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    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Bullfilter

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Congrats - and quite understand the situation you find yourself in! The quality you produce takes time and spare nervous energy to craft. Sounds like the batteries are slowly recharging! :)
 

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Chapter 43: The War of the League of Sevilla, 1607-1610

Like many early modern wars, the conflict that engulfed Italy and its periphery in the first decade of the Seventeenth Century came to be known by many names: the Great Italian War, the Seven Years War, King Fernando’s Folly, and the War of Italian Unification. The most common was the War of the League of Sevilla. By any name, it was brutal, bitter, and bloody. The seeds of the war stretched back to the Middle Ages, to a dispute between the Houses of Anjou and Aragon over the Crown of Naples. The Medici claim to the title of King of Naples went back to the Anjevine claim through intermarriage with the French House of Valois.

Following a great Guelph victory, Charles of Anjou, the younger brother of the king and saint Louis IX of France established the Anjevine dynasty to rule Naples in the Thirteenth Century. This was a victory for the Guelphs not only in the south but throughout the peninsula. When the Anjevine line died out in 1442, the House of Aragon claimed the inheritance, having always considered the Anjevines to be usurpers. France, unable to challenge the Aragonese in Italy due to their own involvement in the Hundred Years War against England, was forced to watch their Iberian rivals take back southern Italy.

In 1501, Ferrante Boncompagni, the Duke of Apulia, led a revolt of anti-Spanish nobles against the House of Trastámara. He won the war and established himself as King Ferrante I. Ferrante’s rule lasted half a century during which time he strengthened the kingdom and, for a large part of his reign, ruled the most powerful state in Italy. However, his son Leandro I did not prove to be as effective a king. Leandro’s conversion to Calvinism, done no doubt with full sincerity, must go down as one of the great political blunders of the age. Much of his court converted along with him, alienating the devoutly Catholic peasantry and bringing numerous grievances against the Boncompagni to the surface. Thus, when the Grand Duchy of Tuscany invaded a weakened Kingdom of Naples in 1564, they met with little resistance and won an easy victory. From that time forward, the Medici claimed the title of King of Naples for their own, something that still bred resentment in Madrid.

The Medici had never been able to bring the south fully into the fold and despite several grand efforts of reform, the local nobility still held sway over most of the land. Alberto had personally tried his hand at ruling the south, serving as Viceroy for his father Francesco I. He oversaw a period of tranquility in the region but was frustrated in his attempts to roll back the power of the nobility. Even worse for Florence, many of these minor barons and magnates felt slighted and disrespected by Florentine rule. Every major reform effort to come down from the north had privileged the merchants and burghers or even the peasantry over the traditional powerbrokers of the region. Furthermore, Florentine rule was impossible because Florence wanted a centralized regime. This of course was directly in opposition to the traditions of the local feudatories. These included not just the great lay lords, those powerful families who in some cases traced their descent to Byzantine dynasties, but also the great ecclesiastical lords. The bishops had ruled over the devoutly Catholic peasants in the turbulent decades following the death of Ferrante I. The great landlords and the towns that had initially welcomed the Tuscans, as Catholics freeing the land from the Calvinist king Leandro I, were then driven into the arms of the pro-Spanish opposition. The attempt to try and take the benefits of increased commerce alienated the countryside. The people of the south came to view the Medici dynasty as a foreign power.

From a broader perspective, the war, and the Spanish-led coalition that began it, was a response to continued Medici supremacy in Italy. On the eve of war in the late winter of 1607, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany controlled almost all of the peninsula. Only one northern Italian state, the Duchy of Milan, had succeeded in maintaining most of its lands, though relatively speaking it had declined compared to Tuscany. The Duchy of Savoy was a shell of its former self, holding on only to the provinces of Piedmont and Nice. The Republic of Genoa had been ejected from the mainland, including its eponymous capital city, and remained exiled on the island of Corsica and in its Black Sea possessions. The once mighty Republic of Venice, at one time the greatest maritime power in Europe, had likewise been cast off the Italian mainland, holding on only to its home archipelago in the Venetian Lagoon and the province of Istria on the eastern bank of the Adriatic. The always weak Republic of Aquileia maintained only the lands surrounding its capital. Finally, the Papal State still held Rome and the surrounding countryside in the province of Lazio but was otherwise surrounded on its northern, eastern, and southern borders by the Medici-ruled Grand Duchy.

Every one of the remaining independent Italian states rightfully believed Tuscany to be an existential threat. Each had sought to deal with this danger in different ways over the years. Milan, Savoy, and Aquileia had converted to Calvinism and, especially after the Bohemian royal house of Poszdebrad wrested the imperial crown from the Austrian Habsburgs, sought to hitch their fortunes to the Empire. However, the continued enmity between the Calvinist and Lutheran branches of the Reformation meant that they were always kept at arm’s length by the Emperor. Milan, the most powerful of the remaining independent Italian states, was presented with an opportunity to strike at Tuscan power during the Dutch War of Independence. The Duke at the time, Azzone II Odescalchi, was brother-in-law to Prince Paul of Orange, leader of the Dutch separatists and a fellow Calvinist. Despite Prince Paul’s pleas for assistance, Duke Azzone elected to stay out of the conflict and avoid open war with Tuscany. The reason was that he did not feel that Milan was in a strong enough position to challenge Tuscan power nor did he think it was possible for the Dutch to win their war of independence. His thinking appeared sage when the Dutch and their allies were ultimately defeated in a war where Tuscan military prowess was in full display. Nevertheless, the Duke of Milan continued to consider the Medici his greatest threat and sought to find stronger allies. He succeeded beyond expectations when he reached an agreement with Carlos I of Spain to marry the Prince of Asturias (the future Fernando VII) to his eldest daughter, Bianca Maria. The pair were wed in Madrid in 1605. This led eventually to a full Spanish-Milanese alliance treaty, signed in that same year. With this partnership secured, Duke Azzone II finally felt in position to challenge the power of Florence.

The Venetians, cut down to size following their defeat at the hands of Tuscany in 1555, still maintained a powerful mercantile empire and a strong navy. Their fleet was the one guarantor of their continued existence as an independent state, since Venice itself could be reached only by water. Venice was also notable for being the only one of the independent northern Italian states to remain Catholic. Genoa, relegated to the island of Corsica, followed a similar path to Venice. Interestingly, the expulsion from their ancient capital had already placed the Genoese on the path that would lead to their eventual departure from Western Europe and transformation into a power on the Black Sea and the surrounding steppe country.

The Papal State, alone among the independent Italian states, still wielded significant influence outside of Italy. Its Pontiff, Pope Alexander VII, was a vehement opponent of the Medici and a friend of the Spanish king, Fernando VII. It was Alexander, more than any other man, who made the formation of the League of Sevilla possible. His blessing of the alliance with the Calvinists allowed Fernando and King Joao II of Portugal to go into the war with a clear conscience.

Fernando VII was an ambitious young man. Though he had loved his father, he also considered the reign of Carlos I to have been a time of Spanish stagnation and weakness with respect to its continental enemies. They still claimed the Crown of Naples, maintaining the title, “King of the Two Sicilies” instead of the more accurate, “King of Sicily.” All southern Italy was his by rights, part of the Aragonese inheritance, and he meant to win it back. He was brash where his father was cautious, but he made up for it with a sharp strategic mind and a great deal of physical courage. He wanted glory for Spain and for the House of Trastámara. There was no better way to gain that glory than by launching a new Reconquista, this time not against the Moors but rather the upstart rival power in Italy.



Fernando VII de Trastámara, King of Spain

Fernando’s opposite number in the war could not have been more dissimilar. Grand Duke Alberto I dé Medici was a self-proclaimed man of peace who, in his youth, had made a conscious effort to avoid learning the military arts. Rather, he devoted himself to the internal affairs of the kingdom, leaving the fighting to his younger brother, Giulio, and cousin, Alessandro. Alberto’s rule over Tuscany was conscientious and benevolent. He had started public schemes for the care of the sick and destitute and the provision of free legal defense for the poor in the law courts. His charity was boundless. He regularly walked the streets of his capital and had a memory for the faces of his humblest subjects and a kindly curiosity into their private troubles. His three overwhelming passions were the Church, literature, and nature. He was punctilious in his devotions and he engaged in hours long walks in woods or in fields. His relations with his daughters and his wife were extraordinarily happy. General and private opinion flattered the Grand Duke’s virtues but not his ability. Kindly contemptuous, his contemporaries wrote him off as a good-natured book worm wholly under the control of his wife and his ministers.

When the Spanish declaration of war arrived in Florence, Grand Duke Alberto was neither fearful, nor enraged, nor boastful. He would face the coming war as he faced all his life’s duties: with stoicism and quiet determination. The epithet of “warrior”, so readily and appropriately given to his father, did not fit Alberto. Yet it was to be in war that this Grand Duke’s steadfast demeanor and unwavering devotion to his duties were to find their greatest manifestation.


The declaration of war

The first engagements of the war were at sea, and several of those clashes would have lasting strategic consequences for the remainder of the conflict. After a number of indecisive naval skirmishes, the first major battle came in the Adriatic near the Gulf of Venice. Ever since the humiliations of their last war against Tuscany, particularly the destruction of their fleet in the Battle of the Venetian Lagoon in 1553, the Venetians had burned for vengeance. The Republic of St. Mark entered a crisis after that war, fearing they had been eclipsed by the Tuscans as a sea power. They dedicated all they had to rebuilding, modernizing, and improving their war fleet. On the other hand, the Tuscans rested on their newfound laurels and focused their naval efforts on trade ships and commerce. This led to a dangerous imbalance of power between the fleets of the two states.


Admiral Giovanni Mestre of Venice

The disparity at sea was brought into stark contrast on 10 April 1607 east of the Po River Delta. The Venetian fleet, commanded by the great admiral, Giovanni Mestre, relied primarily on galleys still, and in this battle that proved decisive. The galleys managed to get in close to the Tuscan galleons, negating their firepower advantage. After just three hours, the Tuscan Adriatic fleet was completely destroyed with the loss of only one Venetian ship. Admiral Mestre sailed back into La Serenissima a hero, the avenger of Venetian honor against the Tuscan menace. Even more important than their pride, the defeat of the Tuscans at sea meant that Venice itself was safe from invasion, as their galley could block any invading army from making landfall on their home islands. This gave Venice greater latitude and security to conduct the war.


The Venetians avenged their defeat of 1553 with their destruction of the Tuscan Adriatic fleet

The Tuscan fleet in the Tyrrhenian Sea did not fare any better. The other maritime republic, Genoa, was just as eager for vengeance against Tuscany as their old rivals in Venice. It had been the Tuscans, after all, who had driven the Genovese off the Italian mainland into their exile on the island of Corsica. They had their own great admiral: Fabrizio Gonzaga. A member of one of the great Lombard noble families, Gonazga had left the Grand Duchy to take up service in the Genovese navy. He found success, climbing the ranks until he was given command and he rewarded his employers by giving them a great victory over the hated Tuscans. He caught the Tuscan Tyrrhenian fleet leaving the port of Naples, and sprung an ambush on them off the island of Ischia. Mirroring the tactics used by Mestre in the Adriatic, he used his galleys to neutralize the Tuscan galleons before sending in the rest of his fleet to make easy work of the remaining vessels. It took the Genovese four hours, but they too succeeded in tracking down and sinking all of the Tuscan ships, without losing a single vessel of their own.


The Genovese admiral Fabrizio Gonzaga ambushed and destroyed the Tuscan Tyrrhenian fleet off the island of Ischia

The defeats in the Mediterranean were awful for Tuscan morale. Practically, they spelled the end of Tuscan naval power. When the news of the two naval disasters reached Florence, Alberto I and his ministers knew that they would face a long and difficult blockade.


The Tuscan naval disasters led to an enemy blockade that would last for the entire war

Tuscany did find some success on the other side of the world in the Caribbean Sea. Their lone colony in the New World, the island of Santa Lucia, was extremely vulnerable against the forces of the Spanish colonial states. It was imperative, therefore, that Tuscany strike quickly to guarantee the island’s security. Federico Boncompagni, a seasoned soldier and personal friend of the Grand Duke, was sent to Santa Lucia to organize the defense of the colony. Coincidentally, Boncompagni was the youngest brother of Alfonso I, the last independent King of Naples. Led by the galleon Sole Caraibico, built and named specifically for duty in the colonies, the Tuscan flotilla struck quickly. They slipped out of Santa Lucia in the dark of night and sailed west. They caught the fleet of the Viceroyalty of New Granada as it was sailing out of the port of Maracaibo. Attacking with only four frigates against ten ships of New Granada, the Tuscans lured the enemy into a trap. The rest of the flotilla, including the Sole Caraibico were lying in wait off the island of Aruba. They showed themselves and flanked the Spaniards. By nightfall, seven Spanish ships were at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea with the loss of no Tuscan ships. The victory, though minor in the grand scheme of the war, guaranteed the safety of Santa Lucia and restored a semblance of pride in the Tuscan navy.


The Tuscan naval victory in the Venezuelan Gulf guaranteed the security of Santa Lucia

As the naval battles wound down, the land campaigns ramped up. The Tuscan ground strategy was based around a series of strong fortresses lining the Po River Valley. From Genoa in the west to Treviso in the east, the forts were meant to provide an impregnable defense against invaders from the north. From the perspective of the League of Sevilla, the entrance of all three major Tuscan allies, France, Austria, and Poland, into the war meant they needed to strike a quick blow against Tuscany. King Fernando VII and his advisors were confident in their ability to fight a winning campaign against the French. What they were less certain of was the ability of their German and Italian allies being able to hold off the combined might of Austria and Poland attacking them from the east.

The success of Spain and its coalition was dependent on the minor allies holding their own while the Spanish did the bulk of the fighting in France and Italy. The Spanish organized two major military thrusts. One, alongside the Portuguese into France across the Pyrenees and the other alongside the Papal State into Italy from the south. They massed an army in Sicily to make the crossing. While the Tuscans maintained a strong fortification in Calabria, if the Spanish could overtake it then the road to Florence would be open. Meanwhile, the Spanish-Portuguese army in the west would march into France with the aim of knocking the French out of the war.

Pope Alexander VII and the Captain-General of the Papal forces, Scipione Cornaro, were eager for glory. Cornaro was a veteran commander in his mid-40s with a mixed record. As a young officer fighting in the service of Poland against the Ottoman Empire, he had earned some renowned as a brave and ferocious infantry officer. He rose quickly through the ranks upon returning to Italy and joining the Papal army. That army struggled at times under his command. He was known as inconsistent and could change from overly cautious to recklessly aggressive for apparently no reason. However, he was a strong organizer and leader, which made up for what he lacked in tactical skill. He knew how to keep an army together after a defeat, and this would save him numerous times during the war. As a League army assembled at Milan, he took the opportunity to attempt a quick strike on the Tuscan capital from the south. Though this was against the wishes of his Spanish allies, Pope Alexander VII approved of the offensive, hoping to carve more land for the Papal State out of Tuscany. This first attack quickly ended in disaster and the first major Tuscan victory of the war. On 3 May 1607 their army was defeated as it approached Florence by a Tuscan force led by Carlo Cercignani. Cornaro was, however, able to keep the Papal army together and avoid a route, leaving them free to attack again once the Spanish arrived.

The attention of Cercignani and the rest of the Tuscan army was quickly turned north when the League army at Milan marched in late May for Verona. The 25,000 strong forde consisted of troops from Milan, Savoy, the Palatinate, and Salzburg under the command of the Milanese condottiere Fabrizio Pico. Pico, like Cornaro, was a hard-bitten veteran commander. More experienced in the mercenary life than his Papal counterpart, Pico was a Catholic whose family hailed from the town of Mirandola in the Val Padana. He was a descendant of the renowned Renaissance humanist philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. His experience as a condottiere taught him the value of having an escape plan and the importance of maintaining cohesion to prevent a rout. As a result, he was able to preserve his army on several occasions when facing overwhelming odds. The goal of this body of men was to link up with a second army coming from the east made up of Hungarian and Venetian troops.


The situation in northern Italy at the beginning of summer, 1607

The Tuscans quickly realized that if the two armies were allowed to combine, they would present a serious threat to the Italian defensive positions. To counter this move, Cercignani and Campofregoso took the two Tuscan field armies north and moved against Pico at Verona. Then, Tuscan war plans were helped by a surprise uprising in the Republic of Venice. As the Hungarians prepared to cross into Italy, rebels led by the former Doge, Francesco Garda, rose up in Istria, took over the province and the city of Trieste, and then sailed to Venice itself. The uprising, which the Venetians eventually defeated, slowed down their war plans and bought the Tuscans the necessary breathing room to close with Pico’s army at Verona. This was not the last time domestic unrest would alter the strategic plans of the powers involved in the war.

On 4 June 1607, Cercignani and Campofregoso’s armies converged on Verona, catching Pico and his men in a pincer attack. Combined, the Tuscans fielded a force of just over 40,000 against a nearly equivalent League army, which had been bolstered by additional German troops from the Palatinate. The Tuscan army proved better led and better trained and despite the similarity in numbers inflicted a serious defeat. The League left over 15,000 dead on the field against just under 7,000 Tuscans. Campofregoso, ever a demanding general, did not take time to celebrate the victory and quickly moved against the Hungarian-Venetian army besieging Treviso, the gateway to Italy from the east. This army, led by the Venetian Francesco San Paulo, the man who had crushed the pretender Doge Garda just two months earlier, soon found himself badly outnumbered as an Austrian army crossed the Alps to try and encircle his force. With just over 22,000 men, he knew he had no chance against the combined might of the Austro-Tuscan force facing him, which numbered over 65,000. Though he was forced to abandon the siege of Treviso and conduct a fighting withdrawal, San Paulo saved his army to fight another day. Retreating to Milan, there hoping to await reinforcements from Pico and his reconstituted Milanese host. However, he was pursued further by Campofregoso and defeated again on 17 August outside Milan. However, the wily Venetian was able to save his army and execute an organized withdrawal from the field. San Paulo would never achieve a major victory against Campofregoso, but his tenacity, like that of the republic he served, remained a thorn in the side of the Tuscans for the duration of the war. Aside, from Spain itself, no other member of the League of Sevilla would vex Florence the way the Venetians and their tough general would.


The battles of the summer of 1607 tilted in favor of Tuscany and her allies

One of the key reasons the Tuscans were so successful in their northern Italian campaigns was their logistical planning. By storing food and dried fodder in magazines established in towns and fortresses along the frontier, particularly at Parma and Mantua, the Tuscans gained considerable advantages over their enemies, when fighting in Lombardy. Campofregoso gets the credit for having set up an extensive and permanent system of store houses that allowed the Tuscans to supply their armies better with food and fodder and take to the field earlier than their foes could. Thus, when the Tuscans were besieging their enemies’ cities and forts, the supply lines were relatively manageable. The supply magazine at Cremona, for instance, was just under 90 kilometers from the Tuscan siege lines outside Milan. Even the longest supply lines during this part of the war, like the Piacenza-Turin route used during Cercignani’s campaign in Piedmont, was less than 200 kilometers and over relatively manageable terrain.

The summer of 1607 did not go entirely in favor of Tuscany. The Spanish war plans in southern Italy finally came to fruition. The temporary respite Tuscany gained when they defeated the Papal armies outside Florence in early May was over. In what was soon to become a trend of the war, the Spanish landed an army in Calabria and lay siege to the fortified city of Reggio. This city and its garrison held the key to Italy. A Spanish victory there lay bare the rest of southern Italy. Filled as it was with Spanish sympathizers, the armies of Madrid would find an easier road north than most any other invader would.

After the First Battle of Milan, Campofregoso decided to split his army again. He sent Carlo Cercignani west with 16,000 men to invade the Duchy of Savoy while he kept an 18,000 strong force to besiege Milan. Perhaps the victories of the summer of 1607 left Campofregoso and his officers feeling overconfident or perhaps they felt pressure to try and knock out the northern Italian members of the League of Sevilla quickly. Whatever the reason, he underestimated Pico and the Milanese. In the months since the League defeat at Verona in early June, Pico had been rebuilding and refitting the Milanese army.

On 9 October 1607, this rebuilt Milanese army, along with allied troops from the Republic of Aquileia, struck the Tuscan siege force outside Milan. Pico used his numerical advantage to overwhelm Campofregoso’s hastily assembled defenses. After a day of hard fighting, the Tuscans were forced to abandon their siege and withdraw. Milan was saved for the moment. The victory could have been a turning point for the League in northern Italy. The problem for states like Milan and Savoy, was that they were never intended by their Spanish allies to be truly victorious. They were meant to absorb the blows from Tuscany and France and Austria while the Spanish made their own offensive thrusts. For the Milanese to win, no matter the skill of their soldiers or military leaders, nearly everything had to fall perfectly for them. During the Second Battle of Milan, this did not happen. Though the Milanese won, and Fabrizio Pico gained the distinction of having defeated one of the great battle commanders of the era in an evenly fought pitched battle, he lost too many men and his attack took too long to develop. At the end of the clash, the Milanese had lost nearly as many men as their foes had. They also lacked the time to build up proper defenses to fight off the blows that were soon to fall.

That blow came in the form of a nearly 40,000 man French army led by Raoul de Valois, Duke of Orléans, brother to King Louis XVII of France, and husband of Alberto I’s cousin: Benedetta dé Medici. Raoul, who would make his name in the War of the League of Sevilla and end it sitting atop the French throne, made a dramatic, if not entirely effective, entrance into the conflict. He struck quickly against Pico and his Milanese army, attacking them outside their capital on 1 November. The ensuing Third Battle of Milan dislodged the defenders easily and allowed the allies to resume their siege. However, like Campofregoso in the summer battles, he failed to destroy Pico’s army, leaving it in the field and still a threat. The Third Battle of Milan ended the 1607 campaign season in Italy as armies on both sides sought to rest and refit after the eventful campaigns of summer and autumn 1607. As usual in wars of the early modern period, it would be the local people, and the peasants in particular, who suffered the most. With the Tuscans laying siege to Milan, the French ensconced at Mantua, and the Milanese, Venetians, and Hungarians in Brescia, Lombardy played host to nearly one hundred thousand fighting men. The war had only just begun.


The Second and Third battles of Milan largely cancelled each other out

The year 1608 brought a shift in focus of the war effort from northern to southern Italy. On 29 April, after a spirited resistance of exactly 300 days, the garrison in Reggio Calabria surrendered the city to the Spaniards. The Spanish army, which was bolstered by soldiers from the Papal State, was under the overall command of Scipione Cornaro. Cornaro remained a favorite of Pope Alexander VII and this kept him employed. However, his leadership of the Italian campaigns would remain a bone of contention for Spanish officers. Cornaro’s reputation and skill as a commander did mitigate issues a bit though plenty of Spanish soldiers considered him to be well passed his prime. On the positive side for the invaders, the Mezzogiorno was littered with Spanish sympathizers. As the invading army marched north, it created a patchwork pattern of devastation, attacking the farms and landholdings of the more pro-Medici landholders while sparing those of the pro-Spanish gentry. The collapse of what little Florentine authority existed allowed the newly empowered pro-Spanish landholders to seize farms, fields, and homes which had been granted to peasants across the region. The advancing Spanish-Papal army caused great alarm in Naples and even as far north as Florence.


The Spanish capture of Reggio Calabria opened up the route north into Italy

Thankfully for the Tuscans, things in the north were going well. The minor setback suffered at the Second Battle of Milan was largely forgotten. On 5 July 1608 that city surrendered to General Campofregoso and his army. Milan, the third largest city in Italy and the capital of Tuscany’s greatest north Italian rival, was now under Florence’s control. The Tuscans were especially gentle with the population, under explicit orders from Grand Duke Alberto I. He wanted to encourage the continuance of the armaments industry. Arms from Milan were famous throughout all of Europe because of their quality and elegance. The Medici saw this as not just a way of building economic influence but also for providing the materiel for their war. To achieve this, life in the city had to return to normal as quickly as possible.


Engraving of a study of the Tuscan siege of Milan


The Tuscan capture of Milan cemented their control over Lombardy

Further west in the Piedmont, Carlo Cercignani completed his destruction of the Savoyard armies by the end of the month. He forced the surrender of their commander, Giacomo Boncompagni Ludovisi, outside Turin on 31 July and began laying siege to the Savoyard capital.

Despite the Tuscan successes in the north, Scipione Cornaro and his Spanish-Papal army remained undeterred. They pillaged their way north over the course of the summer, avoiding Naples to maintain their momentum. It soon became clear their target was Florence itself. For the second time, the Tuscan capital girded itself for a siege. Once again, thankfully for the city’s residents, the siege would be quite short. By keeping their army smaller, the Spanish had managed to move quickly and with less logistical baggage. Because of this, they covered a great deal of ground: nearly one thousand kilometers in five months. The hope in Madrid and Rome had been that at least some elements of the northern Italian League members could join this siege of Florence. However, with all of them fighting to defend their own lands or otherwise trapped north of the Po, there was no help to be found. Instead, it was the Duke of Orléans who found them. On 8 September 1608, less than a week into the second siege of Florence, the massive French army appeared from the north. With his Florentine wife by his side, Raoul de Valois ordered wave upon wave of French soldiers to descend upon the Spanish positions, finally breaking them and dislodging them from their siege. The Spanish retreated in good order, and Cornaro, despite the defeat, gained more respect in the eyes of his Spanish colleagues. After the victory, Grand Duke Alberto invited the Duke of Orléans and his men into Florence where they paraded through the city, just as the French army of King Louis XII had done after the Franco-Florentine victory in the First Italian War in 1499.


The French army of the Duke of Orléans lifted the second siege of Florence

The winter of 1608-09 saw little activity in the Italian theater. The first Spanish invasion attempt had been repulsed, the Venetians had retired to lick their wounds on their home archipelago, Milan was in Tuscan hands, and Turin was under siege by Carlo Cercignani. It was in Germany that the autumn and winter months saw action. The Kingdom of Poland had yet to really become involved in the war, but that was about to change. They were led by the dashing Karol Ferdynand, Prince of Lwów, already a legendary cavalry commander thanks to his exploits against the Lithuanians, Russians, and Turks. He was brother to the Polish King, Stanislaw II, and brother-in-law of Alberto I. The Poles made their way across the Slovak plains and west through Austria where they besieged Salzburg and captured it on 27 December 1608. They made winter quarters in that city before marching south at the beginning of March, 1609. Karol Ferdynand and his men passed through the Valtellina and arrived in Italy in time to help a Franco-Tuscan army under the command of Campofregoso defeat a Milanese army under the still feisty Fabrizio Pico at the town on Ponzano on 22 March 1609.

The arrival of the Polish army changed the balance of power in northern Italy definitively to the allied side. It also allowed the Tuscans to defend their own lands from attack in the south as the French, Austrians, and Poles staved off any attacks from the north. Less than two months after the victory at Ponzano, Campofregoso led a Franco-Tuscan army against the Milanese again at the fortified city of Brescia. He defeated them easily this time, though Pico escaped again. Despite the orderly withdrawal, the wind was out of the Milanese sails at this point. They had lost their capital, their army was in ruins, and Duke Azzone II was forced to do his saber rattling from the safety of Geneva.



The allied victories at Ponzano and Brescia were crushing blows to the Milanese war effort

The larger glimmer of hope for the League lay in France. The Spanish-Portuguese army passed over the Pyrenees and was making excellent progress. With King Fernando VII in command alongside the legendary Portuguese conquistador Teodósio de Sampaio, Count of Vidigueira, the well drilled and equipped Iberians, led by the vaunted Spanish tercios, proved superior to their French opponents. In their first major battle, outside the town of Colomiers across from Toulouse on the west bank of the Garonne River, Fernando and de Sampiao used their cavalry to outflank the French, turn their right, and then finished them with a combined arms attack on their center. The French army of the Pyrenees nearly shattered, and was forced to retreat all the way to Bordeaux. The failures of the French in the western theater would soon become a trend and prove an enduring difficulty throughout the war.

Then, on 15 May 1609, to further hamper French efforts, King Louis XVII died without issue. Thus his brother, the Duke of Orléans returned to France to be crowned as King Raoul II. For the Medici, this also meant that one of their own, Benedetta dé Medici, became Queen Consort of France. The new king intended immediately to return to the field and re-assume command of the French Army of Italy. However, his ministers convinced him to stay in France and travel south to confront the invading Spanish armies.

In August of 1609, Carlo Cercignani and his army finally captured Turin, the capital of the Duchy of Savoy after a siege of over 400 days. With the defenses personally led by the young Duke Tomasso III of the House of Savoy, the defenders of the garrison were willing to resist to the bitter end. The siege would likely have continued much longer if not for a deft diplomatic maneuver by Cercignani, made with the blessing of Alberto I. The Tuscan general offered Duke Tomasso a guarantee that Turin would be returned to the House of Savoy at the conclusion of the war without any preconditions. With the future security of his capital guaranteed, the Duke of Savoy finally felt willing to end his struggle. On 25 August 1609, marching at the head of the column, he led his defenders out of the gates of the city, with their banners waving and with all their arms. Cercignani and his men entered the city with restraint and good order was maintained. Just like Milan, Turin was an important commercial city and a center of production. Though Tuscany was eventually going to hand the city back to Savoy, they wanted to at least enjoy the benefits of its productivity during the time of the occupation.


Map of the Tuscan siege lines and Savoyard defenses at Turin


The Tuscan capture of Turin


Tomasso III, Duke of Savoy. His tenacity and diplomatic skill guaranteed the survival of the Savoyard state after the war

The campaign season of 1609 concluded with yet another Spanish attempt to capture Florence. Once again in command, Captain-General of the Papal Armies Scipione Cornaro marched north through the Mezzogiorno with 24,000 men. This time however, with its armies freed up after lengthy sieges in the north, Tuscany did not need the French to help them out. Campofregoso marched south with his army, up to nearly 27,000 men with the addition of reinforcements from Cercignani’s army in Piedmont. Like the previous times, Coranaro established his siege lines and waited for the Tuscan response. For the citizens inside of Florence itself, sieges were becoming a sort of routine. This marked the third time in three years that the Tuscan capital saw a foreign army outside its walls. Like the previous times, the stoic resolve of their Grand Duke, who continued about his daily life, tending his gardens, attending mass, and walking the streets of the city, helped maintain calm.

Relief was not long in coming. Campofregoso, sensing the opportunity for a significant blow to the Spanish-Papal war effort, moved quickly to strike. He dispatched Alessandro dé Medici with a vanguard force tasked with reconnoitering the Spanish position and claiming any advantageous terrain they could. On the afternoon of 31 October 1609, Alessandro’s force appeared in the hills outside Florence.

The Black Prince and his men had covered an incredible distance in a short time, and thereby gained the element of surprise. With the support of the Tuscan peasantry behind them, Alessandro’s men were guided by locals to key weak points in the enemy defense and through a series of maneuvers, forced the Spanish to form up on the plain west of Florence. This in turn allowed the Tuscan vanguard to take the high ground. On 2 November, Alessandro dé Medici faced 24,000 Spanish and Papal troops with only 4,000 men of his own, as he had moved so fast most of the army had yet to arrive. Still, he recognized the advantages of the terrain, and seized a low hill across a river from the Spanish position. This would give the Tuscan cannons a decisive advantage when they arrived on the field. Despite several demands by Spanish officers to attack the outnumbered Tuscan horse, Cornaro refused, believing that such a small force could only be bait to lead the Spanish-Papal army into a trap. With no attack forthcoming, Alesandro was stunningly able to retain control of the hill by dusk on 2 November. That night, the rest of the Tuscan army marched, covering the final 16 kilometers to Florence. When General Campofregoso arrived he immediately seized on the advantage the Black Prince had given him and positioned his guns on the key hill. The old general was able to bring up the rest of the army and his cannons pulverized the Spanish and Papal lines. He was then able to pursue the broken Spaniards, inflicting more casualties until Cornaro was able to get his men under control.

This beleaguered Spanish army limped back to Sicily again. After yet another failed campaign in Italy, the Pope finally had enough of Scipione Cornaro. He was fired from commanding the Papal armies for the time being. Fernando VII became convinced that the Spanish failures in Italy were directly related to dragging along the Papal army. Therefore, he began to plan for his own personal intervention in the Italian theater. His success in France had convinced him of his own military prowess. Eager for glory, the king of Spain moved to push the war to its bloody and dramatic climax.
 

Idhrendur

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So far so good, but Spain is a powerhouse and as you imply could cause much trouble yet.
 

roverS3

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Another update, another war of epic proportions... Things are quite close... Those naval losses must really hurt. Alberto's level head and stoicism, combined with his confidence in his military commanders and his effective use of diplomacy to help the war effort more than makes up for whatever he may lack in military prowess.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Why were the Tuscan fleets so weak and mixed? RP or war happened before upgrades?
It was a combination of not having the money to upgrade and just a lack of attention on my part. I didn't effectively re-organize my fleets for war time and still had them set up for pace-time trading and pirate hunting. They declared war on me and as I was trying to figure out my land defenses they pretty much knocked out all my fleets. I did manage to save some light ships by getting them into ports before they got attacked but all my heavy ships and galleys pretty much for smoked. I wasn't happy, especially because it just let the Spanish sit on Sicily and attack at will since I couldn't stop them or get to them with my land army.
 

Lord Zsinj

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I would hope that the current ruler takes a lesson from this and devotes some attention to the navy post war.
 

Judean Zealot

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First of all it's fantastic to have you back!! I can't tell you enough how grateful I am to you for making such an amazing historical drama out of EUIV! I can only imagine how many hours it takes to craft each update. Kudos to you!

I was just wondering - did you realize that you were setting off a massive coalition war against yourself? What went into that decision?
 

EmperorofMordor

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I was just wondering - did you realize that you were setting off a massive coalition war against yourself? What went into that decision?
I was wondering the same thing: was the coalition intentional or accidental?
 

JerseyGiants88

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I was just wondering - did you realize that you were setting off a massive coalition war against yourself? What went into that decision?
I was wondering the same thing: was the coalition intentional or accidental?
No, it was not intentional at all. I knew there was a coalition but I didn’t think they’d declare war on me given the strength of my alliances. I was just trying to ride the coalition out to then make a move against the Ottoman Empire but then this happened. I was caught off guard, which is why my fleets got shredded right off the bat. Honestly, I got lucky that France, Austria, and Poland all entered the war on my side when Spain declared on me or else this would’ve been much rougher. I think it turned out great for storytelling purposes though.
 

MrReaper182

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Just spent the last 2 days reading all of this wonderfull AAR. The amout of detail you put into each post makes me think I am reading a history book and not an AAR. You really do make it seem as these events really happened.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Just spent the last 2 days reading all of this wonderfull AAR. The amout of detail you put into each post makes me think I am reading a history book and not an AAR. You really do make it seem as these events really happened.
Thank you so much for the kind words, I am happy you enjoyed it. I also just wanted to give an update. Things in my life are finally starting to settle down. I should have plenty of time to write in the month of September and I am aiming to get one vignette and one chapter update added int he next two weeks (so two total updates). I want to thank everyone for their patience and also thank everyone who voted for Italian Ambitions in the Q2 ACAs.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Historical Vignette 22: So it Begins, 16 March 1607-4 June 1607

16 March 1607

Florence

Federico was dusty and tired from the long ride to Florence from Ferrara, where he had been living at the court of his brother-in-law, Riccardo d’Este. His brown leather riding boots were spattered with mud and his blue and white doublet was stained and worn looking. Nevertheless, he wanted to be present at the war council as soon as possible. It was an unexpected honor to even be invited since he was not a senior commander in the army or government official. He knew he was there only because of his personal friendships with some of the key figures: Alessandro dé Medici, the “Black Prince”; Pantaleone Gattilusio, the Minister of War; and Alberto I dé Medici, the Grand Duke. Notable in his absence was their other childhood friend, Giulio dé Medici, Prince of Orvieto, cousin to Alessandro and brother to Alberto.


On his way into the capital, Federico noticed just how busy the city was. As he approached the city, he saw the cook fires of the assembling army at Campi Bisenzio, the traditional marshalling area going back to the times of republic. He rode in through the
Porta al Prato and rode along the streets of the city slowly, to avoid the crowds of marching soldiers, teamsters with their carts hauling supplies, vendors hawking their wares to the myriad out-of-towners present, and the swarming bunches of children playing with wooden sticks as swords. All around him, he felt the charged atmosphere of a capital preparing for war, that mix of excitement and dread.

Federico attempted a shortcut by taking the Borgo Santi Apostoli to avoid what was sure to be chaos at the Mercato Vecchio on Via Porta Rossa, but he still got bogged down at Piazza del Limbo. Two carts had collided and of them got overturned, spilling leeks and potatoes all over the paving stones. As the two cart drivers yelled at each other, women and children scrambled around trying to pick up as many of the spilled roots as they could carry off. With no resolution in sight, Federico doubled back and took the Lungarno instead. The cries of the fish mongers and laughs of the fishermen making for a more pleasant accompaniment than the yells of the cart drivers. As a result of the chaos and route deviations, it took much longer than expected to get into the center of the city to his destination: the Palazzo Vecchio.


Traffic in Florence

It was good to be back in the Palazzo Vecchio. The Palazzo Pitti, the Medici’s opulent and beautiful palace on the south bank of the Arno, was magnificent and full of grace whereas the older palace was made of dark-colored brick, severe angles, and lacked the external beauty and adornments of its counterpart. The Pitti was a fine home for a great court of a European power and as one who enjoyed the good life as much as any man, Federico could appreciate it. But the Palazzo Vecchio was the embodiment of Florentine military power. No place in the Grand Duchy made a better command center. It was there, in the days of the old republic, that the wars against Pisa and Siena and Milan were planned. It was in the great hall of that building where Grand Duke Francesco I had sworn vengeance against the King of France for making common cause with the Dutch rebels. Federico was glad that Alberto, despite not being a military man, recognized the symbolic importance of holding all military business there.


When Federico walked into the
Salone dei Cinqeucento it was already a hive of activity. The frescoes of great battle scenes, painted by the great Florentine master Giorgio Vasari, served to enhance the martial importance of that great room. Gattilusio noticed Federico immediately when he walked in. The Minister of War hobbled over smiling. “Leo! How have you been old devil,” said Federico happily, “you look a bit slower than I remembered you.”


The Salone dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio

“Good to see you my friend,” replied Leo, “as you can see you are right on time.” He wore a dark green doublet with wide wings and tight sleeves, matching full breeches with soft pleats at the waist. Beneath his doublet he wore a plain white linen shirt with a flat collar and short cuffs at the wrist. His soft boots were turned down into cuffs below the knee.


Federico looked around the room. He spotted the two great generals of Tuscany, Pietro di Campofregoso and Carlo Cercignani crowded around a massive table of dark oak covered with maps. Behind them, in the central niche at the south of the Hall stood Michelangelo's famous marble “The Genius of Victory”. The commanders were attended by several other officers. Alessandro stood off to the side looking over a piece of paper. Federico and Leo made their way over to him.



“The Genius of Victory” by Michelangelo

“My Prince,” said Federico with an exaggerated bow.

Alessandro looked up and grinned. “You old rascal, you made it.” He wore a black patterned doublet with full black breeches, black stockings, and flat black shoes with roses. He carried a wide brimmed black hat. At his side dangled his customary two swords.

“I did,” replied Federico, “in all haste. Where is His Highness, the Grand Duke?”

“At prayer,” replied Alessandro, “he is often in his chapel these days. He thinks his prayers will stop the Spanish armies.”

“He prays for victory I assume,” said Federico.

“He prays for peace,” Leo replied, “our friend Alberto is a gentle soul as you know.” The Minister of War smiled. “He is smart too, so far as sovereigns go. It is true he knows little of the military arts, but he also knows what he does not know. He attends our war councils regularly but mostly to listen. When he does speak it is usually just to ask a question.”

“Forget our peace-loving sovereign,” cut in Alessandro, clapping Federico on the shoulder, “are you ready to spill some Spanish blood?”

“Always.”

“Good, because I have a special assignment for you.”

Federico arched an eyebrow. “Oh? And what is it?”

“You will be the Special Military Representative for the Colonies,” said Alessandro casually.


Federico shot back a puzzled look. “What the hell does
that mean? I’ve never even heard of such a position.”

“That’s because we just made it up. We spend all our time planning for wars here in and around Italy, but we let our little Caribbean pearl fall by the wayside. The Grand Duke asked how we were planning on defending Santa Lucia the other day and not one of us had a good answer for him.”

“The Grand Duke reminded us that we need to think like a ‘trans-Atlantic’ power now,” cut in Leo, “and we cannot abandon our colonies to the predations of the Spanish and Portuguese.”

“Colonies?” asked Federico smirking, “I thought there was just the one.”

“Don’t get hung up on technicalities my friend,” said Alessandro, “think of the big picture.”

“Oh, and what is that? What is it I am expected to do?”

“You will go from here to Pisa and from there board a ship for Santa Lucia. When you arrive, you will organize and improve the defenses of the island itself. More importantly, you will repossess all the ships run by our trading companies in the Caribbean and outfit them for war. And then, if you really want to succeed, you will smash the Spanish colonial fleet.”

“What?” Federico looked incredulous. “I have no naval experience. And how will I ‘smash’ the Spanish fleet with a bunch of trading caravels?”

Leo smiled benevolently at him. The two of them had clearly rehearsed this chat. “You never asked about the ship you will be taking to Santa Lucia.”

“What of it?”


“Well, since Alessandro and I are your dear friends and want to see you succeed, we will be giving you the largest and most heavily armed ship in the fleet. She is a monstrous beauty. Her name is the
Sole Caraibico, and she was designed and built to be the flagship of the Caribbean flotilla. You will arrive aboard the most powerful vessel sailing the waters of the New World.”

“And you ought to thank us too,” added Alessandro, “Admiral Zucchi threw a fit when he found out we were taking his prize new galleon and sending it to the other side of the world.”

“Alberto agreed with us though, and he even picked out the ship’s name,” said Leo.

“Where is the good admiral?” asked Federico. Piero Zucchi was normally a jovial and easygoing man, better at telling bawdy tales than commanding ships at sea, or so Federico had been told.

“He’s on his way to Rimini to take command of the Adriatic fleet<’ said Leo, “he swore to deal them the worst defeat in the history of their republic.”

Alessandro chuckled. “Giovanni Mestre may have something to say about that. But don’t trouble yourself with Zucchi, my friend, we have everything lined up for you.”

Federico stopped to contemplate the matter. The adventurous part of his character was intrigued by the idea. Still, when news came to Ferrara about the coming war, he imagined once again riding into battle alongside his friends, leading men into the fray. This took that opportunity away from him. “How long will I stay in Santa Lucia?”

“Until we decide that the island is safe from Spanish aggression,” said Leo, “Until you neutralize the threat of their fleets in the New World.”

“Or until the island falls to the Spanish colonial forces and they chop you up and throw you into the sea for the sharks to feast on,” added Alessandro, “Whichever comes first.”

“And if I should refuse?”

“You won’t.”

Federico knew it was true. He had resigned himself to the fact that he would never rise to the point of commanding all the Tuscan armies. He was too far down the list of seniority and, if he was honest with himself, there were plenty of men better suited for the job than he was. This, on the other hand, presented an opportunity for greatness. Not to mention a chance to see Santa Lucia and the Caribbean firsthand. His mind flashed back to a sunny day outside Bologna from when they were boys. That day, at the great jousting tournament celebrating the wedding of Gastone Bentivoglio and Vittoria Farnese, he and his two friends had met the legendary Federigo Soderini, architect of Tuscany’s New World colonial venture. Soderini told them about the wonders and adventures and riches to be found across the ocean. It had piqued Federico’s interest then and it did again now. “When do I leave?” he asked finally.

“Tonight,” replied Leo, “the ship is outfitted already for the voyage and the crew is standing by to depart. You should be able to leave the port of Pisa by tomorrow on the evening tide.”


“His Highness, the Grand Duke!” shouted the steward interrupting their conversation. All noise immediately ceased in the
Salone dei Cinqeucento. The men turned to look as Alberto I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and King of Naples, entered. Despite his lofty title, Alberto was not a man with a commanding presence. He was pale with narrow shoulders and a bit of a shuffling gait. Nevertheless, Federico knew that Alberto’s unassuming exterior hid a brilliant mind. Leo leaned on his crutch and moved away from Federico and Alessandro and moved toward the head of the table, sitting to the right of the Grand Duke.

“Gentlemen, thank you for tolerating my presence, as usual,” Alberto said in his calm and steady voice, “but I believe it is the sovereign’s duty to remain apprised of the plans.” A light chuckle went about the room. “Gattilusio, please present the latest situational update.”

Leo cleared his throat. “Your Highness, to the north Milan is continuing to mass men in preparation for an invasion. We don’t know where, but we guess they will try to march on Verona.”

“Why Verona?” asked Alberto.

“If I may, your Highness,” said the ancient General Pietro Campofregoso in his gravelly voice, rising from his seat. “They are commanded by Fabrizio Pico. He is a good soldier, tough but realistic. He knows their only chance in the north is to unify the armies of Milan, Savoy, and the small German states with the Venetians and the Hungarians coming up from the east. Accordingly, he will attack down the valley of the Adige, attempt to take Verona and then move on Treviso. If they take the fortress there, they will open a clear line from the east and unify their men.”

“We also must consider the Papal army to the south,” said Leo.

“What are we doing about that?” asked the Grand Duke.

“I will take 20,000 men south and meet the Papal army head on,” said Carlo Cercignani, rising from his seat as well. “It is in our interest to defeat them quickly while General Campofregoso prepares for the campaign in the north. Once we have defeated the Papal army, we will turn and march back to support him.”

“The plan, Your Highness,” said Campofregoso again, “is to wait at Parma in a strong defensive position and let Pico make his move. By staying at Parma, it will prevent the enemy from driving directly south and threatening the capital from the north while Scipione Cornaro and his men threaten from the south. Once the southern situation is dealt with, we will descend on Pico’s position, which, again, I expect to be at or in the vicinity of Verona, and crush him.”

“And what of the Spanish and Portuguese armies?” asked Alberto.


“It will take them time to mobilize,” replied Leo, “I expect the Spanish will mass in Sicily where they are protected and then come across to invade the
Mezzogiorno. That is the basis of King Fernando’s claim for the war and they will lose credibility if they cannot conquer the south.”

“Do we have a plan to protect the south against this coming invasion?” asked Alberto with some concern.

Leo hesitated. “The, uhm, concern is—”

“If I may, my lord,” cut in Campofregoso. Leo nodded. “Your Highness,” continued the old general, “we have a strong fortress at Reggio Calabria that will delay any invasion the Spanish throw across the Strait of Messina. After that, we will use the south as a territorial buffer.”

“A buffer?”

“Yes, Your Highness. The north is our productive heartland, it produces the majority of our food, particularly in the Po Valley, and we must protect it at all costs. At least until our allies bring their forces to bear in this conflict, we will not be able to defend the entire peninsula. I know Your Highness has an affection for the south and, as a good sovereign, desires to protect all of his subjects. But we must be realistic. If we commit to stopping the Spanish in the south, we open ourselves up to invasions by Milan, Venice, and the rest in the north.”

“Isn’t there a risk that the south will rise against us and join the Spanish?” asked Alberto, “we know they still have supporters there. And what of the matter of fighting on two fronts? Is that not a risk if we have the Spanish and Papal armies in the south and the Venetians, Milanese, and the rest to the north?”

“Your Highness, If the art of war were nothing but the art of avoiding risks,” replied the old general, “glory would become the prey of mediocre minds. We have made all the calculations; fate will do the rest.” A hush fell over the assembled men. If a lesser commander had uttered such a statement, one that placed his trust in fate, he would be laughed out of the room. But Campofregoso had the victories to prove his words carried weight. His calculations were more often than not the correct ones.

“Glory does not concern me,” replied Alberto, “the well being of my subjects and the survival of my realm do. That being said, I trust the all the men in this room and you general most of all. Is this the course that you all favor?” asked Alberto to the gathered men. Around the hall, the heads of the assembled officers nodded slowly, many with grim looks on their faces. There was a long silence. Alberto steepled his fingers, his face deep in thought. “Very well,” he said finally, “I do not like it, but I respect your military judgments.” The Grand Duke stood, “gentlemen, I leave you with one thought for today: we, the leaders, come and go, but the people always remain. Only the people are immortal, everything else is ephemeral. That is why it is necessary to appreciate the full value of the confidence of the people.” The Grand Duke stopped and looked around the room. “Now, I must go and see to the provision of food stores for our cities. Good day to you all, and good luck.” With that, Alberto turned and left the room. As he did, all the military men stood and bowed.

“Well that didn’t make him too happy,” Federico whispered to Alessandro.

The Black Prince chuckled, “most talk of war makes him unhappy. If I had been making this plan I would’ve burned the whole of the south, from Reggio Calabria all the way to Naples. Leave the Spanish with nothing to live on. Let them starve as they march north.”

“Alberto would never countenance that.”

“I know, but it is the smart thing to do.”

“I am originally from the south, in case you forgot.”

“Yes, yes, heir to the Kings of Naples and such,” said Alessandro, “why do you think we’re sending you across the world? To make sure you don’t make a play for the crown.” Federico studied his friend, trying to determine if he was serious. “Oh lighten up,” said Alessandro finally, “you’d make a wretched king. Even if you did claim the throne, we’d depose you and take back the south within a fortnight.”

“I’d make a better king than you,” shot back Federico.

“Perhaps, but at least I would be considered a bad king due to the oppression I would visit upon my subjects. History would remember me as Alessandro the Cruel. You would be remembered as Federico the Lazy.”

Before Federico could reply, Leo hobbled back over toward them, interrupting the banter. “See what I mean?” he said to Federico, “Alberto has his opinions but he trusts us to oversee the war, even if he does not always agree.”

Alessandro waved his hand, “nothing you need concern yourself with anyway my friend, soon you will be basking in the warm breeze of the Caribbean.”

“Until I die from the bad humors,” Federico replied.

“Stop worrying so much,” said Alessandro, “now let’s go get drunk before you depart for Pisa.”

“A marvelous idea,” said Leo, “I know just the place: my favorite tavern.”

__________________________

22 March 1607

Hofburg Palace, Vienna


The throne room in the Hofburg Palace

Esteban de Gamarra y Contreras, the Marqués de San Felipe and Spanish ambassador to the Habsburg court, stood fidgeting before the throne. He wore an elaborately embroidered doublet, lined with cloth of gold, with matching shoes, cuffs, and gloves. He wore a sleeved cloak on one arm only and full hose. The previous day he had presented the Archduchess Maria Theresa with two items: that Spain and her allies had declared war on Tuscany and that the King of Spain was willing to offer generous concession should Austria remain neutral. Today, he was there to hear the Archduchess’s response. He had dressed for the occasion. The members of the Austrian nobility regarded him with looks of cool contempt or open hostility. They wanted war, at least the men did. Usually that would have been enough. But it was to be a woman to decide the fate of Austria, a great woman.

Margherita dé Medici already knew the answer that Maria Theresa would give, but she made sure not to give away the show. The Austrian Archduchess and the Tuscan princess were close, as close as sisters. Perhaps closer than that. Margherita loved her sister Benedetta but had never shared the sort of affection she did with Maria Theresa. The pair shared everything, strategic plans, gossip, men, it did not matter.

The doors in the back of the hall opened and a trumpet blared. Next to the trumpeter stood another man. He announced: “All rise for Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Archduchess of Austria; Queen of Hungary, Dalmatia, Croatia, and Slavonia; Duchess of Burgundy, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola; Grand Princess of Swabia; Princely Countess of Habsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, and of Gradisca; Margravine of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Countess of Namur; Lady of the Wendish Mark and of Mechlin.” She strode into the hall looking resplendent as usual, wearing a cloth of gold bodice with a low, round neckline and tight sleeves and a matching petticoat pinned into flounces on a drum farthingale in the English style.

A hush fell over the court. “Rise Ambassador,” she said.


“Thank you Your Majesty,” replied the Spaniard, “has Her Majesty considered the proposal of His Majesty Fernando VII, King of Castile and Aragón, the Two Sicilies, León—”


“Ambassador,” interrupted the Archduchess, “you read out your lord’s many titles yesterday, and while I agree that they are impressive, I believe we can save some time by omitting them today.” She paused and looked around at her court. “I will give you my answer now, and I will make it simple: no.” The hall erupted in cheers.

“No, Your Majesty?” asked the Marqués de San Felipe, barely audible above the tumult.

“You heard correctly,” said Maria Theresa, the court quieting down almost instantly at the sound of her voice. She looked at Margherita and smiled. “Many years ago, Austria and Tuscany agreed to an alliance. The great Machiavelli stood in this very palace and forged the agreement. In the years since, that alliance has transformed into a true friendship, forged by mutually beneficial commerce and, more importantly, the fires of war. As long as a Habsburg sits on this throne, we will honor that friendship. No amount of Spanish land or gold will change that.”

The Marqués took the rebuke of his terms in stride, he had likely been expecting it. He bowed, “I will report of your answer to my sovereign.”

“Ambassador you will have until sundown tomorrow to depart the city. Any belongings or baggage which you cannot arrange to have transported by then, can be handed over to the care of my chamberlain, and he will ensure it is sent on to Spain for you. We are not thieves here and we respect diplomatic protocol. However, should you be found still in Vienna after dark tomorrow evening, you will be apprehended and considered a prisoner of war. Do you understand these terms.”

The ambassador nodded his head. Maria Theresa looked around the hall. “Those conditions apply equally to the other ambassadors from states belonging to the League of Sevilla who currently reside in Vienna, namely: those of Portugal, Venice, Milan, Salzburg, and the Palatinate. You all have Our leave to depart.” There was a shuffling in the hall as the men turned and quietly exited. They were followed by the jeers of the Austrian nobility, who clearly did not intend to follow their sovereign’s lead in gracious treatment. A brief scuffle ensued when someone from the crowd shoved the Marqués on his way out. The Spaniard turned and shouted, “I pray we meet on a battlefield, and soon!”

“Enough!” roared Maria Theresa, “they are to pass unmolested!” That settled things for the time being. “Due to these developments,” continued the Archduchess, “We can no longer accept any petitioners today as We must meet with Our war council. General von Waldstein, gather your officers.” She looked at Margherita, “Princess, you may join us as well.”

Margherita bowed in her direction.

“Before We leave you, hear this: We face the future with our past and our present as guarantors of our promises; and we are content to stand or fall by the record which we have made and are making.” With that, the Archduchess of Austria turned and left the room. Margherita hurried after her, followed by her attendants. They finally caught up to Maria Theresa in one of the hallways. Their respective gaggles of ladies crowding the hall behind them.

“That was quite the display today,” said Margherita.

“Hush,” replied the Archduchess, “this dress is painfully uncomfortable, no more words until I am out of it.” The two proceeded in silence toward Maria Theresa’s chambers, with the whispered and excited conversations trailing behind them. The group finally reached the Archduchess’s elaborately carved doors. “You lot can wait out here,” she said waving her hands at the ladies, “the Princess Margherita and I have secret matters to discuss, and she can attend to me.” Maria Theresa threw open the doors and walked in. Margherita followed and shut the doors behind them.

“Get me out of this dress,” the Archduchess ordered, “now!” Laughing, Margherita stood behind her and undid the laces and straps holding it together and then untied the corset below. Once undone, Maria Theresa shrugged out of it, the heavy dress falling to the floors. She let out a long exhale. “Much better.”

“You won’t have to keep your ladies around then,” joked Margehrita, “I will be your handmaid.”

Maria Theresa shrugged. “Why not? You’re leaving me anyway, aren’t you?”

The question caught Margherita off guard. “What do you mean?”

“You will return to Italy now that there is a war, to be sure. Return to be with your family. Your son is there, and your brother.”


She knows me better than I thought
. “Yes, my son is with my cousin Giulio, being raised alongside his own child in Orvieto.”

“So you must go to him, keep him safe.”

“I…please forgive me. You have been kind to me. You took me in when I was exiled by my own blood.”

The Archduchess smiled and brushed a finger on Margherita’s cheek. “Do not worry, I am not angry with you. Though I have enjoyed keeping you here as my play thing I am not such a cruel mistress.”

Margherita laughed. “No, not at all.”

“I’m glad we agree on that.” Maria Theresa sat herself on the edge of the bed. “Now go find me something comfortable and manly to wear,” she said, “I was not lying when I said you would be attending me. I want to look ‘militaristic’ for my generals.”

Margherita smiled and stood up. “You’re still a beauty and I will be sad to see you go,” she continued, “but I do have one more use for you.”

“I am at your service.”

“After you dress me, you will accompany me to the war council. I want you to listen to our plans and remember them. You cannot take any notes or write anything down. When you return to Italy go straight to your cousin Alberto and tell him what we said.”

“I can do that.”

“Good,” said the Archduchess, “this war will be conducted in a coordinated manner. I saw what disjointed frivolity did to the Dutch and their allies in the last war. We will have none of that on our side this time around. The second thing is that you will take one of my officers back to Italy with you.”

“Who did you have in mind?”

“Gregor von Straubing, he is intelligent enough to do the work and ambitious enough to give maximum effort. He will also make an enjoyable companion for you on the trip I think.” Maria Theresa winked at her, “I think I know your ‘type” pretty well at this point.”

“I should hope so.”


“Indeed. When you arrive in Florence, I want you to take him and make all the introductions necessary. Ensure he finds himself at home. He will be the link between my commanders and your own. Ensure communications are smooth and that the Austrian point of view is represented in the war plans. My sources tell me the French have begun mobilizing their men but have yet to commit to the war effort. If they do, I want to make sure your cousin the Grand Duke is reminded of who his
true ally is.”

Margherita smiled at her. “You know you hold the top place in my heart always.”

“I know dear, but I want to ensure the rest of your family feels the same. After we win and it is time to divide the spoils, I expect that Vienna will take priority over Paris.”

“You are a brilliant woman.”

“Just make sure you treat my cousin well. Take it easy on him.”

“As you will Your Majesty.”

“Good girl,” said Maria Theresa, “now bring me my riding clothes.”

__________________________

3 April 1607

Tuileries Palace, Paris


The Tuileries Palace

Benedetta dé Medici looked the letter over once again. She brushed a lock of her auburn hair out of her face.


Princess,
The Grand Duchy is at war. Two days ago we were presented with a declaration of war by the Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors. However, the two Iberian kingdoms do not stand alone. They have formed an alliance known as the League of Sevilla in an attempt to surround and throttle us. The league includes the Venetians, the Milanese, and the Genovese among others. Most troubling, the Pope has joined forces with our enemies as well. We have already received promises of support from the Austrian and Polish ambassadors. However, the French ambassador, Monsieur Barrère, has remained noncommittal to our cause. I was instructed by the Grand Duke, your cousin, to write to your Highness to implore you to seek the support of the Duc d’Orléans for French entry into the war on our side. French arms could turn the balance of power decisively in our favor.


Your Humble Servant,
Pantaleone Gattilusio
Minister of War


Below Leo’s formal letter was scrawled an additional message in the familiar handwriting of her half-brother Alessandro:


Tell the Guises about this. They will support you.
All my Love,
Ale


Outside her window, the world was slowly but surely brightening into day, though the sun had yet to crest the horizon. Benedetta’s heart was racing. This meant war on a massive scale. France could tilt the balance in the Grand Duchy’s favor, but her brother-in-law was not a strong supporter of the Franco-Tuscan alliance. He resented Tuscany’s ongoing friendship with his great rival: Habsburg Austria. Furthermore, King Louis XVII still held a grudge from the last war, when the Tuscan armies, led by her own uncle, Grand Duke Francesco I, had humiliated France and even captured Paris.


How long has my husband known of this?
she wondered. She rose from bed and wrapped a robe around her naked body and put some slippers on her feet. She hurried quickly through the halls of the Tuileries Palace.

She reached her husband’s bed chamber and, without knocking or announcing herself, threw open the carved, heavy oaken doors. Her husband, Raoul, Duke of Orléans, woke with a start.

“Ben—Benedetta?” he asked, squinting at her. “This—this is highly irregular.” Another figure stirred next to him. Benedetta strode over to the bed and ripped the covers off, revealing a black-haired, olive skinned boy in his late teens.

The youth gawked at her in terror. “My p—p—princess,” he stammered awkwardly.

“Out,” commanded Benedetta in her most terrifying voice.

“Can I take my clo—“

“No! Out! Now!” Benedetta insisted, maintaining her imperious tone. The boy shot a look at Raoul, pleading for relief. The Duke of Orléans just shrugged his shoulders and returned a glance that was one part helplessness and another part indifference. The youth, defeated, scampered out the door. After it was closed, Raoul began to shake his head.

“You should not treat the members of your household so cruelly, the singers in particular. They are a delicate breed.”

“How I treat those whom I pay is none of your concern,” snapped Benedetta, “and anyway, Silvio is not the reason I am here.”

“I should think not,” replied her husband, lazily reaching over to grab a full glass of wine from his night stand, “I don’t come barging into your chambers when your lovers are there.”

“I don’t have any lovers.”

“I don’t see how that’s my fault.”

“What!? I never said it was.”

“No, but you implied it.”

“I did not.”

“You’re in denial.”

Benedetta let out a growl of frustration. “I don’t understand what you see in that boy anyway.”

“You mean aside from his beautiful voice?”

Benedetta rolled her eyes. “Yes, besides his voice.”

“I’m a man of diverse tastes. With you, we make love a certain way, with him...let’s say he’s a bit more docile during the act, more submissive, and more skilled with his mouth.”

Benedetta shot him a look of disgust, “You’re so crass. Plus, it has been quite some time since we shared a bed. And as I said, that’s not why I am here.”

“Then why are you here my dear?”

Benedetta waved the letter at her husband. “This.”

Raoul reached up and took it. He read it over, maintaining that casual, bored look that drove Benedetta mad, especially when she wanted him to take things seriously. “I am already making arrangements,” he said finally.

“Arrangements?” she asked, her patience wearing thin.

“Yes, we are already getting the army ready to march. Did you think I’d abandon my beloved wife’s home land to the ravages of the Spanish?”

“Spare me your ‘beloveds’,” she said, “will France join the war? I know your brother does not have much love for my country or my family.” Benedetta had learned this firsthand, and quickly, by the chilly reception she received upon her arrival at court. There had been little thaw since. She was sure that the only thing keeping the king and the other courtiers from showing her pure contempt was the fact that she was married to one of the two best military commanders in the land and a dear friend to the other. Along with Raoul, Benedetta enjoyed the support of the powerful Duke of Guise, head of the French Catholic League, and his brother, the Cardinal Francois de Guise. The Guises and their supporters had long been the strongest proponents of a closer alliance with Tuscany, and viewed the marriage between a Medici princess and a Valois prince as a great boon to their cause.


“My brother is a troubled man right now,” replied Raoul, “His last remaining son is a sickly boy, and he worries for the future of the dynasty. He remembers that the last time France sided against your house it did not go so well for us. He may dislike your family, but he lacks the courage and boldness to oppose the Medici a second time. His popularity is waning and he is opposed by those on both sides of the religious question. The Huguenots will not love him if he sides with Spain or remains neutral, but he
can regain the support of the Catholic League if he joins on the side of the Medici and Habsburgs. The Duke of Guise will make sure he remembers that.”

“And what do you think?”

“I think it has been too long since I have been to Florence, and I wish to see it again.”

“And you want the Catholic League’s support in the matter of the succession.”

Raoul waved his hand, as if to swat away her last comment. “I have no need of your precious Duke of Guise,” he said, “my nephew may live and become king. My brother may still have another legitimate child. My brother may outlive me. If any of those three things happens, I do not become king regardless of what Henri de Guise thinks of me.” He paused, “now if all three of those events were to go the other way, and I outlive my brother and his legitimate heirs, then I will become king, regardless of the House of Guise’s wishes. I may be a wretched Catholic, but it’s still better than being a good Huguenot.” The “good Huguenot” Raoul was referring to was the king’s illegitimate son, Pierre, who was currently living at La Rochelle under the tutelage of Charles de Coligny.

“So then I will send a reply to my cousin,” said Benedetta, “informing him that France will fight on our side.”

“I think that would be accurate,” said Raoul. He lifted a corner of the bed sheet. “Care to join me?”

“Perhaps once your army marches,” replied Benedetta rolling her eyes, “but until then, stay away from the members of my household. Especially my singers.”

“I’ve heard that your sister knows how to have fun. I’m sure she would join me,” retorted Raoul.

“If you want to fuck my sister, feel free. She is a great woman, but lets her passions take over too often. It makes her stupid sometimes. With that she turned on her heel and began walking out of the room.

“Where are you going now?” asked her husband before she reached the door.

The Tuscan princess turned to look over her shoulder. “To get my things in order,” she said, “I will be joining you on the campaign.” Without another word, she turned and left the bedroom.

__________________________

12 April 1607
Outside of Maranello, Duchy of Modena

“Tonight we will stop here,” said Girolamo Riario-Sforza, taking off his helm without dismounting. He had stopped in the shade of a great oak, the only tree in a vast cultivated field. His lieutenants set about quickly organizing the men into their encampment.


“This seems to be a place where we might find some youngsters ready to fight and earn some loot,” Sforza said to Vincenzo Morelli, his second in command, “we can always use a few more bodies to reinforce our numbers.” The sun was setting behind the Apennine foothills ushering in a mild and pleasant spring evening. They had chosen to stop on a stretch of pastureland, not too distant from large planted fields, flanked by tight canals.
Probably growing beats, carrots, and cauliflower at this time of year, he guessed. This land was worked by the sort of able and sturdy peasant folk common in the Val Padana. These particular farmers likely lived in the one story house across the field, next to a small windmill.


The Emilian countryside

As Sforza looked at the house in the distance, he saw a large youth coming his way with long strides, almost at a run. As this figure approached, the commander could make out the body of a man topped by a visage that appeared to be almost childlike. He was tanned, likely due to the many hours he spent in the fields each day, with a mop of black hair. Most noticeably, he boasted a pair of shoulders that looked like they could pull an oxcart. Being quite a large man himself, renowned for his strength, it was not often that Sforza was impressed by the size of another. Most of all, the young man’s approach looked aggressive, angry. He was wearing a cloth vest browned by dirt and sweat, loose fitting work pants, and he carried a large spade, which he had likely just been using to till his fields.

“There is one, maybe, who would be interested in joining us,” said Sforza to Morelli.

His lieutenant looked at the youth suspiciously. “I highly doubt it,” he replied.

Just then, the boy began yelling, at the top of his lungs, “who are you!? Who are you!? What are you doing here!? What are you doing on my land!?”


He’s probably not even sixteen
, thought Sforza as the angry youth got closer, wielding his spade like a weapon, but he looked strong and sturdy, with a fierce expression and apparently without any sense of caution.

“Calm down son,” said Sforza, “we are soldiers, as you can see, and we are only stopping here for the night. Tomorrow we continue heading west to join with the great host assembling at Florence. This here is pasture land, and I swear to you we will do no damage to your crops, we will not ruin anything.”

“But this is my land,” insisted the youth, undaunted and undeterred, “we have had too many passing through claiming to be soldiers of late, and they often leave behind damage and bad memories.”

Sforza reached into his riding saddle and produced his commission, bearing the signature of Pantaleone Gattilusio, the Minister of War, and the seal of the House of Medici. “Calm yourself, boy,” said Sforza, “we are different, and this time you will not be molested. I have here a commission from the Minister of War in Florence bearing the seal of the Grand Duke, Alberto I.” Sforza waved it toward the youth. The boy approached and took it.


The young man looked over the sheet of paper in that way that men do when they cannot read it but want to hide the fact. He hid it badly.
He will know the seal at least, thought Sforza. The boy handed the paper back to the commander.

“What I want to know is who
you are,” Sforza said, “and I hope you do not think you frighten me with that spade.”

Without replying, the youth took his spade and hurled the tool with great violence into the oak tree behind Sforza, where it planted itself firmly in the bark. Sforza, however, did not flinch. “This is who I am,” the youth said defiantly, “I am Alessandro of the House of Ferrari, and this is my land, and the land of my father, Giovanni, and of my mother Barbara Pietra, and of my twelve brothers and sisters, all farmers of Maranello.”

Sforza smiled with some admiration at the young Alessandro’s tenacity. “I have never heard of the House of Ferrari.”

“We are not rich but we lack in nothing, and we are respected if not feared. Above all, we do not tolerate bullying.”

“We are no bullies,” replied Sforza laughing heartily, “we ask only to pass the night in this field. By the way, nice throw with that spade.”

Alessandro, mollified a bit, replied, “I know how to do even better as some of our rivals in the area know well.”

“Well then allow me to present myself as well, I am Girolamo Riario-Sforza, and I am the commander of this regiment. We ride to war. I do not know what news has reached you here in Maranello but the King of Spain has declared war on our Grand Duchy. He is joined by the Pope, the King of Portugal, and the petty heretic princelings of north Italy. The Venetians are with him too. We are looking for capable young men willing to join our ranks. You have to fight, even risk your life, but you can also have fun, make good money, and have affairs with numerous women. You seem like a capable young man, perhaps a bit too rash, but you would make a welcome addition. However, you might be too young. How old are you?”

“I was born here, in Maranello, in spring of 1592, so I am old enough to know how to use my hands, whether for working or fighting, and I know how to use a sword, not just a spade.”

“As I thought,” replied Sforza, “perhaps a bit too young, but we can make it work. You are big, arrogant, and presumptuous, all good qualities for a soldier. You remind me of myself when I was young. I was a big brute too. I’m old now but I can still go hand to hand with the best of them. So, would you like to join us? Live a life of adventure and daring? Or would you prefer to stay here and be a farmer, digging trenches and shoveling shit for the rest of your life?”

“There is no shame in being a farmer,” said Alessandro defensively , “my family has worked these fields since as far back as anyone knows.”

“Farming is an honorable profession,” Sforza agreed, “and your family owns its own land, which is fortunate. But how many did you say? Twelve siblings. Are you the oldest?”

“No,” admitted Alessandro, “there is my brother Carlo ahead of me, and Taddeo and Giuseppe too, but Giuseppe wants to be a priest.”

Sforza nodded. “Have you heard of my name, the name Sforza?”

“I may have heard of it,” replied the boy.


“Good, well my family was once much like yours. We were farmers in a small town called Cotignola in the Romagna, about three days’ ride from here, two if you really push your horse. Toward the end of the 1300s, floods of foreign mercenaries descended on Italy looking for work during one of the lulls of the Hundred Years War. The most famous of these was the Englishman John Hawkwood, or Giovanni Acuto as he came to be known in Italy. They fought and raided and raped and pillaged throughout the Italian countryside. Much of their damage was done in the Romagna and the Marche, lands that at the time were nominally Papal fiefs. The Pope, naturally, was eager to re-assert his authority and a few enterprising Italians decided to make their own mercenary bands and fight back in support of the Pope. The most famous of all these mercenary groups was the
Compagnia di San Giorgio, founded and led by the great Alberico da Barbiano. They were the first all-Italian company. Others rose as well, such as Boldrino da Panicale and Facino Cane da Casale. My own ancestor was among them. Before we were the Sforzas our family name was Attendolo, and we were farmers in the Romagna, much like you and your family. It was Giacomo Attendolo, better known to history as Muzio, who became the first “Sforza” thanks to his strength. Muzio got his start with Boldrino da Panicale and then formed his own band and became one of the great condottieri of his time. Eventually, these mercenary bands rid the land of the foreign brigands and the Sforzas played a major role in that undertaking. As a reward, the Pope carved out a small patrimony for the family that had served him so well. That, my young friend, is how the House of Sforza came to be.”

When he’d finished his story, Sforza could tell it had made an impression on Alessandro. However, despite his initial outburst, the boy also possessed some prudence, typical of the peasant stock of the Emilia. For a while he remained silent. Then he replied, “for tonight you can remain here. As for me, I will give you my answer in the morning. Where did you say you were headed?”

“To Florence,” replied Sforza, “as I already told you.”

“Right, but where after that?” the boy queried, “will everyone be out of work? Will I just return to being a farmer anyway?”

Sforza laughed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. To the great regiments there is never a lack of work. The Medici have many enemies, and this war will be long and hard. And even when there is no fighting in Italy, there is fighting elsewhere in Europe. I have been to France, to Flanders, to Germany. There is never a lack of foes. And, if times truly get lean, there is always work to be found on the Polish and Hungarian frontiers fighting the Turks.”

The boy just nodded and bid Sforza and Morelli farewell. He turned and strode back toward the little farm house in the distance.

“So, what do you think?” asked Morelli.

“I like his spirit, and despite how impetuous he is, the boy seems to have just enough prudence not to be an idiot.”

Morelli chuckled. “Like you?”

“Like me.”

“Do you think he’ll come back in the morning?”

“I know he will. What is there for him here? Nothing. With us, he has potential to be a great man.”

__________________________

2 May 1607

South of Florence


Giulio dé Medici rode atop a dappled mare, gifted to him from the stables of his cousin Margherita. She had named the horse Luna. It had been long years since Giulio named any of his horses; he had seen too many die in battle, and that was harder when one named them. Still, she was beautiful and strong with an easy, graceful gait.

The position felt natural. Luna was a horse made for war, and Giulio was made for war as well. He knew it now. For all his efforts, his attempts to be a man of “culture”, he had always known it deep down. Giulio was trained for war from the day he was born. His father, Grand Duke Francesco I, had been ashamed of the Medici reputation as bankers and money men. He wanted to transform the family into a dynasty of warrior, like the Valois of France or the Poniatowskis of Poland. Grand Duke Francesco had embodied that spirit to the fullest, spending the better part of his reign on campaign across Europe.

Giulio rode next to Gualterio Gamba di Ferro, his Sergeant at Arms. Gamba di Ferro was blunt, brusque, and brutal; at heart a simple soldier. Giulio had served with his sort all his life. Men like Gualterio would kill at their commander’s word, rape when their blood was up after battle, and plunder whenever they could, but once the war was over, they would go back to their homes, trade their pikes for hoes, wed their neighbors’ daughters, and raise a pack of squalling children. Such men obeyed without question, but they did not slaughter with gratuitous brutality nor did they take any particular pleasure in the grim business.

Giulio, for all his talents, had never loved war either. Not the way his cousin, Alessandro did. Alessandro lived for violence and the sting of battle. Giulio did find a great deal about war appealing, but it was less in the battles themselves and more in the down periods between battles. Sharing meals with his men, the sweet anonymity of a military encampment just after dusk, the inner peace one could find on a long march, these were the joys that Giulio found in military life.


After the war in the Netherlands he thought he had had his fill. The promise he made to Livia, his wife, had only further cemented his desire to be a man of peace, of culture, of the arts. He had built his court in Orvieto as an idyllic retreat from the pettiness and ruthlessness of Florence. When his son, Gian Gastone, was named heir to the Grand Ducal throne, Giulio had wept, for it meant his son would be deprived from ever having the chance to make his own retreat from war and politics.


Giulio had agonized over the decision to stay or go for several nights. He could not sleep and could barely eat or drink. When he felt in the deepest moments of despair, he kept his sanity by reminding himself that he was hardly special. That the age old question he was facing, that between duty and family, between the love of his brothers-in-arms or the love of his wife, had been faced by countless men going back to the beginning of time. It did not make it easier, but it gave him some comfort. Even at that very moment, across Italy, and indeed across Europe, men were making that very same choice.

Then, at last, he departed, leaving that warm nest where his wife and the other ladies “wept for him,” as his friend, the poet Alessandro Tassoni, wrote, “and languished for him.” Before departing, he had caught in Livia’s eyes a glimpse of that impassioned query, the feminine questioning expressed in an elementary “why?” to which men who are leaving for wars cannot and must not reply. He left Orvieto. As he passed through the Umbrian fields, green with crops which grew under the bright sun of spring, he might have been tempted to turn back, to think of the harvest. But his mind was back where it focused so naturally, despite how much he may try to change it: on war.

He left home just in time. By the end of his journey the enemy’s armies were already on the march. This so-called League of Sevilla was well coordinated, and Tuscany had had to divide her manpower. General Campofregoso, along with Alessandro were going north to fight the Milanese. Giulio, Carlo Cercignani, and their men were headed south to face down the Papal army marching north through the valley of the upper Arno. They were within thirty miles of the capital.

After arriving in Florence he had written his wife a light-hearted letter full of jokes and gossip from his brief time at the Florentine court. However, he regretted writing it almost immediately after he had had it dispatched. It would be asking too much of Livia to see in this letter the age-old childishness of the soldier. She was a woman left at home to her fears. Life to her was a drama and war a tragedy. She could not yet get used to the idea that her husband had gone off voluntarily in search of perils when the world was already so full of pitfalls. She gave vent to her feelings along with her ladies, many of whose husbands had left alongside Giulio, in prayer and weeping. When she wrote back, she confessed to Giulio that she was unable to get used to his absence.


Leaving Orvieto had been a heartbreaking experience. He compared his own with those of the young men who came with him as his travel companions, off to war for the first time. They were either drinking and joking with each other, or else kissing and flirting with some swooning sweetheart. In the latter case, the girls were just as caught up in the pomp and excitement that come with the early days of a war, when every young man is going to be a conquering hero and every lady is already planning the letters she will write and imagining the romantic reunion at home. Giulio knew better and he knew Livia had seen war too, when she visited Amsterdam with his cousin Margherita, while that city was in the midst of being sacked by the Tuscan army. He knew that many of those young men would not come home, and those that did would occasionally wonder why they had and if they would have preferred to die out on the field. That was without including those who would return physically broken, missing limbs and bearing horrific scars. Some, like his friend Pantaleone Gattilusio, through luck or will, would make something of themselves despite their wounds. Others, too many others, would languish in despair until they died, one way or another.
What responsibility do I bear for letting these young men accompany me? he wondered. Better not to think on it.

Giulio had seen more of the early war time giddiness when the army had marched out of Florence through the Porta Romana to the sound of drums and fiddles. Thousands lined the streets to cheer and send them off. Little boys had joined the march, striding along beside the Tuscan soldiers with heads held high and legs pumping, while their sisters threw down kisses from the windows.



The Porta Romana

Once clear of the city, when he was riding at the front of the host with Gamba di Ferro and General Cercignani, Giulio felt almost content again. The sun was warm on his back and the wind ruffled his hair like a woman’s fingers. When Nunzio Cavalcante came galloping up with a helmet full of blackberries, Giulio ate a handful and told the boy to share with his fellow junior officers. Cavalcante, a nineteen year old from a well known Florentine family, had been one of Giulio’s most enthusiastic followers out of Orvieto.

Cercignani was flanked on both sides by two massive and shaggy black dogs. The general was fond of dogs and always kept one or two with him on campaign. “These aren’t the same dogs you had with you in the Netherlands, are they?” asked Giulio.

Cercignani laughed. “Of course not, though the two you may remember still live, they are very old. The two you see running alongside us here are the pups of one of the two you remember from the last war.”

“Do you keep many dogs at home?”

“Yes, I truly love the creatures. I was given the ancestor of these two as a gift by a priest when I was in Germany many years ago. He said the dog would help me recover from the war, and he was right. They make loyal and friendly companions and they don’t judge you on your past sins.” He looked off into the distance. “I love my wife, but my career as a soldier has led me to do things I can never tell her about. Horrible things. I’m sure you know what I mean. But my dogs don’t care. When we are out in the woods together, just me and the dogs, I can tell them anything. They just sit and listen.”


Maybe I should get a dog once this war is over
, thought Giulio.

“I was going to quit the military life, you know,’ Cercignani continued. “That old rascal Soderini almost talked me into investing in some trade companies, buying a plantation in Santa Lucia. Retiring.”

“What made you stay?” asked Giulio.


Cercignani looked at him, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “I don’t know,” he said quietly, “what do I know about investments and trade? This is all I know.” They rode the rest of the way in silence.


The army made camp that night outside the town of Massolia, on the north bank of the Arno. Once they stopped, Giulio and Gamba di Ferro took a walk to assess how their men had set up. They were likely within a days’ march of the enemy so the defenses had to be tight. If truth be told, Giulio liked this part of military life. He felt more comfortable amongst soldiers in the field than anywhere else. And his men seemed comfortable with him. He had made a bid to be a man of culture, but in the end this is what he’d truly dreamed of doing since he was a child. At one cook fire three arquebussiers offered them a share of a hare they’d caught. At another, some young cavalrymen asked Giulio’s counsel on the best way to hold their pistols when firing from horseback. Down beside the river, the pair watched two washerwoman jousting in the shallows, mounted on the shoulders of a pair of soldiers. The girls were half-drunk and half-naked, laughing and snapping rolled up cloaks at one another as a dozen other men urged them on. Giulio bet a florin on the blond girl riding a tall dark-haired soldier, and lost it when the two of them went down splashing amongst the reeds.

“Do you think the men are ready?” Giulio asked Gamba di Ferro as the jousting concluded. The creeping, nagging doubt that always set upon him on the even of battle was there in the pit of his stomach. Morale appeared high, but many of his men were green and new to war. He had no doubt his core of veterans, many of whom had fought under his command in Flanders and Germany, would fight well. But to win he needed the full strength of his regiments.

“They are, my prince,” Gamba di Ferro replied in his usual stoic tone. “For the fighting man, battle can be exhausting, but it is never complicated. He follows his commands and the training takes over. They have been drilled well, that will show once the first shots are fired.”

Giulio hoped he was right. The old Sergeant at Arms was a veteran of more battles than even Giulio had fought in. He was not only a veteran of the Dutch War, but had served as a young man in the War of the Religious Leagues. He was as tough and battle hardened as any man the prince had ever met. Giulio just hoped he was correct again.

In one respect he was surely right: the importance of the drill. The actions of reloading, firing, preparing to bear a cavalry charge, preparing to repel an infantry assault—all those actions and so many more had to be so inculcated within the muscle memory of the soldier that he did them automatically, without flinching, and that his defiant obedience in the face of horrendous losses, odds, or both could be ignored. The solider could reside deep within his own mind, and simply listen out for his officer to guide him on his way. If the drill was taught correctly, a soldier could thus be transformed into the kind of machine which Tuscany required; it was one thing to be proficient in arms and obedient on the field, it was quite another to endure casualties, persevere through the drudgery, and triumph in adversity. These activities were achieved because of a training regime and command structure which turned the fighting man into a number. Battle was brutal and dehumanizing, but it had to be. It was the only way for the common soldier to endure the horror.


Tomorrow would be the first test of
this war, but it would surely not be the last. Giulio just hoped they could break the enemy quickly and be done with it. He exhaled. “Well Gualterio, I think I will go for a walk and clear my mind, see that the men get some food and some rest.”

“Yes sir,” replied the Sergeant-at-Arms. Giulio walked off into the dusk. The evening, when it was still just barely light enough to see but dark enough to obscure the faces and uniforms and banners was the prince’s favorite time to be in a military encampment. There was a calming anonymity in it. Rank and station, battlefield role, all that disappeared. Men acted differently when officers were around, in particular when it was a prince like him. In the dusk though, they were all just men waiting for battle to come.

__________________________

4 June 1607
Aruba

Federico Boncompagni could see the palms swaying in the Caribbean breeze on the shore. The sun had just recently risen and the morning dawned cool and pleasant. A good day for a fight. He stood aboard the deck of the Sole Caraibico, the newest and most heavily armed galleon in the Tuscan fleet. Built to be the power of the Caribbean, she boasted sixty guns, including forty two 24-pounders, a crew of 140 sailors, plus another 200 soldiers. Waiting at anchor all around the Sole were ten Tuscan frigates, all part of Boncompagni’s ambush force. Another four frigates had gone ahead to lure the Spanish Caribbean fleet out of its port at Maracaibo.


A squawking sound came suddenly from the crow’s nest. Federico looked up as the cry came a second time. That was the signal: ships in sight. Federico pulled out his nautical monoscope and tried to make them out in the distance but he still could not see the vessels. The signal had clearly been heard by the rest of the Tuscan flotilla however. All around him, men got busy with their tasks, prepping lines and sails, readying guns and ammunition. Federico looked out across the water at the other ships at anchor, they looked to be frenzies of activity as well.


“Lower sails, sir?” asked Ferrante Doria, the thirty three year old captain of the
Sole. Doria was a member of the legendary Genovese sailing family whose name he carried. He was as yet untested as a captain, but had seen his fair share of naval engagements as a more junior officer. He showed promise and hungered for glory.


Ferrante Doria, Captain of the Sole Caraibico

“Patience Signor Doria,” replied Federico, “I want the Spaniards to pass us unaware.” Federico did not just want to win, he wanted to deal the flotilla of New Granada a crippling blow.

Nearly half an hour passed before the Spanish ships were fully visible. “Signor Doria,” he said finally to the captain, “unfurl sails, signal the other ships.”


“Aye, aye sir,” he replied. Doria began shouting commands across the deck of the
Sole.

Federico peered through his monoscope again, a long brass one about 25 inches long when fully extended with a brown leather grip on its front. He could see his four frigates to the north, moving west to east, still a good distance ahead of their Spanish pursuers.
I hope they have their eyes on the island, thought Federico. He had sent a team of men ashore to prepare a signal fire. As soon as the Sole and the rest of the ships unfurled their sail and got underway, the men were to light their fire. When the decoy frigates spotted the smoke rising from the bluff, they were to come about and fire broadsides at the Spanish. This would trap the ships of New Granada between the two parts of the Tuscan fleet.

Behind Federico, the
Sole’s sails came down and her standards went up. At the top of the main mast flew the Medici banner, five red balls on a gold field with a larger sixth ball bearing the French coat of arms (three gold fleurs-de-lis on a field of blue) on top. Below it flew Federico’s personal standard, the Boncompagni coat of arms (a blue lion rampant on a gold sun set atop a red field) quartered with the Este arms in the second quarter and the Medici arms in the third.

As the ships’ sails caught the wind, the flotilla began to move. Federico looked to the shore. On the bluff, his men had lit the fire and it was smoking well.
Now to battle, he thought. He had participated in many land battles, but never one at sea.

“Signor Doria,” said Federico to the ship’s captain, “any advice for my first naval battle?”

The captain shrugged, “don’t fall in.”



The Sole Caraibico, flagship of the Tuscan Caribbean flotilla

By the time the sun reached the western horizon, nearly eleven hours later, Federico Boncompagni was breathing easily again. His ships had excelled in the fighting and seven out of the ten frigates of the flotilla of New Granada lay at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea or were quickly headed there. The chief navigator of the
Sole Caraibbico, Eustacchio Girimondi, estimated they had travelled about 170 nautical miles. “Quite the trip,” Girimondi said to Federico, “we had strong winds today.” The navigator, a veteran sailor in his mid-sixties with a bald head and gray beard, wore a satisfied smile.

“If by ‘trip’ you mean ‘running gun battle,” replied Federico, “I agree with you.” The Spanish ships had slipped his trap and attempted to escape. It took the whole day to chase them down again.

“What shall we do with the remaining enemy ships?” asked Doria.

Federico pulled out his monoscope and looked at them. Three of the Spanish vessels had gotten away, cutting hard to the south, likely headed for Puerto Cabello or some other shelter along the coast. “Let them go,” he said, collapsing his monoscope and putting it away, “we’ve beaten them thoroughly enough and our men are surely exhausted.”


“As you will sir,” said Doria. The final kill of the day had been the most spectacular, if not the most exciting. The seventh Spanish ship to go down was the
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. She had been left behind by the surviving three ships, with her top sail shattered and listing badly to port. The Sole approached the damaged vessel along with the frigate Delfino Azzuro, expecting the Nuestra Señora to surrender quietly and accept boarders. However, her captain had bold, if futile, plans to the contrary. The Señora began firing sporadic shots at the approaching Tuscan ships. This enraged Doria, Girimonti, and the rest of the crew of the Sole (and apparently the crew of the Delfino as well) and the Tuscans replied with devastating broadsides. The already crippled Spanish frigate was blown to splinters, helped on by the explosion of the ship’s powder magazine. What few survivors remained were shown little mercy as marines from the two Tuscan ships ran to the starboard railing and began picking off flailing Spanish sailors with their arqubuses. It was only after Federico ordered a “cease fire” that the shooting finally ended. The handful of survivors who were fished out were beaten upon being dragged on deck and clapped in irons. Despite the beating and captivity, they were some of the lucky ones. Due to the speed of the running engagement, the Tuscan ships did not stop or slow down to pick up men after the first six Spanish ships were sunk. The only Spanish vessel to produce a large number of survivors was the second to last ship to go down: the San Francisco de Asís. It was not lost on anyone that it was a ship named after an Italian pacifist saint. The Tuscan frigates Santa Madonna di Salerno and Conte Verde had been taking on survivors from the San Francisco when the Nuestra Señora attempted her ill-fated gambit.

The casualties on the Tuscan side had been surprisingly light. From the moment the Spaniards had caught sight of the Italians’ ships, they had attempted to flee. Most of the day was spent chasing them down and destroying them one by one. The
Sole had certainly earned her title of most powerful vessel in the Caribbean, sinking four Spanish frigates on her own. Her guns could outrange anything their foe possessed and was thus able to strike at them effectively from a safe distance. All in all, the battle had been a crushing victory. It should not be long before I am able to go home, Federico thought to himself. He wanted to be in the fighting in Europe. This Caribbean assignment was a side show. Nevertheless, he could not shake the feeling of pride in leading such a wonderful success. It would certainly earn him some esteem back home in Italy.

It’s going to be a long war
, he thought, surely I’ll have time to get in some real fighting.
 

Casko

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Florentine Caribbeans have indeed got a mighty fine wooden wall to guard itself I see.

however it feels quite bad for Naples, as even in an Alt-History story they still seem to be getting the short end of the stick when it comes to Italian geopolitics. Here's hoping Naples gets better rep and more love from the Medici and Florence one day.
And as always. the sheer quality of this AAR is simply fabulous.
 

JerseyGiants88

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It's always nice to see an update!
Florentine Caribbeans have indeed got a mighty fine wooden wall to guard itself I see.

however it feels quite bad for Naples, as even in an Alt-History story they still seem to be getting the short end of the stick when it comes to Italian geopolitics. Here's hoping Naples gets better rep and more love from the Medici and Florence one day.
And as always. the sheer quality of this AAR is simply fabulous.
Thank you both. Also, next update you will see that Naples and the south did not quite get the worst of the war.

The next two updates are coming up soon. I will be closing out the Spanish war arc and then I think things will pick up from there.

I have also been working on putting together a Medici family tree. I have added a link on the table of contents page as well. It is not yet complete and I will be refining/updating it as I go along. I also hope to eventually make the family tress for some of the other houses that are connected to the Medici through marriage/familial ties (i.e. the Farnese, Valois, etc.).
 

Arnulf Floyd

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Very good and impressive AAR, nice drawings and illustrations:):):)
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 44: The Siege, 1610-1612

The dawn of a new decade did not end the bloodshed. However, 1610 marked a change in the way the War of the League of Sevilla was conducted on both sides. The spread-out campaigns of the first half of the conflict condensed into three main theaters of the war. The first, in the west, was largely an affair between Spain and France, with some Portuguese troops reinforcing the former. It was also where Spain would see its greatest successes. King Fernando VII had started the war in order to regain the Crown of Naples for the House of Trastámara but he viewed France, not Tuscany or even Austria, as the greatest threat to his kingdom. It was in France that he chose to personally lead his men. The second theater was in northern Italy, which boiled down to a dangerous game of cat and mouse between the scrappy condottiero Fabrizio Pico and his League army on one side and a massive allied force on the other side. The overall effect of this theater was to frustrate the allies and draw their occasional attention but never seriously threaten to sway the outcome of the war as a whole. The third theater was southern Italy, through which the War of the League of Sevilla would get its bloody denouement. This was the theater in which the Spanish and Tuscans would have their most bitter and contested clash of the entire conflict.


The normally quiet winter months of early 1610 were interrupted by a bold, and ultimately doomed gambit by Fabrizio Pico. In late 1609, he assembled an army of over 55,000 men to invade Italy again. He was able to get significant troop contributions from many of the German and Italian members of the League of Sevilla. By the time Pico’s force was ready to march, it included men from Milan, Hungary, the Palatinate, Salzburg, Venice, and Aquileia. He knew he would need the element of surprise, so his army left its base outside Udine on Christmas Eve under cover of darkness. Marching only at night, the pace was slow and tedious. It took them two weeks to cover the 100 kilometers from Udine to Treviso. Still, despite all their caution, they were found out as Tuscan and Austrian spies knew of the army’s departure and informed the Georg von Waldstein and his Austrian army at Görz. On the other side of the Milanese, at Vicenza, a Franco-Polish army was settled in for winter quarters. Once riders arrived bearing news of enemy movement, they quickly mobilized and marched east. Thus, Fabrizio Pico ran himself straight into a trap.

On 6 January 1610, the League army reached the outskirts and Treviso and its extensive fortifications. Just one day’s march away, both east and west, were a combined 108,000 allied soldiers. They converged on the League army on 7 January, at the town of Castagnole, just northwest of Treviso. The League troops, outnumbered two to one, fought doggedly and casualties were nearly even for both sides. Still, by the end of the day, the allies held the field and there was no way for Pico to besiege Treviso. He made the decision to withdraw and preserve the League’s army. Their campaign was over before they could become a serious threat. The message was clear, the route into Italy from the north was nigh impassable.



The allied victory at the Battle of Castagnole blocked the invasion routes for the League army

In the spring of 1610, the King of Spain launched his most ambitious campaign to that point in the war. In April he crossed the Pyrenees at the head of a 65,000 strong Spanish-Portuguese army, invading through
La Brecha de Rolando. Once they reached French territory, Fernando split his army, taking 35,000 men himself and giving 30,000 to the legendary Portuguese conquistador, Teodósio de Sampaio. They immediately lay siege to the French fortresses that guarded the border. If the campaign succeeded, the fertile heart of southern France would lay open to the invaders.


The Portuguese general and conquistador, Teodosio de Sampaio

Fernando’s French counterpart, the recently crowned King Raoul II, sought his own share of glory. A skilled military commander in his own right, Raoul had won fame at home for his highly successful campaigning in Italy, which included the French victory over the Spanish to lift the Second Siege of Florence in 1608. The king took 60,000 French soldiers south with the goal of lifting the sieges of the border forts, defeating the Spanish invasion, and pushing it back across the border. This, however, was not to be.

In early May, as the French made their way south, Fernando and de Sampaio prepared their move. Detaching just enough men from their main body to keep the besieged forts surrounded, the two Iberian commanders converged on the French encampment at Tarbes. They successfully surrounded Raoul’s host and, on the morning of 14 May 1610, launched their attack. The disorganized French were caught off guard and quickly routed. Raoul himself fled the field with his retinue and thousands of his soldiers surrendered without firing a shot. The disaster at Tarbes, in turn led to the surrender of the forts at Pau and Toulouse. More quickly than Fernando could have imagined, he found himself master of southern France, with little standing between him and Paris.

The Spanish victories in the west soon affected the fighting in Italy. Prince Raoul was forced to abandon his position and retreat north to lick his wounds. He ordered all remaining French troops back from Italy to reinforce his own position. While it was the smart and necessary choice at the time, the withdrawal of the French weakened the allied defensive line in northern Italy. Fabrizio Pico, sensing an opportunity attacked yet again into northern Italy with a League army of Italian and German troops. The two sides met outside Treviso on 5 August. Georg von Waldstein and Prince Karol Ferdynand of Poland were able to once again repel the attack but at great cost to their own men. The shift in the balance of forces in Italy had failed to produce a breakthrough for the League of Sevilla but it nonetheless levelled the playing field. At the beginning of 1610 it looked as if the allies were well on their way to an easy victory in the war, but Fernando’s brilliant offensive in France had cast doubt on the outcome once again.

To make matter worse, news filtered in from Poland that steppe riders from Kazan and Nogai were planning a massive raid come springtime. Needing to bring the might of the Polish armies home to protect against these incursions, Prince Karol Ferdynand was also forced to abandon Italy, leaving behind just a small force to support the Austrians and Tuscans.

In late 1610, the Spanish-Papal army in Sicily crossed the Straits of Messina and invaded southern Italy for a fourth time. After taking the fortress at Reggio Calabria, which at this point was husk of its former might, they once again marched north. The cool weather of a mild southern Italian winter actually helped the Spanish, since they were able to avoid the casualties usually generated by the heat. This time however, instead of going for Florence, Scipione Cornaro decided to make an attempt to capture Naples, the largest city under Medici rule and the strongest pro-Tuscan bastion in the south.


Not wanting their biggest city and the capital of the Kingdom of Naples to fall into enemy hands, Carlo Cercignani cobbled together a force of Tuscans, Poles, and the remnants of Raoul’s old army of Italy to march south. On 21 February 1611, the two sides met outside of Naples and the allies won a great victory, once again forcing the Spanish-Papal army to abandon its offensive and return to Sicily. Despite winning the battle, Cercignani and the rest of the Tuscan military leadership were frustrated by their inability to destroy enemy armies. As long as the Spanish remained in the south and the coalition of Italian and German states kept an army in the field in the north, the war would remain a stalemate. The allies would be able to successfully defend the Grand Duchy’s lands in Italy but remain unable to bring the war to the enemy homelands. Furthermore, the Spanish-Portuguese blockade of the Italian coast was exacerbating the effects of food shortages in the Grand Duchy. The damage done to productive farmland in the Po Valley had limited Tuscany’s ability to feed itself and the blockade made importing food impossible. While King Stanislaw II tried to send food from Poland overland, it was not nearly enough to satisfy the growing demands of the Italian populace. Food prices rose drastically and the leadership in Florence feared widespread famine in the winter of 1611-12. This was an especially drastic problem for the south, where starvation could lead to unrest in an already volatile area of questionable loyalty. Even if the Medici were able to defeat every invasion of the
Mezzogiorno, they could still lose it to popular risings.


The Battle of Naples ended yet another League invasion from the south

When the winter did come, it hit hard. The problems were not only in the
Mezzogiorno but extended through the center of the country into the once fertile Val Padana. Beyond Tuscany’s own borders, the people of Savoy and Milan suffered greatly as well. The Medici had enough trouble feeding their own subjects so those living in Tuscan-occupied lands had even less to survive on. Piedmont and Lombardy, devastated by war and occupation, were ravaged by famine and disease. “Those who have or had wealth are barely scraping by,” wrote Duke Riccardo d’Este from Ferrara to Alberto I, “and the have-nots can oft resort to little more than prayer and hope for the Lord’s salvation.”

The “have-nots”, who lived precariously even in peace time, suffered greatest from war. Many of them owned no property. Instead they lived in shacks, sometimes without a single piece of furniture. The inventories of their property when they died often recorded no chairs, no tables, no beds. They survived on what they earned from working for the “haves”. Many individuals, described as “paupers”, lacked even a permanent dwelling place of their own, sleeping in barns or attics in winter and under hedgerows in summer. During peace time, whenever a meagre harvest forced up the price of food but required fewer laborers, these “have-nots” went hungry but they rarely starved because the “haves” provided alms, while the Church used tithes to provide charity. In war time, and especially during particularly rough periods like the winter of 1611-12, the resources available to the charitable institutions dried up. As the dearth continued, problems became worse. One parish priest in the town of San Giovanni in Persiceto wrote sadly in his account-book: “No charity has been given, since there is nothing to give.”

Due to the war, paid farm work was no longer an option to make a living. Even if the money to pay for farm workers materialized, the regularity of raids and abuses by soldiers on both sides made it a risky proposition.

The magistrate of Quarantoli, in the province of Modena, cancelled the annual fair in 1612 on account of “these times of war, of shortage of grain, of contagious disease, and of misery.” The parish priest in neighboring Mirandola wrote in his diary: “This year, we have been tested in astonishing fashion by sickness, war, famine, and fire. First war came to us like a sudden storm. Immediately afterwards, a violent plague struck the village, taking twenty seven victims.”

The lands near the armies’ winter quarters suffered particularly badly. Soldiers, often at the edge of starvation themselves, would launch raids throughout the adjacent countryside, taking whatever they could find. Anyone who resisted was killed on the spot. Women were often raped in their homes or else dragged off with the raiders and taken back to camps to serve as prostitutes for the men. Lazio, the region around Rome, was ravaged by Tuscan raids. Though Rome itself remained safe behind its walls and well fed thanks to consistent Spanish and Venetian resupply by sea, most of the rest of the region was devastated. Though the Pope remained safe in his capital, the people he was responsible for protecting in his role as a secular ruler, paid the price for him siding against a major power that surrounded their lands on all sides.


From France, King Fernando VII received consistent news of his armies’ repeated marches up the Italian peninsula. They burned and pillaged with each campaign, only to fall short at the walls of Florence or at Naples. While his men wrought significant devastation on the already impoverished
Mezzogiorno, they failed to deliver the knockout blow. He meant to change that.

The Spanish King was ambitious, arrogant, and completely convinced that the Crown of Naples was not only his birthright, but a divinely ordained part of Spain. He came to believe that the failures of the Spanish and their allies in the Italian peninsula were a result of him campaigning in the wrong theater. On New Year’s Day of 1612, he left France and the army that had won him glory, and departed for Sicily. He left the
Ejército de los Pirineos under the command of de Sampaio.

In Sicily, Fernando assembled the largest Spanish army of the war: 70,000 strong. About 45,000 Spanish troops bolstered by an additional 25,000 Portuguese. With the benefit of Spanish and Venetian naval dominance, he could build his army without fear of a counter attack and then land it where he wanted to. Some of his advisors urged a landing at Naples, to cut down on the rugged overland march through the devastated
Mezzogiorno, already picked bare by the Spanish and Tuscan armies that had campaigned across it. Fernando however, was intent on relieving the Tuscan siege of the fortress at Reggio Calabria. He viewed the loss of this important bastion as a smear on his honor. It also would have the more practical effect of cutting off the Spanish retreat route should they have to withdraw south from Italy. When the fortress fell to the Tuscan besiegers on 21 January 1612, Fernando could have changed his mind, but instead determined he wanted to retake the fort before continuing his march. It was a rare display of caution by the young king, and one that, in light of events to come, would prove an intelligent and lifesaving move.

The
Ejército de Italia landed on the Calabrian shores on 16 February 1612, and quickly began the siege of Reggio. The defenses of that fortress, already so damaged from repeated capture, were worn down and ineffective. The Tuscan garrison had only been occupying the fortress for a few weeks and was made up of low quality troops. They held out for forty five days, but eventually opened negotiations with Fernando to surrender. The Spanish king and his generals, eager to keep the campaign on track, were open to the discussions. In exchange for their cannons and pledges not to re-enter the military service of Tuscany or any of her allies for five years, the garrison was allowed to depart unmolested.

Only five days after the Spanish landed in Calabria, the Tuscan army under Carlo Cercignani and the Austrian army under Georg von Waldstein settled in for a siege of Augsburg, the last remaining League ally in Germany. If Augusburg was captured, the League of Sevilla would essentially be whittled down to just Spain, Portugal, Venice, and the Papal State. The German and Italian allies of the League did still have an army in the field, but its main priority at this point in the war was to stay alive and intact. Its commander, the ever resourceful Pico, was able to harass the Austrian hinterlands and occasionally threaten to come over the Alpine passes into Italy once again, but his ability to mount and sustain a full campaign was limited.



Fortification plan of Augsburg

Cercignani and Waldstein received word of the Spanish invasion of Italy on 21 March. This news triggered heated debate within the joint command. Some argued the siege should be abandoned immediately and the army should return to Italy to counter the new threat. Others favored holding firm and moving against the Spanish only once Augsburg was safely in their hands. In this regard, the presence of Pico’s army roaming the south German countryside did have an effect on the war at a strategic level. The Austrians especially wanted to capture Augsburg to deny Pico a base to shelter and resupply from. If they could not track the League army down and destroy it, they at least wanted to ensure the wily Milanese
condottiero lacked free access into the Habsburg lands. To add to the allies’ troubles, Augsburg was strongly fortified and well provisioned. Furthermore, Duke Burkhard IV von Grenchen, stubbornly refused to surrender and vowed to resist the besiegers.

On 1 April Reggio Calabria surrendered and Fernando VII led his army north through the
Mezzogiorno. Those local barons who had nursed longstanding support for the Spanish dynasty joined up with him, and those Medici opponents of a more recent vintage, who were either angered by the Florentine penchant for favoring the peasantry and the merchants or else those who simply felt the Spanish would be the winning side, also pledged their fealty. Thus, by the time the king’s army bypassed Naples, several thousand cavalry, raised from among southern Italy’s aristocracy, had joined the host.

The peasantry, on the other hand, remained war of the Spanish. The hardships forced upon them by the war left most of this group embittered toward both sides. The only exceptions were those who were either forced into service by their pro-Spanish lords or those landholding peasants ambitious enough to believe that joining the King of Spain could result in increased wealth and land or even a jump up into the nobility. On the other side, small bands of guerillas formed in the hills, particularly in the countryside around Naples and Salerno. These men did their business not out of loyalty or service, but rather from motives of personal gain or the desire to chase foreign soldiers away from their homes. They harassed straggling Spanish troops or raided their supply trains. Most peasants however met the Spanish invasion with passive resistance. They hid food and what little wealth they had so as to prevent the enemy from effectively living off the land. Despite later Medici propaganda claims to the contrary, the people of the countryside did not resist out of love for Florentine rule or for the cause of Italian patriotism. They resisted simply because the failure of this grand Spanish campaign was the likeliest route to end the war.

Undaunted, the Spanish advance continued nonetheless. The lack of cooperation from the peasantry made the logistical hurdles more challenging, but Fernando and his generals and advisors proved up to the task. They increased the size of the armed escorts in areas identified as particularly vulnerable to raiders. Even more effective were the continual supply runs made by the League of Sevilla’s fleets. Fernando had the good sense to advance up the coast, which had the dual advantage of keeping him easily resupplied and avoided the more rugged terrain of the Italian interior. The Spanish and Portuguese ships were aided in this task by their Genovese and Venetian allies, eager to avoid sending their own troops into what was likely to be a bloody and costly siege of Florence but still wanting to contribute in order to keep a claim on whatever spoils would result from a Spanish victory.


A Spanish supply coach attacked by brigands

Back in Augsburg, Cercignani, Waldstein and the allied army continued their siege. On 26 April the Tuscan general received a message from his Minister of War Pantaleone Gattilusio instructing him to maintain the siege and not depart until Augsburg was captured. In the preceding month, messengers had been riding furiously between Florence, Vienna, and Augsburg trying to formulate a coherent strategy. It is doubtful that Gattilusio or his sovereign, on their own, would have kept the German city as a top priority even in the face of a full scale invasion of their home realm. Instead, this likely was a result of pressure from Archduchess Maria Theresa I of Austria. Without the strength of her armies, The Tuscans knew there was no way they could repel the Spanish invasion alone. Therefore, they were forced to agree to the continuation of the siege and simply wait and hope for the relief to arrive in time.


The result of this was that Fernando was presented with little to no resistance for his entire journey north. On 13 March, the Spanish and Portuguese reached Rome, where Pope Alexander VII welcomed them and celebrated mass for the army. From Rome, Fernando decided to make the remainder of the trip away from the coast. However, before departing the Eternal City, the Spanish established a formidable supply organization. The League’s ships would continue to supply the army through the port of Ostia. Then, leaving behind small garrisons in pre-selected towns, the supplies would travel overland to keep the troops fed and armed. The king also had plans to run a more brutal campaign from that point on. In the interests of gaining as much support in the
Mezzogiorno as possible, Fernando and his advisors had decided on a course of action that limited the damage and suffering inflicted on the civilian population, despite the intransigence of many locals. This would change north of Rome. The king not only wanted to conquer Florence, but break the will of the Tuscan heartland to continue the war. The Spanish were well aware of just how dire the situation in the countryside was throughout northern Italy. This new approach, they believed, would force the Medici to their knees and cause them to sue for peace.

His first major target as part of this new plan was Orvieto, a Tuscan enclave within the Papal State and the home of Grand Duke Alberto’s brother: Prince Giulio dé Medici. By a secret agreement between the Papal State and Tuscany made early in the war, Orvieto was to remain unmolested in exchange for Tuscany extending the same privilege to what remained of the State of
Presidi, which was a Papal fief consisting of five towns on the Tuscan coast—Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano on the promontory of Monte Argentario, as well as Orbetello, Talamone and Ansedonia. Fernando and the Spanish however had no intention of honoring this agreement. Most importantly, Gian Gastone dé Medici, the nine year old son of Prince Giulio and the declared heir to Alberto I was still living in the town along with his mother Livia. As the Spanish army approached, the entire household, which included mostly women and children since the men were off fighting in the war, was forced to flee. Along with Gian Gastone and Livia, Princess Margherita dé Medici and her ten year old illegitimate son Ercole were also among those who escaped. Due to the suddenness of the Spanish arrival, most of the wealth of Prince Giulio’s palace was left behind and looted by the enemy troops. The town itself was brutally sacked and many of the remaining adult men, almost exclusively peasants, artisans, or household servants, were executed as “traitors” to the Papal State. The escaped Medici made their way to Florence, staying just ahead of the Spanish vanguard.

After Orvieto the Spanish army soon crossed into Tuscany proper, continuing their campaign of terror in the countryside. The towns of Montepulciano and Crotona were the next to feel the “Spanish fury”, though the larger city of Arezzo was spared because Fernando did not want to waste time and men storming the more formidable defenses. It was north of Arezzo that the army reached the upper Arno, the river they would follow all the way to Florence itself. The towns of Montevarchi and San Giovanni Valdarno were also devastated by the invading soldiers.

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Alberto I was urged to flee the city by some of his advisors. However, his stubborn devotion to his subjects caused him to refuse that path, opting instead to endure the siege. He remained steadfast in his belief that the Tuscan army and its allies would return in time to save the capital. The Grand Duke’s stubbornness was not rooted in a simple patriotism or pride in his home city. For Alberto, and for many stanuchly Catholic Florentines and Italians, this contest against Spain and her ally, Pope Alexander VII, was for the future of the Church. The Spanish and Portuguese combined to control a massive portion of the New World, including some of its wealthiest lands. The Church establishment was in their corner as well. This war had morphed beyond political and strategic calculus to take on a spiritual dimension. Both sides believes firmly that God was on their side. For the Spanish it was easy enough to point out that the Vicar of Christ himself supported their cause. The War of the League of Sevilla had transformed into a veritable struggle over the soul of Catholicism and the future path of the Church.

Perhaps inspired by the determination of their sovereign, or else out of fear for their own lives, on 7 May the citizens of the city began working frantically to prepare the walls of Florence for a lengthy siege. Pantaleone Gattilusio was in overall command of the defenses. He had 2,000 soldiers at his disposal plus the entire male population of the city to draw upon if, or when, times got tough. The first order of business was building a wooden wall of palisades around the city that would slow the attacker and frustrate his artillery. These palisades were combined with steep slopes behind them which led up to an earthen defensive position, and then sloped down into a deep ditch or empty moat on the other side. Defenses like these, strikingly primitive in nature, were to prove the saviors of Florence in 1612. Although simple, the act of creating huge mounds of earth, covering the fronts of these mounds with large pointed palisades and levelling the top of the mound to create a makeshift position from which to lay down suppressive fire were the standard tactics of siege craft and proved devastatingly effective against the Spanish attackers. Surrounding Florence itself were two concentric walls of this earthen and wooden structuring, each one more formidable than the last, while the third and final line of defense were the well-built walls themselves. It was here that the Florentines placed their heavy guns.

The result of this work was a defensive line three rows deep, with carefully planned choke points and interlocking fields of fire that would make mincemeat out of any concentrated assault. The palisades and the heaps of earth behind them would absorb any shells fired by the Spanish and required painstaking teams on hand to deconstruct the defenses even if an assault was successful. To overcome each of the three walls, the enemy soldiers would have to scramble up an earthen hill, and once they reached the top be in the crosshairs of the defenders who had previously assigned defensive positions. Meanwhile, as the Spanish and Portuguese ventured back down the other side of the hill into the moat and attempted to clamber over the next earthen and palisade wall, they would be slowed and collected among their comrades, an ideal target for Florentine sharpshooters and grenadiers alike.

Yet the picture was not all so rosy for the Florentine defenders. While the end result would be impressive by the time the Spanish arrived, and plainly did work in frustrating their efforts, Florence itself was a headache of defensive contradictions and shortcomings. The city was located in a geographic bowl, sitting along the Arno River surrounded by hills. On the south bank, the area called the Oltrarno (which translates literally to “beyond the Arno”) was especially close to hills. Attached to the walls was the relatively new and heavily fortified Belvedere, which towered above the Pitti Palace. However, outside the walls, on a hill east of the fortress, was the Basilica and Abbey of San Miniato al Monte. If the Spanish took this hill, they would be able to fire directly down into the city itself, including the heavily populated districts on the north bank of the Arno. To prevent this, Gattilusio sent a detachment of 300 men to fortify and hold the abbey. They were led by a cousin of the Grand Duke, Cristiano dé Medici, from a cadet branch of the family. He was ordered to hold the abbey at all costs, he and his men were to live and die at their posts. The invaders finally reached Florence on 16 May, surrounding the city and immediately beginning to emplace siege works. The massive army built pontoon bridges to maintain communication across the river, though these remained unreliable and hazardous due to the Arno’s sudden and unexpected fluctuations. Nevertheless, the Florentines could only watch with dread as the enemy prepared for the siege to come.



The Siege of Florence, 1612

While this apocalyptic scene was unfolding around Florence, across Europe a different scene was underway. This was the story of Florence’s saviors, who marched from the north, west, and east.


When news reached Paris of the Spanish invasion of Italy in early March, the French were still fighting for their lives against the determined Spanish-Portuguese army under Teodósio de Sampaio. The enemy host had pushed all the way to Saint-Étienne and was threatening Lyon. The French under King Raoul moved to stop them again and the two sides fought a bloody but inconclusive battle on 2 June at the town of Saint-Martin-la-Plaine, roughly halfway between Lyon and Saint-Étienne. Despite there being no clear victor, the French held the field at the end of the day and for the first time halted the seemingly unbeatable Ejército de los Pirineos. Flush with newfound confidence, King Raoul finally acquiesced to the pleas of Queen Benedetta to send a French force back to Italy to help relieve the siege of Florence. Raoul dispatched 15,000 men under the command of Henri, Duke of Guise south for this purpose. The Duke of Guise assembled his force out of a core of French veterans plus new recruits he had raised and paid for himself. The remade Army of Italy departed from Lyon on 19 July en route to Bergamo, from where they would await word from the Tuscans and Austrians about a rendezvous point.



Henri, Duke of Guise and head of the French Catholic League

The Poles were more eager than the French to assist their Italian allies but had issues of their own to deal with. Prince Karol Ferdynand had returned to Poland, Odessa specifically, to repel Tartar raids coming from the eastern steppes. The prince and his army did not even learn of the Spanish invasion until 18 April. Karol Ferdynand immediately realized the risk this invasion posed to the Medici. He also had a personal stake in the matter as his sister was the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. He dispatched riders to Warsaw to inform his brother that he was taking the bulk of the Polish mounted forces west. Karol Ferdynand stayed in the Ukraine long enough to repel a force a raiders sent by Sultan Ibrahim II of Kazan on 2 June, then made preparations to depart. He left his infantry behind to garrison the area and defend strategic towns from any further incursions. Then, the Prince of Lwów and his men left for Italy on 16 June with an army made up entirely of cavalry.


Karol Ferdynand Poniatowski, Prince of Lwów and commander of the Winged Hussars

While the allied army began to come together through the summer of 1612, Florence endured the Spanish siege, its fourth of the war. The first three sieges, in 1607, 1608, and 1609, had all been relatively brief. This time was different. King Fernando and his top commanders, chief among them Antonio Álvarez de Toledo y Beumont, Duke of Alba, established a strong and dug in position. They deployed their men in two lines, an inner cordon to conduct the siege itself and an outer cordon to defend against any attempts at relief.

Against this, inside the walls of Florence, a sense of grim determination prevailed. This started at the top, with Grand Duke Alberto I. He resolved to endure and resist the siege from the first moment, and did so without hesitation. As soon as announcements went out rationing food and other materials, he and his household promptly complied. The Grand Duke and Duchess shed their jewelry and fine clothes and gave up their lavish meals and entertainments to live like the common people. The nobility followed suit, either voluntarily, like the Strozzi family who opened the ground floor of their palace to house refugees from the countryside, or else by compulsion. As a result of these efforts by the ruling and upper classes, the common people, the peasants and servants and artisans, were able to feel something that rarely existed in early modern Europe: true solidarity.


There was no enemy within, no group willing to compromise. An implacable sense of resistance united the soldiers and the citizens who remained and the many thousands from the countryside who had taken refuge within the city. As the death toll from Spanish attacks on the walls or Tuscan sorties against the enemy encampment began to thin the ranks of the professional troops of the garrison, Pantaleone Gattilusio began recruiting and organizing the male population of the city to take their place. He emptied the prisons and supplied weapons to anyone able to hold them. The Minister of War granted officer commissions to neighborhood power brokers and strong men and assigned them sectors to guard and manage. Some of these groups were formed by the
potenze, Florentine social clubs representing various neighborhoods or trade professions whose primary purpose in peace time were to celebrate carnevale and other social and religious festivals. Other groups were simply criminal gangs who now operated with the sanction of the state simply so they could provide more bodies to stand on the wall. Each Capo di Muro, or Wall Boss, was responsible for defending his section of the wall and ensuring his positioned stayed well manned. The Minister of War offered incentives like extra rations or the right to any loot taken off dead enemy soldiers for any sorties they launched.

Throughout the first weeks of the siege, the outer defenses, the mounds of earthen fortifications accompanied by palisades, appeared less daunting to the attacker than the larger stone ravelines or tall bastions set behind them. Yet, it was these earthen mounds, with their evenly placed wooden stakes and deceptively difficult inclines that turned out to be the most effective of all defenses built by the Floentines. Manning such defenses was another issue. The affair looked very much like a stoic and rehearsed battle order for the first weeks, with the same tactics repeated time and again. This started to change with the Spanish shock troops, who began largely throwing down their muskets and rushing the palisades in front of them. When they crossed the small portion of no man’s land before reaching the bottom of the man-made earthen slope, rank after rank of Medici arquebusiers rose up to fire down at the attackers while they scrambled to overcome the glaringly simple but strikingly effective wooden barrier. However, the impersonal nature of the fighting quickly degenerated as the number of Spanish who managed to make it over the palisades were met with sword points, spears, and often grenadiers, who lobbed their parcels down in front of the attackers and into their trenches. When the Spanish and Portuguese were beaten back, the Medici cannons could fire on the attackers without risk of hitting their own men. Round shot was common, as were the larger cannon balls which bounced and careened into any man or structure. On the other hand, as the Spanish soon discovered, cannon balls were significantly deadened in their impact by earthen structures, and so several began growing in front of the garrison’s own palisades in an effort to provide additional cover fire and advantage for the attackers.



Detailed blueprint of one of the defensive bastions of Florence

When breaches began to appear in the garrison’s palisades, or when zealous Spaniards managed to scramble over the pointed stakes and meet the garrison at the top of the earthen mounds, more desperate weapons began to be employed. The use of large meat hooks to grab and ensnare attackers and pull them down into the trench with the garrison on the other side were especially fearful devices; some of these enemy soldiers were torn to pieces, beaten, or stamped to death by the desperate defenders, while others were seized and brought inside the walls for interrogation before meeting a similarly grizzly end. An unwritten rule among the soldiers had it that no prisoners would be taken or quarter given, and as the battles increased in intensity and the most forward of defensive positions became overwhelmed, the savagery only increased to match the desperation. On 16 August, Spanish trenches reached the final palisade wall, but ten days later there was still no breakthrough. This was when mines were implemented, from roughly 26 August onwards, yet the means by which they were used was somewhat ineffective and crude, and the exploded mines buried under the earthen mounds merely created large pits which the garrison could turn to their advantage. After an especially brutal encounter, one garrison commander ordered that all killed Spaniards be beheaded and their heads placed on the tops of the palisade. The message of savagery was unmistakable, and set the tone for the rest of the siege. Neither side seemed daunted, but as August turned to September, the constant pressure on the garrison began to take a toll. Such defensive measures could not be kept up forever.

Sorties outside the walls were another tactic the defenders could use to keep the besiegers off balance and fearful. In one of the most successful sorties, launched on the northeast corner of the city, a night raid against the enemy destroyed their carefully constructed mines, killed the most qualified sappers, and set a series of fires among the trenches which had to be dealt with, setting the Spanish advance back by about a week. Yet, as was becoming the pattern by the second week of September, any success the garrison enjoyed was paid for dearly in human lives lost.



The walls of Florence and attendant fortifications, 1612

The Florentines also benefitted from the initiative taken by the small groupings of soldiers in nearby cities. In particular, the 250 strong garrison of Empoli, a small fortified town on the Arno between Florence and Pisa, cause headaches for the besiegers. Most of their patrols were led personally by their commander, Francesco Frescobaldi, a Florentine aristocrat who had sworn to keep the enemy out of the city of his birth. From Empoli, with ruthless energy, he directed operations against the Spanish forces, even hanging a messenger sent to him with a white flag of surrender. For weeks on end, Frescobaldi and his men inspired the Florentines with their daring raids, wherein they killed enemy cavalry, raided their food wagons, and set fire to their powder stores. On three separate occasions Frescobaldi’s men rowed under cover of darkness up the Arno to deliver small but symbolically important quantities of food to the besieged citizens. Then, on 23 August, Frescobaldi was captured by Spanish troops in the mountains near Pistoia and then hacked to death in the piazza of the village of Gavinana. News of the daring aristocrat’s death hit the Florentines hard.

The main problem for the defenders was the seemingly endless supply of enemy manpower. The city was still surrounded and there were Spaniards willing and eager to attack at any point. If the other parts of the walls were denuded of troops to plug the gaps that developed from assaults, the rest of the city would be exposed. Every large building was made ready as a center of resistance. Churches, hospitals, tracts of housing were all filled with weapons and balks of timber hammered in place to block doors and windows. The city watch and men young and old were made responsible for defending their homes and neighborhoods. Every square and street would be made into a killing ground.


The Grand Duke remained unwavering in his resistance and fully supported his Minister of War’s measures. Alberto’s unquestioning faith served him well in the siege. Through the long summer when seven weeks of blistering rainless heat added physical discomfort to the tension of the atmosphere, he maintained his customary cheerfulness. Nor did the rumor, later shown to be false, that the
Mezzogiorno was in revolt once again unduly depress him. When his confessor came to speak words of comfort to him, he found Alberto prostrate before his crucifix. Rising, the Grand Duke declared with confidence rather than resignation that he had been seeking counsel where alone he knew it to be found and that he was prepared to die if need be in the righteous cause.

It is difficult to imagine or portray what life would have been like in Florence by the beginning of September. Food had all but run out by that point, and the hardened garrison were increasingly coming under the effects of dysentery, for which there could be no cure as starvation and exhaustion induced-weakness enabled that disease to find easy victims. The one silver lining for the defenders is that because they were forced to eat rats by this point, various plagues had far less opportunity to spread. By the 115th day of the siege on 8 September, the Spanish and Portuguese had unquestionably established themselves on the second defensive perimeter of the defenses, leaving only the original walls themselves between them and the city. The once defiant first two lines of earthen wall and palisade defenses now resembled a Spanish platform from which the enemy could launch daring assaults, while they continued to try to undermine the walls by digging deeper, and throwing dirt into the moats in order to fill them up and provide easier means of access.

The daily grind of the siege became unbearable for some. There was simply no escape from the ever present gunfire and horrific scenes of human suffering and despair. As the raiding parties made less and less progress, and as no reports of relief came back to the city, an air of resignation began to set in amongst the defenders, who by now had seen the worst side of humanity every day for months. There is no record of how many individuals broke down from the impact of this sheer horror on their individual psyche, but there was never any official mention of surrender put forward.

In late August, far from the carnage of Florence, the allied army finally began to coalesce. The Austro-Tuscan army had finally captured Augsburg on 16 July. One month later, they finished their crossing of the Alps and reached the south end of Lake Como on 17 August. Karol Ferdynand and his Polish cavalry reached Treviso on 21 August and the Duke of Guise with his French Army of Italy arrived in Bergamo on 23 August. On the 26th Cercignani and Waldstein reached the fortress at Parma, which would be the final rendezvous point. They dispatched messengers to the allied forces and instructed them to march at once. The Poles arrived on 7 September and the French marched in on the evening of the 9th.

It was in a dimly lit room in an inn, in the otherwise small and unremarkable town of San Prospero just southeast of Parma, that Carlo Cercignani met his colleagues on 10 September 1612. Mindful that time was of the essence, but still having to navigate the issues of precedence which dominated international relations in the era, all sides argued and debated the point of who would march in what position and where the best strategy for relieving Florence could be found. If they took the longer, more cautious route, as Waldstein suggested, by crossing the Apennines to the coast and attacking from the west, they would benefit from easier roads and more secure supply lines. However, Cercignani was informed enough to appreciate the necessity in getting to Florence as fast as time would allow. He argued for the strategy which would see the parties cross the Apennines south of Bologna and then move through the rugged hills. From there, they could march downwards and attack the city at its eastern flank. Prince Karol Ferdynand and Prince Alessandro dé Medici agreed with the broad strokes of the plan but threw in their own wrinkle. The two men would take the combined allied cavalry, break off from the main body, and then launch a surprise attack on an opposite flank after the infantry and artillery decisively engaged the Spanish. Cercignani, who already would have to split his army once to attack on both sides of the Arno, was hesitant. However, in the end, he acquiesced, hoping that the two princes could deliver the knockout blow. Overcoming the egos of varying size in the inn that day, each of the commanders made a series of compromises and allowances for the other. Mercifully, it seemed, this was to be one campaign not jeopardized either by self-interest or mutual suspicion among the relieving force.

The total strength of the allies stood at about 68,000. Of these there were 28,000 Italians, 20,000 Austrians, 14,000 Frenchmen, and 6,000 Poles. Once the arguing and planning was over, they spent the 12th preparing their men. On the 13th they broke camp and headed for Florence. The question everyone was asking was a simple one: were they too late?

For 127 days the beleaguered Florentine garrison threw back everything the Spanish and Portuguese sent at them. They somehow held on as the enemy made ever more progress, and despite some heroic displays on both sides, the story seemed to be coming to its desperate end by the middle of September.

Running low on manpower, no sorties took place after 10 September, granting the attacker a new security which he took full advantage of. The Spanish were certainly wounded and scarredbut their overwhelming advantage in numbers was sure to prevail. What was certain was the fact that Gattilusio was determined to make them fight through every single street and through every building. They would retreat into the inner reaches of the city and turn every building into a death trap, while hulking chains would slow down the enemy as the remaining garrison’s cannons were turned in on the city. It was a grim and deeply depressing plan, made all the more overbearing due to the approaching weight of desperation upon the garrison, now reduced to roughly 400 men of varying capabilities and combat readiness. Citizens had long since been employed to fight and support the defense. By that point, about three quarters of the men on the walls were not soldiers prior to the siege. Those that could not fight were tasked with carrying or transporting vital supplies between the different sections of the wall.

On 15 September, Portuguese miners successfully blew up a portion of the wall on southwest side of the city. Thankfully for the defenders, the Portuguese local commanders were slow to exploit the situation and the defenders were able to hastily plug up the hole in the wall before any major assault was mounted. On the 20th the Florentines suffered an even greater setback. One of their main defensive bastions, the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte, situated just east of the Pitti Palace and Belvedere fortress, which they had used as a redoubt to deliver cannon fire and launch sorties against the enemy, fell to an overwhelming assault. Cristiano dé Medici and his men made a heroic stand even when they ran out of ammunition. Fighting hand to hand the soldiers bought time for the engineers to spike all the Tuscan guns in the abbey, preventing them from falling into enemy hands. Nevertheless, the loss of the fortress was a disaster. With a position on high ground overlooking the city, Spanish guns were able to fire directly across the Arno and into the heavily populated districts. More importantly from a tactical perspective, they were able to provide fire support for their men attacking the eastern walls in the vicinity of the Porta alla Giustizia. Two days after the capture of San Miniato, the Spanish blew another hole in the eastern wall. Unlike the first breach, the Spanish commanders were fully prepared and launched a major assault. A fierce fight ensued, going down in Florentine lore as the “Battle of the Breach”, where Florentine soldiers and citizens, including women, fought against the oncoming Spanish soldiers with paving stones, kitchen knives, and wooden clubs. Miraculously, they were able to hold out until a group of soldiers wheeled up three small cannons and were able to fire directly into the breach, felling Spanish soldiers with repeated volleys of small caliber shot. When the Spanish withdrew at dusk, the Florentines then worked through the night under a steady barrage of cannon fire coming from San Miniato, to fill the breach in with wood beams, rubble, and furniture. In yet another grisly moment, Spanish soldiers who were captured during the assault were ripped apart by the crowd and their heads flung back into the enemy lines.

On 22 September, the allied army reached the town of Borgo San Lorenzo north of Florence, situated on the Sieve River, a tributary of the Arno. The 22nd was also the feast of Saint Maurice, patron saint of infantrymen. As the soldiers celebrated a last day of rest before making the grueling slog over the hills around Florence, the commanders made their final plans and adjustments. That night, under cover of darkness and in the midst of a gathering rain storm, the combined cavalry force led by the two princes departed, headed west. Adhering to a strict plan, all the rest were to depart the next morning and reconvene at the strategically important confluence of the Sieve and the Arno, at a place called Pontasieve on the evening of the 24th.


Pontasieve was the location of two key bridges, hence the town’s name, one across the Sieve and the other across the Arno. It was the last crossing of the Arno until Florence itself. There was also a small Spanish garrison of about 300 men present, holding the two bridges. While tis token force could be easily overcome by the allies, they wanted to maintain the element of surprise. From there, the left wing of the army, led by Prince Giulio dé Medici would cross to the south bank and the army as a whole would move along both sides of the river, through the night, to take up their attack positions. The allies conspired with a number of peasants from the town to undermine the Spaniards’ awareness. Two Florentine soldiers, dressed as merchants, drove a cart into the town loaded with casks of wine. The townsfolk informed the Spanish garrison commander that they were a gift for the good treatment they had received at the hands of the occupiers. That night, they held a feast with a great deal of drinking. Once the bulk of the Spanish troops were inebriated, leaving only a handful of sentries sober, the Tuscan troops of the
Reggimento Grimaldi, the legendary “Grimaldi’s Raiders”, swept into the town, cutting the throats of the sentries and rounding up the drunk soldiers. In less than an hour the entire garrison was marched into the Church of Sant'Eustachio in Jerusalem. With the key town captured with minimal bloodshed, the army was free to cross both rivers.


The Ponte a Sieve over the Arno

The final march through the hills was difficult for all involved, and was undertaken at night to prevent Spanish observation posts from noticing their approach. Local peasants had informed Cercignani that the Spanish had soldiers and scouts emplaced in the hills to alert them to any movement. However, most of the lookouts had their eyes fixed to the west, where they had a bird’s eye view of any movement down on the plains around Florence. From that vantage, the rising smoke and continually advancing besiegers must have convinced these Spanish scouts that victory would soon be at hand. Yet behind them a morally bound, battle hardened, and supremely well-trained force advanced steadily up the hills and through the tangled knots of wooded forest that the region provided. It was a perilous and exhausting trek for the relief force. Climbing up sheer cliffs, holding onto trees for stability and pulling their horses behind them rather than risk riding atop them.

In the pre-dawn darkness of the 25th of September, the Spanish scouts were slaughtered in their positions by men of the “Grimaldi’s Raiders,” many of whom had grown up in those very hills. For the second time in as many days, the Raiders demonstrated why their renowned within Italy and Europe as masters of surprise, stealth, and shock was well earned. Some Spaniards did manage to escape and scramble down towards the besieging force to inform their commanders of what was about to come down the hill after them. However, the Spanish did not have enough information to fully commit their troops to the east side of the city. There was no way to know if this was a feint, a raid by a few brigands, or the full power of the allied relief army.

There was still no information about the cavalry force. One fear that surely crossed Cercignani’s mind regarded the soggy nature of the ground around Florence. Four straight days of rain made the plains around the capital muddy and would slow down, if not completely stop, a cavalry charge. This was especially true for Karol Ferdynand’s Winged Hussars, with their heavy weapons and armor and enormous steeds. Thankfully, the 25th of September dawned clear and warm with unseasonably low humidity.

By this time, back inside the walls, it seemed impossible that anyone could live within the forsaken city, just as it seemed impossible that any soldier could continue on. Gattilusio expected the next attack to come at any moment, and with it the final phase of the ordeal to begin. He and his men could not be expected to hold the walls any longer, there were simply not enough of them, even with the impressed citizenry. It would make far more sense, once the walls were again breached, to concentrate their efforts on the interior of the city, and force the enemy to come to them. This next phase of the plan was, above all, an admission of defeat and must have struck Gattilusio as especially bitter, considering all that he and his men had been through. Yet, for all that, he was confident that wherever the relief army was, they would be able to achieve some measure of revenge against the Spanish. With this in mind the Minister of War hoped to destroy all feasibly defensive positions within Florence, so that once the Spanish seized it, they would find it immensely difficult to hold it against a counter-siege. Yet all this would surely have been wishful thinking – neither Gattilusio nor his remaining officers knew much about the size or disposition of the relief force, or of the remaining powers of King Fernando’s army. All they knew was that they were trapped inside the once glittering capital of the Medici realm, the Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, and that, after over four months of brave and noble resistance, their time on earth was soon to come to an end. 24 September was spent in somber and desperate prayer, as all attempted to make peace with their God, as hell itself seemed to build up outside their shrinking sanctuary. The final preparations were made, as Gattilusio ensured that the different points of the city were ready for the storm which was to come. The soldiers that remained, somehow still psychologically in one piece, affirmed their intentions to fight to the end. This could now come at any moment.

As the first light began to appear on the horizon, the disparate elements of the relief force fanned out into their assault positions. Cercignani positioned himself at the small hillside town of Settignano, from where he could have the best vantage point. His right flank was made up mostly of Austrians under the command of Waldstein. They would come down from the northeast and try to split the thinnest portion of the Spanish double line. The center was made up of a mix of French and Tuscan soldiers under the command of Henri, Duke of Guise. The left flank, on the south side of the Arno, was led by the Prince of Orvieto with the main purpose of retaking the Abbey of San Miniato. This wing was mostly Tuscan soldiers with a supplement of Autrians, including a contingent of Tyrolean Alpine soldiers to help with scaling the steep hills around the abbey. Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma had the reserve. Farnese was an experienced soldier and a long time comrade of Cercignani. The Tuscan general trusted him to know when to apply his reserve at the crucial moment, even if they could not establish communication. Farnese’s military knowledge and intuition in this respect would turn out to be crucial in the battle to come.


Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and commander of the allied reserve

As the relief army became visible in the hills, calls were heard from the tower atop Brunelleschi’s dome. Preparing for the end, Gattilusio sought to implement the grimly rehearsed measures which had been discussed. Yet the call did not signify a breach or an enemy’s triumph, it signified hope. In the distant woods atop the hills to the east, columns of men and horses and artillery had been spotted. The Minister of War could hardly bring himself to believe the news. Simultaneously, as if answering their pleas, the Spanish focus seemed to sag. Somehow, this garrison of savagely tenacious, necessarily vicious, and utterly relentless men had managed to withstand the greatest test of their lives. The siege of Florence was over, but the battle for Florence was only just beginning.


As the allied soldiers atop the Florentine hills prepared to charge into battle, they were able to look down into the smoldering ruin of a settlement once known as Florence. From this point, the relief army could see the waving observers atop the
Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore. Once destined to serve as the site of King Fernando’s victory mass, it now served to connect the besieged to the relief army, the beleaguered to the free.

The garrison held its breath, and Gattilusio himself was likely unable to even believe that literally hours before it seemed as though the final Spanish attack to force his men off the walls and into the final battle in the city streets, that at this moment, his savior would come. Incredibly, in one of those incidences where truth is stranger than fiction, the multinational force did indeed arrive just in time. Had Cercignani linked up with the allied forces a week or even a few days later, Florence could well have been a pile of rubble in Spanish hands by the time they did attack, if indeed they determined to attack at all. A series of different motives brought these allied commanders together, but they were now bound by the same goal: to attack the Spanish-Portuguese army in a sweeping assault down the tumbling Tuscan hills and to strike a crushing blow against King Fernando’s dreams of conquest. Ahead of the spread out relief force was difficult ground to descend upon, yet their strength would have to come in their speed to shatter the defending Spanish and Portuguese soldiers and scatter them before they could mount a successful defense. The allies had a slight advantage in numbers, but the besiegers held the better ground.

As the sun crested the hills, Cercignani ordered the attack. The timing was not a coincidence. Coming out of the east, the rising sun would be at the back of the allies, and shining in the face of the Spanish and Portuguese troops, making it more difficult to fire accurately or repel the assault. Across a nearly 7,000 meter front, the allied army came pouring down from the hills, artillery booming in support. The besiegers were not only caught off guard, but were seriously demoralized. They had been on the brink of victory, days if not hours away from smashing through the walls and sacking one of the richest cities in Europe. Now they were fighting for their lives against a tough and motivated foe.

After nearly four months of siege, the Spanish and Portuguese troops had grown lax. Manning the outer cordon was seen, up until the morning of 25 September, as a break, an easy duty. On the inner cordon one had to deal with fire from the walls, the risk of sorties, and the daily grind of the siege. The outer cordon was a place to relax. As a result, many of the soldiers were not prepared for the coming onslaught and chaos reigned among their ranks. Many of the earthworks that had been so formidable when first built up, had worn down from time and weather to provide only limited cover and protection.


On the right, Waldstein and his Austrians came down the hill roads and the left portion of his line exploited a gap in the Spanish trenches. The Spanish troops to the south were simultaneously being attacked by the Duke of Guise and his Franco-Italian contingent. This combined assault immediately split the Spanish outer line. The southern portion, commanded by José María de Soto, was caught in a double envelopment and nearly destroyed entirely within the first hour of the battle. De Soto was able to establish a rally point inside the small town of Coverciano, where his men were able to regroup and take cover. The town was quickly surrounded by French and Tuscan soldiers, but the Spanish doggedly held on.


On the south bank of the Arno, the Prince of Orvieto’s forces drove the Spanish outer line back, rapidly covering ground. His vanguard, led by the formidable commander Girolamo Riario-Sforza, ran roughshod over the enemy trench lines. They advanced so quickly that they forced another Spanish formation to the south, which had not even been engaged yet, to fall back in panic. They reached the top of a ridge across from San Miniato, tantalizingly close to their objective, until they were finally stopped by a healthy dose of cannon fire from the Spanish troops in the abbey.

However, by late morning, the Spanish began to rally. The initial shock of the allied assault was wearing off and the second line of trenches provided a new place from which to return fire. King Fernando rode tirelessly up and down his lines, coordinating new defensive positions and inspiring his men. From a tangle of defensive lines, making use of farmhouses, old stone walls and gullies, not to mention the earthworks first built up by the besieged Florentines, the Spanish would now seek to make the relief force pay for every inch of ground, just as they had been made to pay for it outside Florence.

By noon the battle had ground to a stalemate. De Soto’s soldiers trapped in Coverciano were causing the allies problems. Ensconced well in their rear in an easily defensible place, they limited the tactical flexibility of the attackers.

Just after noon, King Fernando made a bid to win back the initiative for his side. He personally gathered several regiments of Spanish and Portuguese cavalry and led them in a massed charge against the right flank of Waldstein’s Austrians, who also happened to be the furthest right flank of the entire allied line. The Austrians had faced the most tiring approach to the battle and taken heavy casualties in their initial assault. With no cavalry and only limited artillery support due to the heavy concentration of trees limiting their fields of fire, they were the most exposed. Riding hard around and behind the Austrians, at the head of his own elite, personal unit, the Caballería El Rey, King Fernando rapidly turned the flank and it quickly collapsed in on itself, as men trying to form up to hold the line ran into others alternately fleeing or trying to reinforce them. The Spanish and Portuguese cavalry, thirsty for vengeance after the morning’s events, rode them down mercilessly, hacking and slashing at the fleeing Austrians. As the cavalry pushed relentlessly forward, the Spanish infantry in the inner line of trenches saw what was happening and launched assaults of their own. Within a short time, it looked as if the entire right side of the allied line was about to collapse under the weight of the king’s charge.

It was at this crucial moment that the Duke of Parma threw his reserve into the fight. While he had hoped to save it for an offensive maneuver, there was little choice left. The allied reserve, with the brilliant Massimiliano del Rosso leading the vanguard with his own regiment, the Iron Legion, moved rapidly down the hill. The Tuscan infantry met the Spanish cavalry with a wall of pikes and gun fire, stopping them in their tracks. Parma ordered the rest of his reserve to counter-charge the Spanish infantry and they successfully forced them to withdraw to their trenches. The insertion of the reserve into the fight had staved off a potential disaster, but now there were no forces left on the field for the allies to exploit a success.


The Iron Legion halts the Caballería El Rey at Florence

On the south bank, another dramatic scene was unfolding. Prince Giulio dé Medici and his men had been bogged down since their initial advance by the Spanish on the high ground opposite them. While an assault would be bloody work, they had no other choice. If they stayed in place the Spanish guns from the abbey would be able to rain fire down upon the French troops trying to break through to the wall on the opposite bank. A young, tenacious officer named Alessandro di Ferrari was chosen to lead the assault down the hill and then up the other side against the fortified abbey. Leading over 3,000 men, including a regiment of Austrian Alpine troops from Tyrol, Ferrari marched his troops across nearly 900 meters of wildly fluctuating terrain, under murderous fire from the Spanish guns in the abbey and their muskets on the ridges alongside of it. Almost simultaneously, the Duke of Alba launched a counter-attack of his own against the left wing of the Prince of Orvieto’s line. This attack turned into bloody hand to hand fighting in the wooded, rolling hills but was eventually halted and the line stabilized. Undaunted by either the gun fire from San Miniato no rthe news of a Spanish counter-attack, Ferrari’s Tuscan and Austrian soldiers reached the top of the ridge, fanned out and fought their way into the abbey itself. They were aided by supporting artillery fire from the Belvedere fortress in the rear of the Spanish position. The assaulting troops lost nearly half their strength in the attack, but they gained a tactically crucial piece of terrain. It marked the first time that members of the relief army made close contact with the population inside the city. By pushing the Spanish away from the south bank of the Arno the Tuscan and Austrian troops gained access to the Porta San Niccoló, which gave access to the Oltrarno. This allowed them to bring their wounded into shelter and coordinate better with the garrison inside.

The capture of the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte fortress was a major tactical success, but the Spanish and Portuguese lines had held up for the most part. The forces of King Fernando were dug in well and his battle commanders, many of whom were veterans of the previous campaigns to capture Florence were obstinate in their desire to hold their position and see the siege through to a successful conclusion this time. With each allied assault that was thrown back, their men gained confidence. By early afternoon the initial shock of the allies’ sudden arrival had worn off. Both sides steeled themselves for a long fight.

On the other side, the allied soldiers were exhausted and starting to lose motivation. Days of forced marches and limited rations were starting to show. When the Medici banner went up over San Miniato they gained a slight second wind and made a few more gains but as a whole, the force seemed spent. To make matters worse, King Fernando himself led another counter-attack that drove a group of Tuscan and French infantry off a small hill where they were attempting to bring up artillery. The allied foot were driven off and six cannons were captured. The heroic action by their king galvanized the Spanish and sucked away whatever momentum the allies had temporarily regained.

Nobody knew what would happen should the day end with the Spanish and Portuguese still holding the field. The allies could attempt to spend the night where they were and then try to maneuver and encircle the enemy the following day. This option was limited however by their lack of supplies. In order to move quickly, Cercignani had marched with a light supply train, bringing only the bare minimum provisions. With the countryside already picked clean by the besieged, there was little prospect for foraging either. If the allies withdrew, it was likely that Florence would be unable to hold out and the city would fall.

Then, as if signaling a miracle, the church bells on the duomo began ringing again, as they had in the early morning. The lookouts at the top of the bell tower spotted men and horses in the hills to the west this time, on the opposite side of the city from where the initial allied attack came. Most importantly, they spotted the banners: the Tuscan balls and the Polish eagle flapping side by side. The Spanish and their king, who lacked the vantage point enjoyed by the besieged Florentine lookouts, could only guess at what was going on.

While the allied men rested themselves and Cercignani and Farnese reassured them about Florence, a brilliant sight was playing out on the opposite side of the capital. Far up on the hills, Karol Ferdynand and Alessandro dé Medici’s cavalry was massed, their men lined up just at the right moment. The sun and heat of the day had dried out the mud in the fields outside the city, allowing the cavalry to mount their charge. The sight of the Polish and Tuscan cavalry would have played immensely into the sense of mission and moral superiority in the allied camp. Men shrieked and pointed from the walls of Florence, as hollering was heard from among the exhausted infantry’s ranks. This was Cercignani’s plan coming into view, the grand alliance applying its pressure as one. Though it was chaotic in places, as the difficult terrain claimed more than one horse and rider by surprise, the two princes were able to bring most of their force closely into line by 2 in the afternoon. They set their sights on a portion of the line manned by Portuguese soldiers and the two princes quickly talked over their routes of attack. Then they ordered the charge.

Due to the nature of the terrain in that part of the siege line, many of the Portuguese soldiers could not actually see their foe. The land dipped around the narrow Terzolle stream that ran from northeast to southwest and the curve of the hills hid the cavalry from view. The local commanders could only guess as to what was about to descend upon them.

First, the ground shook. And then they began to hear it, a kind of howling mixed with intermittent clicking. The Portuguese cavalrymen noted that their steeds became restless and whinnied, making them harder to control. It was as though the beasts could sense what the men could not fully grasp: that everyone was in grave danger. Through a set of clearings and around a grove of clumped trees the Winged Hussars seemed to just emerge; gliding on steeds apparently species apart from their foes’. The gleaming polished breastplates of the hussars stunned those even among ranks of their allies. Spread out across a line over 500 meters wide, with as many as 4,000 heavy hussars taking the brunt of the charge, with the Prince of Lwów in the lead, the riders seemed like a surreal image from another world. Accompanied by the fearsome sight and sound of hooves thundering and howling through the air, the sight of the wings ripped the heart from the defenders. At this sight, countless soldiers simply threw down their weapons and fled, making easy prey for the invincible thrust of the Polish horses. Like a bolt of lightning did Karol Ferdynand’s force fan itself out still further and faster to capture the stragglers. With all the impact of a battering ram, the Winged Hussars at the front crushed and impaled with the lance any enemy unable or unwilling to flee, and after a few instances of this display they soon found few challengers willing to contest the field.


The charge of the Winged Hussars

Riding hard on their heels were the Tuscan cavalry, led by Prince Alessandro’s own
Mano Nera, the “Black Hand”. As the hussars struck the Portuguese on the western side of the city, the Tuscan horse cut hard east at the bottom of the hills and smashed into the rear of Spanish. The same Spanish troops who had nearly destroyed the allied right flank only a few hours earlier now found themselves crushed between Farnese and Waldstein’s infantry to their front and Alessandro dé Medici’s cavalry in their rear.

All along the Spanish-Portuguese line, chaos seemed to reign supreme. Those desperate men who could not escape attempted to stand their ground, only to be slashed to pieces by a hussar’s sabre or trampled underfoot by the Tuscan cavalry. The allied infantry, reinvigorated from the sight of this grand charge, followed, plunging into the fray shouting cries of spiritual dedication and assurance which seemed to spur them further on. Nothing could stop this wave of man and beast, and the gallop across the plain towards the last Spanish trenches continued almost unopposed, as the enemy attempted to flee where possible and hide where it was not. Nothing seemed able to escape from the widespread advance – to the Prince of Lwów’s left, his allied commanders pushed forward at a pace and fury uniquely their own, shattering any units of the enemy left behind. Utterly broken, the once fearsome Ejército de Italia was being routed from the field.


The results of the Battle of Florence

Fernando VII has gone down in history as the man who lost Florence and, as a consequence, lost the war for Spain. However, this characterization is unfair. While his army did lose the battle, the king deserves credit for his cool and unflappable demeanor under conditions which might have seen even a more seasoned commander fall apart. After seeing such a sudden and devastating reversal of fortune, and with his army collapsing around him, the young king kept his head and somehow rallied what was left of his force. Bleeding from a wound, the king nevertheless led a fighting withdrawal westward and out of the teeth of the allied attack. The Spanish were forced to make the grim choice of abandoning some portions of the army, such as those men being massacred between the cavalry and infantry to the north of the city, or de Soto’s men still doggedly fighting on in Coverciano. Still, those men he managed to extract fought their way out and made it to the town of San Donnino, thirteen kilometers to the west, where they linked up with a small garrison they’d left in the town to hold the bridge there.

They crossed the river then turned back to the southeast, where they were able to link up with the Duke of Alba’s force south of the Arno, where they were still engaged with the Prince of Orvieto’s wing of the allied army. Alba had his men break contact and withdraw south. With his men exhausted from the fighting, Prince Giulio chose to let the Spanish retire rather than attempt a pursuit. By nightfall, the remnants of the Spanish army reached Scandicci, where they made a brief stop to rest and reform before continuing their retreat south. They would never march north on the Italian peninsula again. In the end, of the 70,000 men who landed in Calabria, less than 15,000 returned to Sicily.

De Soto and about 200 Spanish soldiers were still surrounded inside the town of Coverciano. Alberto I was determined to resolve the matter without any further bloodshed. Under a flag of truce, he entered the town himself, unarmed and escorted only by a priest and two young men, one a scribe and the other carrying the peace banner. He offered de Soto and his soldiers free passage to Rome in exchange for putting down their arms and their pledge to not fight against Tuscany or any of her allies for a period of no less than five years. De Soto agreed. With no hope of being rescued, any other choice would have resulted only in needless death. The scribe dutifully took down the name of each Spanish soldier and the priest heard their oaths to abstain from fighting. With that, they marched out of the town, flying their banner, but depositing their weapons in a pile. The battle was finally over.


De Soto’s tercios surrender outside of Coverciano

Back in the capital, a wave of surreal relief swept over soldiers and citizens alike. The men of the garrison, who woke up that morning expecting to die, could hardly believe what had happened. The Grand Duke walked around personally thanking every defender he could find. The bells of every church in the city rang nonstop.


There was no true celebration however. The horror and devastation and death was too great for that. Instead, a sense of quiet reflection fell over Florence. There were some moments of additional heartbreak as well. Several regiments of the Tuscan army, like the
Reggimento Grimaldi, the Reggimento del Fiore, and the Iron Legion were raised from the city and its surrounding country. Now, families of those soldiers went and sought out their sons and husbands only to discover they’d died in the battle or elsewhere on campaign. Even more heartbreaking, men who had doggedly fought to save the city and their families within were informed by grieving relatives that their children or wives had perished during the siege.

In the months that followed, the Tuscan army busied itself not with battle, but with reconstruction. Infantry regiments traded their muskets for shovels and dug out rubble, rebuilt homes both in the city as well as in the countryside, and repaired the defensive walls. Army wagons were repurposed to bring food to the hungry capital, cavalry regiments provided the escort.

Rewards were distributed for those who had contributed to the victory. Carlo Cercignani was officially dubbed “Savior of the City” and raised to the rank of Marquis of Verona in recognition for his great victory. Pantaleone Gattilusio was also raised in rank, becoming Marquis of Treviso. Massimiliano del Rosso, whose tenacious stand against Fernando VII’s counter-attack may well have saved the battle for the allies, was promoted to general and made Count of Foggia. Dozens of common Florentine citizens who had distinguished themselves during the siege were granted knighthoods, raising them to the nobility. Many of these men had been simple artisans or petty street toughs prior to the siege.

The allies were not overlooked either. Prince Karol Ferdynand, whose winged hussars had landed the most devastating blow of the battle, was made a Marshal of the Order of St. Stephen and given the Medici villa at Montevettolini. Georg von Waldstein, commander of the Austrian forces,was also named a Marshal in the Order of St. Stephen and given lands along the shore outside of Trieste.


The Medici villa at Montevettolini, given as a gift to the Prince of Lwów in recognition for his actions at the Battle of Florence

No ally was given greater prizes than Henri, Duke of Guise. He was granted lands on the shores of Lake Garda and named Count of Saló. He was also granted a betrothal for his son Louis-Emmanuel to Alberto I’s eldest daughter, the nineteen year old Maria Ludovica. Since the couple were both present, they were granted an expedited wedding, which took place in the
Duomo of Florence on 9 October, just over two weeks after the end of the siege. It was a humble ceremony but nevertheless brought some joy to the city. On a political level, the union represented the continued commitment of the Medici to support the French Catholic League in that country’s domestic policy. For the Guises, it was a major power play in their continued quest to wield influence over the Valois kings.

Despite breaking the Spanish-Portuguese invasion army, the allies had not yet won the war. Thankfully for Italy its long suffering people, the Battle of Florence marked the last major military action of the war. Still, it would take several more battles and a good amount of diplomatic wrangling to finally put an end to the war. Still, after all the hardship and human tragedy, the people of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany could finally begin to glimpse the light at the end of the long dark tunnel and believe that the worst was behind them.