Sunday, 28 October 2012

Cerignola 1503 (Part 1)


Cerignola is a battle from early in the Italian Wars. It was Gonsalvo de Cordoba's second victory using his favourite tactic to defeating 'superior' infantry and cavalry - he preferred the spade to the sword.

It is historically interesting because it was a very early example of the hand held firearm beating all comers - all firearms needed was something to keep the enemy at bay whilst it did its work; Gonsalvo used earthworks.


Following their defeat at Barletta in July 1502 it was the French, under the Duke of Nemours, who took the offensive the following spring. His intention was to use the usual combination of gendarmerie and Swiss pikes to run down the Spanish in one determined rush; a tactic which had proven itself in the past.

The Spanish commander was Gonzalo de Cordoba, victor of Barletta. He was well informed of enemy movements, and marched his army 16 miles inland from Barletta to await the approach of the French who were coming up quickly.

He stopped his army, in the early afternoon, at the foot of vine covered slope beneath the small town of Cerignola. In the short time available before the arrival of the French Gonzalo set his troops to widen and deepen a small stream at the foot of the slope and use the spoil to build an earthwork. The earthwork was strengthened with vines and stakes from the vineyards above.

He set his small train of artillery (13 light guns) at the top of the slope and sent out his Genitors to worry and delay Nemours.

Late in the afternoon, Nemours arrived before Cerignola. He had not reconnoitred the Spanish position because of the interference of the Spanish light horsemen. He was completely unaware of the presence of the earthwork before him.

It was late in the day and the heat was sweltering. The French held a council of war. It was quarrelsome. Nemours favoured deferring the action until the next day in order to rest his tired soldiers before the fight.
Many of the French captains, led by Yves d'Algres, longed to bring the action to a swift conclusion and urged an immediate attack. Before his artillery had come up into position, Nemours gave in and ordered the attack.

Main sources
  1. A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century by Sir Charles Oman (Greenhill books, 1987).
  2. The Grand Captain by Gerald de Gaury (Longmans, Green and Co, 1955).
  3. The Art of War in Italy 1494-1529 by Frederick Taylor (Partizan Press, 1993).
  4. Renaissance Battles 1494 - 1700 Vol. 1 by Peter Sides (Gosling Press, 1996).

None, except for Sides' scenario book, give definitive numbers or classification of the troops present. I must, given my experience of books dealing with this period, assume he has made his OOB using educated guess work. I have done the same, but I have relied on de Gaury for several pieces of information not covered in the other books:
  1. The stream.
  2. The description of the French foot.
  3. The position of Spanish artillery.

Orders of Battle

  • 4 units of Spanish infantry: each 36 figures strong (16 arquebus, 8 sword and buckler, 12 pike).
  • 1 small unit of Men-at-arms: 4 figures strong.
  • 2 units of Genitors: each 8 figures strong (skirmish).
  • 2 units of Light Artillery: each 1 gun strong.

  • 2 units of Stradiots: each 8 figures strong (skirmish).
  • 2 units of Gendarmes: each 8 figures strong.
  • 1 unit of Swiss pike: 72 figures strong.
  • 4 units of French crossbow: each 12 figures strong (skirmish).
  • 1 unit of French pike: 36 figures strong.
Coming Next

Part 2 will include special rules, a battle report of the wargame, and a synopsis of the historical outcome.

1 comment:

  1. The deployment in this article has been corrected. Be sure to read this article.