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"No French Handguns or Pike at Fornovo?" Topic

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Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2022 9:42 a.m. PST

Greetings. I've been looking into the battle of Fornovo and I've got a question about the French OOB.

Mind you, I'm not basing my question off of any evidence, just conjecture & curiosity.

So given the development of the French Army from the 1460s onward it seems unusual that their Italian Army of 1494-1495 did not include any Handguns or Pikes.

Im just curious what people familiar with this campaign about think about this. Are Pikes and Handguns 100% "no go" or is there a possibility that some were present but were recorded as "crossbowmen"?

Thanks for any advice.

Phillius Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Apr 2022 11:32 a.m. PST

There were Swiss pike and potentially handguns with them. There were probably Italian handgunners. But I have never seen reference to French pike or handgunners.

On that note, the only reference to French Pike through the early stages of the Italian Wars were those who were trained by the Swiss during the reign of Francis I, I think. And they, never left France and only appeared in the northern border conflict.

However, it's been a while and I may have missed some research.

Personal logo aegiscg47 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2022 12:58 p.m. PST

The French had several thousand Swiss pike at the battle and probably 7-800 hand gunners, depending upon sources.

Swampster21 Apr 2022 1:03 p.m. PST

There was a thread on TMP a while ago where French shooters were mentioned
TMP link
One of the most significant quotes I found was 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"
Other references – visual and written – seem to support this.

The French did use units of their own pike at some points in the wars, though for this campaign they relied on the Swiss.

Personal logo aegiscg47 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2022 1:27 p.m. PST

I forgot to mention a great source for the Renaissance gamer is the GMT game Arquebus, which is in their Men of Iron series. The game covers 8 of the most important Renaissance era battles, including Fornovo.


Thresher0121 Apr 2022 3:04 p.m. PST

From my reading of the period, and general info and my impressions from that (right or wrong), many/most countries/armies had crossbowmen instead of gunners during the early period of the Italian Wars/Early Renaissance.

Between 1490 (1494/1495) – 1525, many/most armies gradually changed over to a predominance of gunners/handgunners from crossbowmen during this transition period. Some earlier, and some later, and with a mix of both by some armies and periods (e.g. starting around 1525 or so).

The Italians seem to have adopted guns more quickly and completely than some of their contemporaries, but that only applies to certain factions there, IIRC, Florence and Venice were some of the early, more complete adopters.

I recommend doing a bit more research and checking the older postings here on TMP for discussions about that.

Also, spears lengthened into pikes over time as well during this period, so it is possible (my conjecture) that some troops may be labeled as spearmen, or other names (infantry, etc.), but may have carried pikes.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2022 5:11 p.m. PST

Thanks all for the opinions. I just picked up the Retinue to Regiment vol #1 on the Fornovo Campaign.

I'll post any info here if I find any relevant info.

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Apr 2022 2:47 a.m. PST

Italian Wars by Helion from Prodonancani and Alerbici is a pretty good work, working with many of the original sources.
I highly recommend the line.

Afaik the French army at the first invasion of 1494, and thus at the return trip in 95, had no organised French shot and almost certainly no pike.

Charles infantry was largely made up from Swiss, with some 1000 French and some 1000 Gascons reported by sources for the trip back from Naples.
The Gascons would likly be crossbow armed, the French with crossbow and polearms, which conforms to the several reports of the rearguard and main battle of the French for Fornovo.

The French army was one of the slowest to introduce arquebus – at Fornovo there were probably no significant numbers and no reported unit. Other armies like the Landsknechts or Spaniards would already field mainly arquebus at this time.

Thresher0123 Apr 2022 3:55 p.m. PST

I believe the Swiss of the period also had crossbows mainly/totally at first, though gradually added guns over time during this period (though they retained some x-bows up until at least 1515 IIRC).

After 1515, I think the Swiss would be more apt to have gunpowder weapons predominating over crossbows.

Griefbringer24 Apr 2022 9:45 a.m. PST

Swiss missile infantry included significant portion of handgunners already by the time of the Burgundian Wars in the 1470's.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP01 May 2022 5:23 a.m. PST

The Swiss skirmishers have arquebuses in the Fornovo engraving, and the French, on the Swiss right, are bow-armed.

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