Aut Cesar, Aut Nihil, Wargaming the Borgias.

Aut Cesar, Aut Nihil, Wargaming the Borgias.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Battle of Novara 1513.

It must be well over thirty years since John [Reidy] and I fought all the main battles of the Italian Wars. At that time we were using George Gush's Wargames Research Group rules which to be honest I really liked, although I wouldnt want to use them now.
 Anyway for a change I thought we would re fight the Battle of Novara 1513, which is a decent battle for a day game.This time we would use With Pike and Shotte, a Blackpowder derivative, and an easy set of rules for a refight.

 Scenario, The Battle of Novara 1513;

In 1512 Maximilian Sforza and a force of Swiss mercenaries had seized Milan from the French who were struggling to deal with an invasion of France by Henry VIII and Maximillian.
  Sforza, the heir to the Duchy was placed on the throne but was by no means universally popular, due to the rapacious Swiss, who effectively were n charge of the duchy.
 Ignoring any logic the French disregarded the invasion of their lands and sent a  sizable French army under Louis, La Tremouille to recapture the Duchy.
 The the city of Milan was betrayed from within and given to the French. 
 Duke Sforza surprised by events was with 4,000 Swiss foot at Novara, from where the Swiss captains sent an urgent request for reinforcements as they were not strong enough to challenge the French. 
  Most cities in the duchy surrendered fairly quickly and La Tremouille set about investing Novara to complete the re conquest. While this was in progress about 6,000 Swiss had been raised and were marching to relieve the city. They arrived literally in the nick of time. The French artillery had breached the walls in several places and La Tremouille had made plans to assault the place.    On June the 5th 1513 La Tremouille received warning of the approaching Swiss and withdrew to the small town of Trecate, two miles away. There the French camped for the night. What happened next was a total surprise to them, because when the Swiss reinforcements reached Novara they did not stop to rest for the night. Instead they chose to make an immediate attack on the French in typical Swiss style.    Whilst scouts determined the disposition of the sleeping French army the Swiss stopped for a brief rest. The relieving troops plus a contingent from the garrison then formed into three columns which, with the help of local guides, moved into position to attack the French. Allowing for the time required for all this, the attack must have come near dawn. The first warning that La Tremouille had of all this was when Swiss skirmishers attacked the guards around his lodgings. He just had time to escape, partly armed, from the back door. The French began to form up, in great confusion, expecting an attack on Trecate.    Once again the Swiss wrong footed the French, and instead sent one weak column supported by 200 Milanese horse to make a holding attack against the camp to the north of the town. 
 In fact they were strong enough to drive off the few troops there, and went on to loot the baggage. A centre column, slightly stronger, made a demonstration against the town (the cause of La Tremouille's rude awakening) before attacking the French and Italian infantry south of Trecate. These were totally surprised and routed immediately. The largest Swiss column, 6,000 men, was detailed to attack the artillery park where the landsknechts were encamped in isolation. These had managed to form up in some sort of order and bring a few guns into action. The Swiss took heavy casualties as they charged in. Nevertheless when they reached the landsknechts the fighting was vigorous but brief. The Germans broke, taking heavy casualties as they ran.    La Tremouille was able to escape with his cavalry, but he had lost his army and the Duchy of Milan. The Swiss followed up their victory by invading France, but were quite happy to make peace in return for a substantial payment from Louis XII.

Points to note 
1. The success of the Swiss relied on surprise, speed and determination, as a consequence they move first.I gave them two sub generals with a steady 8 factor, and Duke Sforza their nominal C in C an 8 factor. The French were allowed three generals, all on an 8 factor, that included the unfortunate La Tremouille.

2. The French should suffer surprise and to represent this all their generals suffer a minus two to their command in move one, followed by a minus one in move two. 3. The two woods are difficult terrain and no formed pike, cavalry or artillery can move through them. 4. There was a swamp to the right of the town of Trecate which is passable at half speed.

3. I decided that the French landsnects should have ' Bad War' which means they are on a par with the Swiss pike. This was to reflect the fact they fought well on the day.

4. All the stradiots were allowed crossbows and light bows.

5. If the Swiss/ Milanese enter the French camp, they should throw a dice to see whether they stop to plunder the place, AFTER they have disposed of the small camp guard. I thought there would be a good chance, so a 3+ on a six sided dice should throw a spanner in the works.

6. The French in the town could only react when the Swiss arqubusiers came with range [12''] of the town. That did not mean the remaining French couldn't attempt to form up and move in their turn.I placed Tremouille and a unit of gendarmes in the town to reflect the fact he was nearly captured early in the battle.

7. The Milanese/Swiss must capture the French camp, Trecate and drive the French from the field in order to win.

8. The French, if they can hold onto both the town and camp and halt the attack qualify for a win.

I have provided two maps, one from the Edinburgh Wargames Club, and the second simpler one from an original article by Andrew Murdin, who funnily enough was the inspiration for our original re fight way back in the 1980's.

     Image result for battle of novara 1513


   So onto the actual refight.
John won the toss and opted to lead the Milanese/Swiss. On his first move he was able to send the largest Swiss contingent forward three moves, towards the sleeping Landsnects. In the centre he again [!] was able to send his arquebusiers 3 moves Forwards. In BP based rules the lower one's dice score is in comparison to the command level then it allows the respective units to make up to three moves. When he managed to do the same on the right wind I knew I was in for a bad time. Surprisingly I was able to activate my stradiots but then naturally failed all my other command rolls.

 Part of the initial French position, I allowed a French camp guard of 'wavering' classed guards, about as good as a chocolate fireguard.

                                                  The camp scene.
                  La Tremouille, and command, asleep in the village, in the background one can see the advancing Swiss.
                                             The main Swiss pike block 72 figures strong, with two light guns and a smaller 36 figure pike block, just to help the attack along!
       The Swiss arqubusier units coming down the road to pepper my Gendarmes.
             I had to include an image of this chap, a Games Workshop figure, in the French camp.
                      I think my French had other concerns than the advancing Swiss.
                      The Milanese cavalry with Swiss support advance into the French camp, I forgot to insist on a dice for looting?
                                  The beginning of the end, French Stradiots legging it.
 As the main Swiss attack developed against my landsnects, I managed to inflict six hits on the main block which would have been sufficient to stop their advance. That was until John threw SIX yes SIX sixes to save all the hits.Talk about a fluke, except he kept doing that throughout the battle.
 Poor Tremouille, minus any command watching as a the smaller and weaker attack turned the French flank.The French Gendarmes performed as poorly as their historical counterparts.
  The final blow, the Swiss hitting the flank of my poor Gascon pike who folded like a hanky.

Not satisfied with routing my Gascon pike, the Swiss then swept through some Gascon crossbowmen. 

This failed charge by some French gendarmes summed up the battle really, they fell short in their charge and took a volley at close range.

 To be honest the battle wasnt as one sided as appears, my Landsnects halted the main French attack before finally succumbing to the pressure and my Gascon crossbowmen gave a very good account of themselves and were the last units to disappear from the table.
It is a big ask for the French to win the battle, however nothing is certain in a wargame and any delay by the Swiss attacks would have allowed the French to maneuver into a better position. Although the Swiss were slower than their historical counterparts and suffered causalities accordingly, the French just couldnt co ordinate any counter attacks. By the end although the main Swiss attack had stalled the Swiss right wing had turned the French position to crush all opposition. A clear Milanese/Swiss victory as in history.


  1. Excellent action and splendidly colorful troops! You have a wonderful Renaissance collection.

    1. Thanks Jonathan,
      I'm embarrassed to say that it is only part of the armies. Its ridiculous really that I have painted so many units that will probably never be used.

  2. All them 6's ouch!!.. Looks like a excellent game and I liked your rules for the scenario,deffently seemed like it give a extra twist to the battle. Lovely figures

    1. Thanks Neil, I really couldn't believe it when all those sixes appeared. I'm certain that it wasn't statistically possible.

    2. Anything is statistically possible. Wonder when the odds will throw six 1's your way. ;-)

      Looks like a fabulous game. Never tire of seeing your Italian wars stuff.

  3. Brilliant looking game. Favourite figures? The Hinchliffe heavy cavalry (not gendarmes) in the 8th battle pic (and the well upholstered camp follower).

    1. One of my favourite figures. I have a lot of the Hinchliffe Gendarmes with various heads, still some of the best figures for the time.

  4. Great maps, wonderful and colorful figures and vignettes, wonderful period...what's not to like? Thanks for sharing Robbie!

    1. Thanks Phil,
      Its a big ask for the French, but sometimes these make the best games. I must admit the six sixes was a gob smacking moment though. I no Pike and Shotte have their detractors but to be honest they work for me and John.

    2. The rules are fine. It's how you play the games that matters, ie play the period not the rules which is I hope what we've done in the past.

  5. Lovely looking game and of course great looking figures, not enough gendarmes, I'm sure you've got a couple of dozen more knocking around! It's a tough one for the French, especially if you're unlucky! I'm painting hinchcliffe gendarmes even ad we speak, I wouldn't if I hadn't seen them on your blog!
    Best Iain

    1. Iain,
      As John has pointed out with regularity I have more Gendarmes than ever existed. At the last count I have over 100. I also recently bought the new Iron Fist chaps which are beautiful if expensive.

  6. Fantastic battle and wonderful minis! When we fought it, at SESWC Jack and Angus managed to "sit" the Swiss out of their chances to win - haha!

    1. Im afraid the Swiss are pretty murderous in this period, and take some stopping, that is why I would like to fight Marigiano.


Honour Guard of Cesare Borgia.

Honour Guard of Cesare Borgia.