Guillaume Gouffier, Lord of Bonnivet(c.1488-1525)

Guillaume Gouffier, Lord of Bonnivet, Admiral of France (c.1488-1525) was a French commander who performed well in battle early in his career, but who proved to be an ineffective commander when given control of the French army in Italy in 1523-24.

Bonnivet first came to prominence at the siege of Genoa of 1507 (fought during a gap in the Italian Wars to defeat a revolt against French dominance in Genoa). He was also present at the battle of Guinegate (16 August 1513), during the War of the Holy League, a French defeat that became known as the Battle of the Spurs because the French knights were said to have abandoned their spurs during their rapid retreat.

Bonnivet was a favourite of Francis I. He was made Admiral of France soon after Francis came to the throne in 1515 and took part in Francis's first invasion of Italy (1515-16). He was present at Francis's great victory at Marignano (13-14 September 1515), which established French control of Milan.

After the end of this war he served as a diplomat, first going to England in 1518 (where he helped arrange the planned marriage between Princess Mary (the future Mary I) and the Dauphin, and then serving as Francis's representative at the Imperial Diet at Frankfurt am Main of 1519, where he led Francis's efforts to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. Instead Charles I of Spain was elected as the Emperor Charles V, helping to trigger a long period of conflict between the two monarchs.

At the start of the First Hapsburg-Valois War (1521-26) Bonnivet captured Fontarabia (modern Fuenterrabia or Hondarribia, on the western bank of the Bidasoa River, at the western end of the Pyrenees), which fell in September 1521.

Francis I had intended to lead an army into Italy in person in 1523, but he alienated Charles, duke of Bourbon. The duke offered his services to Charles V, and although a plot to invade and divide France between Bourbon and the English never came to anything, Francis decided that he couldn’t risk leaded the army in person. Instead Bonnivet was given the command.

Bonnivet crossed into Italy towards the end of the summer of 1523 and in September he captured Novara. He was then pinned down by Imperial forces under Prospero Colonna. He decided not to risk an assault on Milan, and instead prepared for a long blockade of the city. This lasted into December, before Bonnivet was forced to lift the siege and go into winter quarters on the Ticino.

By the spring of 1524 Colonna had died, and had been replaced by Charles de Lannoy, Viceroy of Naples. The Imperial forces caught the French in their winter quarters and forced them to retreat in some disorder. The French were forced to abandon their base at Abbiategrasso, not far to the west of Milan and retreat to Vigenavo, west of the Ticinio, then pulled back north-west to Novara. The French were expecting help from their Grison allies, but when the Grisons arrived at Chiavenna, north of Lake Como, they found no French to greet them and were forced back by Imperial forces under Giovanni de Medici. Bonnivet moved west again, this time to join up with his Swiss allies on the Sesia, but the army was now unwilling to stand and fight and Bonnivet was forced to order a retreat.

Bonnivet was wounded during the retreat. Command passed to the famous French leader Pierre Terrail, seigneur of Bayard, but he was killed while commanding the rear-guard at the battle of the Sesia (30 April 1524). Bonnivet was then replaced by Count Francois de St. Pol who led the army out of Italy.

The Imperial army followed the French out of Italy and began a siege of Marseille. Francis raised a relief army, which included Bonnivet, who had recovered from his wounds. The Admiral accompanied Francis's invasion of Italy of 1524, and was killed in the major French defeat at Pavia (24 February 1524).

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 October 2014), Guillaume Gouffier, Lord of Bonnivet(c.1488-1525) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_bonnivet_admiral.html

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