I was looking for a book to provide an introduction to Later Italian Medieval warfare. This one fits the bill ideally. Informative, well laid out and well illustrated. Sold at a good price and quickly delivered.
This Osprey Warrior title gives a good but brief account of the condottiere in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries. It is mainly based on William Caferro’s (NOT “Carferro”, as erroneously mentioned in the book) and Michael Mallett’s works for the 14th and 15th century, respectively. The title includes the usual sections on recruitment, training, tactics, arms and equipment. It also has interesting pieces on the background of the Condottiere phenomenon and its causes.
One was the existence of multiple independent and relatively small but very rich city-states warring against each other. A second was the decline of city-militias, for reasons explained in the book. A third was several influxes of unemployed foreign soldiers, starting with Germans in the first half of the fourteen century, followed by English and French from the 1360s onwards. Another interesting piece is that this also led to the emergence of “home-grown” Condottiere, among the soldiers and the captains so that these became increasingly Italian during the second half of the fourteen century.
A further point is the discussion around the contracts with their employers that gave them their name – the condottas – and the clauses that they typically included. Yet another well-made point (also borrowed from Caferro) is the brief but to the point discussion about their awful reputation for plundering both sides, including the one they were supposedly fighting for, their aptitude for blackmailing their employers, for extracting protection money from them and for changing sides. Another related point is their reluctance to “fight it out to the finish” and their preference for manoeuvring and plundering the countryside. The book also contains some glimpses of a few battles and of some of their worst atrocities in which John Hawkwood was involved.
The reasons for this, while touched upon, could perhaps have been explained in more detail. Essentially, the awful behaviour of many of these mercenary troops and captains general mirrored their employers’ inability to pay them and to provision them as agreed and expected. A related reason was that the condotta/contracts were mostly short-term, generally a few months and sometimes up to a year.
When contracts neared their term, the mercenaries often started putting pressure on their employers to get a renewal, preferably on better terms, or started to look for another employer. Non-renewed contracts, because the warring states had come to some kind of agreement so that the mercenaries’ services became unnecessary, could leave thousands of them unemployed without any means of subsistence. They then formed into “free companies” (as they had in France after the Peace of Bretigny in 1360) and became a major menace when rampaging around the countryside and extracting “protection money” to feed themselves, their numerous horses and the large numbers of camp followers. As shown (again, perhaps too briefly), these companies were societies in both senses of the term.
One limitation perhaps is the relatively succinct discussion on arms and armour and the limited number of associated illustrations. There are some of course, but not have as many as I might have wanted (although I recognise that I am being a bit “unfair” here). An associated point is that there is next to nothing about the evolutions in arms and armour and in arms production that all this endemic warfare fostered in Italy and for which Northern Italy (especially Milan and Brescia) became famous for across Europe.
Finally, the colour plates are rather good. Two of the most famous captains (John Hawkwood and Niccolo da Tolentino) are illustrated, together with - or as part of - the main battles that they became famous for (Castagnaro in 1387 and San Romano in 1432, respectively). It is however a bit of a pity that all of the photos are in black and white. Moreover, some of them could have been better. Four strong stars. For those “wanting more” on this subject, and apart from the other older Osprey title (also quite good, in the “Men-at-Arms” series), I can recommend the following: - From William Caferro, “Mercenary companies and the decline of Siena” (1998) and his superb (but scholarly) biography on “John Hawkwood” (2006), on the fourteenth century - From Michael Mallett, “Mercenaries and their Masters: Warfare in Renaissance Italy” (1974) and “Italian Wars (1494-1559): State and Society in Early Modern Europe, on the fifteen and early sixteenth centuries - On medieval mercenary companies more generally, there is also Kenneth Fowler’s “Medieval Mercenaries: The Great Companies” (2001).
This book gives an excellent although brief account of the Italian condottiere of the 14th and 15th centuries. It gives details on their methods of recruitment, background, tactics, arms and equipment. As always Graham Turner's reconstructions are of excellent quality. His depiction of a group of condottiere on the march and his reconstruction of a late 15th century heavily armoured condottiere man-at-arms are particularly evocative.
So why only 3 stars? My problem is not in the "quality" (which was excellent) but the "quantity" of the work. I remember when the number of colour plates in a "Warrior" book was 12, somehow this seems to have shrunk down to 8. Also we only have detailed reconstructions of men from the beginning and the end of the period. I felt we also needed another plate depicting a condottiere from the middle of the period, e.g. circa 1390 or 1420. I also noted that there were no black and white photos of items from the Churburg armoury, this seems something of an oversight when they are such an important source of information on Italian knights of this period.
Overall though, this is a solid and respectable addition to Osprey's Warrior series. I look forwards eagerly to future books by Murphy and Turner.