List Of Contents | Contents of The Borgias, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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Charles had observed all these arrangements, and had recognised the
cunning Italian strategy which made his opponents the finest generals
in the world; but as there was no means of avoiding the danger, he
had decided to take a sideway course, and had given orders to
continue the match; but in a minute the French army was caught
between Count di Cajazzo, barring the way with his four hundred men-
at-arms and his two thousand infantry, and Gonzaga in pursuit of the
rear, as we said before; leading six hundred men-at-arms, the flower
of his army, a squadron of Stradiotes, and more than five thousand
infantry: this division alone was stronger than the whole of the
French army.

When, however, M. de Guise and M.  de la Trimouille found themselves
pressed in this way, they ordered their two hundred men-at-arms to
turn right about face, while at the opposite end--that is, at the
head of the army-Marechal de Gie and Trivulce ordered a halt and
lances in rest.  Meanwhile, according to custom, the king, who, as we
said, was in the centre, was conferring knighthood on those gentlemen
who had earned the favour either by virtue of their personal powers
or the king's special friendship.

Suddenly there was heard a terrible clash behind it was the French
rearguard coming to blows with the Marquis of Mantua.  In this
encounter, where each man had singled out his own foe as though it
were a tournament, very many lances were broken, especially those of
the Italian knights; for their lances were hollowed so as to be less
heavy, and in consequence had less solidity.  Those who were thus
disarmed at once seized their swords.  As they were far more numerous
than the French, the king saw them suddenly outflanking his right
wing and apparently prepared to surround it; at the same moment loud
cries were heard from a direction facing the centre: this meant that
the Stradiotes were crossing the river to make their attack.

The king at once ordered his division into two detachments, and
giving one to Bourbon the bastard, to make head against the
Stradiotes, he hurried with the second to the rescue of the van,
flinging himself into the very midst of the melee, striking out like
a king, and doing as steady work as the lowest in rank of his
captains.  Aided by the reinforcement, the rearguard made a good
stand, though the enemy were five against one, and the combat in this
part continued to rage with wonderful fury.

Obeying his orders, Bourbon had thrown himself upon the Stradiotes;
but unfortunately, carried off by his horse, he had penetrated so far
into the enemy's ranks that he was lost to sight: the disappearance
of their chief, the strange dress of their new antagonists, and the
peculiar method of their fighting produced a considerable effect on
those who were to attack them; and for the moment disorder was the
consequence in the centre, and the horse men scattered instead of
serrying their ranks and fighting in a body.  This false move would
have done them serious harm, had not most of the Stradiotes, seeing
the baggage alone and undefended, rushed after that in hope of booty,
instead of following up their advantage.  A great part of the troop
nevertheless stayed behind to fight, pressing on the French cavalry
and smashing their lances with their fearful scimitars.  Happily the
king, who had just repulsed the Marquis of Mantua's attack, perceived
what was going on behind him, and riding back at all possible speed
to the succour of the centre, together with the gentlemen of his
household fell upon the Stradiotes, no longer armed with a lance, for
that he had just broken, but brandishing his long sword, which blazed
about him like lightning, and--either because he was whirled away
like Bourbon by his own horse, or because he had allowed his courage
to take him too far--he suddenly found himself in the thickest ranks
of the Stradiotes, accompanied only by eight of the knights he had
just now created, one equerry called Antoine des Ambus, and his
standard-bearer.  "France, France!" he cried aloud, to rally round
him all the others who had scattered; they, seeing at last that the
danger was less than they had supposed, began to take their revenge
and to pay back with interest the blows they had received from the
Stradiotes.  Things were going still better, for the van, which the
Marquis de Cajazzo was to attack; for although he had at first
appeared to be animated with a terrible purpose, he stopped short
about ten or twelve feet from the French line and turned right about
face without breaking a single lance.  The French wanted to pursue,
but the Marechal de Gie, fearing that this flight might be only a
trick to draw off the vanguard from the centre, ordered every man to
stay in his place.  But the Swiss, who were German, and did not
understand the order, or thought it was not meant for them, followed
upon their heels, and although on foot caught them up and killed a
hundred of them.  This was quite enough to throw them into disorder,
so that some were scattered about the plain, and others made a rush
for the water, so as to cross the river and rejoin their camp.

When the Marechal de Gie saw this, he detached a hundred of his own
men to go to the aid of the king, who was continuing to fight with
unheard-of courage and running the greatest risks, constantly
separated as he was from his gentlemen, who could not follow him; for
wherever there was danger, thither he rushed, with his cry of
"France," little troubling himself as to whether he was followed or
not.  And it was no longer with his sword that he fought; that he had
long ago broken, like his lance, but with a heavy battle-axe, whose
every blow was mortal whether cut or pierced.  Thus the Stradiotes,
already hard pressed by the king's household and his pensioners, soon
changed attack for defence and defence for flight.  It was at this
moment that the king was really in the greatest danger; for he had
let himself be carried away in pursuit of the fugitives, and
presently found himself all alone, surrounded by these men, who, had
they not been struck with a mighty terror, would have had nothing to
do but unite and crush him and his horse together; but, as Commines
remarks, "He whom God guards is well guarded, and God was guarding
the King of France."

All the same, at this moment the French were sorely pressed in the
rear; and although de Guise and de la Trimouille held out as firmly
as it was possible to hold, they would probably have been compelled
to yield to superior numbers had not a double aid arrived in time:
first the indefatigable Charles, who, having nothing more to do among
the fugitives, once again dashed into the midst of the fight, next
the servants of the army, who, now that they were set free from the
Stradiotes and saw their enemies put to flight, ran up armed with the
axes they habitually used to cut down wood for building their huts:
they burst into the middle of the fray, slashing at the horses' legs
and dealing heavy blows that smashed in the visors of the dismounted

The Italians could not hold out against this double attack; the
'furia francese' rendered all their strategy and all their
calculations useless, especially as for more than a century they had
abandoned their fights of blood and fury for a kind of tournament
they chose to regard as warfare; so, in spite of all Gonzaga's
efforts, they turned their backs upon the French rear and took to
flight; in the greatest haste and with much difficulty they recrossed
the torrent, which was swollen even more now by the rain that had
been falling during the whole time of the battle.

Some thought fit to pursue the vanquished, for there was now such
disorder in their ranks that they were fleeing in all directions from
the battlefield where the French had gained so glorious a victory,
blocking up the roads to Parma and Bercetto.  But Marechal de Gie and
de Guise and de la Trimouille, who had done quite enough to save them
from the suspicion of quailing before imaginary dangers, put a stop
to this enthusiasm, by pointing out that it would only be risking the
loss of their present advantage if they tried to push it farther with
men and horses so worn out.  This view was adopted in spite of the
opinion of Trivulce, Camillo Vitelli, and Francesco Secco, who were
all eager to follow up the victory.

The king retired to a little village an the left bank of the Taro,
and took shelter in a poor house.  There he disarmed, being perhaps
among all the captains and all the soldiers the man who had fought

During the night the torrent swelled so high that the Italian army
could not have pursued, even if they had laid aside their fears.  The
king did not propose to give the appearance of flight after a
victory, and therefore kept his army drawn up all day, and at night
went on to sleep at Medesano, a little village only a mile lower down
than the hamlet where he rested after the fight.  But in the course
of the night he reflected that he had done enough for the honour of
his arms in fighting an army four times as great as his own and
killing three thousand men, and then waiting a day and a half to give
them time to take their revenge; so two hours before daybreak he had
the fires lighted, that the enemy might suppose he was remaining in
camp; and every man mounting noiselessly, the whole French army,
almost out of danger by this time, proceeded on their march to Borgo
San Donnino.

While this was going on, the pope returned to Rome, where news highly
favourable to his schemes was not slow to reach his ears.  He learned
that Ferdinand had crossed from Sicily into Calabria with six
thousand volunteers and a considerable number of Spanish horse and
foot, led, at the command of Ferdinand and Isabella, by the famous
Gonzalva de Cordova, who arrived in Italy with a great reputation,
destined to suffer somewhat from the defeat at Seminara.  At almost
the same time the French fleet had been beaten by the Aragonese;
moreover, the battle of the Taro, though a complete defeat for the
confederates, was another victory for the pope, because its result

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