John Hawkwood

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
John Hawkwood, fresco in Florence Cathedral

Sir John Hawkwood , known in Italy as Giovanni Acuto , (* around 1320 in Sible Hedingham near Colchester , Essex ; † March 16, 1394 in Florence ) was an Italian condottiere of English origin who, after 1360, with his mercenaries, the "White Company" ( White Company), which significantly influenced the war in Italy. He left the example of a successful mercenary leader in Italy and served as a model for future Italian condottieri such as Francesco Sforza or Bartolomeo Colleoni .


1320 to 1360

Little is known about the early life of the most successful mercenary leader of the 14th century. Only the records of the chroniclers Filippo Villani and Jean Froissart , who refer to the statements of Hawkwood, have survived. Accordingly, he grew up as the second born of a land-rich tanner. After his father died around 1340, Hawkwood's older brother inherited the tannery and estate. About twenty-year-old John was only granted one-year right of residence on his parents' property and inherited some money.

A little later, John moved to London, where he may have worked as a tailor for a short time before taking the opportunity to join the Edward III army. to connect. Since Hawkwood later proudly and often propagated his rise from simple tailor apprentice to successful mercenary leader, he was possibly also the historical model for the " brave little tailor ". Is very likely that he archer under the command of John de Vere and William de Bohun the Hundred Years' War took part between England and France, and also in the battles of Crecy (1346) and Maupertuis fought (1356). It is uncertain whether the soldier, hardened during the war, received his accolade from Edward III. or Edward, the "Black Prince" or whether he made himself a knight with the support of his troops . With the Peace of Brétigny concluded in 1360 , the first phase of the Hundred Years War ended and the English king released most of his troops from their military obligations.

1360 to 1377

John Hawkwood, whose life and career has been documented since 1360, took over the leadership of the "White Company" that year, a special unit consisting of 3500 horsemen and 2000 English and Breton archers. The company got its name from its white banners, white tunics and highly polished breastplates that dazzled the enemy. Hawkwood used his mercenaries for the first time in Burgundy, before they besieged papal Avignon in 1361 in the army of the "Great Company" (see also: Grandes Compagnies ) . However, the siege was ended after the payment of a considerable sum of money and the "White Company" withdrew in an orderly manner.

After the mercenaries appeared a little later in Lombardy , their cruelty only spread terror and horror. For the next thirty years, the English mercenaries in Italy were considered "insidious and extremely evil," and John Hawkwood himself was the subject of a mixture of fear and respect: "An Italianized Englishman is the devil incarnate." The English condottiere , who the Italians soon only called Giovanni Acuto, from l'Acuto (the passionate), was already able to demand the highest wages for his services in the 1360s and always made his company available to the most affluent princes and cities. If the agreed sum was not paid or only partially paid, he forced his clients by looting to meet their payment obligations. For the next thirty years, his English archers were considered insurmountable specialists who shot six arrows per minute with their longbows , which easily pierced their opponents' mail shirts. Some of his master marksmen even managed 20 rounds per minute. The robust English proved to be brave, fast and weatherproof, and soon they were simply called "the lions".

In 1362/63 Hawkwood's mercenaries were in the service of Giovannis II (* 1321), the Marquis of Montferrat who ruled from 1338 to 1372 , who waged war against the Visconti , the rulers of Milan . As early as 1363/64 Hawkwood fought in the rank of general captain for Pisa against Florence , which Pandolfo II. Malatesta (1325-1373) had hired as condottiere, but who, after a failed attempt to gain control of Florence, was succeeded by his uncle Galeotto I. Malatesta (1299-1385), the lord of Rimini , was replaced, who was defeated in July 1364 by the "White Company" at Cascina for the first time in Italy.

In 1367 John Hawkwood accompanied the city lord of Pisa, Giovanni Agnello, when he received Urban V , who came ashore by ship from Marseille in Livorno and from there moved to Rome . In 1368 the “White Company” was in the service of Bernabò Visconti , who needed the mercenaries to repel the Florentine troops advancing into Lombardy and who sent them against the Pope at the beginning of the following year. The fact that John Hawkwood attended the wedding of Bernabò's niece Violante († 1382) with Lionel of Antwerp , the second eldest son of the English King Edward III, in early 1368 , expressed above all the social recognition and importance of the now powerful Condottiere.

In 1369 the English fought for Perugia against Pope Urban V, from 1370 to 1372 again for the Visconti from Milan against Pisa, Florence and the Margrave of Montferrat, before entering the service of Gregory XI in early 1373 . entered to attack the rulers of Milan on his behalf. The English mercenaries defeated in the battle of Montichiari as an ally of the papal general Enguerrand VII. De Coucy  - a son-in-law of the English king Edward III. - the troops of Gian Galeazzo Visconti .

Also on behalf of the Pope, the cruel capture of the insubordinate city of Faenza in Romagna took place , during which 11,000 male residents were expelled and the remaining women and girls were raped by the mercenaries. These atrocities prompted Catherine of Siena to write the following letter to John Hawkwood: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I implore you, as God and our Most Holy Father has commanded to go against the unbelievers and you take such great pleasure in waging war and to quarrel, no longer fight Christians, which is a great cruelty and a sin against God, who does not want members that he has united in the body of the Holy Church to be lacerated, but goes where the enemies of God are The reproached condottiere publicly vowed improvement to the mystic, who was canonized in 1461, but in fact he never thought of changing his actions.

Instead, he enjoyed the two goods Bagnacavallo and Cotignola in Romagna, which he had received from the Pope, and which he sold around 1380 for 60,000 guilders. In 1375 Gregory XI commissioned him to attack Florence. The Florentines, threatened by famine due to their devastated wheat fields, convinced the Condottiere with a generous 130,000 gold guilders not to take action against their city. The enterprising mercenary concluded similar agreements with the cities of Siena , Arezzo , Pisa and Lucca , earning a further 95,000 gold florins.

1377 to 1394

A particularly dark chapter in Hawkwood's career was that of February 1377 for Gregory XI. and under the orders of Cardinal Robert of Geneva (antipope Clement VII) there was a bloody conquest of the stubborn city of Cesena . Although Hawkwood managed to get 1,000 women and girls to safety in Rimini, between 4,000 and 5,000 people fell victim to the Soldateska instigated by the cardinal. Countless art treasures were also destroyed. This cruel orgy of blood aroused the public in the 14th century too, and Robert of Geneva retained the reputation of a mass murderer throughout his life.

A legend is surely that after the Cesena massacre, John Hawkwood is said to have cut a nun in two, over which two of his soldiers fought and to each of which he had half of the dead handed over. At first sight, however, the English mercenary leader was not interested in killing people, destroying cities or devastating landscapes; he was only interested in pay. “Therefore I beg you, Messer Giovanni Condotierre, sweetly, since you find your delight in war and struggle, no longer wage war against Christians, because that offends God. Pull against the Turks so that you will no longer be a servant and soldier of the devil, but a male and true knight, ”wrote Catherine of Siena, who was angry at the Cesena massacre.

After Cesena, Hawkwood entered the service of Bernabò Visconti, who granted him an annual income of 250,000 guilders and whose illegitimate daughter Donnina he was allowed to marry. Bernabò Visconti had married five of his illegitimate daughters to leading condottieri. However, disputes and betrayal soon led to a break between the Milanese ruler and his Condotierre, who in 1377 concluded a contract with the new Florentine gonfalonier Salvestro de 'Medici and took up his new residence in San Donata near Florence. His new employers appointed him Capitano del popolo , with an annual salary of 130,000 gold dukats .

In Florentine service he fought first on the side of Milan against the Pope and in 1378 and 1379 at the head of an anti-Milan alliance against the Visconti. In 1381 John Hawkwood stayed in Rome as envoy of the English King Richard II . In 1382/83 he supported the Neapolitan King Charles III in the Florentine order . of Durazzo against Louis of Anjou . In 1387 Hawkwood was loaned again, this time he went to war for Francesco Carrara († 1393), until 1388 ruler of Padua against Antonio della Scala (1362-1388), Lord of Verona . He succeeded in defeating the opposing condottiere Giovanni Ordelaffi (1355-1399) in the Battle of Castagnaro on the west bank of the Adige and capturing 4,600 knights and 800 soldiers.

In 1391 John Hawkwood began, together with the Frenchman Jean III, who was hired by Florence . d'Armagnac , the older brother of Bernard VII. d'Armagnac , who later became a connétable of France , made his last campaign against Milan. However, the recklessness of Jeans III moved. a victory for the opposing general Jacopo dal Varme (1350–1409) is within reach. However, Hawkwood managed with his troops to escape the Milanese, so that in early 1392 a peace treaty acceptable to Florence could be signed.

The grateful Florentines rewarded their over seventy-year-old generals with the citizenship of their city. His son and he were also guaranteed lifelong tax exemption, his two daughters were granted 2,000 guilders dowry each and his wife was granted a widow's pension of 9,000 guilders. Hawkwood already owned extensive estates in Romagna and Tuscany at this point, and he was also the owner of a castle in Montecchio Vesponi. Although highly respected by his fellow Florentine citizens, Hawkwood planned his return to England, but he died during the preparations on March 16, 1394 in Florence. The city paid for a fresco in the Florentine Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore , where he was given a magnificent tomb in the left aisle. Paolo Uccello (1397–1475) later created an equestrian statue with the inscription "johannes acutus, eques Britannicus". The English King Richard II had Hawkwood's bones transferred to Essex in 1397.

John Hawkwood was married twice. From his first marriage - still closed in England - two sons and three daughters come, one of whom was the ancestor of the poet Percy B. Shelley (1792-1822). The second marriage to Donnina Visconti has two daughters and a son. The older daughter married the Podesta von Ferrara , the younger the German condottiere Conrad Prospergh . The son John moved to England in 1397 as a successful businessman.


  • William Caferro: John Hawkwood. An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD 2006, ISBN 0-8018-8323-7 .
  • William Caferro:  John Hawkwood (Giovanni Acuto). In: Mario Caravale (ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 61:  Guglielmo Gonzaga-Jacobini. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 2003.
  • Kenneth Fowler: Sir John Hawkwood and the English condottieri in Trecento Italy. In: Renaissance Studies. 12, 1, 1998, ISSN  0269-1213 , pp. 131-148.
  • Kenneth Fowler: Hawkwood, Sir John (d.1394) . In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004; Online version October 2009.
  • Frances S. Saunders: Hawkwood. The diabolical englishman. Faber & Faber, London 2004, ISBN 0-571-21908-X .
  • John Temple Leader, Giuseppe Marcotti: Sir John Hawkwood. Story of a Condottiere. Fisher, London 1889.
  • Ernst Piper : The uprising de Ciompi. About the "tumult" that the wool workers instigated in Florence during the early Renaissance. New edition. Wagenbach, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-8031-2175-2 ( Wagenbach's pocket library 175).
  • Klaus Schelle: The Sforza. Peasants, condottieri, dukes. The history of the renaissance family. Magnus-Verlag, Essen 1980, ISBN 3-88400-099-3 .
  • Geoffrey Trease : The Condottieri. Mercenary leaders, soldiers of fortune and renaissance princes. Callwey, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-7667-0308-0 .

Individual evidence

  1. Trease, p. 272
  2. a b Schelle, p. 64
  3. Trease, p 381
  4. Casimir Bumiller: History of the Swabian Alb. From the ice age to the present . Casimir Katz Verlag, Gernsbach 2008, ISBN 978-3-938047-41-5 . , P. 120 in the chapter on "Swabian Knights in Italy"