Hawkwood went from Cesena to a small village in Lombardy, in the territory of the town of Cremona as it happens. The village of Gazzuolo lies on the banks of the Oglio river, a tributary of the mighty Po, and it is normally a quiet out of the way sort of place. Still looks very lovely from the pictures on t’internet. Anyway, in June 1377 the place is buzzing. The great and the good are in town and there is colour everywhere, an army of servants rushing around the place getting things ready, a field of gorgeous pavilions, latrines oozing with…well, oozing. The level of dress has risen several notches in the fashion stakes. Because there was to be a marriage, and the mighty lord of Milan, Bernabo Visconti and his wife Regina would be in town, for it was his daughter, rather than hers actually, an illegitimate daughter called Donnina, that would be tying the knot.
It may have been more than one marriage actually – possibly a double marriage. But one of the partners was our very own hero, John Hawkwood But he and his bride Donnina would be joined in the celebrations by another burly Condotierre, Landau Von Lutz, who was marrying another of Bernabo’s illegitimate daughters Elisabetta. It must be said that Bernabo was like a fertile spider at the centre of an extensive network of offspring; I seriously doubt he ever had a quiet evening in with slippers and a cup of cocoa, he and various partners must have been swinging from the chandeliers almost constantly, I feel tired just thinking about it. Regina would have 15 legitimate children by him; he had a further 20 children by over 7 mistresses. Now I am sure Bernabo valued each of these young people with equal and deeply affectionate love and concern, well, possibly he did, but he also certainly valued their more practical and functional use. The legitimate offspring were married to Dukes and aristocrats in countries around Christendom and Italy, forging alliances. The illegitimate were used to cement more day to day, business like relationships – as for example, condotierri – no fewer than five of his illegitimate girls would be married to mercenary captains. The cost of all the dowries would have ruined a number of smaller kingdoms and states I would have thought. But never let it be said that children cannot make a useful contribution to the household welfare, if parents can only think creatively.
Donnina’s mother was Donnina del Porrini, and she was at the wedding, as well as the Countess Regina; so everything clearly above board and in the open which I suppose was the form at the time. Obviously although people are very capable of subterfuge but keeping 20 illegitimate children under wraps would be beyond the organisational capabilities of anyone I imagine. Who’s that girl running around with you, baby, ooh, who’s that girl…
We don’t know a vast amount about Donnina, but we do know something actually, and will know something more of her. She was probably just 17 when she was hitched to the 57 year old John, and that must make your heart sink just a little wouldn’t it? I mean I know the past is a foreign country and all and age is no impediment to love but…anyway, speaking as a 58 year old man I’m not sure I’m much of a catch anymore, but hey, no need to get personal. We really can’t know the dynamics of the relationship at this distance let’s be honest, but as far as we can tell, this, Hawkwood’s second marriage, seems to have been a success. Donnina would have three children in quick succession. She was at least married to a man of consequence and could expect a well heeled life and in 1379 she signed a letter with a flourish as ‘Donnina Visconti of Milan, consort of Lord Hawkwood’. It’s interesting she made clear her dynastic descent from the all-powerful Visconti first, but clear also felt her husband added lustre to her name also, out of the top drawer though her name was.
We know a bit about Donnina from the actions after John’s death – plot spoiler, he’s no still alive under a mountain somewhere- in dealing with his will. She comes across as forceful and assertive; a chronicler described her as ‘a consort worthy of such a man’, which also reflects Hawkwood’s high status at the time. As the consort of a major player in Italian politics, as John now was, Donnina’s life would have been busy and demanding; we get an impression of it from the letters in England of the Pastons and the life of Margaret Paston. Hawkwood was often on campaign, and while he was, Donnina would manage all their estates. It seems that the pair of them, despite the age difference found a strong partnership together.
We don’t know, incidentally, what had happened to John’s first wife by this stage; but it seems that also around this time, Hawkwood’s first daughter, by that first marriage, Antiocha, was married to William Coggeshall, one of his mercenary captains from back home in Essex. As we’ll see a bit more in this episode, it’s another indication that John’s heart lay in Essex yet, how ever many beautiful places in Italy he laid his hat, Essex was his home; and also that John, love him or loathe him, was a man of lasting and strong relationships over decades through the extreme pressures of constant warfare and moving around, which surely is an admirable characteristic, is it not?
Anyway, in June 1377 a good time was had by all – there was feasting and a day full of jousting, Hawkwood was weighed down by gifts of gold, silver and a goblet of pearls. We know something of the ceremony because a Mantuan diplomat was there, with a job to keep an eye on Hawkwood’s activities. At the end of it, Hawkwood was able to spend a few days with his bride at the home he had prepared for her at Gazzuolo.
Now the point I should have made at the start maybe was all of this was part of the deal to have Hawkwood move from the Papal employment to the league of Eight Saints. He was now connected by marriage to one of the great families of Italy, the greatest maybe. But also, Gazzuolo was now his, and came along with a basket of other properties north East of Milan – Pessano, Bornago and others. He still had the properties the Pope had bestowed on him, and the pensions; although Hawkwood would continue to complain of financial pressures all his life, it does seem that he is now both increasingly well heeled, and increasingly part of the landed elite of Italian society. The boy done good.
The next couple of years have a slightly odd feel to them. In some ways, you get a sense that Hawkwood at last at the age of 57 is getting a bit tired of being, in a sense, the foot soldier the gopher, the fixer sent to fight military fires on behalf of the mighty. Maybe it was nuptial bliss, maybe age, maybe he felt he was part of the elite, could he get involved in strategy and matters of high state now please? It started well enough – sent to chase away Robert of Geneva’s Bretons from Cesena. But then he took a few days off to nip back to Gazzuolo and organise a house for his wife; despite Florence and Bernabo’s urgings, he didn’t really pursue the Bretons, and it was left to the Perugian militia to really finish the job. Bernabo was not impressed in the following performance review.
Hawkwood ignored the letters that kept being fired at him by Florence to ‘get on with it and start killing people’, and instead started a new job. Now that would have annoyed my Granny, who told me always to finish one job before starting another. Like most of my Granny’s advice, this is something I have resolutely failed to follow, despite recognising it’s excellence. The new shiny toy that distracted the Hawkwood Magpie, was to start a round of diplomatic negotiations. The initiator of this round of noodling was none other than the king of Blighty, Richard II.
Richard II sought a marriage alliance with Milan, and the hand of Bernabo’s daughter, Catherine. When rootling around in the drawers of his desk for those Italian business cards he was sure he’d picked up at a trade show somewhere, Hawkwood came to mind; surely, the perfect man? English, tick, detailed knowledge of Italian and the Italian scene , connected by family with the prospective father in law; a long established connection with Edward III, tick, tick tick – I mean surely there are few slams more dunkable than that, are there? So let’s slam that dunk, cried Richard at Westminster.
It is probable, by the way that there were continuous marriage negotiations and connections between English monarchs and Nobility all over Europe at various times – so in a way there’s nothing so very unusual about what Richard was doing in recruiting Hawkwood.
Here is a major digression coming up, one a general topic, part of a whole army of digression behaviour. Let me tell you about Mark of my parish – I mean both of the history of England membership and Swyncombe parish in this particular instance, who has uncovered a possible, and if true, rather interesting connection for example between English royalty and Hawkwood’s neighbouring family in Essex, the Listons. Mark is a proper historian type, who discovers stuff. Anyway, the Listons you may remember from way back, may have accompanied Hawkwood’s entry into the French Wars. The story concerns a rather rebellious daughter of Edward I, Joan of Acre, so called because she was born at Acre while Edward was on crusade there. It seems that the Liston family acquired at some stage a coat of arms spookily similar to the town of Aquila, later to be annexed, yet more spookily by the Visconti. Mark describes this coat of arms in heraldic terms – here we go, ready for this: gules and vert an Eagle Displayed. Wild, heraldry talk isn’t it? Everything’s the same about the two coats of arms except the Eagle Displayed was Argent for Alliston, Or for Aquila. It seems possible that the Liston connection may have stretched back to a day when John Liston sent to Aquila to negotiate Joan’s betrothal to Hartman Von Hapsburg around 1280 – which was duly agreed, but sank, with Hartman, when the poor man sank through some ice.
Everything’s connected you see. As to why Joan of Acre was rebellious; well, this would have been her second marriage, and when Dad decided to marry her off again, to Amadeus Count of Savoy, interestingly, and happily told everyone that this glorious match was all sorted. But Joan wasn’t having it – She rebelled, and without dad’s permission absconded with a mere squire, Ralph be Monthermer. Edward was furious seized Ralph and incarcerated him, no doubt trying to break up this unforgiveable marriage and reduced said rebellious daughter to proper obedience – at which point Joan announced, too late, I’m quick, Dad, quick with child. Edward was forced to back down, and this is a pretty unique example of royal medieval princesses refusing to play on the royal marriage market.
Anyway all of that digression is simply to illustrate that English kings had connections all over Europe, no kingdom is an island sort of thing, and to illustrate again the curious depth of Hawkwood Liston connections, and his enduring interest in his Essex origins.
Anyway, Richard sent a Franciscan Friar, Walter Thorpe to help Hawkwood in his allotted marriage guidance role, and instead of killing people for a while, Hawkwood now travelled around the country conducting a series of negotiations with Bernabo, and various other leaders; including the Pope – I don’t know maybe some sort of dispensations were required. Meanwhile the Florentine’s were tearing their hair out – Hawkwood had the nerve to put his army into winter quarters early, on Florentine territory; and they didn’t behave well. William Gold in particular, something of a firebrand and wild child it seems, ransacking local homes and going on a rampage. Florence even tried my mother’s technique of pointing out how well his peers were doing by comparison – in this case Von Lutz, in my case it was the Patersons.
At some point all these negotiations and meetings broadened out; to become not just about the marriage, but about peace between Gregory and the League; after all he was meeting most of the principal parties anyway. Florence went ballistic
How can you possibly make treaties without our knowledge or that of Bernabo’s?
They thundered. Though in point of fact, Hawkwood was almost certainly working with the back handed connivance of his father in law, Bernabo. And although Florence was understandably frustrated that their warlord was more lording than warring, they couldn’t help getting interested as time went on – actually, Hawkwood seemed to be getting somewhere. In February 1378 he organised a feast at San Quirico and delegates from Siena, Milan and various companies agreed that they should organise a conference at the Town of Saranza, near the coast in Liguria, not a million miles from Genoa. And things were going well – there was a general willingness to bring this war to an end, to heal the breaches; compromise seemed possible and peace within reach.
And then would you believe it? In March 1378 Gregory XI went and did a terribly foolish thing – and died on everyone. I mean – really? You choose now? The Cardinals at Sarazno rushed off – they had politics and the election of a new boss to attend to. White smoke would have to be delayed. It did not have long to wait, however. Gregory’s replacement, Urban IV, was impatient for religious reform, and wanted this conflict out of the way so he could get on with said knitting. By July 1378, the treaty of Tivoli had been signed; and at last the war of the Eight Saints was brought to an end.
This threw Hawkwood back on the day job; Bernabo wanted him now to nip up to Verona, in the interests of the unending ambition of Milan to rule northern Italy, and go and crush them like bugs. As so often happens with violence, things would spread, and this is a war that will get embroiled in a larger conflict, a 3 year struggle between Genoa and Venice, which dragged in various allies. Now, it’s important, if you get a chance to select the boss you will work for, to take a look at their expectations, its important; if they are always unrealistically high, it’s going to cause you a problem. It would here – Bernabo thought it would be possible to simply walk into Verona. It wasn’t. Outside the walls of Verona, though, it has to be said Hawkwood made things a little more difficult for himself, or at least his associates did – one William Gold, again, went on a rampage through Mantuan lands – that’s Mantua, ally of Milan just for clarification. William Gold really was becoming a liability and when ordered to stop by Hawkwood, simply did not. The answer may be that Gold was coming apart at the seams; his mistress, Janet, had upped sticks and left him. I think I spoke of this before a while ago, so in brief, Janet legged it over the walls of Mantua to escape him – and then claimed to have married someone in Mantua, which if true was either
- Quick going
Gold’s letters start off with ‘angry’, claiming she’d stolen fromhim, to ‘pleading’ about the sweet love that assailed his spirit, to ‘metaphysical’ bemoaning what love can do to a man, which I guess wil become a good solid format for later rock songs. We don’t know what happened in the end – but Gold returned to his military job.
Negotiations meanwhile continued between Richard II and Bernabo about the possible marriage, and it led to an interesting meeting at the town of Monzambano, where Hawkwood had made his base during the war with Verona – it’s in the north of Lombardy at the foot of the Alps. New envoys had come to discuss the marriage in July 1378; Ruggiero Cane, Bernabo’s ambassador, had arrived, and Walter Thorpe’s group; and they were joined by a group led by one Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, that Geoffrey, torturer of small children. This meeting seems much more secure than the idea that Hawkwood and Chaucer may possibly perhaps have met at Lionel’s wedding, an event at which 1, 2 or none of them may possibly perhaps had been at. And if they did meet at Monzambano, they then spent a good deal of time together; since they then rode 75 miles to Milan to see Bernabo in person. I wonder if Chaucer did indeed see in Hawkwood a true, a perfect gentle-knight.
That however would prove to be the last throw of the dice for this task for the English king; although Cane was to go to London to see Richard, the whole deal fell through, and Richard would marry Anne of Bohemia instead. It would not be the end of the relationship between Richard and Hawkwood though; Richard recognised he had found a man who could do his job well for him, and would employ him later as an ambassador to the new pope Urban.
Now then, let’s go back to the fightiness shall we? The war against Verona and her ally Venice was not going according to Bernabo’s plan – the one where his son in laws Lutz and Hawkwood walzed together over the walls of Verona and took the town for Bernabo in time for tea. In fact it was bogged down long enough for the arrival of 5,000 Hungarians who had the grunt to drive Hawkwood from the walls of Verona. At Milan, Lutz, Bernabo and Hawkwood hatched a plan and in November 1378, very late in the campaigning season, 1,400 Lances left their walls to attack Verona; there’s a bit of too-ing and fro-ing – the Veronese raid Cremona, Milan’s ally and steal a load of stuff and people, Lutz and Hawkwood steal a lot of it all back. But on the Adige river an engagement, or activity goes on that makes Bernabo’s head explode. On the river, in sight of the Hungarian foe – Lutz and Hawkwood withdraw. The letter we have concerns Lutz von Landau, because it’s written to his feudal overlord the emperor; but it’s clear Hawkwood was also in the firing line. Bernabo’s hopes of a knock out blow against Verona were officially now moonshine. Hawkwood tried to argue his case – but Bernabo was implacable – both members of his family had let him down, he was a father in law spurned and that was it, his face was turned against them. By February 1379 Hawkwood’s contract with Milan was over; more than that, the properties that had been given to him by a fond father were no longer his. They were confiscated. Hell hath no fury than a Visconti scorned. Hawkwood sent word to Donnina to abandon Gazzuolou and set up house in his estates at Bagnacavallo instead. His marriage to the daughter had resulted in divorce with the father.
This presented a problem for Hawkwood and Lutz; but to be honest it also[presented a problem for the other states who had signed them up under the banner of the League of Eight Saints. I mean – there was no war anymore, and yet there were all these blokes in armour and their camp followers – they weren’t going to just evaporate were they? There was, you might say, a potentially very significant law and order problem. And they did indeed not evaporate, instead they formed themselves into a new company, and took themselves off to Tuscany, like the proverbial plague of locusts. Florentine and Sienese officials realised that while moaning about how horrid mercenaries are was deeply satisfying, they needed a more practical solution here. So, they beat a path to Hawkwood and Lutz. Negotiation was hard and took a few months, but by June 1379 an agreement was made near Siena at Torrita. The Company would be split up; the ultimate poachers would become policemen, becoming guards and occasional military for the governments of Florence and Siena. Lutz was done; he rode to the Marches and then back to Germany and took up employment with the Emperor.
Hawkwood’s future though still lay in Italy with his wife and new family. He retained 500 lances as his personal retinue, and set off for Bagnacavallo, Donnina – and home, sweet home.