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Sir John Hawkwood (1320-1394) was an Englishmarker mercenary or condottiero who was active in 14th century Italymarker. The French chronicler Jean Froissart knew him as Haccoude and Italians as Giovanni Acuto. Hawkwood served first the Pope and then various factions in Italy for over 30 years.

Childhood

Hawkwood's youth is shrouded in tales and legends and it is unclear how he exactly became a soldier. According to the most accepted tales, he was a second son of a tanner in Sible Hedinghammarker in Essex and was apprenticed in Londonmarker. Other tales also claim that he was a tailor before he became a soldier.

Hawkwood served in the English army in France in the first stages of the Hundred Years' War under Edward III. According to different traditions Hawkwood fought in the battles of Crécy and/or Poitiers but there is no direct evidence of either. Different traditions maintain that the King or Edward, the Black Prince knighted him. It has also been speculated that he assumed the title with the support of his soldiers. His service ended after the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360.

Early career as a mercenary in France

Hawkwood moved to Burgundy and joined the small mercenary companies that fought for money in France. Later he was part of the self-named Great Company that fought against Papal troops near Avignonmarker.

In the beginning of the 1360s Hawkwood had risen to be commander of the White Company. In 1363 Hawkwood's men were part of the companies that the marquis of Montferrato hired and led over the Alps to fight a war against Milanmarker. Afterwards, Hawkwood and his troops remained in Italy.

Serving Italian factions

In the following years, the White Company fought under many banners and switched sides many times. In 1364, it fought for Pisamarker against Florence. In 1369, Hawkwood fought for Perugiamarker against the Papal forces. In 1370, he joined Bernabò Visconti in his war against an alliance of cities including Pisa and Florencemarker. In 1372, he fought for Visconti against his former master, the Marquis of Monferrato. After that, he resigned his command and the White Company moved to the service of the Pope for a time.

In 1368, he attended the wedding of Lionel of Antwerp to Violante, daughter of Galeazzo II Visconti, in Milan. Also in attendance were the literary stars of the era Chaucer, Jean Froissart and Petrarch.

Under Hawkwood's command, the company gained a good reputation and he became a popular mercenary commander. He gained a nickname l'acuto, "the keen one", possibly a mispronunciation of his name by Italian speakers which became his Italian name, Giovanni Acuto. His success was varied, but he exploited the shifting allegiances and power politics of Italian factions for his own benefit.

Italian cities concentrated on trade and hired mercenaries instead of forming standing armies. Hawkwood often played his employers and their enemies against each other. He might get a contract to fight on one side and then demand a payment from the other in order not to attack them. He also could just change sides, keeping his original payment. Sometimes one party hired him so that he would not work for their enemies.

If not paid, mercenaries like Hawkwood, could threaten their employers with desertion or pillage. However part of the White Company's reputation was built upon the fact that Sir John's men were far less likely to desert dangerous situations than other mercenaries and Hawkwood soon grew much richer than many other condottiere. He bought estates in the Romagnamarker and in Tuscany, a castle at Montecchio Vesponi. Despite all this, it is claimed that he was illiterate. His education was rudimentary at best, contemporaries specifically remarked at his lack of oratory skills, and much of his business and correspondence was done by proxy and later his wife.

In 1375, when Hawkwood's company was fighting for the Pope against Florence in the War of the Eight Saints, Florence made an agreement with him and paid him not to attack for three months.

In 1377, Hawkwood led the destruction of Cesena by mercenary armies, acting in the name of Pope Gregory XI. One tale claims that he had promised the people that they would be spared, but cardinal Robert of Geneva ordered them all killed. Shortly after, he switched allegiance to the anti-papal league and married Donnina Visconti, the illegitimate daughter of Bernabò Visconti, the Duke of Milanmarker. A quarrel with Bernardo soon ended the alliance, and Hawkwood instead signed an agreement with Florence.

John and Donnina had a son and three daughters.

In 1381, Richard II of England appointed him as ambassador to the Roman Court.

In 1387, Hawkwood, fighting for Padovamarker, fought Giovanni Ordelaffi from Forlìmarker, fighting for Veronamarker in the Battle of Castagnaro, and won.

Last years with Florence

In the 1390s Hawkwood became a commander-in-chief of the army of Florence in the war against the expansion of Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan. Hawkwood's army invaded Lombardy and was within ten miles of Milan before he had to retreat over Adige rivermarker. Later in the year, forces under his command defended Florence and later defeated the Milanese force of Jacopo dal Verme. Eventually Visconti sued for peace. Contemporary opinion in Florence regards Hawkwood as a savior of Florence's independence against Milanese expansion.

At that stage Florence had given him citizenship and a pension. He spent his latter years in a villa in the vicinity of Florence.

John Hawkwood died in Florence on March 16-March 17 1394. He was buried with state honors in the Duomomarker. Shortly afterwards, Richard II asked for his body to be returned to his native England. Hawkwood's son also moved to Essex, England.

Memory and monuments

In 1436 the Florentines commissioned of Paolo Uccello a funerary monumentmarker, a fresco transferred on canvas, which still stands in the Duomo. Originally, the Florentines intended to erect a bronze statue, but the costs proved too high. Finally they settled for a monochrome fresco in terra verde, a color closest to the patina of bronze.

Posthumously Hawkwood gained a reputation of both brutality and chivalry. In Sible Hedingham there is a Hawkwood memorial chapel and a Hawkwood Road. In Romagnamarker there is a Strada Aguta.

He is one of the Nine Worthies of London mentioned by Richard Johnson in his book of 1592.

Sources

  • Balestracci, Duccio. Le armi, i cavalli, l'oro. Giovanni Acuto e i condottieri nell'Italia del Trecento. Rome: Laterza, 2003. ISBN 978-8842068075
  • Caferro, William. John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0801883231
  • Cooper, Stephen. Sir John Hawkwood: Chivalry and the art of War. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2008. ISBN 978-1844157525
  • Saunders, Frances Stonor. (UK title) Hawkwood: The Diabolical Englishman. London: Faber & Faber, 2004. ISBN 978-0571219094
  • Saunders, Frances Stonor. (US title) The Devil's Broker: Seeking Gold, God, and Glory in 14th Century Italy. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005. ISBN 978-0060777302
  • Leader, John Temple & Marcotti, Giuseppe. Trans. Leader, Scott. Sir John Hawkwood: Story of a Condottiere. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1889.


Other sources



Fiction



  • Hubert Cole wrote a series of three novels featuring the adventures of John Hawkwood: Hawkwood (1967), Hawkwood In Paris (1969) and Hawkwood And The Towers Of Pisa (1973)


Film

  • The fictional 1985 Paul Verhoeven film Flesh & Blood features an English mercenary captain called 'Hawkwood' (Jack Thompson), but is set in 1501, more than a century after the real John Hawkwood's death.


Documentary Film



External links



References


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