The Battle of Bicocca or La Bicocca (Italian: Battaglia della Bicocca) was fought on 27 April 1522, during the Italian War of 1521–26. A combined French and Venetian force under Odet of Foix, Viscount of Lautrec, was decisively defeated by an Imperial–Spanish and Papal army under the overall command of Prospero Colonna. Lautrec then withdrew from Lombardy, leaving the Duchy of Milan in Imperial hands.
Having been driven from Milan by an Imperial advance in late 1521, Lautrec had regrouped, attempting to strike at Colonna's lines of communication. When the Swiss mercenaries in French service did not receive their pay, however, they demanded an immediate battle, and Lautrec was forced to attack Colonna's fortified position in the park of the Arcimboldi Villa Bicocca, north of Milan. The Swiss pikemen advanced over open fields under heavy artillery fire to assault the Imperial positions, but were halted at a sunken road backed by earthworks. Having suffered massive casualties from the fire of Spanish arquebusiers, the Swiss retreated. Meanwhile, an attempt by French cavalry to flank Colonna's position proved equally ineffective. The Swiss, unwilling to fight further, marched off to their cantons a few days later, and Lautrec retreated into Venetian territory with the remnants of his army.
The battle is noted chiefly for marking the end of the Swiss dominance among the infantry of the Italian Wars, and of the Swiss method of assaults by massed columns of pikemen without support from other troops. It was also one of the first engagements in which firearms played a decisive role on the battlefield.
|Battle of Bicocca|
|Part of the Italian War of 1521–26|
Lombardy in 1522. The location of the battle is marked.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
At the start of the war in 1521, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Leo X moved jointly against the Duchy of Milan, the principal French possession in Lombardy. A large Papal force under Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, together with Spanish troops from Naples and some smaller Italian contingents, concentrated near Mantua. The German forces which Charles sent south to aid this venture passed through Venetian territory near Valeggio unmolested; the combined Papal, Spanish, and Imperial army then proceeded into French territory under the command of Prospero Colonna. For the next several months, Colonna fought an evasive war of maneuver against Odet of Foix, Viscount of Lautrec, the French commander, besieging cities but refusing to give battle.
By the autumn of 1521, Lautrec, who was holding a line along the Adda river to Cremona, began to suffer massive losses from desertion, particularly among his Swiss mercenaries. Colonna took the opportunity this offered and, advancing close to the Alps, crossed the Adda at Vaprio; Lautrec, lacking infantry and assuming the year's campaign to be over, withdrew to Milan. Colonna had no intention of stopping his advance, however. On the night of November 23, he launched a surprise attack on the city, overwhelming the Venetian troops defending one of the walls. Following some abortive street-fighting, Lautrec withdrew to Cremona with about 12,000 men.
By January 1522, the French had lost Alessandria, Pavia, and Como; and Francesco II Sforza, bringing further German reinforcements, had slipped past a Venetian force at Bergamo to join Colonna in Milan. Lautrec had meanwhile been reinforced by the arrival of 16,000 fresh Swiss pikemen and some further Venetian forces, as well as additional companies of French troops under the command of Thomas de Foix-Lescun and Pedro Navarro; he had also secured the services of the condottiere Giovanni de' Medici, who brought his Black Bands into the French service. The French proceeded to attack Novara and Pavia, hoping to draw Colonna into a decisive battle. Colonna, leaving Milan, fortified himself in the monastery of Certosa south of the city. Considering this position to be too strong to be easily assaulted, Lautrec attempted instead to threaten Colonna's lines of communication by sweeping around Milan to Monza, cutting the roads from the city into the Alps.
Lautrec was suddenly confronted, however, with the intransigence of the Swiss, who formed the largest contingent of the French army. They complained that they had not received any of the pay promised them since their arrival in Lombardy. The Swiss captains, led by Albert von Stein, demanded that Lautrec attack the Imperial army immediately—else the mercenaries would abandon the French and return to their cantons. Lautrec reluctantly acquiesced and marched south towards Milan.
Colonna had meanwhile relocated to a formidable new position: the manor park of Bicocca, about four miles (6 km) north of Milan. The park was situated between a large expanse of marshy ground to the west and the main road into Milan to the east; along this road ran a deep wet ditch, which was crossed by a narrow stone bridge some distance south of the park. The north side of the park was bordered by a sunken road; Colonna deepened this and constructed an earthen rampart on the southern bank. The Imperial artillery, placed on several platforms jutting forward from the earthworks, was able to sweep the fields north of the park as well as parts of the sunken road itself. The entire length of the north side of the park was less than 600 yards (550 m), which permitted Colonna to place his troops quite densely. Immediately behind the rampart were four ranks of Spanish arquebusiers, commanded by Fernando d'Avalos, Marquess of Pescara; they were backed by Spanish pikemen and German landsknechts under Georg Frundsberg. Most of the Imperial cavalry was placed at the south end of the park, far behind the infantry; a separate force of cavalry was positioned to the south, guarding the bridge.
On the evening of 26 April, Lautrec sent a force of about 400 cavalry under the Sieur de Pontdormy to reconnoiter the Imperial positions. The patrol reported that the ground was cut by irrigation ditches and ill-suited for maneuvering, but this failed to dissuade the Swiss. Colonna, having observed the French presence, sent messengers to Milan to request reinforcements; Francesco Sforza arrived the next morning with 6,400 additional troops, joining the cavalry near the bridge to the south of Colonna's camp.
At dawn on 27 April, Lautrec began his attack. The Black Bands brushed aside the Spanish pickets, clearing the ground before the Imperial positions. The French advance was headed by two columns of Swiss, each comprising about 4,000 to 7,000 men, accompanied by some artillery; this party was to assault the entrenched front of the Imperial camp directly. Lescun, meanwhile, led a body of cavalry south along the Milan road, intending to flank the camp and strike at the bridge to the rear. The remainder of the French army, including the French infantry, the bulk of the heavy cavalry, and the remnants of the Swiss, formed up in a broad line some distance behind the two Swiss columns; behind this was a third line, composed of the Venetian forces under Francesco Maria della Rovere, the Duke of Urbino.
The overall command of the Swiss assault was given to Anne de Montmorency. As the Swiss columns advanced towards the park, he ordered them to pause and wait for the French artillery to bombard the Imperial defences, but the Swiss refused to obey. Perhaps the Swiss captains doubted that the artillery would have any effect on the earthworks; historian Charles Oman suggests that it is more likely they were "inspired by blind pugnacity and self-confidence". In any case, the Swiss moved rapidly towards Colonna's position, leaving the artillery behind. There was apparently some rivalry between the two columns, as one, commanded by Arnold Winkelried of Unterwalden, was composed of men from the rural cantons, while the other, under Albert von Stein, consisted of the contingents from Bern and the urban cantons. The advancing Swiss quickly came into range of the Imperial artillery. Unable to take cover on the level fields, they began to take substantial casualties; as many as a thousand Swiss may have been killed by the time the columns reached the Imperial lines.
The Swiss came to a sudden halt as the columns reached the sunken road in front of the park; the depth of the road and the height of the rampart behind it—together higher than the length of the Swiss pikes—effectively blocked their advance. Moving down into the road, the Swiss suffered massive casualties from the fire of d'Avalos's arquebusiers. Nevertheless, the Swiss made a series of desperate attempts to breach the Imperial line. Some parties managed to reach the top of the rampart, only to be met by the landsknechts, who had come up from behind the arquebusiers. One of the Swiss captains was apparently killed by Frundsberg in single combat; and the Swiss, unable to form up atop the earthworks, were pushed back down into the sunken road. After attempting to move forward for about half an hour, the remnants of the Swiss columns retreated back towards the main French line. In the fields which they had crossed and before the rampart, they left more than 3,000 dead; among these were twenty-two captains, including both Winkelried and Albert von Stein. Of the French nobles who had accompanied the Swiss assault, only Montmorency survived.
Lescun, with about 400 heavy cavalry under his command, had meanwhile reached the bridge south of the park and fought his way across it and into the Imperial camp beyond. Colonna responded by detaching some cavalry under Antonio de Leyva to halt the French advance, while Francesco Sforza came up the road towards the bridge, aiming to surround Lescun. Pontdormy held off the Milanese, allowing Lescun to extricate himself from the camp; the French cavalry then retraced its path and rejoined the main body of the army.
Despite the urging of d'Avalos and several other Imperial commanders, Colonna refused to order a general attack on the French, pointing out that much of Lautrec's army—including the bulk of his cavalry—was still intact. Colonna suggested that the French were already beaten, and would soon withdraw; this assessment was shared by Frundsberg. Nevertheless, some small groups of Spanish arquebusiers and light cavalry attempted to pursue the withdrawing Swiss, only to be beaten back by the Black Bands, which were covering the removal of the French artillery from the field.
Colonna's judgement proved to be accurate. The Swiss were unwilling to make another assault, and marched for home on 30 April. Lautrec, believing that his resulting weakness in infantry made a further campaign impossible, retreated to the east, crossing the Adda into Venetian territory at Trezzo. Having reached Cremona, Lautrec left Lescun in command of the remnants of the French army and rode unescorted to Lyon, to make his report to Francis I.
Lautrec's departure heralded a complete collapse of the French position in northern Italy. No longer menaced by the French army, Colonna and d'Avalos marched on Genoa, capturing it after a brief siege. Lescun, learning of the loss of Genoa, arranged an agreement with Francesco Sforza by which the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, which still remained in French hands, surrendered, and the remainder of the French forces withdrew over the Alps. The Venetians, under the newly elected Doge Andrea Gritti, were no longer interested in continuing the war; in July 1523, Gritti concluded the Treaty of Worms with Charles V, removing the Republic from the fighting. The French would make two further attempts to regain Lombardy before the end of the war, but neither would be successful; the terms of the Treaty of Madrid, which Francis was forced to sign after his defeat at the Battle of Pavia, would leave Italy in Imperial hands.
Another effect of the battle was the changed attitude of the Swiss. Francesco Guicciardini wrote of the aftermath of Bicocca:
They went back to their mountains diminished in numbers, but much more diminished in audacity; for it is certain that the losses which they suffered at Bicocca so affected them that in the coming years they no longer displayed their wonted vigour.
While Swiss mercenaries would continue to take part in the Italian Wars, they no longer possessed the willingness to make headlong attacks that they had at Novara in 1513 or Marignano in 1515; their performance at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 would surprise observers by its lack of initiative.
More generally, the battle made apparent the decisive role of small arms on the battlefield. Although the full capabilities of the arquebus would not be demonstrated until the Battle of the Sesia (where arquebusiers would prevail against heavy cavalry on open ground) two years later, the weapon nevertheless became a sine qua non for any army which did not wish to grant a massive advantage to its opponents. While the pikeman would continue to play a vital role in warfare, it would be equal to that of the arquebusier; together, the two types of infantry would be combined into the so-called "pike and shot" units that would endure until the development of the bayonet at the end of the seventeenth century. The offensive doctrine of the Swiss—a "push of pike" unsupported by firearms—had become obsolete. Indeed, offensive doctrines in general were increasingly replaced with defensive ones; the combination of the arquebus and effective field fortification had made frontal assaults on entrenched positions too costly to be practical, and they were not attempted again for the duration of the Italian Wars.
Year 1522 (MDXXII) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar.1523 papal conclave
The papal conclave of 1523 elected Giulio de' Medici as Pope Clement VII to succeed Pope Adrian VI. According to conclave historian Baumgartner, the conclave was the "last conclave of the Renaissance".Albert von Stein
Albert von Stein (fl. 1513–22) was a Swiss mercenary captain. During the War of the League of Cambrai, having arrived late to the Battle of Novara, he abandoned the Swiss army before the Battle of Marignano. In 1522, he was the chief of the Swiss captains in the service of Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec, and was killed commanding one of the Swiss columns at the Battle of Bicocca during the Italian War of 1521-26.Antonio Grimani
Antonio Grimani (28 December 1434 – 7 May 1523) was the Doge of Venice from 1521 to 1523.Antoniotto II Adorno
Antoniotto II Adorno (c. 1479 – 12 September 1528) was Doge of Genoa from 1522 to 1527.
An enemy of doge Giano II di Campofregoso, in 1512 he allied with King Louis XII of France in the course of the Italian Wars between France and Spain, and attacked Genoa. The defeat suffered by the French at Novara forced him to take refuge in Milan. Antoniotto tried two further attacks against Genoa in 1513 and 1514, both without success.
When the new doge, Ottaviano di Campofregoso, during the French occupation of Lombardy (September 1515), allied with Francis I of France, Antoniotto switched to the Spanish party. The Spanish victory at the battle of Bicocca (1522) granted him the position of doge. In the same year he had the port of Savona destroyed in retaliation for their rebellion against the Republic of Genoa. He held the title, with little popular support, for five years until, attacked by the French general Odet de Foix and by Andrea Doria, he left Genoa.
He retired to Milan, where he died in 1528.Battle of Novara (1849)
The Battle of Novara (or Battle of Bicocca; Bicocca being a borough of Novara) was one of the battles fought between the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia during the First Italian War of Independence, within the era of Italian unification. Lasting the whole day of 22 March 1849 and ending at dawn on 23 March, it resulted in a severe defeat and retreat of the Piedmontese (Sardinian) army.Battle of the Sesia (1524)
The Battle of the Sesia or Battle of the Sesia River, took place near the Sesia River (Latin: Sesites or Sessite), situated in north-western Italy, Lombardy, on 30 April 1524, where the Imperial–Spanish forces commanded by Don Carlos de Lannoy, inflicted a decisive defeat to the French forces under the Admiral Guillaume Gouffier, Lord of Bonnivet and Francis de Bourbon, Comte de St. Pol, during the Italian War of 1521–1526.Fernando d'Ávalos
Fernando Francesco d'Ávalos, 5th marquis of Pescara (or Ferrante Francesco d'Ávalos; Spanish: Francisco Fernando de Ávalos, (11 November 1489), – December 3, 1525), was an Italian condottiero of Aragonese extraction. He was an important figure of the Italian Wars: in the Battle of Ravenna in 1512 he was taken prisoner by the French, but was released at the conclusion of the War of the League of Cambrai. He was the chief commander of the Habsburg armies of Charles V in Italy during the Habsburg-Valois Wars and defeated the French at Bicocca and Pavia.Francesco II Sforza
Francesco II Sforza (February 4, 1495 – October 24, 1535) was Duke of Milan from 1521 until his death. He was the last member of the Sforza family to rule Milan.
He was the second son of Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d'Este. When Ludovico was ousted from Milan in the course of the Italian Wars, he brought Francesco with him to the court of the Emperor Maximilian I, who had married a Sforza, Francesco's cousin Bianca Maria. Francesco was assigned to an ecclesiastical career. His father was imprisoned in Loches by Louis XII of France, and died in 1508, but when Charles V re-conquered Milan from the French in 1521, Francesco was appointed its duke, the last of the family to hold that title. His sovereignty, however, remained circumscribed by the military occupation of Milan by Spanish troops.He returned to his state, depleted by twenty years of combat, promoting a cultural and economic recovery. Francesco fought at the Battle of Bicocca, on the side of the emperor, in 1522. In 1526 he switched sides, joining the League of Cognac, together with Francis I of France, Pope Clement VII and the Republic of Florence, and was besieged in the Castello Sforzesco.
On May 4, 1534 he married the 12-year-old niece of Charles V, Christina of Denmark, the daughter of Christian II of Denmark and Isabella of Burgundy. The union remained childless. His death in 1535 sparked the Italian War of 1535. His half-brother Giovanni Paolo reclaimed briefly the Duchy of Milan after his death, but died in the same year under mysterious circumstances.Franco-Hungarian alliance in 1528
A Franco-Hungarian alliance was formed in October 1528 between Francis I of France and John Zápolya, king of Hungary.Françoise de Foix
Françoise de Foix, Comtesse de Châteaubriant (c. 1495 – 16 October 1537) was a chief mistress of Francis I of France.Italian War of 1521–1526
The Italian War of 1521–26, sometimes known as the Four Years' War, was a part of the Italian Wars. The war pitted Francis I of France and the Republic of Venice against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Henry VIII of England, and the Papal States. The conflict arose from animosity over the election of Charles as Emperor in 1519–20 and from Pope Leo X's need to ally with Charles against Martin Luther.
The war broke out across Western Europe late in 1521, when a French–Navarrese expedition attempted to reconquer Navarre while a French army invaded the Low Countries. A Spanish army drove the Navarrese forces back into the Pyrenees, and other Imperial forces attacked northern France, where they were stopped in turn.
The Pope, the Emperor, and Henry VIII then signed a formal alliance against France, and hostilities resumed on the Italian Peninsula; but, with the attention of both Francis and Charles focused on the battleground in northeast France, the conflict in Italy became something of a sideshow. At the Battle of Bicocca on 27 April 1522, Imperial and Papal forces defeated the French, driving them from Lombardy. Following the battle, fighting again spilled onto French soil, while Venice made a separate peace. The English invaded France in 1523, while Charles de Bourbon, alienated by Francis's attempts to seize his inheritance, betrayed Francis and allied himself with the Emperor. A French attempt to regain Lombardy in 1524 failed and provided Bourbon with an opportunity to invade Provence at the head of a Spanish army.
Francis himself led a second attack on Milan in 1525; his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Pavia, where he was captured and many of his chief nobles were killed, led to the end of the war. With Francis imprisoned in Spain, a series of diplomatic maneuvers centered on his release ensued, including a special French mission sent by Francis' mother Louise of Savoy to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent that would result in an Ottoman ultimatum to Charles—an unprecedented alignment between Christian and Muslim monarchs that would cause a scandal in the Christian world and lay the foundation for the Franco-Ottoman alliance. Suleiman used the opportunity to invade Hungary in the summer of 1526, defeating Charles' allies at the Battle of Mohács; but, despite these efforts, Francis would sign the Treaty of Madrid, surrendering his claims to Italy, Flanders, and Burgundy. Only a few weeks after his release, however, he repudiated the terms of the treaty, starting the War of the League of Cognac. Although the Italian Wars would continue for another three decades, they would end with France having failed to regain any substantial territories in Italy.Landsknecht
The Landsknecht, (pronounced [ˈlantsknɛçt]), plural: Landsknechte, were mercenary soldiers who became an important military force through late 15th- and 16th-century Europe. Consisting predominantly of German mercenary pikemen and supporting foot soldiers, they were the universal mercenaries of early modern Europe, sometimes fighting on both sides of a conflict.Odet of Foix, Viscount of Lautrec
Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec (1485 – 15 August 1528) was a French military leader. He gained the reputation of a gallant and able soldier, but this scarcely seems to be justified by the facts, although he was always badly used by fortune.
The branch of the Viscounts of Lautrec originated with Pierre, the son of John III of Foix; Pierre's elder brother was Gaston IV of Foix.
He married Charlotte d'Albret (1495–1527) in 1520 and had several children:
Francis (d.1528)Odet de Foix and his two brothers, the seigneur de Lescun and the seigneur de l'Esparre or Asparros, served Francis I of France as captains; and the influence of their sister, Françoise de Châteaubriant, who became the king's mistress, gained them high office. In 1515 Lautrec took part in the campaign of Marignano.
In 1516 Lautrec received the government of the Milanese duchy, but by his severity made the French domination insupportable. In 1521 he succeeded in defending the duchy against the Spanish army, but in 1522 he was completely defeated at the Battle of Bicocca, and was forced to evacuate the Milanese. The mutiny of his Swiss troops had compelled him, against his wish, to engage in the battle.
He was created a marshal of France, and in 1527 he again received the command of the army of Italy. He occupied the Milanese, and was then sent to undertake the conquest of the kingdom of Naples. The defection of Andrea Doria and an outbreak of the plague in the French camp brought on a fresh disaster. Lautrec himself caught the infection, and died in the August 1528.Pedro Navarro, Count of Oliveto
Don Pedro Navarro, Count of Oliveto (c. 1460 – 28 August 1528) was a Navarrese military engineer and general who participated in the War of the League of Cambrai. At the Battle of Ravenna in 1512 he commanded the Spanish and Papal infantry, but was captured by the French. In the service of Francis I of France, he would supervise the French crossing of the Alps before the Battle of Novara in 1513.Prospero Colonna
Prospero Colonna (1452–1523), sometimes referred to as Prosper Colonna, was an Italian condottiero in the service of the Papal States the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Spain during the Italian Wars.The Enterprise of Death
The Enterprise of Death is a historical fantasy novel by Jesse Bullington, published in 2011. It recounts the journeys of Awa, a lesbian Moor necromancer, through an irreverently portrayed 16th-century Europe, helped by friends who include historical figures such as the polymath Paracelsus and the artist-mercenary Niklaus Manuel.Thomas de Foix-Lescun
Thomas de Foix-Lescun (died 3 March 1525), commonly known as Lescun, was a French commander during the Italian War of 1521, and the brother of Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec, André de Foix, Lord of Lesparre and Françoise de Foix.
He accompanied King Francis I of France in the conquest of the Duchy of Milan. He helped Pope Leo X in the conquest of the Duchy of Urbino and in 1518 he was made Marshal of France. As the French governor of Milan, his severe rule gained him the people's enmity, and he had to retreat to Parma until the arrival of his brother.
At the Battle of Bicocca, he commanded the cavalry force which attempted to flank Prospero Colonna; afterwards, he assumed command of the French army and was wounded. Later he was responsible for the French withdrawal from Italy.
He fought in the battle of Pavia, being wounded while he was rescuing King Francis I. He was made prisoner and subsequently died out of his wounds.