Battle of Ravenna (1512)

Battle of Ravenna (1512)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Battle of Ravenna
partof= the War of the League of Cambrai

caption= "The Death of Gaston de Foix in the Battle of Ravenna on 11 April 1512" (oil on canvas by Ary Scheffer, c. 1824)
date= April 11, 1512
place= Near Ravenna, present-day Italy
result= French and Ferrarese victory
commander1= KIA
strength1= ~23,000
strength2= ~16,000
casualties1= ~3,000–4,500 killed, ~4,500 wounded
casualties2= ~9,000 killed, ? wounded
notes= * The Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon, both under the effective control of Ferdinand I of Aragon.

The Battle of Ravenna, fought on April 11, 1512, by forces of the Holy League and France, was a major battle of the War of the League of Cambrai in the Italian Wars. It was an overwhelming victory for the French; however, it was unsuccessful in helping them secure northern Italy, since they would be forced to withdraw from the region entirely by August 1512.


Beginning in February 1512, the French forces in Italy, newly commanded by Gaston de Foix, Duc de Nemours, had been engaged in capturing cities in the Romagna and the Veneto, in an attempt to deny control of those regions to the forces of the Holy League. Although he had been successful in a number of sieges, Nemours was aware that the impending invasion of France by Henry VIII of England would cause much of his army to be withdrawn, and he was determined to force the main army of the Holy League into battle before that occurred. Thus, in late March, Nemours, together with an Italian contingent under Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, marched east from Bologna and laid siege to the city of Ravenna, which was defended by Papal troops.

Julius II, alarmed at the prospect of losing his last stronghold in the Romagna, demanded that an army be sent to relieve the city; Ramón de Cardona had to comply, and the Spanish army set out for Ravenna with a company of Papal troops in tow. By April 9, they had passed Forlì, and were advancing north along the Ronco River towards the city, and on the next day had reached Molinaccio, only a mile south of the French positions, but still separated from them by the Ronco. Nemours, short on supplies and increasingly anxious to give battle before he was forced to withdraw from Italy, ordered a general attack for the following day.



The strengths, relative positions, and commanders of the component elements of both armies are unclear, and different arrangements are given by historians. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 134–138, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 182–185, 206–207. Taylor relies primarily on the accounts by Guicciardini and Pandolfini for the positions of the units, and on the account by Sanuto for the numbers; he notes that Sanuto apparently records the official strength of each army, rather than the number of men actually present. Oman also notes that he follows Sanuto's numbers, as he considers them "more trustworthy than later details and figures given by Guicciardini and others" (Oman, "Art of War", 134).] The French army formed up in an arc to the east of Cardona's fortified camp; closest to the river were about 900 men-at-arms of the "vaward", under Jacques de La Palice and Alfonso d'Este. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 134–135, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 182. Taylor gives the number of men in the vaward as 910.] Next to this cavalry was the bulk of the infantry. According to Charles Oman, it consisted of three separate units: 3,500 Gascon crossbowmen, 5,000 landsknechts under Jacob Empser, and 3,000 Picards and Gascons under Thomas Bohier, the Seneschal of Normandy. [Oman, "Art of War", 134–135, 143. Oman notes that the second group of French infantry was actually part of the "main-battle" rather than the "vaward". Arnold gives the identical positioning of units, but does not mention their numbers or commanders (Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166).] Frederick Taylor groups the infantry into only two units: 9,500 landsknechts under Empser and 8,000 "Gascon archers and Picard pikemen" under the Seigneur de Molart. [Taylor, "Art of War", 183.] The men-at-arms of the "main-battle", consisting of 780 men, was commanded by either Bohier alone, or by Bohier together with the Vicomte de Lautrec, Louis d'Ars, and the Chevalier de Bayard. [Oman, "Art of War", 134; Taylor, "Art of War", 182–183. Taylor names only Bohier as the commander, while Oman lists him together with the others.] This cavalry occupied one of two positions: according to Oman and Thomas Arnold, it was placed in the arc to the left of the French infantry, while Taylor has it behind the cavalry of the "vaward", next to the river. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 134–136, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 182–183, 207. Taylor notes that he follows Guicciardini's account in placing the cavalry behind the main line. Oman acknowledges this point by Guicciardini, but considers it "difficult to reconcile with the details of some of the later fighting given by other writers"; he believes that "it would seem more likely that they were in the true centre of the array" (Oman, "Art of War", 135–136).] Farther to the left of the French line—beyond the cavalry of the "main-battle", according to Arnold and Oman, or directly flanking the infantry, according to Taylor—was the "rearward" corps of the army, commanded by Yves d'Alégre. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 134–136, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 183.] It consisted of about 4,000 mostly Italian infantry under Frederigo de Bozzolo, flanked, on the extreme left, by about 2,000 light cavalry under Gian Bernardo Caracciolo. [Oman, "Art of War", 134–136, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 183. According to Oman, the light cavalry included 300 Ferarrese mounted arquebusiers, as well as French mounted crossbowmen and stradioti. Taylor also mentions the presence of about 1,000 dismounted archers with the light cavalry; Oman includes a further 300 men-at-arms under d'Alégre.]

The arrangement of the Holy League army is similarly a matter of dispute; Oman comments that "the array of Cardona's army, though elaborately described by more than one narrator, is not very easy to make out." [Oman, "Art of War", 137.] At the north end of the camp, near the river, was the cavalry of the "vaward", consisting of about 670 Papal men-at-arms under Fabrizio Colonna. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 137, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 184. The Papal cavalry was positioned close to the gap in the entrenchements near the riverbank.] Farther along the river were twvo more bodies of men-at-arms: the "main-battle", consisting of 565 men under the Marquis of La Palude, and the rearguard, consisting of 490 men under Alfonso Carvajal. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 137–138, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 184.] Taylor divides the Holy League infantry into four blocks: three divisions of Spanish infantry, each consisting of four "colunellas" of 500–600 men each, and one formation of Papal infantry, numbering about 2,000, all under the general command of Pedro Navarro; Taylor places the formations of infantry in a deep column parallel to the river, on the far side of the cavalry, and perpendicular to the entrenchments. [Taylor, "Art of War", 184. The Papal infantry is the third formation in the column, between the last two Spanish divisions. According to Taylor, Carvajal's cavalry was farther back than the last of these.] Oman and Arnold place the infantry in three lines running along the length of the entrenchements; no number is given for the first of these, but the second is given as consisting of 4,000 men, and the third, placed as a reserve, as including "three Spanish foot regiments" as well as the 2,000 Papal infantry. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 137–138, 143. Oman notes that Guicciardini records the strength of the Papal infantry as 4,000, but considers it to be "probably an exaggeration". He gives a number of possibilities for the commander of the Papal troops: he was "a captain called Ramassot" according to Fabrizio Colonna and Bayard, "Cornelio Romaeo of Bologna" according to Köchlein, and "Hernan Magote" according to Spanish sources; Oman comments that "he is otherwise unknown" (Oman, "Art of War", 138).] Beyond the infantry—to the far side of it from the river, according to Taylor, or at the end of its line, according to Oman and Arnold—was the light cavalry, consisting of 1,500–1,700 Spanish "ginetes" and Italian mounted arquebusiers under the command of Fernando d'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 166; Oman, "Art of War", 137, 143; Taylor, "Art of War", 184. Taylor gives the lower bound for the strength of the light cavalry, while Oman gives the higher.]

Artillery exchange

The advancing French troops halted about two hundred paces from the enemy lines. [Taylor, "Art of War", 188.] The sporadic exchange of artillery fire that had been taking place since the French had begun to cross the Ronco now developed into a full-scale artillery duel between the two armies that lasted more than two hours. [Black, "European Warfare", 73–74; Hall, "Weapons and Warfare", 172; Oman, "Art of War", 138; Taylor, "Art of War", 187–188. Taylor gives a number of figures from contemporary sources for the length of the cannonade; according to Fabrizio Collonna, Jacopo Guicciardini, Francesco Guicciardini, Coccinius, and the "Rélacion", it lasted two hours, while Pandolfini and Floranges record it as lasting three. Black notes the cannonade's "unprecedented length" (Black, "European Warfare", 74).] A new tactic, the open-field exchange of artillery fire was "the most violent cannonade between armies in the field that the world had yet seen", according to Taylor, and "the first of its kind in the historical record", according to Bert Hall. [Hall, "Weapons and Warfare", 172; Oman, "Art of War", 138; Taylor, "Art of War", 188.]

De Foix placed the bulk of his artillery in front of the French right wing, directing its fire into the Holy League's camp. [Oman, "Art of War", 138.] Navarro ordered his infantry to take cover—the troops hid in the trenches, or lay prone on the slopes of the river embankments—but Colonna's men-at-arms had no shelter available, and began to take heavy casualties from the cannonfire. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 167; Hall, "Weapons and Warfare", 172; Oman, "Art of War", 138; Taylor, "Art of War", 188–189.] The Spanish artillery, meanwhile, ignored the French cavalry and concentrated its fire on the massed Gascons and landsknechts in the French center. [Hall, "Weapons and Warfare", 172; Oman, "Art of War", 139; Taylor, "Art of War", 189.] The Spanish fire was, according to Oman, "excessively murderous", and casualties among the French infantry were substantial; as many as 2,000 men were killed, and the Gascons were so shaken by the fire that the landsknechts were forced to push them back with pikes in order to keep them in line. [Oman, "Art of War", 139; Taylor, "Art of War", 189. Oman cites the accounts by Coccinius, Bayard, and Floranges for depictions of the casualties; he notes, however, that Coccinius is "rather propagandistic in praising the steadiness of his compatriots, and depreciating that of the French" (Oman, "Art of War", 139). According to Oman, Coccinius and Bayard relate that Philip of Freiberg, the landsknechts' second-in-command, and a Gascon captain named De Molard, were "cut in two by the same cannonball, as they were talking together between their lines" (Oman, "Art of War", 139). Hall merely notes that the French center was "pounded mercilessly" (Hall, "Weapons and Warfare", 172).]

Not content with bombarding the camp from one side, the French moved to enfilade it from the flanks. [Taylor, "Art of War", 189.] The Duke of Ferarra, who had apparently been acting independently of the main army since the crossing of the Ronco, had moved twenty-four of his cannon around the rear of the French position, finally bringing them up on the left flank, facing Pescara's light cavalry. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 167; Oman, "Art of War", 138–139; Taylor, "Art of War", 209–210. The route taken by d'Este is unclear. Taylor notes that some contemporary accounts, including Pandolfini and Castello, make mention of guns that were moved from the French right to the French center, and that Guicciardini assumes that it was the Duke of Ferrara who was responsible for the move. Taylor, however, believes that Giovio's account, which has d'Este maneuvering independently from the beginning, is more accurate, since his heavy cannon could not be moved across the broken terrain immediately behind the French position. Oman echoes this argument; he writes that, as "no 'point-to-point' movement was possible", d'Este could not have been initially involved with the cannonade on the French right, and must have moved directly to his final position after crossing the river (Oman, "Art of War", 138–139).] From this position, d'Este's guns inflicted heavy casualties on Pescara and Carvajal's cavalry; so intense was the fire that some of it overshot the camp, inflicting casualties on the French troops on the other side. [Oman, "Art of War", 138–139; Taylor, "Art of War", 190. Taylor cites Giovio for the account of d'Este causing casualties on his own side; he notes it as indicating that the Ferrarese guns were able to enfilade the entire length of the Spanish camp.] Yves d'Alègre, meanwhile, had devised a similar plan on the other flank; re-crossing the Ronco with two heavy guns, he positioned them across the river from the Spanish camp—directly to the rear of Colonna's position. [Arnold, "Renaissance at War", 167; Hall, "Weapons and Warfare", 172; Oman, "Art of War", 139–140; Taylor, "Art of War", 189–190, 208. Arnold has d'Alègre move the guns later in the battle, after the cavalry engagement had begun; Hall attributes the move to the Duke of Ferrara instead of d'Alègre.] The fire of these two guns inflicted massive casualties on Colonna's closely-packed cavalry, finally forcing his hand. [Oman, "Art of War", 139–140. Oman notes that Colonna, after his capture, related that he had seen a single cannonball kill thirty-three of his men-at-arms.]

Cavalry engagements

The target of the Spanish attack was the main French cavalry formation, which stood closest to the river, at the end of the French line. The first attack was made by the Spanish rearguard, and was so disorganized that it disintegrated prior to reaching the French. Soon afterwards, the main body of Spanish men-at-arms, supported by the light cavalry under the Fernando d'Avalos, marquis of Pescara, engaged the French gendarmes under de Foix. This quickly became a general cavalry melee as further reinforcements arrived to both forces. The Spanish vanguard, under Fabrizio Colonna, attempted to flank the French, but was engaged and destroyed by Jacques de la Palice, who then joined the main cavalry fight. At this point, much of the remaining Spanish cavalry broke and fled back into the camp, from which they retreated south towards Forlì, accompanied by de Cardona, who had avoided taking part in the fighting.

Infantry attack

The Spanish infantry, meanwhile, had remained inside their entrenchements in their camp, Navarro having refused to follow Colonna out. Here they became the target of an advance by the French infantry, comprised mainly of landsknechts and Gascon archers. Navarro split his forces, sending part of them, together with the Papal infantry, along the embankment of the Ronco, where they broke the Gascon line, and were making considerable headway before being forced to retreat by the arrival of some French cavalry. The main body of Spanish infantry engaged the landsknechts, with the Spanish swordsmen moving under their pikes, coming to hand-strokes with their short cut-and-thrust swords and causing considerable carnage. Colonna, who had returned from the cavalry battle, attacked the rear of the French formation with what remained of his cavalry, and the pikemen began to break and retreat from the camp.


At this point, the French cavalry attacked the Spanish from all directions. The Spanish infantry broke under the assault; and while several thousand managed to reach the riverbank and retreat along it, the majority were killed, and both Colonna and Navarro were taken prisoner. Gaston de Foix, meanwhile, had been informed of the Gascon retreat and had ridden north with a small cavalry detachment. On the embankment, he encountered a company of Spanish infantry trying to retreat, and was killed in the ensuing melee.


Following the death of Gaston de Foix, command of the French army fell to La Palice, who had little interest in pursuing the retreating Spanish forces, preferring instead to return to the siege of Ravenna. The city soon fell, and the French proceeded to thoroughly sack it. However, much of the French army was withdrawn to France following the battle, and La Palice was forced to extricate himself from Italy in August by renewed efforts on the part of the Holy League.

The Spanish forces in Italy were almost entirely destroyed at Ravenna, but Cardona would raise another army and appear in Lombardy in 1513. In the meantime, both Navarro and Colonna would see combat, Colonna in command of an Italian army and Navarro in the service of Francis I of France.




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* Hall, Bert S. "Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics". Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8018-5531-4.
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