Battle of Ravenna 11 Apr 1512

On Easter Sunday 1512 (11 April) a French force stormed the fortified camp of the Holy League – Spanish and Papal – outside the city of Ravenna. In a hard fought battle lasting six hours the French drove the Spanish and Papal forces from the field.


Historical Situation

Setting: Ravenna, Italy; 11 April 1512

Beginning in February 1512, the French forces in Italy, newly commanded by Gaston de Foix, Duc de Nemours, had been engaged in capturing cities in the Romagna and the Veneto, in an attempt to deny control of those regions to the forces of the Holy League (Wikipedia: Battle of Ravenna (1512)). Although he had been successful in a number of sieges, Nemours was aware that the impending invasion of France by Henry VIII of England would cause much of his army to be withdrawn, and he was determined to force the main army of the Holy League into battle before that occurred. Thus, in late March, Nemours, together with an Italian contingent under the Duke of Ferrara, marched east from Bologna and laid siege to the city of Ravenna, which was defended by Papal troops.

Julius II, alarmed at the prospect of losing his last stronghold in the Romagna, demanded that an army be sent to relieve the city; Ramon de Cardona had to comply, and the Spanish army set out for Ravenna with a company of Papal troops in tow (Wikipedia: Battle of Ravenna (1512)). By April 9, they had passed Forli, and were advancing north along the Ronco River towards the city, and on the next day had reached Molinaccio, only a mile south of the French positions, but still separated from them by the Ronco. Nemours, short on supplies and increasingly anxious to give battle before he was forced to withdraw from Italy, ordered a general attack for the following day.


Battlefield

The battle was fought “in the meadows of Sta Maria in Porto”, north of the mill called the Molinaccio.
The battlefield was a low lying, waterlogged, plain intersected by ditches and drains. There were no trees on the plain.

1512-04-11 Battle of Ravenna - Map

1512-04-11 Battle of Ravenna – Map

The River Ronco was on the Holy League’s left flank and formed the left “wall” of their fortified camp. The river was fordable for the entire length but the French chose to cross the river at some distance from the Holy League. Like all rivers in that part of Italy the Ronco had an embankment on each side. In this case the embankment was the main route between Ravenna and Forlì so effectively a road; it was the route on which the Holy League approached the battlefield and the route they would flee down. The embankment was wide and low (lower than today). The embankment side towards the river was steep with a narrow strip of land between the embankment and the water. The slope towards the battlefield was more gentle and had a ditch.

The Holy League army dug a ditch to surround their camp the night before, and raised the bank on the inner side. The ditch was probably 6 feet deep (1.8m). They left a 40 foot (12m) gap between the embankment and their ditch to allow the cavalry to exit towards the French.

Beyond the Holy League camp, towards the French, was a second “ditch”. This was probably one of the many drainage ditches mentioned rather than dug by the Spanish. It was explicitly mentioned so might have been deeper than the other drainage ditches or just in an inconvenient positioin.


Orders of Battle

Holy League Order of Battle

The defenders were a combined Spanish and Papal force. They were heavily outnumbered by the French but entrenched behind a bank and ditch near the Ronco river, which also had a wide and low embankment. They had dug the entrenchment the night before.

Holy League Order of Battle

  • Commander in Chief (Raymundo de Cardona, viceroy of Naples)
  • Artillery
    • 27 Guns1
  • Vanguard (Fabrizio Colonna)
    • 670 Papal Lances
  • Battle (Marquis della Padula)
    • 575 Spanish Lances
  • Rearguard “Company of the Great Captain” (Don Alfonso Caravajal)
    • 490 Spanish Lances
  • Infantry (Pedro Navarro)
    • 30 (or more) “carrette” light carts with heavy arquebuses2
    • Spanish Infantry3,4
      • 4000 Pikemen
      • 1300 Swordsmen
      • 1300 Arquebusiers
    • 2000 Papal Italians4 (Ramassot)
      • 1600 Pikemen
      • 400 Arquebusiers
  • Light Cavalry (Marquis de Pescara)
    • 1500 Light Cavalry4
      • 1000 Spanish Genitors
      • 500 Papal Mounted Arquebusiers
  • Ditch and bank

Notes:
(1) Taylor mentions the French artillery had twice the guns of the Holy League and Oman says the French side had 54 guns (30 French and 24 Italian).
(2) Small, low, two-wheeled vehicles, built of light wood, with a sharp iron spear protruding by about 6 feet, and iron scythe blades to each side. They were manned and propelled by the infantry. Each had 2 or 3 heavy arquebuses. There were “not less than thirty” of them with different sources listing 30, 50, or 100.
(3) Taylor describes the Spanish infantry as “disposed in three divisions each of which consisted of four coroneles or companies (a coronela was between 500 and 600 strong).
(4) The sources give the total number and the composition is speculative.

French Order of Battle

The French had the larger force – 23,000 men – including French troops, Landsknechts, and Italians.

French Order of Battle

  • Commander in Chief (Gaston de Foix, duc de Nemours)
  • Vanguard (Jacques de Chabannes, seigneur de la Palisse)
    • 900 or 910 1 Italian Lances
  • Battle (Thomas Bohier, seneschal of Normandy)
    • 780 French Lances
  • French Artillery
    • 30 guns
  • Infantry
    • 5000 or 95002 Landsknecht (Jacob Empser)
    • 3500 or 80003 French Infantry (Seigneur de Molart)
      • Gascon Crossbowmen4
      • Picard Pikemen
    • 3900 or 4000 Italian foot (Federigo da Bozzolo)
  • Extreme left (Gian Bernardo Caraciolo)
    • 2000 light cavalry
      • 300 Italian Mounted Arqubusiers
      • French Mounted Crossbowmen
      • Stradiots
    • 1000 Foot Crossbowmen5
  • Italian Artillery (Alfonso de’Este, Duke of Ferrara)
    • 12 heavy guns
    • 12 light guns
  • Rearguard (Yves d’Alègre)
    • 1000 Infantry6 (Paris and Nicolas Scotto)
    • 400 French Men-at-Arms

Notes:
(1) Taylor says 910 Italian lances and Oman says 900.
(2) Taylor says 9500 Landsknecht and Oman says 5000.
(3) Taylor says 8000 French infantry and Oman says 3500.
(4) Taylor is inconsistent and calls the Gascons “archers” in one place but “crossbowmen” in another. Oman just says “cross-bowmen” and I think crossbowmen is more likely.
(5) Taylor calls them “Dismounted archers” but I think crossbowmen more likely
(6) We don’t know the composition of the rearguard infantry. They didn’t participate in the battle anyway as they was left to guard the river crossing and camp.

References

Stevenson, P. (1991). The battle of Ravenna 11th April 1512. Wargames Illustrated, 46, pp. 11-14.

Taylor, F. (1993). The art of war in Italy 1494-1529 (originally published 1921). Essex, UK: Partizan Press.

Wikipedia: Battle of Ravenna (1512)

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