They found ohn Hawkwood in the Romagna, so again well north of Tuscany, and there Giovanni Ubaldini the victor of Brentelles and Italy’s most revered captain of war got down to brass tacks – presumably they were accompanied by the required notaries to record the deal. The brass tacks that emerged included the recruitment of Captain Acuto, Hawkwood, to serve at the head of 500 horsemen and archers in the employment of Padua, against the Verona and Venetian enemy. Just to make a little shimmy to the left here in the style of the Rocky Horror Show, it is interesting that the talk here and in the Neapolitan civil war actually seems to have been about horsemen rather than lances; and may reflect that the tradition of horsemen operating as individual bannermen, rather than part of a 2 or 3 part lance, still remained in use. I may be over reaching here in this thoroughly northern Italian conflict, but in Naples with the Hungarian Charles of Durazzo it seems quite clear, that remained the Hungarian practice.
Again, Hawkwood was going to war once more, and in January 1387 together with another Italian mercenary captain Giovanni da Petramala and a 1000 horsemen they set off north towards Padua to meet their employer Francesco il Vecchio Carerra. Before we record this meeting might just be worth a tiny bit of geography – again apologies if a map of northern Italy is implanted already in your brain but just to say that we are in north East Italy here, broadly speaking, in the plains south of the Alps. Broadly on a similar line of latitude, then, in a line from East to West we have glorious Venice, sitting in the corner of Italy on its lagoons next to the sea; then going west barely 30 miles you have the city of Padua, go west a further 50 miles, young man, and you are in the city walls of Venice’s ally, Verona. Diagonally, across the Veronese – Paduan hinterlands like a blue flash of lightening, runs the Adiga river. Okally, dokally, scene set?
One potential issue was at least reduced early on after Hawkwood’s arrival. The potential problem concerned the number of cooks, which as you will know has broth spoiling potential. Because here we have two mercenary captains absolutely at the top of their game – Giovanni Ubaldini and John Hawkwood. There’s another potential issue which is that Francesco il Vecchio is there too, and he’s a piper as well as a military commander, and he will be a problem but never mind.
Anyway let me take you to Castelbaldo, South east of Verona, by the free flowing river Adige. That is where the Paduans had made their forward camp, with fortress and supplies all ready. And there Il Vecchio held his initial war council. Il Vecchio the boss was in favour of an immediate strike against the Veronese and asked the Council for their opinion. It reply there was a deathly ‘ush. Eventually, since the English inevitably find social silences awkward and have a pathological need to fill them with meaningless babble – or is that just me? – Hawkwood looked at Ubadlini and said
Messer Captain why don’t you reply?
Ubaldini stood and faced il Vecchio – which seems a bit melodramatic to be fair, but then hey, if we are doing national stereotypes here, that works too – and declaimed grandly
Magnificent and generous knight, I have no response nor am I disposed to give one, nor do I dare on my honour speak, before my lord John Hawkwood does!
There’s more – including quite a lot of humble bragging, ‘even though I’m great, il Acuto’s even more amazeballs’ sort of stuff, and ended by handing over the commander’s baton and declaring
I intend to give him all my prompt obedience
Now, historians and chroniclers of the time were much given to putting words into the mouths of their heroes, so the actual words are probably tripe, but it would appear that there is one military commander reporting to the overall Paduan Boss, il Vecchio and therefore a relatively clear decision- making process. And the broth was to be all the better for it.
So the Paduan army did indeed advance, and fortune smiled on their endeavours, right up to the walls of the city. Where they, however, met two enemies of Italian 14th century warfare; war, and food. There was far too much of the former, and almost none of the latter. After 20 days eating horses and turnips they tried to talk their way into an agreement, but faced with a stony and knowing opponent, they inevitably had to run away instead, sorry, did I say run away? I mean of course, make a strategic withdrawal back towards food and safety at Castelbaldo, arriving at the town of Castagnaro.
Behind them, the Gates of Barad-Dur – sorry, Verona, opened to spew forth the Veronese army under its commander Giovanni Ordelaffi, a strippling of 32, snapping at the heels of the turnip eating looking to cut off their retreat. But at Castnagnaro, rather than crossing the Adige to reach Castelbaldo and safely, il Acuto spotted an opportunity in the land and decide to turn and fight. It has to be said that some of his men, tried of turnips, said sod that for a game of soldiers and swam across the Adige anyway to get at the nosh. Il Vecchio would organise boats to bring food across that evening to stop that happening.
Hawkwood thought this spot looked perfect for a bit of a dust up. He was able to choose a position behind a dyke. Now look dyke is a very odd word isn’t it? Leaving aside the slang meanings, it can mean at exactly the same time and the same spelling the exact opposite things – a ditch or an embankment. Surely this goes against all the rules of language – i.e. to help you communicate. OED tells me that’s because it either means the thing you have dug – the ditch – or the thing you have crafted with the stuff you dug up – the embankment. Either way, I hearby declare that the word dyke be banned for ever more as being non functional, and simply silly. All out brothers and sisters. Anyway in this case it means a ditch. On the left side was a swampy, marshy place that no one who wanted to live would venture into. On the right was the River. Neat. There was a canal behind to boot as it happens, so it was a sort of watery fortress. So Hawkwood had his army draw up behind the ditch. And waited.
By 10th May, his view was spoiled by a bunch of Veronese. There were a lot of them; 9,000 cavalry, 2,600 crossbowmen and pikemen, and several thousand local militia. This ‘several thousand’ is a vague figure as I am sure you will notice. The numbers come from a Paduan chronicler, who was in the business of bigging up the Veronese, so who knows; he makes Hawkwood’s command much smaller at 7,000 cavalry and 1600 infantry and archers, and no poorly defined quantity of local militia. Maybe it’s all entirely accurate, but basically I think we can assume that the Veronese outnumbered the Paduans – after all they’d been behind comfy walls rather than running off to find food – but probably not to the extent suggested by the phrase ‘thousands of militia’.
Overnight the two armies prepared – the Paduans by ferrying over non turnip based foodstuffs, the Veronese by gathering reeds and throwing large faggots of reeds into the ditch to try and stop them flopping around in the ditch in front of the Paduan swords, spears and arrows. Hawkwood had also prepared the ground elsewhere somewhat; he’d filled in and smoothed out and area about 20 feet long where the ditch met the river, which created a sort of causeway around Hawkwood’s right flank. Whether he did this because he had a cunning plan, or just in case, is anyone’s guess.
During the morning of the following day the armies lined up and organised. John organised his army into 8 contingents organised into three lines. Hawkwood placed himself at the head of the first line, as was with wont, with 50 MAA and 500 Archers, all of whom were English. Now that’s interesting too ; you remember that Hawkwood had become sort of the unofficial head of the English mercenaries in Italy? No? Well we talked about it many episodes ago. Now things have moved on there are far more Italians mercenaries involved now, far fewer English; and yet here’s Hawkwood still standing at the head of an English contingent. Might be worth also mentioning a captain called Richard Romsey, who had been employed by Louis – and yet when it came to it refused to fight against Hawkwood and defected. That role as head Englishman is still there after all this time.
Anywho, the second line was commanded by Ubaldini, and the third by il Vecchio – who Hawkwood and Ubaldini kept telling to go away and say in the safety of Castelbardo, but to no avail. The sap was rising yet in the old oak.
On the other six of the ditch, the Veronese formed into 6 contingents in two lines under Ordelaffi, Del Verme, and da Polenta. As another aside, please note how all the Hungarianns, Germans, English commanders and so on are barely to be seen; Italian warfare by the 8s and 90s was becoming dominated by Italian Condottori, no longer all these foreigners; and it is a trend that will only get more pronounced. The times they were a rattling the windows and all that.
Now the Veronese also had a massive contraption, which appears to have held everything up for hours, probably pulled forward on carts by oxen straining their way through the mud. It was a people killer – a 144 tube gunpowder weapon. It sounds a bit like a massive version of the thing Edward III had on carts at Crecy, if you remember. The idea was that it would mow down the doomed Paduans, and make them stubble to the vicious lead and stone. Watch this space.
Anyway there’s one more element of the set up on both sides – the carracio. This was a large 4 wheeled cart placed at the back of the army with huge banners and flags, plus massive cross, covered with symbols of the city. The carracio was an object of city pride to stir the army on, and a place of focus if things went wrong the strongest and bravest, the brigade of last resort were there. Actually the use of mercenaries with limited civic pride therefore were leading the decline of the Carracio, but at Castagnaro, there they were we are told. At the front, new champions were knighted, to raise morale of the troops – 5 Paduans by Il Vecchio, and some English by Hawkwood.
Anyway, late in the afternoon, as the sun was already sinking, the massive bollock drawn contraption was ready. Or not ready. In fact the bollock drawn contraption didn’t seem to be playing bullet – and the Paduan wheat remained unmown. Buy Hawkwood needed a battle here, he could stay there for ever without needed more turnips. And so he deployed a very English tactic – he irritated everyone. English Longbowmen advanced as they would at Agincourt, until they were within their matchless range – and unleashed a storm with fell on the foe, ‘as if it were raining’. Under their cover came forward infantry skirmishers, attacking isolated Veronese units and then retreating behind the ditch. It worked. The Veronese gave up on their monstrous gunpowder – monstrous, and non functional – and forward they came. It would come down to blood and guts
The battle was fought almost entirely on foot, as was often the case, because that was what the terrain demanded, Extra planks were thrown across the planks, and on came the Veronese, and the melee became fierce. The extra numbers of the Veronese began to tell, and the Paduans gave ground, forced back from the edge of the ditch, slowly back towards the canal. Sensing that this was the moment of truth, when either side could break or be broken. And so Ordelaffi threw the dice, and committed his second line – now his superior numbers were doubled, no surely the Paduans would break, and the watery fortress that protected them would become a death trap.
At this point, Hawkwood earned his reputation. From his Thessalonian Charger he shouted ‘Carne, Carne’ – Flesh, Flesh, and threw his commander’s baton towards the enemy, and had his trumpets blast their command. Hawkwood took his contingent, had them remount, swung to the far right of his line to the specially prepared causeway by the river and used it to swing behind the fully committed Veronese line.
With no reserve stop them, the result was chaos. Some of the Veronese tried to turn and fight, others to form round the Carracio. Confusion and disorder spear like a plague through the Veronese ranks and men began to die and surrender. A knot of resistance formed but was overwhelmed, and the Veronese army began to run.
By the time the counting was done somewhere between 2 and 5,000 Veronse where captured, including Ordelaffi and 80 of his captains, 700 killed and 800 wounded.
Castagnaro is considered one of Hawkwood’s finest victories, possibly THE very best. He showed all the mature skills of a master military commander; he chose his ground carefully, and prepared; he adapted t the situation, goading his opponent into action, he either had a winning plan or took decisive action when opportunity presented itself. It has been compared in form to the Black Prince’s victory at Poitiers, and Hawkwood’s charge with that of the Captal de Buch. Ubaldini’s confidence in the old Master had been comprehensively justified. Hawkwood’s victory was celebrated throughout Italy.
Well, that’s the good stuff about the Paduan campaign from Hawkwood’s point of view. Pushing home the advantage again proved difficult; once more Venetian money helped Verona rebuild, although Gian Galeazzo of Milan too this as a good moment to join the winning side and allied with the Paduans. But il Vecchio and Hawkwood had a falling out on the following campaign to take the attack to Verona. On crossing the Adige, they found a Veronese army in place; Hawkwood advised falling back, Il Vecchio refused to agree and charged ahead, and although forcing the river the army soon ran into trouble and had to retreat. Within a couple of months, by May 1387 Hawkwood had quit Paduan service; it’s probably another example that Hawkwood, now with a reputation a mile high, would not suffer having his military professional opinion overruled by people he considered amateurs any more. Despite his absence the Paduans carried the war to a successful conclusion by the end of 1387; though it would not be too long before they fell into the great hungry maw that was Milan.
But for Hawkwood, his future now lay firmly with Florence, now his homeland as well as employer, and he signed a new contact with Florence. Probably he didn’t know that his future now lay entirely with the Tuscan city.