentions (1996: 53) but Santosuosso omits.
 
- Jonathan Webb
 
Works Consulted
 
Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
 
Nicolle, David. Fornovo 1495: France’s Bloody Fighting Retreat. Oxford: Osprey, 1994.
 
Santosuosso, Antonio. “Anatomy of Defeat: The Battle of Fornovo in 1495. International History Review 16.2 (1994): 221-250.
 
Taylor, Frederick Lewis. The Art of War in Italy 1494-1529. Westport: Greenwood, 1973.
 
Images
 
Charles VIII: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_VIII_of_France  
 
Francesca II Gonzaga: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesco_II_Gonzaga
 
French artillerymen: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_178_figure_1.htm
 
French infantry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_161b_figure_1.htm
 
French light cavalry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_169_figure_1.htm
 
French men-at-arms: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_178_figure_1.htm
 
Italian artillerymen: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_178_figure_1.htm
 
Italian infantry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_169_figure_1.htm
 
Italian light cavalry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_169_figure_1.htm
 
Italian men-at-arms: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_169_figure_1.htm
 

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  1. 5 Comments to “Battle of Fornovo, 1495”

  2. Thank you very much! I love every period previous to the bayonet age, so this one is more than welcome!

    Keep on the good work!

    By SEXTO NOBLE DE KHARÉ on Jan 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm

  3. Delicious battle animation! Sure, I love the period, but the quality of the text and animations was excellent. With such diverse troop contingents and a complex plan, I wouldn’t have expected such clarity - you really manage to keep the reader interested. Good job.

    By Archduke on Feb 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm

  4. Hey, I have a question that I am not sure about. You say that men at arms are about 5,000 for the French and the picture you show is heavy cavalry. Does that mean that all 5,000 of the men at arms were heavy cavalry? The reason i respectfully question this is because I read that men at arms just meant a professional soldier in the medieval era. Also, wikipedia has it that there were 1,000 gendarmes, which i assume u included in the men at arms. It seems that there were definitely 1,000 heavy cavalry for the French, plus some of the men at arms were heavy cavalry, but perhaps a few thousand men at arms were infantry?

    By ben on Feb 21, 2012 at 3:14 am

  5. sorry, i know that is a sort of random and badly phrased question?

    By ben on Feb 21, 2012 at 3:14 am

  6. Sexto Noble de Khare and Archduke: While I’m on the page, I may as well first thank you for your compliments. Feel free to send me any battle requests you may have.

    Ben: While you’re right, men-at-arms aren’t necessarily heavy cavalry, in this animation the men-at-arms I refer to are heavy cavalry. This is of course based on the sources I consulted, which while few, make extensive reference to primary and alternative accounts. For both sides, Santosuosso makes a distinction between light cavalry and men-at-arms organized into lances, which are 6 horsemen each (1994: 229-231). Both Santosuosso and Nicolle use the terms men-at-arms and heavy cavalry interchangeably in their accounts so it appears that most if not all of the men-at-arms fought on horse in this case. Of course, my conclusions on this are specific only to this battle, so always be wary of the term, “men-at-arms.” With respect to the gendarmes, the sources I used appear to have lumped them into the same category as men-at-arms; I thus may consider editing it to read “heavy cavalry” rather than “men-at-arms.”

    By Jonathan Webb on Mar 25, 2012 at 10:48 pm

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