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The Battle of Marignano was a battle fought during the phase of the Italian Wars (1494–1559) called the War of the League of Cambrai, that took place on 13 and 14 September, 1515, near the town today called Melegnanomarker, 16 km southeast of Milanmarker. It resulted in a victory for Frenchmarker forces.

On one side were the Frenchmarker forces of Francis I and some German landsknechts — and, eventually, his Venetianmarker allies — and on the other the mercenaries of the Old Swiss Confederacy, since 1512 in control of Milan, where the nominal Sforza duke, Massimiliano — son of Lodovico il Moro, whom the French had previously defeated for possession of Milan — was under Swiss control. The bloody Battle of Marignano was fought to retake control of the Duchy of Milanmarker, the French gate to Italy.

The prologue to the battle was a remarkable Alpine passage, in which François hauled pieces of artillery (including 40 or 70 huge cannons) over new-made roads over the Col d'Argentière, an unexpected route. At Villafrancamarker the French surprised and seized Prospero Colonna and most of the Swiss cavalry. The Swiss retreated to Milan, where French gold sent some canton's contingents of disciplined pikemen home.

After a delay of some time, the Swiss marched out to meet Francis's forces at the little burnt-out village at a bridgehead over a small river. The battle lasted more than 24 hours, a brutal and bloody engagement quite unlike either the courteous feinting of the condottieri of the previous century, or the orderly and schematic presentation in the memorial painting (upper right). In the moonlight and confusion, the outcome hung in the balance. Only the early-morning arrival of fresh light cavalry commanded by the condottiero Bartolomeo d'Alviano, paid by the Venetian allies who had drawn Francis into Italy in the first place turned the tide against the Swiss. The previous day had seen a scandalous public auction of official places in Venice, described by the diarist Marcantonio Michiel: "By the end of the day 47,000 ducats had been raised, though with the greatest shame and disrepute for the Great Council." Dispatch riders placed the sum in the hands of the condottiero overnight.

By the peace of Noyon (1516), Milan was returned to France. The Franco-Swiss treaty of peace after Marignano has never been broken. However, France, intervened decisively into Switzerland during the French Revolutionary Wars at the end of the 18th century.

Marignano established the superiority of French cast bronze artillery and cavalry over the until-then invincible phalanx tactics of the Swiss infantry. The victory of Francis at Marignano, however, eventually galvanized opposition in the divided peninsula, and turned the European balance of power against Francis I. In the meantime, however, Francis gained the city, and more importantly, the Castello Sforzescomarker within it, the strategic key to control of Lombardy. There Massimiliano Sforza and his Swiss mercenaries and the cardinal-bishop of Sionmarker retreated, only submitting when French sappers had placed mines under the foundations. The French regained Milan, and Massimiliano went into luxurious exile with a French purse of 30,000 ducats.

Marignano was also the first battle in history in which the fife was used (in this case, by the Swiss infantry to relay commands throughout the army).

Shortly after the battle, Francis met with Pope Leo X in Bolognamarker to discuss the return of Milan to France - a meeting at which Leonardo da Vinci was also present. There, Francis persuaded Leonardo to accompany him back to France, and granted him the Clos Lucémarker manor.

The retreating Swiss army seized the upper-Lombardy province of Ticinomarker to cover their retreat, leaving a rearguard to preside it, later it was incorporated in the Swiss Confederationmarker as the Canton Ticinomarker, remaining to this day an Italian-speaking enclave in Switzerlandmarker.

Commemorating the event are a bas-relief of the Battle of Marignano by Pierre Bontemps, which decorates Francis I's tomb at Saint-Denis; a painting by Antoine Caron for Fontainebleaumarker (now at the National Gallery of Canadamarker, Ottawa); and the most famous musical composition of Clément Janequin, the chanson La guerre.


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