The Battle of Donnaz, 1482 AD

Extract from the report of the English Ambassador to the Milanese court to King Edward IV regarding the battle of Donnaz

...confirming my judgement that our Lord of Milan hath an uncanny eye for choosing captains most puissant. That he be a Moor concerns him not, though the Pope rails mightily against his appointment.

For Milan can be well pleased, having evicted the Genoese from the Val d'Aosta. After trouncing their forces on the field, this Curbaran laid seige to the newly repaired fortresses commanding the valley, and captured them all. He is now reported to be marching south...


This was the twelfth battle fought in the campaign. Following the Genoese capture of Aosta, their Senate (played by Kevin Neilson), unable to adequately finance their swollen army any longer, ordered the disbandment of over one-third of their forces. One of the first beneficiaries of this was Duke of Milan (played by Brent Regan), whose own forces,lately evicted from Aoasta, were in need of augmentation.

Having lost his great general Lagobambino, Milan was in need of another general, and found one in the person of Curbarani (played by Corbon Loughnan), a mercenary commander recently having left Grenadine service in Spain. Having hired as many ex-Genoese soldiers as possible, and raised a goodly body of Milanese provisionati, Curbarani was in a good position to atatck the now numerically weaker Genoese forces still in Aoasta.

There, the three captains Giovanni Ambulatore (played by Andre Evers), Walter de Brienne IV (played by Bryan Sowman) and Lorenzo Corleoni (played by Tim Driver) were alarmed much by the Senate's dismissal of the other company commanders in their army, and even more alarmed at the dismissal of the soldiers under their command. When news came in that the Milanese had recruited many of these same men, hired yet more from other sources, and were marching west, their disquiet knew no bounds.

Hastily gathering their men, they decided to block the Milanese advance at the entrance of the valley. They dug protective entrenchments on the south side of the river, the Dora Baltaea, now heavily swollen with the spring melt, but these were only a decoy, for their army was too small to man them effectively, and they planned to defend the narrow land between the Dora's north bank and the mountains rising to the north.

When the Milanese army found its advance blocked by the Genoese, Curbarani was not deceived however. The bridge over the river had only just been washed away by the Spring flood, and he surmised that the Genoese would never risk stranding part of their army on the south bank of the river. Accordingly, he pitched his camp on the north side of the river opposoite that of the Genoese, and issued his instructions for the attack that he would launch next morning.

It was a cold and damp dawn that heralded the arrival of the new day, which was to Curbarani's liking, for it would play havoc with the powerfull Genoese artillerymens' efforts to fire their guns. As soon as it started to rain heavily, he signalled the advance. His elmetti, mounted lancers, were deployed across the narrow plain between the river and the mountains, with his personal squadrons forming a reserve to the rear. His few heavy guns were deployed to the fore giving them a good field of fire.

His mounted crossbowmen were for the most part also deployed forward of the men-at-arms, although a few he had instructed to ford the river just in case the Genoese failed to live up to expectations, and tried to advance along the south bank. They soon reported this most unlikely however, for the river was still in flood, and postively dangerous to cross.

Given the cramped plain to his front, he concluded that the main focus of the battle would be to his right, amongst the foothills of the mointains. He accordingly massed his light infantry there, with orders to clear the scrubby slopes immediately to their front, then advance and seize the wooded ridge that projected out from the main range into the plain separating the two armies.

In the Genoese camp, the commanders were unsure of how to check the Milanese. They resolved to hold the Milanese horse with their heavy foot and their own horse, while they tried to force a way through with their own light infantry along the mountains to the north.

Accordingly Ambulatore ordered his crossbowmen and handgunners forward under the cover of night to hide amongst the rocks and scrub covering the foothills near the Milanese positions, and his light halberdiers in the wood atop the ridge to his fore. The pioneers were left behind to guard to camp, while his lancers, together with his armoured crossbowmen, formed a reserve.

To his right, Corleoni's heavy crossbowmen were formed up, and further to their right, in front of a small copse, Corleoni's lancers were arrayed in a line squadron by squadron. His few mounted crossbowmen formed a reserve.

Between Corleoni's men and the river were massed Brienne's foot: a solid block of pikemen, and several batteries of heavy guns astride the road leading up the valley. Brienne also had control of the rest of the Genoese light troops, who were ordered to advance forwards and seize the overgrown fields to their front that lay either side of the road by the river's north bank between the two armies.

Deployment Map

As Curbarani's light troops started to move forwards along the foothills, they were soon exposed to the sniping fire of Ambulatore's skirmishers. Curbarani's men replied in kind, and their greater numbers soon bagen to tell, and the Genoese were forced to retreat somewhat. When the rest of the Milanese light infantry, some armed with light halberds for use as gun rests, came up to reinforcements, the Genoese retreat became more rapid, and the were forces to quickly withdraw towards the wooded ridge where their halberdiers were waiting, closely pursued by the Milanese provisionati.

Through the gloom and rain Ambulatore could only just make out the occasional powder flash, but it was obvious that his men were being driven back. Seeing his plan of breaking though on the left already in tatters, he handed over control of his elmetti to Corleoni, while he led his crossbowmen forwards through the woods up the ridge.

By the time he had led his men up far enough to see what was happening again, the situation was critical. His skirmishers had nearly all been dispersed by the Milanese, who were even now sweeping down the ridge, and peppering his lightly-armed halberdiers with shot and quarrels. More Milanese had scaled higher up the slopes, and were moving beyond the ridge towards the Genoese camp. He had thought pitching his tent close under the mountains, sheltered from the weather, a fine idea, but now he wasn't so sure, for there was no way the Genoese horse could possibly come between it and the Milanese; only the pioneers, armed with nothing more than entrenching tools, lay between it and the advancing Milanese.

Brienne by this stage had taken up position by the overgrown weeds to his front with his pikemen, and his skirmishers had occupied the same fields. Unfortunately, this restricted the field of fire of his guns, who were in any case having difficulty lighting their fuzes on account of the rain.

Corleoni's horsemen had similarly taken up station between Brienne's pikemen and the ridge, but he could clearly see the dire situation further up the ridge and ordrered his heavy crossbowmen to start climbing the ridge to reinforce Ambulatore.

The Milanese commander, delighted that his attack along the foothills was proceeding so well, was in no hurry to force the issue elsewhere on the field. His lancers stood station, not wanting to advance into the range of the Genoese guns, while his own gunners let off occasional shots at Brienne's men in the fields. Those mouted crossbowmen having successfully made it to the far side of the river were advancing down the river, and the others skirmshed in front of the Genoese lancers, but otherwise, his army awaited developments in the mountains.

With the battle for the ridge swinging against the Genoese, Ambulatore decided that he would have to personally take charge of the situation. He recklessly spurred his horse across the steep slopes, and into the Milanese halberdiers in front of him. His guards struggled to keep up, while the Milanese, spotting his gilded armour though the mirk, bore down on him. Soon several surrounded him, and his horse, stumbling over a rocks, reared up. Ambulatore desparately tried to regain control of his mount, which slipped on the wet rocks, and he was propelled face forwards into a low branch jutting out from a tree. Knocked sensless, he slumped in the saddle and his horse bolted.

Milanese handgunners and Genoese guards alike tried to pursue the mount, with the General hanging from it like a rag doll, as it careered across the slopes and disappeared into the woods. Too late Corleoni's crossbowmen arrived upon the scene, although they managed to catch many of the Milanese handgunners unprepared as they emerged from the woods, and slew not a few, but soon, with the rain at last starting to ease, the Milanese regrouped, and started pouring a deadly fire into the ranks of the Genoese them.

On the other side of the field, Brienne, frustrated with the rain hampering his gunner's efforts, and spying the little company of Milanese mounted crossbowmen on the far side of the river bank, issued orders to his captains to advance, while he took his mounted guard in an attempt to chase the Milanese off. The banks of the swollen river were here more stable than further to the south, and his squadron made it across safely. As he struggled across, he was surprised and see more mounted crossbowmen to rear, for Corleoni had dispatched his own men eastwards across the river to similarly chase the milanese down.

As his own men speared towards the Milanese, Corleoni's moved off to his right, cutting off the Milanese men's retreat. They put up a brief fight, shooting their crossbows, but their strings were still damp, the rain having only now just stopped finally, and they were obliged to surrender as soon as Brienne's heavily armoured lancers galloped over their position.

Across the battlefield, the remnants of Ambulatore's skirmishers had long been broken, and their pursuers were now getting dangerously close to the Genoese camp. At this point Ambulatore's horse, riderless, was seen galloping into veiw. The pioneers immediately fled, leaving the camp defenceless, while his lancers, having been held back in reserve, concluded the worst, and likewise turned and fled from the field.

Brienne's pikemen, having been ordered to advance, were now pushing eastwards towards the Milanese line. The Milanese gunners, turning their guns to a new target, quickly found the range, and soon casualties quickly mounted as cannon balls plowed their way through the deep Genoese formation.

Corleoni ordered his some of his lancers forwards to support Brienne's pikemen, while the rest he lined up en haye and sounded the charge, determined to strike a blow against the Milanese before they were overwhelmed by their infantry advancing down the ridge to his left. The charge was hesitant however, for even now, screams and shouts to their rear could be heard, announcing that the Milanese were in amongst the baggage, and glancing over their shoulders, the rear ranks could see smoke arising from their camp, as the Milanese started to torch the drier and less valuable contents of the baggage.

The rank and file wavered, seeing Corleoni's charge met with vigour by the Milanese elmetti, and the victorious Milanese light troops emerge triumphantly from the woods above above him, threatening encirclement. Soon, wavering turned into panic, as it was clear all was lost, and the remaining uncommitted Genoese turned as one man, and fled the field, to be hunted down ruthlessly by the Milanese horse. Corleoni managed to cut his way out of the rout just in time, and fled with the rest of his men, while Brienne, separated from the rest of the field by the flooded river, was able to exceute a more managed withdrawal, although his leaderless foot suffered greviously.

As for Ambulatore, he was fortunate to have been carried over the ridge by his horse relatively unscathed; when his feet finally slipped free of the stirrups, he was well out of site of his pursuers, and they soon had to contend with Corleoni's crossbowmen. Thus one of his guards found him, still unconcious, but still alive, and draping his body over the his horse, carried him safely off the field while the Milanese were just starting to sack the Genoese baggage.


This page last modified: February 4, 1999

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