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The Battle of Fornovo, 1495

The Italian Wars, Pike & Shotte,  28mm

I’ve always been rather fond of the Italian Wars – in fact it was the subject of one of my earliest Osprey books – Pavia 1525, published way back in 1996. It’s still one of my favourite Ospreys, largely because it redefined what happened during the battle – and this version of events has stood the test. Anyway, the only other Osprey campaign from the period is Fornovo 1495 by David Nicolle. This battle was the inspiration for this lovely game, staged by renaissance and AWI aficionado Michael Schneider. We call it “Fornovo Light” as the basic scenario was based on the real battle – fought between the French and an alliance of Italian states – but it had a much scaled down order of battle, and the composition of the two armies was changed to suit Michael’s toy collection.  So, instead of Venetians and Milanese we had a lot of Landsknechts, supported by Jack Glanville’s Florentines. French levies and Italian mercenaries were replaced by Swiss pikemen and landsknechts of the Black Band.The basic idea was that the French army had invaded Italy, and gone as far south as Naples. Political pressure forced their retreat, and just north of Fornovo in northern Italy they ran into an Italian army out to get them. The two sides deployed on either side of a river, although some of the Italians had reached the western (French) bank, and were blocking the road to the north. To win the French had to clear this road, and make sure their baggage train made it off the northern table edge. In our game Michael and Bart played the French, while Jack and I commanded the Italians.The battle began with an artillery exchange. The Italians had more guns than the French, and bigger ones too. The French fire was reasonably ineffective, but our guns began well by picking on a unit of French cavalry and forcing it to test. It broke and ran. Then our cavalry on the western bank charge into the flank of the French gun battery. A fairly scrappy and confused melee followed, but it ended with the guns being overrun. Our gloating was soon cut short though. The bulk of the French cavalry had moved up to the right hand end of the French army, and it was now preparing to launch a devastating counter-charge. We got our blow in first though – our guns pummelled another unit of French men-at-arms, which our leading unit of Italian lanze spezzate (broken lances – mercenaries) charged them downhill and in the flank. By rights we should have trounced them. Amazingly though, Bart rolled near perfect dice, and with more supports it was the Italians who retired in disorder.That was the start of the disaster. The following turn the French elite gendarmes charged home and swept my condottiere from the field. A break through charge saw them keep going into my next unit, and so by the end of the turn all the Italians on the west bank of the river were completely obliterated. Meanwhile, on the rest of the battlefield the Italian pike blocks and screens of arquebusiers (with landsknechts standing in for Italians) advanced as far as the river, and began skirmishing with their counterparts from the Black Band and the Swiss contingent. Both Jack and I showed a singular lack of aggression here, mainly because we kept rolling poor command dice, and so we rarely got the chance to do much. Meanwhile the battle was gradually turning in favour of the French.Our great guns kept hammering away, destroying a block of French arquebusiers covering the steady advance of the baggage train. However, it rapidly became clear that we wouldn’t be able to stop it reaching the northern table edge. Away to the south Jack’s pet Florentine units did sterling work near the town of Fornovo, keeping the French at bay from its walls, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. however, by then the battle had already been lost.With no way of stopping the French achieve their victory conditions we ceded victory to Michael and Bart. Theirs was a well-deserved win. Bart handled the French cavalry in true Polish hussar style (his native troop type), and given their better quality the odds were stacked against us unless we managed to cross the river in force. Not only did we singularly fail to manage that, but Bart’s excellent die rolling meant that our threat to the French was both half-hearted and short-lived.All in all it was a fun little game. We all were unfamiliar with Pike & Shotte, and the rules threw up several quirks, but generally things moved along smoothly enough. Above all the table looked great, with lots of colourful and exotic troops on the table, and reasonably photogenic scenery, including a nice Italian camp. It has certainly whetted my appetite for the period – one I might well dabble in in the not too distant future.


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