Inspired by my recent play of The Battle of Flodden, I decided to also replay the Battle of Marignano. These pair of battles showcase the end of an era – the domination of European battlefields by the Swiss kiels, the massive pike formations perfected by the Swiss mercenaries.
I made mention of the Pike and Shot scenario and had played it while discussing the War of the League of Cambrai. I decided to give it a replay, and grab some screen shots while I was at it.
Having some vague memories of my last attempt, I remember one misjudgement that almost got me that time. Despite the fact that the Swiss kiels and my own Landsknecht formations use the same graphics, the Swiss formations have considerably more men. Add to that the fact that the Swiss were top-of-the-line troops and have superior characteristics across the board, particularly as compared to my own, and one has to count on a head-to-head confrontation quickly going in favor of the Swiss.
A lesson I have to relearn regularly in this game is how it is considerably more difficult to wheel a formation of cavalry around into the rear of an enemy than it is for that enemy to simply change facing in place. It would seem obvious that the way to defeat the Swiss pikes is to pin them down with infantry and then use the French Gendarmes to crash into their rear. However, given the brittleness of my own infantry, succeeding takes more than a little bit of finesse in the timing. Engage the infantry either too soon or too late and the Swiss defenders can defeat each attacker in detail.
The scenario was extremely tense, as many of the stock Pike and Shot scenarios often are. For several turns both armies wavered on the edge of breaking and the smallest of details took on huge significance. Yes, that formation is losing, but if it can hold on just one more turn, I’ll be able to make get that gendarme to charge… wait, now, the gendarme came under enemy crossbow fire and lost heart. Now I need two more turns.
If you can read the fine print (click to embiggen, although I’m not sure it will help), you can see that the enemy has broken at exactly the 60% mark, but I am only 2% away myself.
The losses computed at the end of the battle are well within the estimated historical range.
That said, the real battle was far more dramatic then the simulation portrays it.
The Battle of Marignano was one that wasn’t to have taken place. Newly-crowned king, Francis I (he of the big nose), had just made a strategic masterstroke by bringing his army, including massive cannons, across the Alps and into the rear of the forces of the Holy League. The allies entered a discussion of terms with the French king and agreed to cede control of Milan to France. Unfortunately, Milan’s army consisted of Swiss mercenaries and their pay was dependent on victory in battle. Despite an agreement to make peace, Swiss units began individually debating the merits of returning home versus continuing the fight.
France had co-opted individuals such as Albrecht van Stein to persuade the Swiss to return home without further warfare. Substantial money was offered to the Swiss cantons in exchange. Cardinal Matthäus Schiner, a Swiss commander and personal enemy of Francis, urged the Swiss to fame and glory. In the end, although several units left, the majority of the Swiss army stayed to fight and launched a surprise attack on the dispersed French forces.
The ensuing battle lasted through the afternoon, through much of the night, and well into the day following; 28 hours all-told. A nicely-narrated depiction of the battle can be found here. The full details of the battle are lost to history, but it represents yet another clash that refuses to conform to the framework of your typical computer simulation.