Now then, July 1375, and the war of Eight Saints, the defensive league put together by Florence, including the might of the Visconti, but also Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Arezzo, the Kingdom of Naples. But it would not rest there; Florentine emissaries were not idle, they were as busy as bees, flower to flower, and saw an opportunity too to spike the Pope’s temporal ambitions with nectar in an even more fundamental way – by fostering discord among his own patrimony. There was much determination and optimism – it would all be over by Christmas; well no one actually said Christmas, but that was the sentiment in some quarters – within a year Florence would be victorious, wrote one. But despite the flowering of hope there were deep worries also – one does not happily take on the spiritual authority of the church any more than one can simply walk into Mordor. Not that anyone was even imagining challenging Gregory’s spiritual authority, only his temporal stuff; but none the less many people could not separate the Pope spiritual from the Pope temporal; a Lucchese chronicler bewailed that
For he who is against God and acts against God will be punished by God
There was a deal of anti clericalism which confused the picture still further; the church were landlords as well as shepherds of souls. As Florence sought to tax the clergy to pay for this war, citizens queued up to buy confiscated church lands, and the Chronicler Sachetti urged the Eight Saints to squeeze them ‘down to the dregs’.
Now for Hawkwood this was a fork in the road and no one likes to meet unexpected cutlery. However, road-based kitchen utensils often present opportunities and so it was in July 1375. Although Florence was utterly convinced that Sir John had been in the employment of the Pope, in fact Hawkwood considered himself out of contract, and afterall, he’d been forced to go and collect his own men’s pay by extortion, the Pope hadn’t ponied up. And meanwhile Florence employed its undoubted diplomatic skills, sending the smooth-tongued Ruggiero Cane to blandish, ladies and gentlemen, to blandish the honest Hawkwood with his subtle wiles to come and fight on the side of the Saints. Gregory was no fool and realised he must now pony up or lose his greatest military asset at a time of his biggest challenge – and so Hawkwood was in that most attractive situation for an unattached employee – the object of a bidding war.
However a fork suggests other opportunities, and this particular utensil had 3 tines. The city of Parma had caught wind through its spies and contacts of a rumour – that Hawkwood had become closer to being rich than he’d ever been after his tour of Italian cities, and was contemplating a return to England. Clearly not a sun worshipper then, but this would not be last time Hawkwood consider the option.
It seems the actions of one of Hawkwood’s English Captains was influential in the decision Hawkwood eventually made. John Thornbury may have been born in Shropshire, but at some point, just like Hawkwood, he had sought fame and fortune in the 100 Years War, and thence to Italy via Avignon. He was therefore on the same Mercenary circuit as Hawkwood, and their paths would no doubt have crossed many time. As was the way of things with the mercenaries, Thornbury and Hawkwood danced round each other through the wars – just a few years before Thornbury had earned Gregory’s praise for his ‘strenuous labours’ against ‘the damned, pestiferous and cruel tyrants’ such as Hawkwood. So he made a good intermediary between Hawkwood and the Pope; and by October 1375 he was able to write to a Cardinal celebrating that he had indeed managed to recruit Hawkwood – and deal was struck. Hawkwood as a result fought for the Pope for the next 2 years – at the end of which, ironically, Thornbury would give up the struggle to get paid, and return to England, where he’d become an upstanding pillar of the community, serving as an MP in several English parliaments before he died, probably in 1396.
For Hawkwood, the next two years would not be pleasant; it would be mainly the job of a policeman, or maybe firefighter would be a better analogy, putting down conflagrations for the Pope, and taking part in two episodes with don’t appear to have damaged his reputation at the time, but must have lacerated his soul and would horrify later historians. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The first impact of the Eight Saints’ declaration of Libertas! was that the papal states, so painstakingly brought back into the Pope’s control, went up in the flames of revolt. Town after town in Umbria and Romagna listened to the voice of the League, and either declared their independence or plotted rebellion. Perugia, Gubbio, Urbino, Orvieto, Spoleto, and more – city after city, sent word to Florence, who were ecstatic. There was a strong tinge of nascent fellow Italian feeling in the revolt, a reaction partly against foreign mercenaries, but more against Papal administrators, many of whom were French. ‘Remember’ they urged the citizens of Orvieto
‘That you are of Italian blood, the nature of which is to rule others not to submit to them’
Their war was not with the church, but with those into whose control the church had delivered them,
Foreigners, born of the vilest parents and raised on filth
Which has a faint whiff of Xenophobia doncha think? In a city called Citta di Castello in Umbria, north of Perugia, the Papal governor was a Frenchman called Gerard du Puy, hated by the citizens for his furious rapacity and corruption. So, one fine day, the good citizens seized every papal official they could find, and defenestrated them from the communal palace, shouting ‘death to the abbot and pastors of the church’ and hanging others from the battlements. Gerard retreated with reasonably promptness to the citadel, and locked himself in, with his nearest and dearest English Mercenaries, including one of Hawkwood’s captains, William Gold. The Castellians started bombarding the citadel with a trebuchet they gaily named the ‘priest chaser’ which is, you know, topical, and as they chipped away, Hawkwood was sent by Gregory to raise the siege. And he tried – after all some of his men and his friends were trapped inside – but was frustrated by the mass army of the local militia.
So, Hawkwood switched from war war to jaw jaw and tried to negotiate his way through this conundrum; despite a verbal pasting from the Florentines for speaking to the devil, he was greeted as an honoured Ambassador by the Castilian Rebels and on January 1 1376 Gerard du Puy, William Gold, John Thornbury and 1500 of Hawkwood’s men trapped inside the citadel were allowed to walk free in return for giving up the Citadel. Florence went ballistic, railing against the Castillians
Are you not aware of the cunning of the English?
Which is a good point – we are a cunning lot. But the citizens realised that without the citadel, their revolt would always be vulnerable to attack so, both parties were well satisfied.
Hawkwood was now in policeman mode, as cities continued to declare for the 8 Saints, until Gregory was left in Romagna only with the cities of Rimini and Cesena in his control. In early 1376 Hawkwood skirmished with the lords of Forli, Ravenna and Urbino, and in February retook the rebel town of Castrocaro, not a million miles from Ravenna in Romagna, so we are talking sort of north central Italy if you are not, as I assume you always should be, following the narrative with a map at your side. And instead of installing the papal Governors in Castrocaro, well, Hawkwood simply held on to the town and kept it for himself. As you do, nice place, bit of land and all.
The instinct of the monied was always of course to buy into the basis of medieval wealth which, however powerful Italian commerce, was land. Hawkwood was no different, and at several points as his fame grew he was offered land as an inducement to loyalty – it had the added benefit to an employer of tying him to a specific place, and under a more traditional overlordship than the freedom of a paid, temporary contract. Clearly, Gregory did not approve, but equally clearly, he was struggling to pay – and so was forced to let it go. And one of the consequences of the chaos of this war was, just like the rule of the routiers in France after Bretigny, that in the absence of central authority, local strongmen were able to set themselves up with their own private fiefdoms. The Italian mercenary Galeatto Malatesta set himself up with numerous towns, for example. Gregory saw he could not do without Hawkwood – and so, in lieu of proper pay, ceded two more towns to him to add to the one he’d taken for himself already.
Gregory did have other weapons available though, spiritual tanks, and in March 1376 he gave the orders for them to roll. On March 31st, Gregory excommunicated the government of Florence, and placed the city and its territories under interdict – no services to be held or given by the clergy. Now, such an action was a multi faceted thing. At one level, it was a withdrawal of access to the religious intercession of the church that led to important stuff like the salvation of the immortal soul and for many this was terrifying. It was also a withdrawal from the community of Christendom, an ostracization in effect, a casting out of the vile jelly. But it was also an economic and physical punishment; those under excommunication had their property forfeit, and they could be taken and enslaved, in theory. Churches throughout Christendom were forbidden to use Florentine bankers, and there is no doubt that there was considerable financial loss to Florence because of it.
But, but but. And I say again but. This was no longer, if it had ever been, a world where Christendom felt scared enough of spiritual ostracization to obey its every command. Charles V of France, for example, simply ignored it and continued to use Florentine bankers. And in Florence they both rebelled – and took advantage. Many clerics and religious in such a situation felt a split loyalty between their city and their Pope; and so religious processions were organised; religious organisations such as local confraternities were mobilised in support of the citizens. Unwanted church institutions, such as the Inquisition, were dismantled. The laws against usury were loosened. The Ban on Usury was a difficult provision for a commercial town, and was enforced by the church; so the more flinty-eyed Florentine merchants saw a good opportunity to generate a bit of extra business. And within a year, the government authorities forced their clergy to resume church services – some fled, others just did what they were told.
Hawkwood meanwhile was continuing his fireman’s role in Romagna and in February 1376 this took him to the town of Faenza, and one of the two most miserable episodes of his entire career; whether he saw it like that or not, however, is open to some debate. The context, then, was that Faenza’s Papal governor feared a revolt, and asked Hawkwood for his help. Hawkwood’s brigade at this point appears to have been in some disarray, and it might be that, unusually, he was having trouble maintaining order and discipline in the ranks; a brawl broke out in which two captains, John Brise and Thomas Beaumont were injured. a section of 215 lances actually deserted to Florence. It may be this that led to what happened when Hawkwood’s company entered Faenza – and chaos hit its streets. Faenza was subjected to a sack, despite the fact that its governor had opened its gates and under normal rules should have been exempt from such a horror.
They robbed the whole land…and they chased out the citizens great and small…so that there remained no one except the women whom they kept to violate.
As it happens, most contemporaries actually blamed the governor, and called him a traitor. But there was a much later, more colourful story which has Hawkwood’s name on it. The story goes that he came across two of his captains arguing over possession of the person of a nun, for whom they did not intend veneration, obviously; the debate had reached violence point, when Hawkwood is supposed to have plunged his knife into the Nun’s breast, and then had her cut in half, declaring ‘half for each!’.
Now this particular story seems to have all the hallmarks of later propaganda, with shades of Solomon; but what seems less debatable, is that men were beaten and killed wholesale, women and children driven out, and moveable property looted, women raped. It was a sorry affair. But one that did not seem to haunt Hawkwood himself, which we can talk about next week when Hawkwood arrives at Cescena; before long he was entertaining, and rejecting, further secret offers to come over the Florence’s side. There is one line of thought that this was not in fact an unauthorised sack of a peaceful city; the theory is that Faenza was actually under siege by a Florentine army at the time, which means Hawkwood may have been in the middle of a full scale military operation, which have raised the temperature. Either way, pay, disobedience, military pressure all seem to have played their part.
Now then, next time we must talk of an even nastier affair in Hawkwood’s life, possibly his Nasty, Nastier, Nastiest, along with the arrival of a man much reviled, called Robert of Geneva, and Gregory’s ambition to end the Babylonia Captivity at last.
 Stonor Saunders ‘Diabolical Englishman’, p 206