Tuesday, 17 November 2015
Autumn 1504 to Spring 1505 AD
The Venetian army had deployed some way from Padua seeking to exploit favourable defensive terrain amid the otherwise flat Po Valley. The siege lines were thinly held but the garrison of Padua was in no fit state to intervene in the coming battle, whilst the Venetian army was well placed to prevent any attempt to resupply the stricken city.
Venetian engineers had been busy constructing a formidable line of entrenchments but the light cavalry had failed to provide any information regarding the strength or direction of the Papal army. After weeks of attempting to take Padua and with the loss of so many troops in pointless assaults it was as if the vitality had been drained from the Venetian commanders.
Pope Julius was with his army and was determined that an attack on the Venetians should be launched irrespective of any numerical disparity or impregnable entrenchments. His generals advised caution but he knew that his pontificate required a victory on the battlefield. His alliance with France had brought him no gains and Spain's influence had toppled the friendly regime in Florence leaving him without allies and facing Venice on his own. He now had to contend with a reinvigorated Milan angered at his support for the attempted coup in Genoa and Florence was threatening to annex Urbino and increase the isolation of the Papal states. Spanish intrigues had increased in Rome as the Spanish cardinals had been vocal in their criticism of his Francophile policies. It was with some relief that he fled his critics in Rome and rejoined the army in Padua.
The Papal army was small but well motivated. His general's dismay at the Venetian host turned to cautious optimism on closer study of the defences. The Venetians were determined to hold the flat land on their right flank as this was ideal terrain for their force of mounted condottiere. Infantry and artillery had been posted in the marsh land that connected this position with their left flank and baggage but they would be unable to move if an attack developed elsewhere. Compounding this error, the Venetians had left their left flank open and poorly supported. The Papal generals resolved on an all out attack against this left flank hoping that boldness would secure a victory against an isolated and open flank.
The Papal army moved quickly deploying artillery to play against the Venetian defences whilst infantry and men at arms moved to envelope the baggage. The Venetians were shocked that their well emplaced artillery was unable to return the Papal bombardment and struggled to move their mercenary pike to plug the now obvious gap in their defences. The Venetian commander could not believe that the small Papal army was the whole force facing him and held his mounted right flank in reserve in case another force attacked. The Papal troops maintained this ruse with mounted messengers ostentatiously seeking non existent contingents.
However, Papal pressure on the left flank forced the Venetians to commit their whole army to the left. The centre was stuck in the marsh but the condottiere moved swiftly to counter the Papal force. In the last hour of daylight the Venetians launched a counter attack with pike and cavalry but were ably held by Papal gensdarmes. A pike contingent routed and the lead condottier retired shaken leaving the whole Venetian army in peril. As the shock of possible defeat reverberated along the Venetian lines it seemed possible that the Pope had achieved a victory against all the odds. But the moment passed and as darkness descended the Papal army was prevented from exploiting this most favourable of opportunities.
The Pope was determined not to withdraw and resolved to keep his army on the field hoping that the disheartened Venetians would fall back and allow him to revictual Padua. The Venetians were dismayed by their performance but not disheartened. Most of the army had held and there were enough reserves to continue the battle and the Venetian commanders were now fully aware of the size of their adversary. The Pope penned a letter during the night imploring the Duke of Ferrara to come to his aid as swiftly as possible, promising a famous victory over his deadliest enemy.
For some days the Pope held on whilst the Venetians reorganised their defence. However, the superior Venetian light cavalry made it difficult for the Pope to secure supplies, and when after a week the Pope received a reply from Ferrara it was long on excuses and short on promises. A council of war was summoned and the Pope was forced to accept the impossibility of his position and the now weakened army withdrew to friendly territory and winter quarters. The following day Padua surrendered to the victorious Venetians.
Julius' situation was now completely undermined. The Spanish cardinals on behalf of their king had been intriguing strongly against Julius since the summer. The defeat outside Padua was the final proof of Julius' failure and the cardinals called an ecumenical council in order to dethrone Julius during the winter of 1504/05, arguing that his dissolute and warlike government had brought the church into disrepute across Europe. The Emperor had lent his support as clergy across the Empire had complained that protests were mounting against this unholy papacy. In reality, the Emperor sought to minimise French influence in Italy whilst Spain sought to extend its power in the peninsular. A French delegation from Urbino attempted to defend Julius but they were ridiculed and ignored; French power was seen to be weak by all the delegates. By epiphany 1505 Julius had been deposed and exiled to France. His replacement, Calixtus II, was quickly installed by his Spanish backers.
The French King could not believe that the promising start to 1504 had resulted in reversals to all his plans. Genoa had rebuffed all French intrigues, Milan had not only held out but had taken Savoy and Turin from the French. Spain had replaced an allied government with the Medici in Florence and had now ignominiously turfed out their candidate from the Papacy. Even Venice maintained a wary alliance with Spain in opposition to France. As winter turned to spring, France lost its last foothold in Italy when Florence occupied Urbino and Spain trumpeted its new power by occupying Bologna in payment for its support of Florence and the new Pope.
The French king was resolved to make one last effort to secure his influence in Italy by launching an all out effort to defeat Milan. He paid a subsidy to the English King and relinquished some territory to the Emperor in order to secure his northern and eastern territories whilst scouring his kingdom for supplies and money and marched an army across the Alps once more to besiege Turin. The Duke of Milan was fully aware of the French threat and had stripped much of his Duchy to maintain a huge army on his threatened borders.
At first the Duke was content to sit behind the walls of Turin expecting the French to launch a typically impetuous assault against his reinforced walls. However, the French were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the previous year and sat down to starve the garrison into submission. The Duke could not afford to remain inactive in Turin whilst the rest of the Duchy was vulnerable and in late spring marched out his whole army and offered battle to the French. The French commanders much preferred their chances in open battle and the challenge was accepted.
Once more the balance of power is set to change. A French defeat would force the French King to sue for peace under the terms of "uti possidetis" which would result in all the gains made becoming core territories for their occupying states. Milan would be the undoubted winner. However, a French victory may result in the collapse of the over taxed and indebted Duchy and a resurgent France would be able to challenge the hegemony of Spain.