Battle of Ravenna (1512)

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Battle of Ravenna (1512)
Part of: Italian Wars
Battle of Ravenna (contemporary illustration)
Battle of Ravenna (contemporary illustration)
date April 11, 1512
place Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna
output French Pyrrhic victory
Parties to the conflict

France Kingdom 1792France France
Duchy of Ferrara

Holy League Spain Papal States
Spain 1506Spain 


Gaston de Foix

Ramon de Cardona

Troop strength
23,000 men 16,000 men

3,000–4,500 killed, including Gaston de Foix, around 4,500 wounded

about 9,000 killed, unknown number wounded

The Battle of Ravenna on April 11, 1512 was a battle in the context of the Italian Wars in the dispute between Louis XII. of France and Pope Julius II. However, the complete victory of the French did not help to secure northern Italy, rather they had to withdraw from the region in August 1512.


In February 1512, the French troops in Italy, for some time under the command of Gaston de Foix , Duke of Nemours , began to conquer the cities of Romagna and Veneto in order to wrest control of these regions from the Holy League . Although he had numerous successes, Gaston de Foix was aware that the invasion of France threatened by King Henry VIII of England would recall a large part of his army to France. Therefore, he urged that the enemy be forced into a decisive battle beforehand. In late March, the French marched eastward from Bologna with Alfonso I d'Este , Duke of Ferrara, and began the siege of Ravenna, which was defended by papal troops.

Alerted by the danger of losing his last fortress in Romagna , Pope Julius II demanded and got an army that set out under the command of Ramón de Cardona , the Spanish viceroy of Naples , to liberate the city. On April 9th ​​they had left Forlí and were moving north along the Ronco River. The next day they reached Molinaccio and were about two kilometers south of the French position, only separated from them by the river. Gaston de Foix, who lacked supplies and who was becoming increasingly nervous about the expected withdrawal order, ordered the attack for the next day.


The strengths, positions and commanders of both armies are unclear, as historians have made different statements on this. The French army positioned itself in an arch east of Cardona's fortified camp; Directly on the river stood 900 heavy riders under the command of Jacques de La Palice and Alfonso d'Este, next to them the bulk of the infantry. According to Charles Oman, it consisted of three units: 3,500 Gascogner crossbowmen , 5,000 Landsknechte under Jacob Empser , and 3,000 Picard and Gascogner under Thomas Bohier , the Seneschal of Normandy . Frederick Taylor mentions only two units: 9,500 Landsknechte under Empser and 8,000 “Gascon archers and Picardy pikemen ” under de Molart. The heavy cavalry of the main field, 780 men, was either under the command of Bohier alone, or von Bohier together with Odet de Foix , Louis d'Ars and Pierre du Terrail . The position of the cavalry is also unclear: after Oman and Thomas Arnold they stood within the arch to the left of the infantry, while Taylor sees them further back, directly on the river. Farther from the French lines - beyond the cavalry to Arnold and Oman, or directly on the flank of the infantry to Taylor - was the rear of the army under Yves d'Alègre. It consisted of around 4,000 men, mostly Italian infantry under Frederigo de Bozzolo , flanked on the extreme left by around 2,000 light cavalry under Gian Bernardo Caracciolo .

The positions of the other side are also under discussion. Oman says that "the arrangement of Cardona's army, although detailed by more than one reporter, is not easy to determine". At the northern end of the camp, near the river, stood the cavalry of the advance guard, consisting of around 670 papal heavy riders under Fabrizio Colonna . Further along the river there were two units of heavy cavalry: the main line, 565 men under the Marquis de La Palude, and the rear guard, 490 men under Alfonso Carvajal . Taylor divides the League's infantry into four blocks: three divisions of Spanish infantry, each consisting of four columns of 500 to 600 men, and a unit of papal infantry, some 2,000 men, under the command of Pedro Navarro; Taylor sees the formation of the infantry staggered parallel to the river, beyond the cavaliers and at right angles to the entrenchments. Oman and Arnold line up the infantry in three rows along the entrenchments; No number is known for the first row, the second is given as 4,000 men, the third with the Spanish foot soldiers and 2,000 papal infantrymen was intended as a reserve. Beyond the infantry - at the end remote from the river to Taylor, at the end of the row after Oman and Arnold - the light cavalry, consisting of 1,500 to 1,700 Spanish jinetes (riders) and mounted Italian arquebusiers, was under the command of Fernando d'Avalos , the Marquis of Pescara (see also Avalos ).

Artillery battle

The advancing French troops stopped about 200 paces from the enemy lines. The sporadic artillery fire that had started when the French began crossing the river now turned into a sustained duel that lasted over two hours. The open exchange of blows through artillery fire was "the most brutal cannonade between two armies in the field that the world had seen so far" (Taylor) and "the first of its kind in historical reports" (Bert Hall).

Gaston de Foix placed the bulk of his artillery in front of the French right wing and directed fire into the League camp. Navarro ordered his infantry to take cover - the soldiers hid in trenches or lay down on the slope facing the river - but Colonna's heavy cavalry had no way to take cover and suffered heavy losses from cannon fire. The Spanish artillery, on the other hand, ignored the French cavalry and aimed their fire at the massed Gascogner and mercenary in the French center. The Spanish fire was, according to Oman, "immensely fatal", the losses among the French infantrymen were substantial, more than 2000 men were killed and the Gascogner were so shaken by the artillery that the mercenaries had to force them with their pikes on the Stay box.

Dissatisfied with the shelling of the camp from one side, the French began attacking it from the flanks. The Duke of Ferrara, who apparently acted independently of the main army after crossing the river, had put 24 of his cannons behind the ranks of the French on the left wing, and was there facing Pescara's light cavalry. From this position, Estes guns inflicted heavy losses on the cavalry Pescaras and Carvajals; the fire was so strong that it sometimes even extended beyond the camp and hit French troops on the other side. Yves d'Alègre had developed a similar plan on the other flank; with two heavy cannons he crossed the Ronco again and positioned them directly behind Colonna's position. The fire of these two guns led to massive losses in Colonna's close-knit cavalry.

Cavalry attacks

The target of the Spanish attack was the main line of the French cavalry immediately on the river at the end of the French lines. The first attack came from the Spanish rearguard and was so poorly prepared that it collapsed before it reached the French. A little later, the main part of the heavy Spanish cavalry attacked Gaston de Foix and his men with the support of the light cavalry under Fernando d'Avalos. This quickly became a mess until reinforcements arrived on both sides. The Spanish vanguard under Fabrizio Colonna tried to attack the French in the flank, but was stopped and destroyed by Jacque de la Palice, who then joined the central equestrian battle. At this point a large part of the Spanish cavalry broke in and fled back to the camp, from where they retreated south, towards Forlí. With them was Cardona, who had avoided taking part in the fighting at all.

Infantry attack

The Spanish infantry had so far remained behind the entrenchments in their camp, Navarro had refused to follow Colonna into battle. Now they were the target of an advance by the French infantry, especially the mercenaries and the Gascognic archers. Navarro divided his forces and sent some of his men along with the papal infantry along the river, where they broke the Gascogn lines and made considerable land gain before they were forced to retreat by the arrival of French cavalry. The main part of the Spanish infantry fought with the mercenaries, the Spanish tobogganers (swordsmen) dived from under the pikes and caused a considerable bloodbath. Colonna, returning from the cavalry battle, attacked the rear of the French lines with the remains of his cavalry, the pikemen began to stagger and withdrew.

Final offensive

The death of Gaston de Foix in the Battle of Ravenna.
Ary Scheffer , oil on canvas, around 1824

Now the French cavalry attacked the Spaniards from all sides. The Spanish infantry collapsed under the attacks, and while several thousand managed to reach the river and retreat along it, the majority were killed. Colonna and Navarre fell captive. Gaston de Foix had been informed of the Gascognic retreat and rode north with a small group. On the river he met Spanish infantry in retreat and was killed in the following battle.


After the death of Gaston de Foix, La Palice took command, showing little interest in pursuing the retreating Spaniards and instead turned back to the siege of Ravenna. The city soon fell and was sacked by the French. After the battle, large parts of the army were recalled to France, and La Palice was also forced to withdraw from Italy in August following renewed attacks by the Holy League.

The Spanish army in Italy had been almost completely wiped out at Ravenna, but Cardona raised a new army with which he moved to Lombardy in 1513 . In the meantime, Navarro and Colonna were released, Colonna took command of an Italian army, and Navarro entered the service of the French.


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Individual evidence

  1. ^ 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 Guicciardinis and Pandolfinis reports for the positions, and on the Sanutos report for strengths , but notes that Sanuto obviously shows the nominal strengths of both armies and not the actual number of soldiers. Oman also follows Sanuto's information, especially since he considers them to be “more credible than later information on details and numbers that Guicciardini and others make” (Oman, Art of War , 134).
  2. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166; Oman, Art of War , 134-135, 143; Taylor, Art of War , 182. Taylor speaks of 910 men
  3. Oman, Art of War , 134–135, 143. Arnold gives the same position, but does not mention strengths or commanders (Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166)
  4. Taylor, Art of War , 183
  5. ^ Oman, Art of War , 134; Taylor, Art of War , 182-183. Taylor only names Bohier as the commander, while Oman names all four
  6. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166; Oman, Art of War , 134-136, 143; Taylor, Art of War , 182-183, 207. Taylor follows Guicciardini's account here. Oman acknowledges this point with Guicciardini, but considers it "difficult to reconcile this with details of the later struggles as they are narrated by other authors"; he believes that "it is more likely that they were in the center of the arrangement" (Oman, Art of War , 135-136)
  7. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166; Oman, Art of War , 134-136, 143; Taylor, Art of War , 183
  8. Oman, Art of War , 134-136, 143; Taylor, Art of War , 183. According to Oman, the light cavalry also included 300 mounted arquebusiers from Ferrara as well as mounted French crossbowmen and Stradioti . Taylor also mentions around 1,000 archers on foot with the light cavalry, Oman another 300 heavy riders under d'Alègre
  9. ^ Oman, Art of War , 137
  10. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166; Oman, Art of War , 137, 143; Taylor, Art of War , 184. The papal cavalry was positioned near the breakthroughs in the river bank's entrenchment
  11. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166; Oman, Art of War , 137-138, 143; Taylor, Art of War , 184
  12. ^ Taylor, Art of War , 184. The papal infantry is the third unit in this column, between the last two Spanish divisions. After Taylor, Carvajal's cavalry was behind the last of these units
  13. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166; Oman, Art of War , 137-138, 143. Oman mentions that Guicciardini gives the strength of the papal infantry with 4,000 men, but thinks it “perhaps an exaggeration”. Several people come into question as commander of the papal troops: after Fabrizio and Bayard, “a captain named Ramassot”, after Kochlein “Cornelio Ramaeo from Bologna”, “Hernan Nagote” according to Spanish sources; Oman notes that it is "otherwise unknown". (Oman, Art of War , 138)
  14. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 166; Oman, Art of War , 137, 143; Taylor, Art of War , 184. The lower numbers come from Taylor, the higher from Oman
  15. ^ Taylor, Art of War , 188
  16. Black, European Warfare , 73-74; Hall, Weapons and Warfare , 172; Oman, Art of War , 138; Taylor, Art of War , 187-188. Taylor gives some descriptions of the duration of the cannonade from contemporary sources; According to Fabrizio Colonna, Jacopo Guicciardini, Francesco Guicciardini, Coccinius, and the Rélacion , the bombardment lasted two hours, while Pandolfini and Floranges speak of three hours. Black speaks of "unprecedented duration" (Black, European Warfare , 74)
  17. ^ Hall, Weapons and Warfare , 172; Oman, Art of War , 138; Taylor, Art of War , 188.
  18. ^ Oman, Art of War , 138.
  19. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 167; Hall, Weapons and Warfare , 172; Oman, Art of War , 138; Taylor, Art of War , 188-189
  20. ^ Hall, Weapons and Warfare , 172; Oman, Art of War , 139; Taylor, Art of War , 189.
  21. ^ Oman, Art of War , 139; Taylor, Art of War , 189. Oman cites the reports of Coccinius, Bayard, and Floranges on the losses; he points out that Coccinius "is quite propagandistic in praising the steadfastness of his compatriots, while devaluing that of the French" (Oman, Art of War , 139). According to Oman, Coccinius and Bayard report that Philipp von Freiberg , the Vice-Commander of the Landsknechte, and a Gascognic captain named de Molard "were cut in two by the same cannonball when they spoke between their ranks" (Oman, Art of War , 139) . Hall notes that the French center was "mercilessly under attack" (Hall, Weapons and Warfare , 172)
  22. ^ Taylor, Art of War , 189
  23. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 167; Oman, Art of War , 138-139; Taylor, Art of War , 209-210. The path Este chose is not clear. Taylor points out that some contemporary accounts, including Pandolfini and Castello, mention guns brought to the center by the French right-wing, and that Guicciardini believes the Duke of Ferrara was responsible for this maneuver. Taylor, on the other hand, believes that Giovio's report that Este's actions were independent of those of the others from the start is more accurate, as he could not easily have guided his heavy cannon over the troubled terrain behind the French lines. Oman agrees, and writes that “no point-to-point movement was possible”, Este could not have been involved in the cannonade on the French right-hand side from the start, and immediately after crossing the river to move to its final position (Oman, Art of War , 138-139)
  24. Oman, Art of War , 138-139; Taylor, Art of War , 190. Taylor cites Giovio, who reports that Este generated losses within their own ranks, also to indicate that their guns were able to sweep the entire length of the Spanish camp
  25. ^ Arnold, Renaissance at War , 167; Hall, Weapons and Warfare , 172; Oman, Art of War , 139-140; Taylor, Art of War , 189–190, 208. With Arnold, Alègre does not change location until later, after the cavalry attacks have started; Hall assigns this maneuver to the Duke of Ferrara
  26. Oman, Art of War , 139-140. Oman mentions that after his capture, Colonna saw a single cannonball kill 33 of his gunmen