It worried me when we started off on John Hawkwood’s life that we would constantly be living in camp, sharpening swords, buffing armour, greasing leather, grooming horses, simply preparing for the next fight. And it has been a little fighty this series, but now that we’ve talked a bit about marriage and stuff, we can maybe keep it going for a while, before we return to the comfort of some bloody physical violence.
Because it’s time, just briefly, to talk about John and Donnina’s attempt to carve out a bit of home for themselves; they wanted a hood, and place to call their own, neighbours on whom they could call round unexpectedly to borrow some salt, although any neighbours doing that in England will of course be asked to make an appointment next time. The obvious place, having been turfed out by Donnina’s loving father Bernabo, were the manors granted to Hawkwood by the Pope. This meant Romagna, 100 miles to the south east of Gazzulo and Lombardy where they had been living in the Visconti lands. Romagna was where Hawkwood held two main manors, Bagnacavalo and Cotignola. It was to there that Donnina travelled in August 1379, and her journey is quite well documented, because she wrote to local lords on the way for safe passage
I go to Bagnacavallo to the distinguished and powerful knight, Lord John Hawkwood, my consort
John and Donnina do indeed set up shop there, and try to make a go of it, apply for the local community membership card, join the quiz team and all that. They faced some problems though. The very castle they moved into at Bagnacavallo had once, 30 years ago, been owned and upgraded by one of the powerful local families, the Manfredi, in the shape of the current incumbent, Astorre Manfredi. The Manfredi were traditional Ghibelline’s supporters of the Emperors against the papacy and 30 years before they had been turfed out of Bagnacavallo by said popes. So that’s awkward. Because again it was the Pope who’d bestowed said land in the Hawkwoods. Salt, wounds, rubbing. The Hawkwoods then were not only foreigners, not only parvenus, their very existence was rubbing the faces of the locals in their bad fortune. Astorre Manfredi was described by one as the typical son of a disappointed family; that family traced their Italian roots to Roman Emperors; Hawkwood’s family…didn’t. Other families in the area would hold similar views, though would be less aggressive about it – the Alidosi at Imola, the Ordelaffi of Forli, and the Malatesta of Rimini, these were all well established and ancient families, as were the Attendoli of Cotignola. Into this world arrived Donnina and John, and stuck their elbows out, trying to make room for themselves. Turns out neither the Romagnol nor the English had a great reputation for friendliness; a French legate equably wrote of the Romagnol that they were
So treacherous and extravagant that in feasting and falsehood they are little different from Englishmen
Charmant,though maybe that says something also about the French, who knows. Although one of the things Astorre Manfredi should not have found strange was the number of mercenary captains the Hawkwoods kept around them; Hawkwood would constantly meet, fight with, and fight against Manfredi on various campaigns as was the idiom of renaissance Italian warfare, all the while trying to beat 7 bells out of each other back home. Must have been awkward socially.
Th Hawkwood household had by 1379 swollen to include two children, Catherine and Janet; for a while it included Hawkwood’s daughter by his first marriage, Antiocha, now married to William Coggeshale; they would not be there for long though, and would head back to England for good. There was constantly a group of mercenaries hanging around the place with Hawkwood – unsurprisingly I suppose, Hawkwood was never on holiday, continuing, as we’ll hear to go on campaign.
Hawkwood’s behaviour to the local magnates shows a significant change to the kind of tone he’d employed when dealing with them as primarily a mercenary captain. Now he’s trying to establish a working relationship with the likes of the Este at Ferrara, and the Gonzaga at Mantua; you’ve got to think that would create some conflicts of interest for Hawkwood; but then such nuance and conflict had been a permanent fixture of his life in Italy, a career spent running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. So we have letters for example, where Hawkwood asks for advice about a good doctor – all very neighbourly, like nipping round for a bag of sugar. There are complaints between them – but they don’t turn to fisticuffs, now Hawkwood needed his neighbourhood not to flare up and raid his patch when he went campaigning.
Hawkwood invests in his patrimony – building a Palazzo at Cotignola for example – but at the same time he was still thinking of going back home; which seems to have remained England. With the help of his brother and various agents, he purchased manors in Sible Hedingham, and in the nearby villages of Toppesfield, Yeldham, Wethersfield, Gosfield, and Hedingham. He donated money to rebuild the church in Sible Hedingham and bought a manor house at Leadenhall. After the chaos of Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, he snapped up the properties of Richard Lyons, a wealthy financier who had been beheaded by the rebels in London. As Richard no doubt reflected as the axe whistled through the air towards his neck, it’s an ill wind which blows nobody any good. I hope it made his head happy, and it hit the boards with a wet flump.
Nonetheless, despite the appearance of domesticity, the feud with Astorre Manfredi was a constant thorn in Hawkwood’s side, that would not go away. Part of the problem was that Bernabo Visconti loving father than he was, appears to be determined to make his daughter and son-in-law’s lives misery and gave Manfredi material support. So in 1379, Manfredi attacked Bagnacavallo with his Company of the Star; I suppose it’s a bit difficult to feel a lot of sympathy for Hawkwood since this was exactly the sort of thing he’d spent his life visiting on other people, sauce for the goose and so on. In response, Hawkwood sent 300 lances against his bad neighbour.
Florence, in the process of signing up Hawkwood to their side, tried to smooth things over, but instead the Manfredi-Hawkwood feud broadens into a sort of proxy war; the lords of Ravenna gave Manfredi help too, and used their dispute to carry war to Hawkwood papal allies, the Malatesta; Hawkwood meanwhile sent support to the Ordelaffi at Forli, and there were all manner of other local alliances; I suppose this might be considered all part of fitting in and assimilating with local society in 14th century Italy. All this feuding though was expensive; and Hawkwood complains reasonably constantly of poverty; whether this is real or just the moaning of the well heeled is a little unclear. It seems Hawkwood was probably not as magnificently wealthy as you might imagine once he’d paid his soldiers, but he’s surely not short of a bob or two; otherwise he couldn’t have bought these English estates. And at one point he boasts of having 100,000 ducats on account in Venice.
Either way, in December 1379, he decided to leverage a softer sort of power to make himself a few quid – the power of information. He sent word to Florence that he had information from his spies that would be to their advantage if they were only prepared to pay, about a plot within their four walls.
It is worth noting, and you will not be surprised to learn, that information was every bit as powerful in 14th century Italy, and indeed Christendom, as it has ever been; and Hawkwood recognised this as much as anyone. The incident in 1379 demonstrates that he had spies among the citizens of Florence; in a few years’ time when working for Florence he would run a military network for them, and provide advice for their council of Ten of War. In 1376, Hawkwood used agents within Arezzo to betray the city to his paymaster of the time, the Pope; in 1388 he would warned Carlo Visconti that Giangaleazzo Visconti had sent a doctor to poison him. So Hawkwood was well aware of the importance of intelligence. Also, he was clearly wary of others using intelligence networks against him – often using code in his communications, or sending multiple messengers with the same message to make sure one got through, or could be verified.
Anyway in 1379, he sweated the asset that was his intelligence network to earn himself a few bob – for 50,000 Florins he’d reveal the plot and names of the conspirators, and for a discount for only 20,000 he’d just reveal the plot and not the conspirators. In the end he agreed to version 2 for the knockdown price of 12,000 florins, all was revealed in a meeting with a Florentine envoy and Hawkwood, with Hawkwoods’ informer sitting mysteriously in the dark – and the plot was foiled.
Manfredi found himself on the wrong side of a mercenary war against Genoa, and in a family feud to boot; so for a while. Mrs & Mr Hawkwood had some peace; and Hawkwood was able to negotiate a new contract with Florence to provide 200 lances for six months. Seriously, the life of a mercenary is just like being any freelancer, as soon as you land one contract it’s time to start thinking about the next one. But by 1381, Manfredi and Hawkwood were at war again. The Hawkwood’s could see the writing on the wall now; they would be allowed to find a nice place to fit in here in Romagna, the locals wouldn’t have them, they just didn’t have the network of local relationships as did their better-established opponents. So in August 1381 came the news that Hawkwood had sold his towns in Romagna to the Este family of Ferrara for 60,000 florins all in. The Hawkwoods were looking for a new home.
They had one, actually. It was in the Val di Chiana, in Tuscany north of Lake Trasimeno, further south from Romgana. Back in the Middle Ages it was not a particularly salubrious place – though I’m told that it’s now most fertile, after improvement and reclamation in the 18th century; back in the 14th century it was covered with malarial swamps, so much so that Dante compared it to hell, which is rude. Romagna was very fertile agricultural land, which is why it had seemed ideal – but had proved to have the deadly disadvantage of political instability.
Anyway, in Val di Chiana, Hawkwood owned the fortress and small town of Montecchio Vesponi. There are bits of the castle Hawkwood patched up still there and apparently it is now once more a home. It had the big advantage that the commute to his new place of work, Florence, was considerably shorter, though true enough Hawkwood was by and large a remote worker, but since it was only 50 miles from Florence, Montecchio Vesponi met the terms of his contact better; his contract stated that he could go no further than 80 miles away from Florence unless his employers gave him special permission.
Ok, that’s enough of the non fighty stuff for the moment. Now then, there are a couple of differing interpretations about Hawkwoods’s employment through the 1380s – though they are just a different emphasis I suppose. Essentially, until Florence tries to take on the might of Milan in the 1390s, in the great showdown beloved of renaissance writers, between the glorious republic of Florence and the magnificent tyranny of signorial Milan, Florence has a relatively unfighty period. So who was Hawkwood’s employer exactly? Stephen Cooper’s view is that Florence basically retain first dibs on his time; but allow him to freelance so that he can keep his income at levels to which he and Donnina had become accustomed. William Cafferro downplays this, and has Hawkwood fighting for a confusing array of employers, running a range of different companies, dropping in and out of Florence’s employment. I’m not sure it really matters, except emotionally, it is now really where starts the legend of Hawkwood’s close association with Florence, so I think it’s important to emphasise at least that there is a continuous relationship, conversation and flow of information between Hawkwood and the city. There may be more to it, but there is at least that. Hawkwood does also seem to be more part of Florentine internal politics. In January 1382 for example, he marches his soldiers into the centre of the city, and carried out a very public inspection of the troops. His move was prompted by a surge in political violence at the time; Hawkwood took no part in this, he didn’t let his men off the leash, but a bunch of soldiers standing stolidly in the city centre helped cool the blood of the more radical politicians and calm things down. This was probably an important moment for the faction that took control of Florence at that point; it allowed them to see that, handled in the right way, Hawkwood could be a force for stability.
Either way I don’t think I will follow all the twists and turns of Hawkwood’s employment – it’s a bit dizzying. All you need to know is that at the age of 60, when he has acquired a genuinely pan-italian reputation for his talents, Hawkwood is still having to sing high and long for his supper. The Essex boy has done well for himself, and we have just wondered how rich or otherwise he might be – but he certainly can’t put his feet up and retire gracefully yet.
Now then Florence might be entering a relatively non fighty decade but that did not, repeat not mean that employment opportunities for mercenaries in Italy were lacking. Oh dear me no, the job boards were still humming. In 1381, two major events in Christendom coalesced to give John some opportunities.
The first we have already mentioned the western Schism in 1378, when Urban VI became the pope, finally based in Rome; only to see a French backed Robert of Geneva become an anti pope in Avignon, Clement VII. This is Robert, Butcher of Cesena, by the way, if you are worrying about his training to become spiritual leader of Christendom.
Ok, so that’s one thing, and Europe kind of lines up behind each of these popes in a sort of proxy war again; since France of course supports Clement VII, nicely in their pocket in Avignon, France’s allies like Scotland decide that the Butcher of Cesena is of course the ideal person and so support Clement to boot. Meanwhile the HRE and England declare for Urban; possibly less concerned about the Cesena issue, and more concerned about the politics if I am honest.
The other big thing going on concerned the succession of the kingdom of Naples. Johanna had been Queen of Naples since 1343, at the age of 18; although often in name only, and she’d battled her way through 4 marriages. Since she relentlessly did not produce any offspring, for much of her reign people wandered around worrying about who was going to succeed her. By 1380 there were a couple of candidates. One was Charles of Durazzo, a member of the Hungarian aristocracy, who was descended from a sister of Johanna, I think. But in 1380, Johanna who had decided to support Clement, the French Pope, supported instead the claims of his rival, a French candidate Louis of Anjou. Well you know how many wars there are in European history called the war of x succession or other, complete as applicable, and this was to be part of that list. I fact in an idle moment I wandered onto Wikipedia where they actually have an entry for wars of succession and there are a lot, all the big ones – the war of the Spanish Succession, War of the Flemish succession, The War Brian Cox’s Succession, you name it it’s there. Anyway, this war of succession was also there. So, Charles of Durazzo was understandably miffed at Johanna’s switch from him to Louis, and although I am sure Johanna would have explained this was not personal just business, he put himself at the head of an army of Hungarians and made it his business to show the Neapolitans just how personal business can get.