Battle of Campaldino in 1289, according to Giovanni Villani

Although Giovanni Villani wrote his chronicle in the mid-14th century, he provides one of the best accounts of the battle of Campaldino, fought between Arezzo and Florence.

In the said year, and month of May, the horsemen of Florence being returned from escorting Prince Charles [son of King Charles II], with their captain, M. Amerigo di Nerbona, a host was straightaway gathered against the city of Arezzo, by reason of outrages received from the Aretines, and the banners of war were given out on the 13th day of May, and the royal standard was borne by M. Gherardo Ventraia de’ Tornquinci; and so soon as they were given to them, they bore them to the abbey at Ripoli, as was their wont, and there they left them under guard, making as though they would march by that road upon the city of Arezzo.

And the allies being come and the host being ordered, by secret counsel they purposed to depart by the way of Casentino, and suddenly, on the 2nd day of June, the bells being sounded by the hammer, and ever-prosperous host of the Florentines set forth, and they bore the banners which were at Ripoli across the Arno, and held the way of Pontassieve, and encamped to await all the main force on Monte al Pruno; and there were assembled 1,600 horse and 10,000 foot, whereof 600 were citizens with their horses, the best armed and mounted which ever sallied out forth from Florence; and 400 mercenaries, together with the following of the Captain M. Amerigo, in the pay of the Florentines; and of Lucca there were 500 horsemen; and of Prato 40 horsemen and foot soldiers; and of Pistoia, 60 horse and foot; and of Siena, 120 horse; and of Volterra, 40 horse; and of Bologna, their ambassadors with their company; and of Samminiato, and of Sangimignano, and of Colle, men mounted and on foot from each place; and Maghinardo of Susinana, a good and wise captain in war, with his Romagnoli.

And the said host being assembled, they descended into the plain of Casentino, devastating the places of Count Guido Novello, who was Podesta of Arezzo. Hearing this, the bishop of Arezzo, with other captains of the Ghibelline party (for there were many men of name amongst them), determined to come with all their host to Bibbiena, to the end it might not be destroyed; and they were 800 horse and 8,000 foot, very fine men; and many wise captains of war were among them, for they were the flower of the Ghibellines of Tuscany, of the March, and of the Duchy, and of Romagna; and all were men experienced in arms and in war; and they desired to give battle to the Florentines, having no fear, albeit the Florentines were two horsemen to one against them; but they despised them, saying that they adorned themselves like women, and combed their tresses; and they derided them and held them for nought. Truly there was further cause why the Aretines should declare battle against the Florentines, albeit their horsemen were two to one against them; for they were in fear of a plot which the bishop of Arezzo had set on foot with the Florentines, and conducted by M. Marsilio de’ Vecchietti, to give over to the Florentines Bibbiena Civitella, and all the villages of his see, and he to have 5,000 golden florins each year of his life, on the security of the company of Cerchi.

The progress of this plot was interrupted by M. Guiglielmino Pazzo, his nephew, to the end the bishop might not be slain by the Ghibelline leaders; and therefore they hastened the battle, and took thither the said bishop, where he was left dead, together with the rest; and thus was the bishop punished for his treason, who at the same time sought to betray both the Florentines and his own Aretines. And the Florentines, having joyfully received the gage of battle, arrayed themselves; and the two hosts stood over against one another, after more ordered fashion, both on one side and on the other, than ever in any battle before in Italy, in the plain at the foot of Poppi, in the region called Certomondo, for so is the place called; hard by a church of the Franciscans, which is near there, and in a plain which is called Campaldino; and this was a Saturday morning, the 11th day of Hune, the day of St. Barnabas the Apostle. M. Amerigo and the other Florentine captains drew up in well-ordered troops, and enrolled 150 forefighters of the best of the host, among the which were twenty newly made knights, who then received their spurs; and M. Vieri de’ Cerchi being among the captains, and being lame in the leg, would not therefore desist from being among the forefighters; and since it fell to him to make the selection for his sesto, he would not lay this service upon any who did not desire to be chosen, but chose himself, his son and nephews; the which thing was counted to him as of great merit; and for his good example and for shame many other noble citizens offered themselves as forefighters.

And this done, they flanked them on either side by troops of light-armed infantry, and crossbowmen, and unmounted lancers. Then, behind the forefighters, came the main body, flanked in its turn by footmen, and, behind all, the baggage, so collected as to close up the rear of the main body, outside of which were stationed two hundred horse and foot of the Lucchese and Pistoians and other foreigners, whereof was captain M. Corso Donati, which then was Podesta of Pistoia; and their orders were to take the enemy in the flank, should occasion arise. The Aretines on their part ordered their troops wisely, inasmuch as there were, as we have said, good captains of war amongst them; and they appointed many forefighters, to the number of 300, among the which were chosen twelve of the chief leaders, who were called the Twelve Paladins. And each side having given a war cry to their host, the Florentines, “Ho, knights, Nerbona,” and the Aretines, “Ho, knights, San Donato,” the forefighters of the Aretines advanced with great courage, and struck spur to smite into the Florentine host; and the rest of their troops followed after, save that Count Guido Novello, which was with a troop of 150 horse to charge in flank, did not adventure himself into the battle, but drew back, and then fled into the castle.

And the movement and assault upon the Florentines by the Aretines, who esteemed themselves to be valiant men-at-arms, was to end that by their bold attack they might break up the Florentines at the first onset, and put them to flight; and the shock was so great that most of the Florentine forefighters were unhorsed, and the main body was driven back a good space, but they were not therefore confounded nor broken up, but received the enemy with constancy and fortitude; and the wings of the infantry on either side, keeping their ranks well, enclosed the enemy, and there was hard fighting for a good space. And M. Corso Donati, who was apart with the men of Lucca and Pistoia, and had been commanded to stand firm, and not to strike under pain of death, when he saw the battle begun, said, like a valiant man, “If we lose, I will die in the battle with my fellow citizens; and if we conquer, let him that will, come to us at Pistoia to exact the penalty;” and he boldly set his troop in motion, and struck the enemy in flank, and was a great cause of their rout. And this done, as it pleased God, the Florentines had the victory, and the Aretines were routed and defeated, and between horse and foot more than 1,700 were slain, and more than 2,000 taken, whereof many of the best were smuggled away, some by friendship, some in return for ransom; but there came of them bound to Florence more than 740.

Among the dead left on the field were M. Guiglielmino of the Uberti, bishop of Arezzo, the which was a great warrior, and M. Guiglielmino de’ Pazzi of Valdarno and his nephews, the which was the best and most experienced captain of war that there was in Italy in his time; and there died Boncote, son of Count Guido of Montefeltro, and three of the Uberti, and one of the Abati, and two of the Griffoni of Fegghine, and many other Florentine refugees, and Guiderello d’Alessandro of Orvieto, a renowned captain, who bore the imperial standard, and many others. On the side of the Florentines was slain no man of renown save M. Guiglielmo Berardi, bailiff of M. Amerigo da Nerbona, and M. Bindo del Baschiera de’ Tosinghi, and Ticci de’ Visdomini; but many other citizens and foreigners were wounded.

This account was originally translated in Villani’s Chronicle : being selections from the first nine books of the Croniche Fiorentine of Giovanni Villani, translated by Rose E. Selfe (London, 1906)

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