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The road to Naples: Florence, the Black Bands and the army of the League of Cognac (1526-1528)

By Maurizio Arfaioli


This is a study of the Italian Black Bands, one of the most famous units of mercenary infantry of the sixteenth century, and of their relationships with their employer, the Florentine republic, from the death of their founder and first commander Giovanni de'Medici (1498-1526) to their disbandment after the surrender of the army of the League of Cognac, of which they were part, at Aversa, near Naples, on 30 August 1528.\ud \ud In order to establish an adequate framework, the figure and the myth of Giovanni de'Medici - in memory of whom his men wore permanently the black bands of mourning - are examined at the beginning of the dissertation, and his role and place in the tactical and administrative developments that characterised the end of the Italian Wars reassessed. Particular attention has been paid to the analysis of the peculiarities of the Italian infantry at the end of the Italian Wars, such as its reliance on arquebuses rather than pikes and its specialization in assault and skirmish instead of shock tactics, and to the problems that these peculiarities created for states like Florence, which sought, unsuccessfully, to invert the pike-to-shot ratio and to transform the Black Bands from an expeditionary force into a defensive militia. Eventually, the last part of this thesis has been dedicated to the siege laid by the army of the League to Naples in 1528, one of the most important and less studied sieges of the sixteenth century, whose dramatic outcome shattered the residual hopes of the pro-French party after the battle of Pavia (1525) and made possible the establishment of Imperial hegemony in the greater part of the Italian peninsula.\ud \ud With this dissertation I have tried to outline the changes that the organization and command of large bodies of mercenary infantry brought about not only in Florentine military and foreign policy, but, more generally, in Italian military entrepreneurship, and to explain how these latter changes contributed to the general European trend that brought about the birth of the Tercios and other regimental structures

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