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Battle of Pavia
- This article is about the battle in 1525. For the battle of Pavia fought by Charlemagne, see Battle of Pavia (773)
In 1525 during The Battle of Pavia, Charles V (1500-1558), The Holy Roman Emperor, defeated Francis I (1494-1547), King of France, taking him prisoner for ransom, and confining him in Spain. This event has been called "the first major modern battle", shifting from knights in armor and crossbowmen to cannoneers.
The Battle of Pavia was a continuation of "The Italian Wars" which began in 1494. Renaissance Italy was divided into several rival states, hostage to European powers, principally France and Spain. Swiss mercenaries held the balance between two great civilizations, that of the south and that of the north. (A relic of this historic position is the continuation of the Pope's Swiss guard down to this day.)
Francis I, King of France, in alliance with Venetians, had achieved a great victory over Swiss mercenaries in the Battle of Marignano, near Milan, on Sept. 13-14, 1515. This "romantic" battle excited "all Europe", representing the last stand of the old chivalry against the newfangled cannon.
In 1525, Pope Clement VII became alarmed at the control of Naples and Lombardy by Emperor Charles V. So the Pope formed an alliance with the victor at Marignano, Francis I, who returned over the Alps with a new army of 26,000 French, Italian, Swiss, and German. The campaign began brilliantly with the capture of Milan and Francis' triumphal entry. Marching on to Pavia (20 miles south of Milan), Francis dawdled in laying siege to the city. The Habsburg Emperor retaliated by sending a 23,000-man Habsburg army under Fernando Francisco de Avalos , Marchese di Pescara, to support the 6,000-man garrison in lifting the siege.
The attack came on the night of February 23, 1525. In the first assault, the Emperor's troops were routed, Francis distinguishing himself bravely. His coat-of-arms and white-plumed helmet appeared in the thickest of fighting. His faithful nobles accompanied him, notably, Admiral Bonnivet. The Admiral mistakenly advised Francis to make a rally, and they found themselves attacked from the rear.
The climax and crisis of the battle came when Pescara surprised the French with 1500 Basque cross-bowmen. All of the enemy's onslaught concentrated on the French center, where Francis rode. Gathering his scattered forces as best he could, Francis tried to save the remnants of his army. His bravest officers, dismayed by the failiure of the left flank, fought their way toward their King. The bravest and noblest of France were falling. The Duc de La Tremouille, fell from his horse, shot through the heart. The Marechal de la Foix died at the King's side. The King's horse was shot by a crossbow-dart, but he fought on, hand-to-hand.
The enemy was determined to kill the King. But the Constable of Bourbons Equerry rushed forward, shouting, "C'est le noble Roi ... respect epargnez-le", and the weapons dropped. On his knees, the Equerry begged François to yield his sword. But Francis would only yield his sword to the Italian generalissimo, Don Carlos, the Marquis of Lannoy, who handed Francis his own sword, saying, "It is not fitting that one of the Emperor's officers should look upon a disarmed King, even though that King may be a captive."
Thus ended the Battle of Pavia (in which the French army was virtually annihilated), on the Emperor's birthday. His birthday gift was the person of the King of France. Spanish hegemony in Italy dates from this battle.
Francis was eventually freed in 1526 through negotiations of his sister, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre.
- Koustam, Angus, Pavia 1525, Climax of The Italian Wars, Motorbooks, 1996, ISBN 1-85532-5047.
- Putnam, Samuel, Marguerite of Navarre, First Modern Woman, Grosset and Dunlop, New York, 1936.
- Whistler, Catherine, The Battle of Pavia, B H B, 2003, ISBN 1-85444-1787.
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