Campaign of the Month: August 2011
Le Ballet de l'Acier
- In January the duc de Lesdiguières, constable of France, leads the ‘Army of Genoa,’ a force of 23,000 men including the gendarmes du connétable and the Chevaux-légers, across the Alps to assist his long-time friend and rival the duke of Savoy in the war against Genoa; the constable is to be supported by a combined Franco-Dutch naval squadron commanded by the duc de Guise.
- In the same month, the Huguenot duc de Soubise, younger brother of the duc de Rohan, occupies the Île de Ré, then strikes at the royal port of Blavet in Bretagne. With fleet of twelve small tartanes crewed by a hundred sailors and three hundred marines, the duke seizes six galleons leased by the admiral of France from the duc de Nevers’s Order of the Christian Militia, including La Vierge , the most powerful warship in the royal fleet. The provincial governor, the duc de Vendôme, attempts to block Soubise and the fleet in the harbor with a heavy chain and shore batteries, but after two weeks Soubise escapes the harbor with the six galleons and most of his boats, giving him a fleet of fifteen ships.
- In February Constable Lesdiguières’ Army of Genoa and the duca di Savoia’s forces invade the republic; in a coordinated offensive, thirty-five hundred French and an equal number of Rhetian mercenaries under the marquis de Coeuvres remove the Papal garrisons from the fortresses of the Valtelline in northern Italy, cutting off the Spanish Road from Italy to Flanders. The Spanish governor of Milan, the duque de Feria, sends six thousand soldiers under the command of Tommasso Caracciolo from Milan to reinforce the Genoese; the Genoese army of eleven thousand German mercenaries and local levies prepares for a seige of the capital city.
- In the same month, Soubise’s fleet returns to La Rochelle and seizes the Île d’Oléron as well. He now commands the French coast from Nantes to Bourdeaux. In his humility, Soubise proclaims himself “Admiral of the Protestant Church.”
- In March the Admiral of the Levant’s galleys seize three Spanish ships en route to Genoa; the Spanish ships are carrying over six hundred thousand pieces of eight, silver to fund their wars in Italy and Flanders. The Spanish are outraged.
- On 27 March, after suffering lengthy bouts of arthritis, gout, and fainting fits, King James I and VI succumbs to ague and apoplexy at his country palace in Hertfordshire. The Prince of Wales, who along with his favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, has been governing in James’ name for nearly a year, inherits the crowns of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland as Charles I.
- By the end of March Carlo Emmanuele’s Savoyard army and Lesdiguières’ Army of Genoa have crossed the Apennines, driving back the Genoese. Moving on parallel lines, Carlo Emmanuele’s army ascends the Stura valley, storming Rossiglione; Lesdiguières follows the Lemmo, battling the bulk of the Genoese forces gathered at the Bochetta. In early April, Carlo Emmanuele routs the Genoese at Voltaggio, turning the forces blocking the French, and looks down on the sparkling coast of the Ligurian Riviera; Genoa is literally only a few hours march away, and the Genoese nobles are scrambling to send their fortunes to Leghorn in Tuscany for safekeeping. But the fortress of Gavi remains at Lesdiguières’ rear, and the constable refuses to advance further, investing Gavi instead. To the frustration of the duke of Savoy, the offensive stalls over the two weeks required to reduce the fortress.
- With the Huguenots in control of the coast, the duc de Rohan assembles a small force in the north of Languedoc, to threaten the supply lines of a royal army sent to La Rochelle or Montauban, the towo remaining Protestant strongholds.
- Gavi falls on 22 April and the Savoyard and French army is free to advance on Genoa, but to Carlon Emmanuele’s frustration, Lesdiguières refuses. An Austrian force is mounting in Tyrol to attack Couvres’ forces in the Valtelline, freeing Feria to attack Piedmont from Lombardy, Lesdiguières reasons, cutting off his supply lines. Without the fleet to defeat the marqués de Santa Cruz’s Neapolitan and Tuscan warships, there is no way to invest Genoa successfully – the French and Savoyard armies would starve before the walls of Genoa. The offensive ends, and the armies are forced to retire.
- Maurice of Nassau, stadtholder of the United Provinces and a military innovator, dies on 23 April; his younger brother, Prince Frederick Henry, succeeds him and is formally sworn in on 2 June.
- On 11 May, Princess Henriette Marie marries King Charles I in Paris at Notre Dame. The duc de Chevreuse stands in as the king’s proxy during the ceremony peformed by the Cardinal de La Rouchefoucauld. Dazzling finery is the order of the day among the participants and the next week is consumed by balls given in honor of the new queen.
- By summer, Montmorency, the Admiral of France, assembles a fleet of twenty Dutch warships and six English warships – a seventh English ship, an armed merchant, returns to England when guarantees of its value are not provided to the captain’s satisfaction. Originally the fleet was to attack Genoa, in support of the duke of Savoy and the constable of France, but the Huguenot rebellion forces Montmorency to protect his own coast, leaving the duc de Guise to harry the Spanish and Italian fleets in the Mediterranean as best he can with his small fleet of galleys and a handful of roundships. Neither the Dutch nor the English are eager to support the action against their co-religionists at La Rochelle, forcing the French to find crews for the English ships when the Anglican sailors debark at Dieppe.
- With the hostilities between the Spanish and French heating up, there is no grand caravan against the Turks in the Mediterranean this year. Instead, the five galleys of the Knights of Saint John sack the town of Santa Maura in Leucadia. The knights, under the command of their general, Tallamey, return to Sicily, where they receive word of six corsair galleys nearby. Without taking on extra troops or supplies, Tallamey order the knights’ squadron to attack, engaging the corsairs one-one-one; after a hard fight with many casualties, the knights are forced to withdraw, losing two of their galleys, the San Giovanni and the San Francesco, to the corsairs.
- On 22 May, the new queen’s procession leaves Paris for Calais. The king, ill, is unable to make the journey and bids his sister adieu at Compeigne, so Henriette Marie is escorted by the queen-mother, the queen-consort, and the Dauphin, her brother, as well as Earl of Carlisle, the newly-elevated Earl of Holland, and the Duke of Buckingham. The queen’s procession passes through Amiens, and it is rumored that here Buckingham, instigated perhaps by the duchesse de Chevreuse and her lover Holland, makes an advance on Queen Anne. The queen-mother, claiming illness, decides to stay in Amiens for the next month and keeps Anne with her; Henriette Marie is sent to Boulogne instead, escorted by Monsieur, and Buckingham is compelled to leave France. With an escort of twenty ships, Queen Henrietta Maria, as her English subjects will call her, departs France for England on 9 June.
- On 5 June, the Dutch fortress of Breda succumbs following a year-long seige by the Spanish under their Genoese commander, Don Ambrogio Spinola Doria, marchese di los Balbases. The defeat by Spinola is a hard blow to the Dutch effort.
- In July, the duque de Feria attacks Savoy from Milan, seizing the town of Acqui and advancing up the Valle Padana toward Turin. Carlo Emmanuele and the marquis de Créqui, replacing his father-in-law Lesdiguières as the constable, stricken with fever, returns to Dauphiné, turn their armies to meet the Spanish, Milanese, and Austrian forces of the duque.
- On 16 July, the royal fleet under Montmorency meets the Huguenot fleet under Soubise at the Battle of Pertuis Breton. In an otherwise inconclusive engagement, Soubise succeeds in blowing up the flasgship of the Dutch vice-admiral, Van Dorp, killing some three hundred sailors.
- Feria’s invasion of Savoy is stopped near Verrua on 5 August by the combined Savoyard and French forces, and the two sides settle into a siege of the city.
- On 18 September, Montmorency’s royal fleet again clashes with the Rochellais squadrons off Saint-Martin de Ré; the Huguenot fleet is defeated, and two regiments of picked troops commanded by the seigneur de Toiras are landed on the Île de Ré, where they invest the Huguenot defenders’ fortifications. By the end of fall, Toiras captures the island, as well as its neighbor, the Île d’Oléron, which together command the roads of La Rochelle; it’s said that hundreds of the Huguenot defenders are drowned in the marshes of the islands during the fighting. Soubise flees to England with the remainder of his fleet. Toiras is named governor of Ré for his success.
- On 6 October, at the direction of the Lord High Admiral, the Duke of Buckingham, a combined English and Dutch fleet of one hundred ships and fifteen thousand men departs for Spain; the destination of the raid is a secret. One month later, on 1 November, the fleet, under the command of Sir Edward Cecil, descends on the Spanish port of Cádiz, seizing a small fortress but failing to capture either the ships in the harbor or the town itself. Spanish resistance proved formidable and, poorly supplied, the English are forced to consume captured wine instead of water, leaving the crews in no condition to fight. His prospects for taking the town dashed, Cecil withdraws on 7 November, leaving a thousand drunken Englishmen to be put to the sword by the Spanish. The fleet sets out to find the Spanish treasure fleet returning from the West Indies instead.
- Unable to defeat the dug-in Savoyard and French troops at Verrua, Feria, his army ravaged by disease and desertion, lifts the siege and begins the retreat toward the Milanese frontier in mid-November.
- Rumors that the English and Dutch fleet sacked Cádiz and is on its way to aid in a renewed attack on Genoa circulate through the courts of Paris and Turin; the fleet’s actual fate is unknown until late December, after it limps home to England, many of the ships battered by storms, the crews wracked by disease, with nothing to show for the expedition.