Ferdinando Francesco d'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara (1490-1525) was a Italian general who served in the Imperial service in the middle period of the Italian Wars, and was largely responsible for the decisive Spanish victory at Pavia in February 1525.
Pescara was the son of Alfonso de Avalos, 1st Marquis of Pescara, and was born in Naples in 1490. He learned many of his military skills serving under Prospero Colonna, one of better condottieri in Imperial service, and remained loyal to the Spanish and Imperial cause throughout his active service.
In 1509 Pescara married Vittoria Colonna, a member of the famous Roman Colonna family, a friend of Michelangelo, and a poet who wrote a series of poems honouring her husband's memory after his death.
In 1511-12 Pescara served under Ramon de Cardona, viceroy of Naples (War of the Holy League). On 13 May 1511 the French captured Bologna. Cardona led a Spanish and Papal army to besiege Bologna, but was driven away by a French army under the energetic young leader Gaston de Foix. Foix then besieged Ravenna, in the hope of forcing a battle. Cardona approached with a reinforced army, and then accepted Gaston de Foix's formal request for a battle. The resulting battle of Ravenna (11 April 1512) was a clear French victory, marred by the death of Gaston late in the day. Pescara, who commanded the light cavalry and mounted arquebusiers, was wounded during the battle and was captured by the French. He was later released after paying a ransom and promising not to serve against the French again.
Pescara almost immediately returned to Cardona's army, but his first few engagements weren't directly against the French. He commanded the Spanish infantry at the Battle of La Motta Vicenza (7 October 1513), a victory over the Venetians. In 1514 he helped Padua. The War of the Holy League came to an end in 1514. Francis I invaded Italy for the first time in 1515, but the main battles of this campaign involved the Swiss (including the high-point of Francis's career in Italy, his victory at Marignano/ Melegnano (13-14 September 1515).
In 1521 the First Hapsburg-Valois War broke out. Much of the early fighting was outside Italy (including a French invasion of Navarra and an Imperial invasion of eastern France). When fighting did begin in Spain the Imperial forces were commanded by Prospero Colonna, with Pescara serving under him. He began with a failed siege of Parma, but then abandoned the siege and focused on the French army, commanded by Marshal Odet de Foix, Count of Lautrec. Lautrec was outmanoeuvred, and Milam fell to the Imperial army on 23 November 1521.
The castle of Milan held out, and Colonna settled down into a regular siege. In the spring of 1522 Lautrec returned with a reinforced army, but suffered a heavy defeat when he attacked an Imperial camp at La Bicocca (27 April 1522). Pescara played a part in this battle.
Later in 1522 Pescara captured Genoa, which had been a key ally of the French.
In 1523 the French returned to Italy yet again, this time commanded by Admiral Guillaume de Bonnivet. He captured Novara, but was then pinned down by Colonna.
In December 1523 Colonna died. Official command of the Imperial forces passed to Charles de Lannoy, viceroy of Naple, but Pescara appears to have held the real power in the army.
In the spring of 1524 Pescara and Lannoy caught the French in their winter quarters and forced them to retreat in some chaos. The French suffered a heavy defeat at the battle of the Sesia (30 April 1524), in which Bonnivet was wounded and the famous French commander Pierre Terrail, seigneur of Bayard was killed. Once again the French were forced to retreat out of Italy.
This time the Imperial forces followed, invading Provence. This invasion was led by Lannoy, Charles of Bourbon (the Constable of Bourbon), and Pescara. The invasion became bogged down in a siege of Marseilles and was then forced to retreat back into Italy when Francis I appeared at the head of a large army.
The Imperial forces retreated from Milan, where the plague was raging, and instead made their stand at Pavia. Francis began a siege of Pavia on 27 October 1524, later splitting his army by sending 11,000 men to Naples.
In the spring Lannoy and Pescara arrived outside Pavia with a relief army. Francis built field defences facing the Imperial army and a standoff developed across a deep stream. Pescara probably came up with the plan that led to the great Imperial victory at Pavia (24 February 1525). On the night of 23-24 February most of the Imperial army crossed the stream a few miles from the French camp and then advanced towards the French left. Despite Francis's best efforts, the French infantry was unable to organise itself to face the new threat in time and the French suffered a very heavy defeat. Francis himself was captured and taken to Madrid as a prisoner.
All alliances in Italy during this period were very fragile. After the battle of Pavia the same Italian powers who had been afraid of Francis now began to worry about Imperial power. Gurolame Morone, Francesco Maria Sforza's chancellor of Milan, attempted to create an Franco-Italian alliance to face Charles, and approached Pescara with an offer of the crown of Naples, then held by Charles V. Pescara pretended to go along with the plot, but on 14 October he arrested Morone, marched on Milan, and demanded that the Duke surrendered his citadels at Milan and Cremona. The Duke refused, and Pescara began a siege of the Castello Sforzesco, but he died on 2 December 1525, before the castle had fallen.
Milan joined the League of Cognac of 1526, an anti-Imperial alliance formed by Clement VII and Francis I of France, but Francesco managed to survive the failure of this alliance and remained on the Ducal throne until his death in 1535, at which time Milan went to Charles V, triggering the Third Hapsburg-Valois War (1535-38).
Pescara was an competent general who can take much of the credit for the great Imperial victory at Pavia, but who didn’t survive for long enough after that triumph to be properly rewarded for it.