Saturday, 14 August 2021

The Italian Wars Volume 2, by Massimo Predonzani

I missed the release of this book through usual channels so I'm indebted to Colin over at Carry On Up the Dale for putting me onto it. Indeed, because he's pretty much said what I want to say, use the link to read his review of the book. 

What I would like to double down on is the quality of the account of the Battle of Agnadello 1509, with a full order of battle and deployment diagrams to help explain what went on during the action. This, for the wargamer, is simply glorious because it's so rare to see this level of detail for battles in this period. It's a battle I've always wanted to do but, up until now, never fully understood: hence my reticence to undertake it. This book has removed all obstacles to its recreation, as a game, in the future.

Another thing I would like to complement the author on is his detailed breakdown of the French OOB at Agnadello because, for once, he specifically states the number of heavy cavalry. Most books, when referring to heavy cavalry numbers will simply say "50 men-at-arms", which confuses the novice to this period into thinking that this is the number of cavalry present. It's not of course, because almost invariably when books say 'Men-at-arms' they are in fact referring to 'Lances' and each 'Lance' generally comprises a man-at-arms and two 'archers' (heavy cavalrymen armed with lances not bows, confusingly): so 50 men-at-arms becomes 150 heavy cavalry. In this book the entries read "Teodoro Trivulzio: 30 Lombard men-at-arms and 60 archers.", thus removing any doubt (providing you know 'archers' are lance armed, well armoured cavalry). 

Unfortunately, he doesn't do the same for the Venetian list: He simply states the number of men-at-arms. It's not a complete fudge because cross referencing in the book does reveal that the numbers of men-at-arms given does indeed refer to the number of Lances but, it's not explicit. I can only presume the authors reticence to give a detailed breakdown of Venetian heavy cavalry numbers stems from the fact that early in the 16th century, in response to French practice, the Italian 'Lance' increased in size from two heavy cavalry per Lance to three but, the change was gradual and inconsistent: I'm guessing he's simply not prepared to stick his neck out - and that's fair enough.

That criticism aside, the book is excellent. Don't wait, buy it!




Peter Douglas said...

I was also very impressed with this volume! Can’t top what you and Colin said.

BigRedBat said...

Duly bought. :-)

Oli said...

I agree James, some of the detail in the Agnadello account is fascinating. I much preferred this volume to the first one in this series. I included loads of Stradiots in the Venetian army in my refight of the battle and after reading this realised they weren't even present! Another excuse for a refight I guess!

Really looking forward to your version of the battle, I have missed your Italian Wars posts.


Hi Oli, Peter Sides has a lot to answer for (LOL).

Every time I've seen this battle refought it's always included the whole of the Venetian force but this detailed account shows just how little of it got properly engaged. If I do it, I'm definitely going to do it as a 'what if' type scenario, with both forces arriving piecemeal, and the possibility of more Venetian 'divisions' retracing their steps before it's all over.

Not the Stradiots though. That they went off two days prior to the battle to seize "a nearby pass" was news to me too!


BTW. I didn't buy Vol.1, though I did get the opportunity to have a good skim through it just after it came out.

Fornovo isn't my favourite battle, possibly because it's actually hard to game, and I have it largely covered by other books. Also, my chief interest in the Italian Wars starts around 1502 with the Spanish involvement, and ends in 1530 with the Sack of Rome. My collection definitely has the look of 1512 about it, and consequently Vol 2 is bang on the money.

I may pick up Vol 1 at some point, for completeness but, you can only spend your money once and at the moment there are other priorities.

Bedford said...

Good review James.

For me, the book is pretty good in general but I was very disappointed to seethere was not much of a mention of Celignola and Gonzalo de Cordoba, which for me, were the pivotal moments during the "Italian Wars" in which tactics really began to change from open battle to that of fortified positions. Generally that is.

Oli said...

Yes it is essentially a battle where part of the Venetian army gets caught out and completely mauled by the French. I reckon the next volume will also be right up your street, focusing on Pavia.

Your version of Agnadello would look great - I am always impressed by your efforts to match the correct troop portions within the armies - even when that means having to field a huge number of Gascon crossbowmen!

Although Volume 1 had some great info on the early Italian Wars "Impresas" or "Devices", basically the liveries worn, I found the narrative bit had a few translation issues and was not as useful, to the extent that Volume 2 was a lovely surprise! Like yourself I like to keep my units quite generic and swap the flags to give me more flexibility - so even though the info on the badges is interesting I probably wouldn't use it on the figures anyway.

I will probably try Fornovo at some point, but like a lot of my games it will be very stylised and focus heavily on the game element. I may even run it as a 4 player game with the wargamers in my reenactment group.

Chris said...

I have had this (and the first volume) since they were released and, as you noted, they include the detail that is lacking or left obtuse in other english language sources. I am looking forward to the last couple of titles promised in this series.

Stuart said...

Archer cavalry is a source of contention for this period but I the french did include mounted archers, with bows (basically mobile infantry) into the 1520’s to varying extents. I know it would involve conversions at the moment but they’re worth representing.


Hi Stuart, archer cavalry have long been a contentious subject and we have happily disagreed before on this very subject. My thinking is, although archer cavalry were originally mounted crossbowmen (fighting horsed or on foot), and is obviously where the name came from, by the early 16th century they were archers in name only and were in fact heavily armoured lancers fighting in direct support of their 'knight'. I have several reasons for believing this but firstly, crossbow fire from the ranks of men-at-arms isn't reported; secondly, if an army had so many mounted crossbowmen in it's number because of 'archer cavalry' why employ them as a specific separate troop type.

I'm not saying that archer cavalry never carried a crossbow, indeed there are several reasons why they might (garrison duty, etc.). However, at least for formal field battles I don't think they carried them - I think most were first or second rank lancers wearing munition quality full harness or something reasonably close to it. Barded horses, probably not.


When I say reasonably close to full harness, I mean wearing a brigantine rather than breast and back plate, plus leg and arm armour; perhaps with an open face helmet; perhaps without gorget / bevor.

Peter Douglas said...

Oh I love a good scrap, sorry healthy discussio, on Renaissance cavalry. Archers are a good one, I have to say that I’m more in line with James on this one but there is merit to both sides.

Stuart said...

David Potter provides a good summary of some of the primary sources in Renaissance France at war;

'Archers remained integral to the formation of the gendarmerie. Companies of men at arms had originally been designed to provide combined forces of cavalry and archers - the proportion of archers to men at arms varied widely - in the early years of the 15th C.

Bournonville's companies were fairly evenly balanced. From 1498 each lance was to include one man at arms and two archers. With the reorganisation of pay in 1533-4 lances would contain 100 men at arms and 150 archers. At what stage did archers evolve from real bowmen to slightly less heavily armed cavalry men? Balsac's treatise of the 1490's assumes that archers should be just that and deplored that so many 'cannot shoot'. But there are records of companies of archers actually wielding their bows in the Italian wars. In 1515 the King (Louis XII) decreed that the main cities should maintain armourers to manufacture bows for the archers of the ordonnances and that captains should ensure that there would be 'a good number of archers and crossbowmen drawing the bow well from the saddle or on foot.'

This requirement was repeated (by Francis I) in 1526.The archers have been described as 'second class' or 'medium' cavalry, armed slightly less expensively than the men at arms but sharing the same social prestige of the gendarmerie and crucially lighter and more flexible. Their task was to follow the first wave of attack and in skirmishing, not unlike the chevau-legers.'

I’m interested in 1513 and based upon this and other sources I’ve represented them. I’ve no doubt this was even more likely to be the case for 1509.

You know you want to. Mounted, dismounted, horse holders, think of the photos 😃

I’m happy either way but couldn’t let it pass by un-commented as I think it’s worthwhile to draw attention to the sources.


Hi Stuart,

My suspicion is that, like carbine carrying cavalry of later times, missile weapons weren't widely used by 'archer' cavalry on the field of battle. I suspect they became important to them when scouting, or on sentry / picket duties, and more especially during sieges (either besieging or besieged): I'm reminded of crossbows being bought by the Pastons (WoR) for use from windows, the ceilings being too low for long bows.

In the above cited circumstances, bows would be missed if unavailable, possibly making a large number of well trained and motivated 'common' soldiery next to useless. I can well believe orders being sent out that 'archers' should have crossbows to make them more flexible.