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"Italian Wars - Crossbow units and flags" Topic

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Martyn K31 Dec 2018 9:29 a.m. PST

My Italian Wars pike blocks and cavalry units have multiple flags based on many of the period artworks of these units. (The flags make the wargaming units look better in my opinion).

What I have not managed to find is artwork of independent shot units such as the 8,000 Gascon crossbow men at Ravenna. Does anyone know of pictures of these type of units with flags?
I only need half an excuse to put a flag or two on my independent crossbow troops. I just cannot imagine such large groups of soldiers not having some flags, but it would be interesting to know someone has some evidence.

Also, a lot of the Italian states had groups of arquebusiers – did these units also carry flags?

Swampster31 Dec 2018 12:50 p.m. PST

There is the tradition – going back at least as far as the early 14th century and still being used in the 16th – of flags showing pictures of crossbows. I can think of Italian, Swiss and Burgundians using these, so they may have been used elsewhere too. Later on, pictures of arquebuses crop up as well. On at least one Burgundian flag they are crossed, but that may well be to symbolize the Burgundian cross so probably best avoided for French.

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Jan 2019 4:25 p.m. PST

I am not sure that crossbows where really in widespread use after 1500 in Italy. Perhaps the lack of period artworks comes from their usage of arquebus?

mghFond01 Jan 2019 10:10 p.m. PST

The French seemed to use crossbow troops longer than either the Spanish or Italians. I am not certain of this but I believe most crossbowmen were skirmishers, not sure they used flags. I'd be happy to be corrected by more knowledgeable folks on this era.

Swampster02 Jan 2019 3:04 a.m. PST

French are shown using crossbows in artwork from fairly late on, both in scenes of contemporary events (e.g. the siege of Dijon in 1513) and of historical events (picture of Damietta made in 1522). Everything else in the Damietta picture looks up to date and some of the troops are labelled as aventuriers.

" I am not certain of this but I believe most crossbowmen were skirmishers, not sure they used flags."

There are surviving Swiss crossbow flags and pictures of them being used in a wartime context e.g.


and a real example at

(Note, this has an arquebus on the reverse).

Just how these were used is open to debate but since a wargames army is representative, I think it is reasonable to use some of the same representation as the Swiss artists did.

So, it seems that the French were still using crossbows and that at least some crossbow and arquebus armed men carried flags. Whether the French crossbowmen did so and what form they took isn't certain. I just went with the white cross on red on a fairly small triangular flag.

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Jan 2019 10:14 a.m. PST

Sorry, but I am not convinced.

A siege was a special situation, and using up stockpiles of defensive weapons imho does not count as "widespread" use, nor does the fact that flags and banners still bore the old weaponry from the units history. Some military badges today also still show swords and cannons.

In Sieges crossbows were often used (there are other examples), as also in expeditions like those to the Americas and Indias. One of the main reasons was that crossbows were short on black powder demand. As they were also a lot quiter then shot crossbows were also used for hunting, sometimes skirmishing and by some light cavalry units (at least until the advent of the pistol) up towards 1530 at least.

Still, I do not know of any usage by military units on the field of battle after around 1510. If you dig out any contemporary pictures I will gladly yield that point and learn something new.

Swampster06 Jan 2019 2:15 p.m. PST

How about


where French are using crossbow and their Imperial enemies are using guns.

I _think_ there is a crossbowman in the distance in the rear of the French army in


We have Monluc's comment about the army he was with in 1523 that it only had 6 arquebusiers, the rest being arbalestiers.
"car encores en ce temps-là n'y avoint point de harquebuzerie parmy nostre nation"

Guicciardini describes some Gascon infantry in 1515 as mostly crossbows, the rest shot.

We also have the picture where figures are labelled as aventuriers and one is equipped with a crossbow. While the scene is supposed to be a historical event, all the rest of the equipment appears up to date, so the presence of the crossbow would be odd if it were not still in use.

I notice that Daniel S – who seems very knowledgeable about this period – describes aventuriers as "The "Aventuriers" were armed with a mixture of crossbows, pikes and polearms (bills & halberds)" TMP link when discussing Novara – i.e. post Ravenna.

You may be right about the use of the crossbow at Dijon, though it is odd that the only French defender using a missile weapon has a crossbow. This was a short siege and there is plenty of other use of gunpowder going on.

Whether or not the crossbow is being carried on flags as an archaic weapon, the point is that crossbows were commonly used on flags from before 1300 until well after 1500, so if the Gascons were using crossbows then having a crossbow on the flag may be reasonable – though this is based only on analogy with e.g. Italians and Swiss.

The OP also asked about Italians with arquebus, so since earlier the Italians had crossbowmen with crossbow flags, and the Swiss and Burgundians (probably under Max or later) had flags with arquebuses, it may be that some Italians also had flags with an arquebus.

So, if you can dig out any contemporary pictures where the French are only using arquebus pre-Pavia, or written accounts which say they were not using crossbows in 1510, then I would be interested.

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Jan 2019 11:33 p.m. PST

You are right. From a quick glance crossbows do appear on these images, depicting battles from 1513 and 1515, and Daniel supports that Aventuriers used them at Novarra. All in limited quantity, though, and it seems that Monlucs comment implies that the absense of arquebus for arbalistiers is something unusual. I will try to dig into the sources a bit more, but from this glance units using crossbows supported by cc-weapons seem to be appropriate at least for the French Aventuriers up to 1521.

Swampster07 Jan 2019 12:59 a.m. PST

" Monlucs comment implies that the absense of arquebus for arbalistiers is something unusual."

Unusual in that other countries had arquebus, but I think it translates something like 'in those times our nation didn't have arquebuses.'

I have no idea how well regarded Potter's 'Renaissance France at War' is, but he is pretty clear that the crossbow was the main French missile weapon until after about 1521. See particularly p110-111, which can be read online.

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Jan 2019 3:09 p.m. PST

Thanks. Just read the passage. He also mentions that the Swiss in French service used arquebus by 1500, so the crossbow seems indeed to be a typically French weapon up to Pavia. That leads us back to the OPs question whether there is any contemporary depiction of these French units, and here I have to pass.

Learned something – thats why I haunt these grounds :-)

Druzhina16 Jan 2019 9:13 p.m. PST

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