Battle of Novara, 6 June 1513

The battle of Novara (6 June 1513) was one of the last victories won by the famous Swiss infantry, and saw them overwhelm a French army that had temporarily occupied most of the Duchy of Milan.

The French had ruled Milan since 1499, when they had expelled Ludovico Sforza (Second Italian War). They had defeated him again in 1500 and held the duchy for the next decade. They also managed to repel Swiss attacks early in the War of the Holy League, but in 1512 the duchy fell to the Swiss, who installed Massimiliano Sforza as duke. Power was split between the Duke, the Swiss and representatives of the Emperor Maximilian I. Maximilian also had an Imperial army in northern Italy commanded by Ramon de Cardona, while the French were allied by the Swiss, whose commander Bartolomeo d'Alviano had just been released after being captured at the battle of Agnadello (14 May 1509).

In 1513 Louis XII made a concerted effort to recapture Milan. French forces occupied Genoa, while Alviano advanced west to Cremona. In April 1513 a fresh French army of around 12,000 men under Prince Louis de La Trémoille crossed the Alps and threatened Milan from the west. Sforza and the Swiss were clearly unpopular in the duchy, and large areas rose in support of the French. By the end of May the Swiss had been expelled from everywhere apart from Novara and Como.

On 3 June the French arrived outside Novara, where the Swiss had a sizable garrison. La Trémoille launched an attack on the city, but was repulsed. He then pulled back a short distance to Trecate, and prepared for a siege.

This gave the Swiss the time to rush 5,000 fresh troops to Novara. They were able to join up with the garrison. Their combined force slept for three hours on the night of 5-6 June, and then made a night march towards the French.

Once they were close to Trecate the Swiss formed into three columns arranged in echelon. They hit the French at dawn and caught them by surprise. The Swiss lacked cavalry or artillery but the speed and fury of their assault swept away the French. The Swiss penetrated the centre-left of the French line and broke into their camp. The French infantry was shattered, and was said to have suffered around 8,000 casualties.

The French cavalry did manage to escape, but La Trémoille's position in Lombardy was now untenable. While the Swiss went on to recapture Milan, the French retreated back across the Alps. Later in the year the Swiss followed and invaded Burgundy, where La Trémoille was forced to buy them off.

This was one of the last victories for the Swiss infantry columns. Two years later, at Marignano (13-14 September 1515), equally valiant Swiss columns were unable to break the French lines, giving Francis I his greatest victory in Italy.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 December 2014), Battle of Novara, 6 June 1513 ,

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