The Battle of Nice, 1480 AD

Extract from "The Birth of Western Warfare", ed. J. Coombes, Routledge, London, 2016

...and so was Volante cut down in his moment of triumph.

Lucky to survive his first major command against Lagobambino's more numerous and better trained Milanese, he took stock of his defeat. Analysing his opponent's leadership style, he realised that to command his mercenaries effectively, he would have to restrain his own impetuous nature, and lead not from the front, but from the rear.

His approach was vindicated at Nernier, where, despite taking enormous risks to gain the decisive victory, the risks were taken by lesser men while he kept an eye on developments. Fate intervened at Nice however, while pitted against one who was even more a product of the old school. Had it not been for Ambulatore's wild charge, Volante would have survived his last victory, and may well have gone on to greater things. As it was, his death left Savoy isolated, lacking any experienced generals, and without the funds to redress the situation.


This was the fifth battle fought in the campaign. The Savoyard general Disco Volante (played by Dave Evans) had been ordered to pursue the defeated Genoese forces, led by Giovanni Ambulatore (played by Andre Evers) and Walter de Brienne IV (played by Bryan Sowman) back to the Mediterranean where their fleets lay at Nice. Volante was more than a bit loath to mount a winter expedition across the maritime Alps, knowing that to lose would be death, and having lost much of his fighting strength over the year, but the Duke of Savoy (played by Johnathan Parks) was insistent that the shattered remnants of the Genoese army be destroyed, and Nice, his only port, be liberated.

The Duke's agents had been extolling the locals not to forget their Duke in these dark times, and as a consequence, when the much-depleted Genoese army returned to Nice, they found the city a hot-bed of discontent. Too few to effectively man the city walls, and worried about the possibility of a popular uprising, Ambulatore decided that he would have to meet the pursuing Savoyards in the field.

However, all was not well in the Genoese camp, as his co-general, Brienne, was having second thoughts about the whole affair, and busied himself more with ensuring his baggage was safely embarked upon the many transports lining the docks of the city, than with rousing his men to repulse the Savoyard attack. Only with reluctance did he join the line of battle that Ambulatore had marshalled across the northern road where the valley opened out onto the Riviera.

It was nearly noon on a crisp winter's morning before Volante, descending from the mountains, could see the Genoese host arrayed before him. He immediately deployed his men in a line opposite the Genoese, horse in the centre, foot to the flanks, mirroring the enemy formation. He had more cavalry than the opposition, but couldn't deploy them all in the narrow valley, and therefore posted some these excess squadrons to his left to move along the adjacent valley floor and sweep around the enemy rear.

As soon as it was obvious the Savoyards had accepted battle in the narrow valley, rather than seeking to entirely circumvent his position and make for Nice, Ambulatore ordered a general charge, personally aiming for Volante's banner. His foot, armoured crossbowmen for the most part, struggled to keep up, and soon found themselves being hemmed in by the more agile Savoyard handgunners. The crossbowmen started to take many casualties in the ensuing firefight, some breaking in rout to the rear, but the remainder were heartened by the success of Ambulatore's charge into the Savoyard men-at-arms.

Deployment Map

In the centre, the Savoyard horse were broken up the the unexpectedly ferocious Genoese charge, with only Volante's personal squadron holding their ground. Brienne's own squadron was engaged in a swirling melee with the Savoyard Duke's lieutenant-general, and a crisis point was reached when some of Brienne's men-at-arms were able to infiltrate themselves around the flank over rocky slopes supposedy covered by some Savoyard foot, distracted by Brienne's own foot making a display in front of them.

This flank attack proved decisive, and the Savoyard lieutenant-general was felled in the confusion by a Genoese mace. On the other flank, matters were no better for the Savoyards. Some of their mounted crossbowmen had finally manged to assail Ambulatore's foot from the rear, but they were beaten off, and as they had left their men-at-arms far behind, there was no prospect of securing reinforcements to press home the attack soon. At this point Volante himself was getting the better of Ambulatore's squadron, although the rest of his horsemen were not faring well, and as a result, Volante found himself isolated.

Ambulatore directed his men to concentrate on the enemy general, and soon Volante's horse was killed, with him being crushed underneath. Luckily for the Savoyard army, his standard-bearer had been separated from him in the confusion, and so his banner kept flying; likewise, it was not yet generally know that their lieutenant-general had been killed on the other flank.

Here, some Savoyard handgunners, realising that their compatriots' shooting was keeping the Genoese foot under Brienne more than occupied, moved over the ridge into the valley towards the sounds of the swirling cavalry melee. Their sudden appearance panicked Brienne's hithereto triumphant men, ill-disposed on the rocky slopes, and in the near-stampede to redeploy, Brienne's standard-bearer was thrown from his mount. At this, a genuine stampede resulted, the rest of his men thinking their general had fallen, and the Genoese left-flank took to their heels, Brienne being carried along in the rout.

At this, the remnant of the Genoese army turned to flight as well. The Savoyard pursuit was not pressed vigourously however, as there were no senior officers left on the field to coordinate it, and most of the losses taken by the Genoese were inflicted in the town threading their way through the narrow streets attempting to reach their boats, as the locals had by now taken to the tall roof-tops, showering the refugees with what ever objects came to hand.

As it was, barely enough Genoese survived to effectively man the galleys, even some men-at-arms having to pull the oars in their haste to depart. Ambulatore managed to reach a ship only with some difficulty, having to abandon his treasure chest, while in contrast Brienne had secured himself a comfortable place on the admiral's own carrack, his escape aided by the light breeze blowing out to sea. His deserted men however fared less well, all except 100 being captured or killed, while Ambulatore at least was able to get some of his own to safety.

When news of the battle reached Milan, the Duke and his General reportedly ordered a private party in celebration - the Genoese army had been destroyed and the Savoyard army severly weakened, and its generals killed. Their western borders looked secure for the near future...


This page last modified: November 6, 1998

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