An Article on Duels (5 of 6)

Benvenuto tutti.

Let’s take a look at the group duel, this time around. There are often discussions of the use of melee on a rapier field and this can provide us with some documentation for the practice in period. These are not tournament styles, of course, but we can at least see that melee existed in the 16th century as a combat form in a way that was different than the field of war, and one in which it would be more likely to find a sword such as the rapier and where unarmored combatants might be found. Again these accounts are mainly related in “The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel: A Study in Renaissance Social History” by Frederick R. Bryson, Ph. D., The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1938 from period accounts.

In February 1503 a duel near Barletta was fought between thirteen French Knights and thirteen Italian ones for patriotic reasons, as related by Fabio Albergati in his “Tratto*.del modo di ridurre a pace l’inimicitie private” written in

  1. Barletta, a town in the possession of the Spaniards, was besieged by the French. The Spanish army had a great many Italians among their ranks led by Prospero Colonna. During a skirmish a French captain by the name of La Motte was captured by Diego Mendoza and led into the town. During dinner with him and other French captors, La Motte proclaimed that the Italians were cowards and breakers of their word and that he and other Frenchmen were ready to maintain that statement by means of arms. Once this statement was reported to Colonna and his soldiers, two knights, Gianni Capoccio and Gianni Bracalone, where sent to proffer a retraction from La Motte. He refused to retract and they proclaimed a challenge to as many Frenchmen as would be willing, to duel with an equal number of Italians. La Motte eventually gave his permission, despite his initial opposition to the challenge.

The duel was fought between thirteen French knights under La Motte and thirteen Italian knights under Ettore Fieramosca on a field near Quarato, halfway between Barletta and the French camp. Prospero Colonna and the famous knight Bayard judged the duel which was fought according to all the requirements of the code of knighthood. The French made the first attack and, after six hours, fell into disarray as some of them were unhorsed and captured and others were driven off of the field. La Motte was among the defeated, having been unhorsed by Fieramosca. The Italians only had two of their number forced out of bounds. Thus the victory went to the Italians who returned, with the French prisoners, to Barletta to the salute of artillery and the ringing of bells. Gonzalo de Cordoba, the commander of the Spanish army, gave hereditary decorations of nobility to each of the victors and Fieramosca’s family fiefs were confirmed and he was further created as the Count of Miglionico and Lord of Aquara. A monument was erected on the site of the duel and the prisoners were freed after the receipt of a ransom of one hundred gold ducats.

In 1509 outside the walls of Padua a duel was fought between three Spanish footsoldiers and three Venetian soldiers as was related by Fabio Albergati, above, and Paolo Giovio’s “Historie” Vol. I, Book XII published in 1551. The Spanish troops of Maximilan I were besieging the Venetian city when three Spanish footsoldiers offered a duel with an equal number of Italians. Liviano, who commanded the Venetians, selected three from the many who wished to accept the challenge and who went out of the city to kill one of the Spaniards and wound and capture the other two.

On March 12, 1529 a duel was fought between four men, two to a side, outside the walls of Florence (Lodovico Martelli and Dante da Castiglione against Giovanni Bandini and Albertino Aldobrandi or Aldobardi). This is related to us chiefly by Paolo Giovio, but Brantome also collaborates the story using different, but similar, names. The duel was said to have started over a jealousy regarding a lady. Again we have a city under siege, this time by troops of the Emperor Charles V under the command of the Prince of Orange. Due to the nature of politics in Florence, some of the supporters of the Medici family were in the army of the Emperor. As such a soldier in the city, Lodovico Martelli sent a “cartello”, a publicly written challenge to a duel, to one of these supporters by the name of Giovanni Bandini. The challenge was accepted and it was further suggested by Bandini that they fight the duel with a companion, listing his own as Albertino Aldobrandi (or “Aldobardi”). Martelli selected Dante da Castiglione and the Prince of Orange granted them a field and safe-conduct.

The field was enclosed by ropes and guarded by infantrymen taken in equal numbers of Italians, Spaniards and Germans. They fought with sword and for armor they wore only an iron gauntlet on the right hand. Castiglione, who happened by chance to fight Aldobrandi, received a severe wound in the first pass but happened to grasp his sword with both hands and struck a fatal blow to Aldobrandi’s mouth. Aldobrandi’s companion, Bandini, wounded Martelli in the forehead and followed with a thrust to the ribs, which made him surrender, a wound from which he would die after being carried into the city. Many proclaimed that he died not so much from his wounds, but from grief over his defeat. Equal honor was accorded to each of the victors.

I would like to note that Brantome’s account of this duel adds two notable features. First, according to custom, Castiglione was not allowed to assist his companion, despite having bested his opponent early on. (Perhaps a further consideration that such melee duels were merely numerous individuals fighting single fights.) Second, upon his being mortally wounded, Martelli insisted upon surrendering only to Bandini’s commander, but soon gave in to surrender to Bandini himself. It was thought, however, that such a surrender could not occur without the consent of the winner.

Next time: Some final thoughts.

Honos Servio,

Lionardo Acquistapace, Barony of Axemoor, Meridies (mka Lenny Zimmermann, New Orleans, LA)

“A soldier uses arms merely with skill, whereas a knight uses them with virtuous intention.” - Pomponio Torelli, 1596.