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Angry_Historian
5/18/2008 10:13pm,
The "Great Captain", Gonzalo de Cordoba

by David Black Mastro




Gonzalo de Cordoba, otherwise known as El Gran Capitan, was one of the greatest military leaders and innovators during the 16th century. His numerous exploits with the Spanish Army of Italy are legendary.

The beginning of the 16th century was a transitional period in military history. Different European countries had different military traditions--some old, and some new. The English relied on their trusted combination of "Bills and Bows"--i.e., troops armed with the fearsome bill (a bladed polearm originally used for pruning trees) and the dreaded longbow. The armies of the Swiss Confederation reintroduced the use of the long pike (spiess), which enabled foot soldiers to drive off mounted knights. Imitating the Swiss, the Imperial Germans adopted the pike as well. The French, despite their numerous losses to the English during the Hundred Years’ War, were still known for the quality of their armored knights, aka gendarmes--though they finally realized that effective infantry were a necessity too, and so Swiss pikemen were hired by them, and used with great effect.

Spain was in a different situation, and her own martial traditions were likewise unique. Her armies had been developed through fighting against the Moors in the Reconquista, with an emphasis on effective infantry & light cavalry, who often fought using guerrillero tactics. The Spanish light cavalry, known as jinete, were based on the Moorish type, and they made use of a light lance (lanza jineta) which was easier to wield than the heavier lanzon of heavy cavalry or knights. The Spanish infantry came in several types; crossbowmen and arquebusiers provided a missile element, while close combat was the role for the dreaded rodeleros ("shield-bearers"), who were armed with a cut-and-thrust sword (espada) and a round shield (rodela), otherwise known as a "target". Sometimes they were referred to simply as espadachins ("swordsmen"). The rodeleros were not the only European infantry armed with sword-and-shield (they were also used by the English, who called them "targetiers", and the Italians, who referred to them as rotularii), but they were nevertheless among the best swordsmen of their day, since espada y rodela fencing was a traditional Spanish form of swordfighting.

The Spanish already had an effective army, but they found out the hard way that their combo of light cavalry & rodeleros, while formidable, was still not up to the task of dealing with certain other troop types. In 1495, the same year that the French under Charles VIII engaged in the controversial Battle of Fornovo against a force of allied Italian city-states, the Spanish sent an army under Cordoba to counter the French. That same year at Seminara, Cordoba was defeated, when his jinete cavalry were driven off by the French gendarmes, and his swordsmen were ground underfoot and/or dispersed by the Swiss pikemen allied to the French. This would be Cordoba’s only defeat.

Regrouping his forces, Cordoba fought a guerrillero campaign against the French, relying on his experience in fighting the Moors. He took advantage of the rough Italian terrain, and attacked the French supply lines. In addition, he took very seriously his defeat at Seminara, and he studied the pike tactics that were at that time essentially a monopoly of the Swiss and Germans. Emperor Maximillian sent some 2,000 landsknecht infantry to Cordoba, to teach his army the pareticulars of the Swiss-German pike drill. The re-vamped Spanish Army thus contained not only the traditional light cavalry and sword-armed infantry, but also a proportion of pikemen.

But Cordoba did not stop there. The arquebus (an early matchlock musket) was being used with considerable success by the Germans, and Cordoba saw great potential in this weapon. He greatly increased the number of arquebusiers in his force. It was to be a true turning point in Western military history.

In 1502, Cordoba met the Swiss outside the walls of Barletta, and things went very differently than they did at Seminara. Now supported by friendly pikemen, the rodeleros were able to close the gap and come to close quarters with the Swiss. Inside the range of the Swiss pikes, the Spaniards were able to execute great slaughter, much as the Romans had done to the Macedonians at Pydna in 168 B.C.

The following year at Cerignola, the "Great Captain" introduced the French to the power of the arquebus. Fighting from behind a simple trench, the Spanish arquebusiers were able to mow down the French gendarmes and Swiss pikemen, who charged in vain. After the French commander himself was killed (the Duke of Nemours), Cordoba ordered his pike-and-shot units to advance, and drive the enemy off the field.

Several months later, Cordoba compeletely smashed the French Army of Italy at the Garigliano River. The Spanish rodeleros wrecked havoc, once the French positions were infiltrated. The was Gonzalo de Cordoba’s finest hour.


Unfortunately, Cordoba’s career declined sharply, afterwards. King Ferdinand was jealous of the "Great Captain’s" successes, and he was never employed again, after he was recalled to Spain in 1507. He died in 1515, at the age of 72.

Aristobulus
5/19/2008 3:56am,
The Spainish in the early 1500's had the best Military in the world. They beat the best of the best in Europe and, then destroyed the natives in the new world against HUGE odds; numerically and logistically. Cordoba's legacy was saddly short lived. The rise and fall of Spainish power took place within roughly 100 years. Rising in the early 1500's and waning around the 1540's to being horribly outclassed by the 1600's. The New world conquest hurt them in the long run.

Angry_Historian
5/19/2008 9:00am,
The rise and fall of Spainish power took place within roughly 100 years. Rising in the early 1500's and waning around the 1540's to being horribly outclassed by the 1600's.



"Waning around the 1540s"? How so?


The Spanish actually continued to be the dominant Western European power until nearly the end of the century. The Spanish Army of Flanders was the most formidable fighting force in Europe, from the late 1560s until the death of Alessandro Farnese, in 1592.



The New world conquest hurt them in the long run.


Please elaborate.

DCS
5/19/2008 10:05am,
That same year at Seminara, Cordoba was defeated, when his jinete cavalry were driven off by the French gendarmes, and his swordsmen were ground underfoot and/or dispersed by the Swiss pikemen allied to the French. This would be Cordoba’s only defeat.

Nope, it was because the calabrese militia ran away leaving exposed the spanish flank. The spanish troops retreated to Seminara after covering the asses of the fleeing napolitan troops which were doing the usual tactic of advancing "italian style" (read: backwards).


The New world conquest hurt them in the long run.
?????

Angry_Historian
5/19/2008 10:28am,
Nope, it was because the calabrese militia ran away leaving exposed the spanish flank. The spanish troops retreated to Seminara after covering the asses of the fleeing napolitan troops which were doing the usual tactic of advancing "italian style" (read: backwards).


I took my info from Sir Charles Oman's classic, History of the Art of War in the 16th Century:

"Gonsalvo's first--and only disastrous--battle at Seminara, in the very toe of the Calabrian peninsula, seems to have set him searching for new tactics. His 'genitors' were completely driven off by the charge of French gendarmes, and the Swiss pikemen ran over his miscellaneous infantry in one rush."


The fact that Cordoba felt compelled to re-vamp his entire army clearly suggests problems not with any allied Italian militias, but with the Spanish Army itself. Cordoba's military reforms ultimately led to the establishment of the colunela in 1505, which consisted of arquebusiers, pikemen, and sword-and-target men in a ratio of 2:2:1.



In any case, what are your sources, for what happened at Seminara?



And, regarding the "Italian style" comment, that was hardly necessary. All you have to do is look at something like the Battle of Lepanto (1571), to see that Italians could fight with as much skill and tenacity as anyone else. Or look at how the Spaniards valued (after themselves) their Italian troops over all others from the so-called "Six Nations", who made up the Army of Flanders.

DCS
5/19/2008 10:56am,
In any case, what are your sources, for what happened at Seminara?


PRIMERA BATALLA DE SEMINARA (21 de junio de 1495)

Victoria del general francés Aubigny ante el ejército aliado hispano-napolitano de Don Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba y el rey Fernando II de Nápoles.

El Señor de Aubigny, dispuesto a acabar cuanto antes con el ejército hispano-napolitano recién desembarcado en Calabria, juntó sus fuerzas y las de su subordinado Precy, reuniendo un ejército de 400 hombres de armas, 600 caballos ligeros, un cuerpo de infantería suiza y otro de milicias del país. Con él se dirigió a Seminara para presentar una batalla campal a los aliados.

Fernández de Córdoba aconsejó al rey Fernando II que no presentase batalla, pues se desconocía a ciencia cierta tanto el número de soldados franceses como la calidad de los voluntarios napolitanos en una batalla campal. Propuso retirarse a una plaza fuerte o en su defecto, encerrarse en la propia Seminara para observar al enemigo y tomar más elementos de juicio. Pero el rey, un joven de apenas 26 años y quizás influenciado por el ánimo de sus capitanes, no tomó en cuenta los consejos del español y decidió presentar batalla al francés.

El 21 de junio salieron las tropas aliadas de Seminara para desplegar en unas colinas a una legua al este de la plaza y a cuyo pie discurría un riachuelo vadeable. A la derecha formaron 1.000 infantes y 400 jinetes españoles; a la izquierda formaron los 6.000 voluntarios napolitanos y calabreses de Fernando II. Frente a los españoles el Señor de Aubigny formó a su caballería, y a su derecha colocó a los piqueros suizos. En su retaguardia dejó las tropas del país.

Comenzaron el ataque los señores de armas franceses, que avanzaron hacia el riachuelo vadeable. Los 400 jinetes españoles se lanzaron sobre ellos para tratar de desorganizarlos. El Señor de Aubigny y su subordinado Precy se lanzaron sobre las filas de su caballería para rehacerlas, y las lanzaron de nuevo al ataque. Los españoles, fieles a sus tácticas guerreras aprendidas durante años de luchas contra los árabes, retrocedieron a sus posiciones para reorganizarse en ellas y volver a la carga.

Pero los voluntarios napolitanos y calabreses entiendieron la maniobra de la caballería española como una huida, y se desbandaron en desordenada fuga sin llegar a pelear. En cuanto se dió cuenta de ello, el Señor de Aubigny lanzó sobre ellos su caballería. En el campo quedó el cuerpo de infantería y caballería españolas que, al mando de Don Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba inició una ordenada y disciplinada retirada hacia los muros de Seminara. Al dia siguiente partió hacia Reggio.

Esta fue la primera y única derrota del general español, si bien no puede decirse que sea achacable a él.

Academia de Infantería. Historia Militar. Segundo curso. Guadalajara, 1945. Pág 158.

Angry_Historian
5/19/2008 11:13am,
PRIMERA BATALLA DE SEMINARA (21 de junio de 1495)

Victoria del general francés Aubigny ante el ejército aliado hispano-napolitano de Don Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba y el rey Fernando II de Nápoles.

El Señor de Aubigny, dispuesto a acabar cuanto antes con el ejército hispano-napolitano recién desembarcado en Calabria, juntó sus fuerzas y las de su subordinado Precy, reuniendo un ejército de 400 hombres de armas, 600 caballos ligeros, un cuerpo de infantería suiza y otro de milicias del país. Con él se dirigió a Seminara para presentar una batalla campal a los aliados.

Fernández de Córdoba aconsejó al rey Fernando II que no presentase batalla, pues se desconocía a ciencia cierta tanto el número de soldados franceses como la calidad de los voluntarios napolitanos en una batalla campal. Propuso retirarse a una plaza fuerte o en su defecto, encerrarse en la propia Seminara para observar al enemigo y tomar más elementos de juicio. Pero el rey, un joven de apenas 26 años y quizás influenciado por el ánimo de sus capitanes, no tomó en cuenta los consejos del español y decidió presentar batalla al francés.

El 21 de junio salieron las tropas aliadas de Seminara para desplegar en unas colinas a una legua al este de la plaza y a cuyo pie discurría un riachuelo vadeable. A la derecha formaron 1.000 infantes y 400 jinetes españoles; a la izquierda formaron los 6.000 voluntarios napolitanos y calabreses de Fernando II. Frente a los españoles el Señor de Aubigny formó a su caballería, y a su derecha colocó a los piqueros suizos. En su retaguardia dejó las tropas del país.

Comenzaron el ataque los señores de armas franceses, que avanzaron hacia el riachuelo vadeable. Los 400 jinetes españoles se lanzaron sobre ellos para tratar de desorganizarlos. El Señor de Aubigny y su subordinado Precy se lanzaron sobre las filas de su caballería para rehacerlas, y las lanzaron de nuevo al ataque. Los españoles, fieles a sus tácticas guerreras aprendidas durante años de luchas contra los árabes, retrocedieron a sus posiciones para reorganizarse en ellas y volver a la carga.

Pero los voluntarios napolitanos y calabreses entiendieron la maniobra de la caballería española como una huida, y se desbandaron en desordenada fuga sin llegar a pelear. En cuanto se dió cuenta de ello, el Señor de Aubigny lanzó sobre ellos su caballería. En el campo quedó el cuerpo de infantería y caballería españolas que, al mando de Don Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba inició una ordenada y disciplinada retirada hacia los muros de Seminara. Al dia siguiente partió hacia Reggio.

Esta fue la primera y única derrota del general español, si bien no puede decirse que sea achacable a él.

Academia de Infantería. Historia Militar. Segundo curso. Guadalajara, 1945. Pág 158.




So we have a Spanish book from 1945--arguably a biased source.


Nevertheless, I'd love to read that passage. Could you translate it and post it?



Also, do you have any primary sources for the Battle of Seminara?

DCS
5/19/2008 11:20am,
The French generals, D'Aubigny and Pr�cy, putting themselves at the head
of their cavalry on the left, consisting of about four hundred heavy-
armed, and twice as many light horse, dashed into the water without
hesitation. Their right was occupied by the bristling phalanx of Swiss
spearmen in close array; behind these were the militia of the country. The
Spanish _ginetes_ succeeded in throwing the French gendarmerie into
some disorder, before it could form after crossing the stream; but, no
sooner was this accomplished, than the Spaniards, incapable of
withstanding the charge of their enemy, suddenly wheeled about and
precipitately retreated with the intention of again returning on their
assailants, after the fashion of the Moorish tactics. The Calabrian
militia, not comprehending this manoeuvre, interpreted it into a defeat.
They thought the battle lost, and, seized with a panic, broke their ranks,
and fled to a man, before the Swiss infantry had time so much as to lower
its lances against them.

King Ferdinand in vain attempted to rally the dastardly fugitives. The
French cavalry was soon upon them, making frightful slaughter in their
ranks. The young monarch, whose splendid arms and towering plumes made him
a conspicuous mark in the field, was exposed to imminent peril. He had
broken his lance in the body of one of the foremost of the French
cavaliers, when his horse fell under him, and as his feet were entangled
in the stirrups, he would inevitably have perished in the _m�l�e_, but for
the prompt assistance of a young nobleman named Juan de Altavilla, who
mounted his master on his own horse, and calmly awaited the approach
of the enemy, by whom he was immediately slain. Instances of this
affecting loyalty and self-devotion not unfrequently occur in these wars,
throwing a melancholy grace over the darker and more ferocious features of
the time.

Gonsalvo was seen in the thickest of the fight, long after the king's
escape, charging the enemy briskly at the head of his handful of
Spaniards, not in the hope of retrieving the day, but of covering the
flight of the panic-struck Neapolitans. At length he was borne along by
the rushing tide, and succeeded in bringing off the greater part of his
cavalry safe to Seminara.

The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella The Catholic, V2 by William H. Prescott. (http://www.fullbooks.com/The-History-of-the-Reign-of-Ferdinand-and5.html)

The tactics employed by the jinetes at Seminara I during Gonzalo's first campaign in Naples were typical. The jinetes attacked a strong body of French gendarmes that was reordering, having passed a stream. In the usual fashion the jinetes charged in, let fly their javelins, and then suddenly wheeled in feigned retreat--intending, of course, to return to the fray if their impetuous enemy followed. The Calabrian militia of Gonzalo's Neapolitan ally, King Ferdinand, tragically misunderstood the tactic and, imagining the Spanish horse defeated, bolted the field en masse. Gonzalo was left to shift for himself, but there was no French pursuit, and the Spanish retreat (and Neapolitan rout) was covered by the jinetes.
Lanza Gineta: Spanish Light Cavalry of the Early Italian Wars (http://xenophongroup.com/EMW/article001.htm)

DCS
5/19/2008 11:25am,
So we have a Spanish book from 1945--arguably a biased source.
All history books are somewhat biased. Sir Charles Oman's book is from 1937 and he was English.... You don't expect an English not being biased against Spaniards, isn't it :)



Nevertheless, I'd love to read that passage. Could you translate it and post it?
It says basically what you can read in my previous post.



Also, do you have any primary sources for the Battle of Seminara?
No.

Aristobulus
5/19/2008 9:07pm,
The new world conquest hurt them financially. It was expensive. They lost more money than they made and eventually could not hold their territories.

Angry_Historian
5/20/2008 9:31am,
All history books are somewhat biased. Sir Charles Oman's book is from 1937 and he was English.... You don't expect an English not being biased against Spaniards, isn't it :)


In all seriousness, Oman tends to give credit where credit is due; he repeatedly points out the professionalism of the Spaniards, for example.

I suppose one would have to be wary about an English historian commenting on, say, the Armada campaign of 1588, but the Italian Wars don't involve the English, so I'm frankly not too concerned with any potential bias on Oman's part.




It says basically what you can read in my previous post.



No.


Fair enough.

Thanks for posting all of that.


Regardless of what may or may not have happened in terms of the performance of Cordoba's Italian allies at Seminara, it's pretty clear that he saw problems within his own fighting force--i.e., his jinete cavalry could not stand up to the French gendarmes, and his infantry could not stand up to the Swiss pike-block. The very fact that he ended up completely reorganizing his forces--by adding both pikemen & arquebusiers in large numbers--clearly indicates that. By combining the best of the native Spanish infantry tradition (the sword-and-target men) with the dominant Swiss-German pike fighting (courtesy of his landsknecht allies) and, of course, the arquebus--Cordoba was able to create the most formidable army in Western Europe, at that time.

Angry_Historian
5/20/2008 9:35am,
The new world conquest hurt them financially. It was expensive. They lost more money than they made and eventually could not hold their territories.


Uh, without the gold and silver from the New World, the Spanish would never have been able to finance any of their many wars.

The biggest single factor in Spain's decline was probably the 80+ years they fought against the Protestant Dutch. In Galleons and Galleys, John F. Guilmartin correctly pointed out that, had Phillip II listened to Alessandro Farnese (the Duke of Parma, who commanded the Spanish Army of Flanders), the Spanish might actually have prevailed in the Low Countries. The naval innovations of the English, and the activities of their "Sea Dogs" (privateers), also whittled away at Spain's strength.

The Spanish had proved capable of handling all other adversaries--eg., the Ottoman Turks, though often a threat, were thwarted definitively both at Malta and Lepanto, largely through Spanish efforts. After annexing Portugal in 1580, the Spanish were also at an advantage in the Pacific, with their base in the Philippines--they thus had domination of European trade in Asia, if only for a brief period. The Dutch and English soon made things difficult for them, but again--that boils down to the original Rebellion in the Low Countries, which the Spanish ultimately failed to stop.

DCS
5/20/2008 10:58am,
In all seriousness, Oman tends to give credit where credit is due; he repeatedly points out the professionalism of the Spaniards, for example.

Yes but from:


"Gonsalvo's first--and only disastrous--battle at Seminara, in the very toe of the Calabrian peninsula, seems to have set him searching for new tactics. His 'genitors' were completely driven off by the charge of French gendarmes, and the Swiss pikemen ran over his miscellaneous infantry in one rush."

to:


The Spanish ginetes succeeded in throwing the French gendarmerie into some disorder, before it could form after crossing the stream; but, no sooner was this accomplished, than the Spaniards, incapable of withstanding the charge of their enemy, suddenly wheeled about and precipitately retreated with the intention of again returning on their assailants, after the fashion of the Moorish tactics. The Calabrian militia, not comprehending this manoeuvre, interpreted it into a defeat. They thought the battle lost, and, seized with a panic, broke their ranks, and fled to a man, before the Swiss infantry had time so much as to lower its lances against them.

Don't you see some differences?


I suppose one would have to be wary about an English historian commenting on, say, the Armada campaign of 1588, but the Italian Wars don't involve the English, so I'm frankly not too concerned with any potential bias on Oman's part.

English are English, even if they are historians.


Regardless of what may or may not have happened in terms of the performance of Cordoba's Italian allies at Seminara, it's pretty clear that he saw problems within his own fighting force--i.e., his jinete cavalry could not stand up to the French gendarmes, and his infantry could not stand up to the Swiss pike-block. The very fact that he ended up completely reorganizing his forces--by adding both pikemen & arquebusiers in large numbers--clearly indicates that. By combining the best of the native Spanish infantry tradition (the sword-and-target men) with the dominant Swiss-German pike fighting (courtesy of his landsknecht allies) and, of course, the arquebus--Cordoba was able to create the most formidable army in Western Europe, at that time.

Of course I agree with you in this point.


... the activities of their "Sea Dogs" (privateers), also whittled away at Spain's strength.

I also agree with your previous post but....Privateers?. Fucking pirates I'll say, dear sir. :)

Angry_Historian
5/20/2008 11:45am,
Yes but from:






Don't you see some differences?



Some differences, yes--but note the passage:

The Spanish ginetes succeeded in throwing the French gendarmerie into some disorder, before it could form after crossing the stream; but, no sooner was this accomplished, than the Spaniards, incapable of withstanding the charge of their enemy... (Emphasis added)


The point stands--regardless of whether or not Cordoba's Italian allies failed him, he did not have a force of his own that was capable of standing up to the shock of French gendarmes and Swiss pikemen. He therefore took steps to change that, and much of what he did amounted to "Renaissance cross-training"--eg., learning the Swiss-German pike drill from Maximillian's landsknechte infantry.




English are English, even if they are historians.


What does that even mean?




Of course I agree with you in this point.


Fair enough.




I also agree with your previous post but....Privateers?. Fucking pirates I'll say, dear sir. :)


And what does that make the Spanish, who took all that precious metal from the Aztecs and other native American tribes? (Sheesh, I suddenly sound like Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, lol...)


Pirates in Spanish eyes, no doubt--but such folks received Letters of Mark from the Queen.


Don't forget that this was at a time when His Most Catholic Majesty, Philip II, was busy trying to stamp out "heresy" (as the especially brutal Spanish behavior in the Low Countries made so clear). Would anyone really expect the English (or anyone else) to just sit there, and let the Spanish do as they pleased?

DCS
5/20/2008 12:51pm,
What does that even mean?
English = Bad guys.


And what does that make the Spanish, who took all that precious metal from the Aztecs and other native American tribes? (Sheesh, I suddenly sound like Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, lol...)
Entrepeneurs?


Pirates in Spanish eyes, no doubt--but such folks received Letters of Mark from the Queen.
Ah, t3h Queen...

But don't forget the very important role of
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYnB6XkhJwM



Don't forget that this was at a time when His Most Catholic Majesty, Philip II, was busy trying to stamp out "heresy" (as the especially brutal Spanish behavior in the Low Countries made so clear). Would anyone really expect the English (or anyone else) to just sit there, and let the Spanish do as they pleased?

Whe should have burned all those heretic luteran/calvinist/anglican/commies raaaarg!!11!

:)

Angry_Historian
5/21/2008 11:52am,
English = Bad guys.


Ah. I see.



Entrepeneurs?


LOL. Okay. Sure. ;)



Ah, t3h Queen...

But don't forget the very important role of
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYnB6XkhJwM


Unfortunately, I cannot view this, as I'm technologically impaired...





Whe should have burned all those heretic luteran/calvinist/anglican/commies raaaarg!!11!

:)


LMFAO...


Oh, and regarding the Italian bit again, I think it's supremely ironic that you made the original comment that you did, when the BEST commander of the Spanish Army of Flanders (indeed, probably the very best commander in all of Western Europe)--ALESSANDRO FARNESE--was... you guessed it... Italian! :0 :)