The battle of Aosta, 1481 AD

From the private archives of the Duke of Milan

Your Grace,

My Master begs leave to inform you that your valiant forces have once again won a smashing victory over the forces of the Duke of Savoy.

The Savoyards under Corleoni and Volante the Younger offered battle in the Val d'Aosta, but were soundly beaten and pursued with great slaughter. Our own casualties numbered some three hundred men, although many of these are expected to be fit for duty within a week.

Some of those few enemy survivors that escaped the battle have fled to Geneva over the Petit St. Bernard, others dispersed over the Grand St. Bernard to the north. My master is confident that what few men are left to the Duke of Savoy can amount to no credible military threat, as over 3000 enemy corpses have been counted along the valley floor leading to Aosta, which your forces are now beseiging. The city appears to be well victualled, but the garrison appears weak, and my Master expects to bring about its reduction soon.

Praise be to God! Amen.

Ambroglio da Montefeltro
p.p. Carboni Lagobambino, Captain-General to the Duke of Milan


This was the eighth battle fought in the campaign. The Duke of Milan (played by Brent Regan) had ordered his general, Carboni Lagobambino (played by Corbon Loughnan) to invade Aosta, despite the 100 ducats the Duke of Savoy (played by Jonathan Parks) had given him in Spring as a bribe to keep the peace. A mercenary captain of some repute, Lorenzo Corleoni (played by Tim Driver) had been hired by Savoy to supersede Vermicelli Volante, the Savoyard commander (played by Dave Evans) that unsuccessfully defended Nice earlier in the year.

The paucity of funds in the Savoyard treasury meant that few extra men could be hired, and it was thus a still diminished Savoyard force that encamped in the Val d'Aosta awaiting the seasoned army of Lagobambino to appear. Those few pioneers that could be gathered together given the short notice of the Milanese invasion had started to construct some field fortifications across the valley, some miles in front of the town of Aosta, but these were not yet fully complete by the time Lagobambino's forces were reported approaching from the east.

Dawn had seen a bright summer's morning, but by the time the Milanese army had reached the Savoyards and deployed, the weather had changed. It was now unseasonably cold, given the summer season, and a strong wind blew eastwards down the valley into the faces of the soldiers of Milan, while the clouds overhead darkened noticeably, threatening rain. Lagobambino was not perturbed, knowing that the main strength of his force lay not in guns, with their troublesome powder, but in his superb elmetti lancers, especially the Ducal guards, the familiares ad arma, who would not be put off the fight by a petty squall.

For his part, Corleoni was anxious about the weather, since a great many of his men were crossbowmen or handgunners. Although the wind direction favoured him, who could tell when it might change? As for rain, that would certainly dampen both his men's spirits, and their draw-strings. Seeing the Milanese approching in the distance, he posted the militia crossbowmen and the mercenary handgunners to hide among the trees that grew on the lower slopes of the ridges radiating from the tall peaks to the south. Those ridges to the north running down from the Becca di Viou were bare of trees - and if he could not lay any ambushes there, at least the enemy would not be able to either.

He ordered the younger Volante to hold the ground north of river Dora that snaked through the valley, where the fortifications were most complete, while he marshalled the bulk of his forces on the south side of the river, hoping his ambush parties would help him turn the Milanese flank in that area.

Lagobambino mirrored the Savoyard deployment, putting a small covering force north of the river, and arranging the bulk of his forces on the southern side. Suspecting an ambush from the nearest clumps of trees to the south, he set his own few handgunner companies the task of climbing up the mountains and then scouting out the wood from a position of equal advantage; they soon flushed out some Savoyard handgunners, some of whom immediately started climbing the ridge to gain the heights, while the Milanese raced after them. The majority of the Savoyards in the woods, being thus discovered, moved downhill to the edge of the trees where they could see developments more clearly.

To the north, Lagobambino's covering force moved forwards enough to prevent Volante reinforcing Corleoni with impunity, but not close enough that they would risk being trapped by a surprise charge. Volante for his part was content to stay behind the entrenchments, seeing his own men numbered about the same as the opposition.

In the centre, the Milanese artillery pieces were manhandled forwards, but it wasn't long before the threatening rain started to fall, wettening the powder and making progress slow, and so Lagobambino sounded the advance, seeing that Corleoni had led his own squadrons forwards.

Deployment Map

Corleoni's scheme was to aim the Savoyard main charge at the Milanese commander himself, and overwhelm him before the superior Milanese numbers could take effect. Accordingly, he boldly advanced his forward squadrons of lancers, led by the Savoyard lieutenant-general, where they could expect some support from the infantry emerging from the woods. Corleoni's personal squadrons were held in the rear, ready to reinforce the front line.

Unfortunately for Corleoni's plans, the more numerous Milanese elmetti were threatening to outflank his line by advancing to his left near the river, and he had to commit most of his reserves in an effort to prevent this. Thus when the Savoyard charge crashed into the Milanese line, and isolated the Milanese commander, there were no troops ready to hand to deliver the coup-de-grace. Lagobambino eventually managed to fight his way out of the melee and to safety, and by then the weight of the Milanese central thrust had broken the Savoyard forces into two parts.

Realising that something must be done, Volante ordered his lancers forwards, but they had barely ridden through the gap where the road passed through the trenches when it became apparent that he had left it too late once again. The Milanese centre, led by the Ducal guards, had charged the Savoyard footmen deployed in front of the baggage camp, and ridden them down. Some others of the Milanese men-at-arms had managed to break Corleoni's flank-guards, and being threatend with encirclement, Corleoni's remaining squadrons precipitously fled to the rear, followed by the light infantry that were even now being ridden down by the Lagobambino's light horse.

Only the Savoyard lieutenant-general had achieved success: indeed his men had penetrated nearly to the Milanese supply train, but by now few men were left to him, and they were all surrounded and captured including their valiant commander.

Nothing was left for Volante to do but to sound the retreat, and escape as best he could. His forces, not being engaged, got away largely intact, but the rest of the Savoyard forces suffered heavily at the hands of the Milanese horse, since the rain soon eased, allowing the fugitives to be spotted readily, while the tall mountains on either side of the valley ensured there would be no possibility of flight north or south, but only west. A a result, barely a third of the Savoyard army survived to make it over the passes at the head of the valley.

The Milanese however, lacking any armoured companies accustomed to fighting on foot, were unable to storm the town of Aosta in the immediate aftermath of the battle, and had to settle down to a seige to reduce the province into submission.


This page last modified: November 21, 1998

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