Part XLII: The War of the Three Leagues in Iberia
As previously mentioned, the long-term strategic goals of the Lusitnaians were securing their northern and western frontiers so they could continue their crusade into Africa without having to worry about conflicts in Europe. One of their short-term aims was the crippling or annexation of Aragon and Navarra, whose continued existence south of the Pyrneees was a direct threat to their security, both by allowing a long-term rival to continue to exist and as a potential route for foreign soldiers to circumvent their mountain defenses. This desire was what had led Duerte into his alliance with Louis, although he considered it more of a temporary arrangement that could be altered to best benefit his realm at any time….
Ferdinand III of Aragon had entered the war in mid-1517 at the behest of Hyginus II, raising a fleet of some forty transport ships and a host of 15,000 men to invade Naples and secure his claim there. He landed without much resistance and swiftly defeated the few Neapolitans still loyal to Louis, his forces fanning out across the south of Italy throughout 1517 and 1518. Crucially, he was supported by the Deuservii, who aided and abetted his consolidation of the south. However, even with a fifth column of supporters aiding him, Ferdinand was unable to reduce several of the fortresses in the far south, which were held by diehard Neapolitans, desperate French or the remnants of the Epirote expeditionary force that had been sent late in 1517, only to have their homeland conquered in their absence. Ferdinand was forced to commit his forces to a series of long-term sieges of these hardpoints, especially Taranto and Crotone. Because of this, he had very few forces back home in Aragon proper, believing that the Lusitanians wouldn’t break the thirty-year peace of 1490, an arrangement which had allowed them both to improve their domestic situation and, more importantly for the ultra-Catholic Duerte, had been notarized by the Pope. As such, he left behind only a skeleton force to defend Aragon, along with the militias of the crownlands and a handful of mercenaries.
Unfortunately for Ferdinand, Duerte would have no such scruples. In the winter of 1518, after news came of the shocking defeat of a Aragonese and Deuservii host by a much smaller French and Neapolitan army at Cicoria in September and after the Mediterranean became too rough to be navigable, thus trapping the Aragonese in Italy until the spring, the Lusitanians struck. Duerte himself led 10,000 men across the border near Caminreal, while two other columns of 10,000 also attacked in the north, into the Ebro Valley under de Nápoles de Nandufe and at Cofrentes under the elderly but very capable Gonzalo de Cordoba. Duerte hopes that this three-pronged assault would be able to swiftly overrun Aragonese defenses before reinforcements can arrive in the spring, and it is partially successful in this. The king himself is able to blast through the small force of Aragonese border guards and rush northwards towards Zaragoza, thus completing his half of the planned pincer, but de Nápoles de Nandufe gets bogged down fighting both the Navarese and the Aragonese border forces and is unable to advance to join him. In the south, meanwhile, de Cordoba managed to fight through the militias along the border, but upon arriving in Valencia finds it torn in civil strife between the city’s guilds and their royally-appointed governor, both of whom refuse to surrender out of fear of strengthening their rivals. Valencia and Zaragoza are both put to a siege that winter--Duerte’s army being too exhausted to try and take the city by storm--while advance forces are sent eastward to secure the passes over the mountains and trap the rest of the Aragonese on the eastern plain. The Duke of Najera, who had been left behind as regent for Ferdinand while he was in Italy, frantically tried to muster a force to drive back the invaders, managing to raise an army of about 12,000 composed of a strange mixture of regular soldiers, militiamen and mercenaries. However, he hesitated to engage before the campaign season of 1518 was ended by the onset of winter, as his defeat would leave Barcelona itself open to attack.
Word of the invasion finally reached Ferdinand in late January 1519, having been carried by secret messengers all the way from Aragon itself along the shores of the Mediterranean. He had managed to quelch the breakout from Cretone, but was still forced to commit a sizable portion of his forces to keep up the siege against both it and the other holdouts scattered across southern Italy. While he was still young and inexperienced, he was not a fool and realized how much of a threat the Lusitanian invasion posed to him. He ordered his dispersed army to regroup while every ship available to him mustered at Naples.
This was a fatal mistake. Duerte knew that speedy victory hinged on his ability to keep the Aragonese in Naples, and he had dispatched a fleet of more than sixty ships (68, to be precise) to blockade them there as soon as the Mediterranean had calmed in March. Two months later, this fleet sailed into sight of Naples, where they found, much to their shock, not the small and unorganized force which they had been told was there but rather a sizable Aragonese fleet. Nonetheless, the commander of the Lusitanian armada, an experienced and decorated admiral named Jorge Correia, ordered an attack, hoping to surprise the enemy and destroy them in their harbor. The Lusitanian attack was unexpected, but the Aragonese and Neapolitans scrambled to meet the attackers, weighing anchor and sailing out to meet them piecemeal or in penny packets. The Lusitanians at first crashed through the enemy formation, but as more and more ships took to the sea, they were halted and then, slowly, driven back. The Lusitanian ships were mostly sailing vessels, awkward and ungainly in the confines of the bay, while the allied galleys were far more agile and maneuverable. The air was filled with gunsmoke and fire as cannons roared at point-blank range, and fighting soon devolved into a chaotic mess of lone ship against lone ship as strategy and orders were lost in the fog. After more than six hours of fighting, the Lusitanians were driven back with forty-two ships sunk or captured, while the Neapolitans and Aragonese lost fifty-one of their seventy-two ships. The remainder of the Lusitanian force limped back out into the open Mediterranean, leaving a crippled enemy fleet behind them. However, Correia knew that he still had an opportunity to score a crushing victory, damn the costs. That night, one of the Lusitanians ships, the San Erasmo, broke off from the rest with two escorts, sailing back towards Naples. San Erasmo was stripped of anything of value and stuffed with straw and liquor, then pointed at Naples with the rising tide and eastward wind, the crew being evacuated except for Correia and a handful of fanatics. The admiral rode the caravel into the port, silent under the cover of night, then set fire to the ship as it closed to within a few hundred meters. The San Erasmo exploded into a massive fireball amongst the surrounding vessels, and within minutes the allied fleet was on fire. The Aragonese and Neapolitan fleet was heavily damaged, with only a dozen ships managing to survive intact.
With Ferdinand and his army trapped in Italy, Duerte was able to resume the offensive in Iberia at a break-neck pace. After a few days of negotiations, Zaragoza surrendered in exchange for being spared a sack. With the heart of the Ebro secured, Duerte told de Nandufe to turn his attentions to dealing with the Navarese, while he himself moved against Barcelona. In the south, the siege of Valencia continued on into the winter, only ending after de Cordoba was able to convince the governor and the guilds that he would allow them to maintain their current positions during the occupation. In late May, a Castillian garrison was installed in the city’s citadel, after which Cordoba turned his attention to dealing with the remaining garrisons in Murcia and along the plains north of the city.
With the south essentially secured in all but name and the Basques pinned down fighting Nandufe, Duerte turned his attention to Barcelona itself, the beating heart of Aragon. In late June, he abandoned the Ebro valley itself and marched eastwards, aiming directly for the capital. Lleida surrendered without a fight, and with the plains secured he was free to move into the mountain. De Najera realized that this was his golden opportunity to halt the enemy advance, and rapidly moved to waylay his enemy. Even as the Lusitanians advanced further and further into the rough country, they found fortresses and castles that should have barred their way abandoned, as if dozens of garrisons had defected all at once. Duerte was suspicious, but resolved not to look a gift horse in the mouth and kept up the advance at a rapid pace. This was nearly his undoing.
On 21 July, the Lusitanian army was waylaid in the pass of Fonollosa by Najera’s army. They were tired from weeks of constant marching and strung out along the road, by all rights an easy target for an ambuscade. However, the poor quality of the Aragonese force made itself known, both literally and figuratively, when a militia brigade sprung from ambush far too early, giving away the entire attack. While Najera roused his men to begin the assault while the Lusitanians were only halfway into the trap, Duerte hastily withdrew, escaping out of the pass’ northern end with light casualties. Once out from under enemy fire, the Lusitanians reformed on the plains, managing to keep order before turning to face their pursuers. Najera had been unable to halt his overeager soldiers, and many of them rushed out of the pass and onto the flatlands, where they were swiftly cut down by the far more orderly Lusitanians. For several crucial moments, Najera vacillated between ordering an all-out assault or pulling back, and during this interlude the king was able to do some hasty planning. He sent several brigades west into the nearby forest, then beat a retreat back from whence he came, seeming to be routing in front of the Aragonese. Many of Najera’s soldiers broke rank and gave chase, leaving the duke to hastily chase after them with the rest of his force. Once the Aragonese had completely emerged from their cover, Duerte about-faced to meet them, and the reverse ambuscade was hastily sprung. The Aragonese host quickly dissolved, various militia and mercenary forces fleeing in all directions while Najera desperate tried to fight a rearguard action with the remnants of his force. After an hour of assault from all sides, the duke realized that the battle was lost and surrendered rather than send more men to their deaths.
With the chief Aragonese force either scattered or imprisoned and its commander in chains, Duerte was able to advance directly against Barcelona in the following weeks, after his army had recovered from the brief battle. On 6 August, Duerte arrived outside the capital with a winded but still capable force. The people of Barcelona had hastily organized into a series of militias to hold the walls, and Duerte knew that he could never hope to take the city by storm. With siege artillery still several weeks away and having effectively outrun his supply chain, the king sent a message to the bishop of the city, -----, offering to spare the city from a sack if they surrendered to him immediately. The answer from the defenders was almost unanimously ‘No’, as they still believed Ferdinand was on the way with reinforcements, but there were enough dissenters for entire brigades needing to be taken off the walls. Scenting weakness, Duerte offered effective autonomy to the city in most of its affairs in the peace settlement if they would surrender without a fight. This piqued their interest, as much of the militia were drawn from the guilds and the lower classes, who disliked the direct rule of the king and would have much preferred a measure of autonomy. Several sally gates were quietly opened and Lusitanian soldiers entered on 9 August, joining with the anti-war militias in driving the loyalists out of much of the town and confining them within the citadel after two days of street fight. Duerte then entered the city in triumph, parading through the city streets as a conqueror, before making his way to the cathedral and having himself crowned as King of Aragon, the crown jewels having been captured before the loyalists could hide them.
This complicated things, to say the very least.
Duerte had a very weak claim to the Aragonese throne, as his grandmother Eleanor had been a daughter of Ferdinand I. However, this claim would only really come into effect if all other male members of the House of Trastamara were dead, and this was not the case as evidenced by Ferdinand III’s continued existence in Italy. Duerte’s true claim was the fact that he was in Barcelona with a large army. Even beyond the claim, Duerte’s actions had essentially thrown Aragon into a civil war as garrisons across the country would either defect to him or remain loyal to Ferdinand. More importantly, he hadn’t bothered to clear this decision with anyone other than himself, not even his advisors, and this unexpected declaration threw the internal cohesion of the French alliances into turmoil. Louis had planned to use the successes in Iberia to knock the Aragonese out of the war and thus pincer Italy yet again, but had neglected to actually inform Duerte of this, out of fear that his ally would refuse and scupper these plans. Now, with these plans wrecked beyond repair, Louis sent a series of angry missives to his ally, essentially screaming at him for destroying a plan he didn’t even know existed. This pissed Duerte off, and he became even more pissed off when he concluded that Louis had intended to trade away everything that the Lusitanians had bled for. He transferred the second force which he had been intending to send north to garrison Catalonia while he personally marched to subdue the Navarese.
Throughout 1520, the Lusitanians-Aragonese were occupied with the strange conflict in Aragon, which was slowly unified around the banner of Duerte or ground into submission either way, and the reduction of Navarre. De Nandufe had been assigned to this task before he had been hastily dispatched northwards to lead the expeditionary force, and in the subsequent brief lull the Basques had made quite the comeback, even managing to recover Pamplona. Once the king himself was present in the theater, though, these gains were quickly reversed. By the end of 1520, the Navarese proper had been broken, reduced to a handful of partisan bands up in the high mountains and the forces under Pedro of Navarre, a cousin of the king, who had managed to lead a retreat across the Pyrenees, where he hoped to hold off the attacks from the south.
However, more importantly, Duerte was conducting a series of secret negotiations with Hyginus. The Pope desperately wanted to weaken the French by any means possible, while Duerte wanted, nay, needed, the legitimacy that would be provided by Papal support for his claim to the throne of Aragon, as well as the need to prevent the rising of a continental power strong enough to threaten his control over Iberia. It would seem as if their shared goals would allow them to work together for mutual benefit, but there was still a very large elephant in the room; Ferdinand. The exiled king had managed to secure control over Naples as well as the formerly Aragonese possessions in the central Mediterranean and was attempting to raise a fleet to retake his first territory in Iberia. Hyginus had to tread the tightrope between the two monarchs, as either of them swinging to (re)join the French could potentially be disastrous. After several months of silent, three-way negotiations, the pope and the two kings struck a deal. Hyginus and Ferdinand would recognize Duerte as King of Aragon, but the Kingdom of the Balearics and the Kingdom of Valencia, which were legally distinct from Aragon itself, would be worked out later. In exchange, Duerte would invade France post haste.
In April 1521, the infante Afonso (b.1498) led 15,000 men across the Pyrenees under the pretext of finishing off the Navarese. Pedro raised a final army to meet them, intercepting the Iberians at the field of Saint-Jean, where he made his final stand. Unfortunately for both him and the glory of Navarre, rather than charging up the hill to meet him as he had hoped the Iberians would, they opened fire at a distance with crossbows and arquebuses and began inflicting heavy losses on the unshielded Navarrese soldiers. Pedro made a final heroic charge, but he and his men were cut down at a distance, inflicting pathetically low losses on the attackers. Saint-Jean was then occupied, effectively ending the existence of independent Navarre. However, the Iberians did not stop here. Afonso advanced out of Navarre and into France proper, taking Bayonne by surprise and installing a garrison. Fast-moving cavalry forces then spread out across the lands south of the Adour, taking Dax and the Bearnite cities without a fight and repulsing a small force of militia and retainers from Armagnac at Castelnau. His orders were to halt here while reinforcements were brought up from across the mountains or sailed into Bayonne from the ports of Asturias, but the restless prince refused to wait, likely driven by a desire to win a name for himself and the scent of blood in the water. Afonso led nearly 10,000 men north across the Adour towards Bordeaux itself in early August, but was unable to reach the city. Alan of Albret, one of the French noblemen of the region, had managed to rally a force of several thousand militia, knights and retainers to meet the invaders, hoping to protect their lands from the usual ravages of war. This motley force waylaid Afonso and his army near the isolated Gascon village of Sabres, harassing them from the dense forests of the region and wearing down his rear and flanks in a day-long running battle. Finally, Alan met Afonso in a pitched battle, which was ultimately inconclusive. Alan keeled over from a heart attack in the heat of the battle, and while the French were forced to withdraw, Afonso decided to do the same after assessing his losses and supply situation.
Duarte crossed the Pyrenees in late July, furious that his son had gone beyond his orders and risked disaster. More importantly, Afonso’s strike in the west had thrown off his plans of an advance along a wide front, and he was left to make up for this the best he could. He split his own force of 20,000 in half, sending 10,000 west into eastern Guyenne while the majority of his army attacked Languedoc. The secondary force was able to take Toulouse and the surrounding territories with little difficulty, although they came under frequent harassment by local militias and noble cavalry from the duchies to their north. The Occitanains had by now realised that their homeland was being turned into a war zone and many of them fled northwards, burning their crops as they went to spite the enemy. Knights from the northern duchies also raided the region, seeking to deny the advancing foe supplies by despoiling the land--after all, it wasn’t their land, and so smashing it up ‘a bit’ would be more than justified to prevent the advance of the perfidious enemy. Duarte, meanwhile, advanced on the cities along the Mediterranean with surprising speed, as many of the cities were caught off-guard and surrendered rather than risking a sack. By the end of September, an Iberian army was besieging Montpillier, the only major city in the south not captured other than the mighty fortress of Carcassonne.
The French had responded to this invasion primarily by indirect resistance or sorties against isolated garrisons, such as those undertaken by Charles, the Count of Alençon. However, in October 1521, Louis and his army finally arrived from Italy, having run themselves into exhaustion to defend the southern provinces. The arrival of such a large French force caused Duerte to withdraw from Montpellier, which was relieved after a harrowing siege of several weeks to the cheers of all of its inhabitants. Several thousand pounds of cannonballs were lodged within the walls of the city, but they had stood strong against the invaders. Louis further pursued the Iberians southwards along the coast, but his army was too exhausted to keep in order and became strung out along the road, forcing him to pull back to Montpellier after chasing the Iberians across the Herault. The snows came early that year, and the three armies entered winter quarters in mid-November, supplies short all around due to the ravaging of the province that year.
The war resumed the next spring. Afonso launched another push on Bordeaux in late April, advancing through the now-abandoned and devastated countryside with his diminished army. However, he advanced at an unusually slow pace and there was more than enough time for the garrison of the city to send a cry for help to Louis’ army before the city was surrounded. Louis mustered his army, by now much reduced by the cold and the hunger of the winter, and counter-marched with some 12,000 men. After two months of force-marching across the devastated country, the king and his army arrived outside of Bordeaux, where they offered battle to the infante and his army. Fearing being cut off from his route of retreat, Afonso accepted the offer.
Knowing he was outnumbered, the Iberia deployed his forces on a line, with the river securing their left flank and a number of open cisterns to anchor his right. He was planning a purely defensive battle, hoping to inflict enough losses to force Louis to pull back. Louis, on the other hand, extended his left, hoping to sweep around the cisterns and pin down the enemy rear while he hammered into their center and left with his own center and right, hoping to break them entirely. The battle opened quietly, shortly before noon, with skirmishing between the light infantry of both armies, before Louis ordered his men to advance with the sun still high in the sky. The left, under d’Alençon, advanced slowly across the scrubby field, and so the French mainline struck their enemy line first, ranks of grizzled veterans pressing against each other, eventually beginning to push northwards as the experience of the French and the Lombards made itself known. The Iberian heavy infantry were as a whole less heavily armored, and so in addition to their experience and the weight of numbers, which was already on their side, the Franco-Lombards had physical weight on their side as well. After nearly an hour of fighting, Louis; men seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough, the Iberians wavering desperately as their losses mounted and their line lost cohesion. The king had by now begun to wonder where the encircling force had gone, but was focused more on the struggle at hand. Then, Charles and the remnant of the French left came streaming out of the wickets in full retreat, followed shortly afterwards by Castillian cavalry. Louis turned to meet this force, but before he could, another formation appeared at his seven o’clock, then in his rear. Duarte had shadowed the Franco-Lombards along their entire march at great distance, only closing with them once the battle was in full swing. Louis was forced to pull forces back to try and defend from this new attack, forming a concave arc with their backs to the riverbank. As more and more soldiers came pouring out of the wilds, Louis ordered his men to retreat across a shallow part of the river to a river island, the rest of the army fighting fighting desperately to cover their retreat. The French put up the best fight they could, but the king soon discovered to his horror that the river was far faster than he thought it was, fed by the melting of the snowpack with the spring thaw, and many of the soldiers lost their footing and were swept away. The Iberians pressed further forwards, and gradually the French were forced back into the river and the mud, either cut down by the enemy or carried away by the swift currents. Only three hundred men escaped to the river island, Louis among them, and then escaped across to the far bank on crude rafts.
The Battle of Bègles effectively gutted the French army and broke the spirit of France at large. Louis insisted that victory could still be won, but few of his vassals and subjects agreed. Cities across the south of France surrendered and accepted Iberian garrisons, and the Count of Rodez went so far as to swear fealty to Duarte. Gayenne, Languedoc and Santogne were all secured within a few scant months, and the Iberians went eastwards into the lands of Provence. In spite of the king’s energetic leadership, many of his nobles refused to muster out and follow him, and many of the levies which he tried to raise from across Occitane outright revolted rather than march to their deaths. Duerte sent raiding parties northwards, seeking to stir up revolts to further weaken his enemies, further devastating the regions. After several months, the king was finally able to scrape together 3,000 men, a ragged force by any measure of the definition. In September 1522, he marched to relieve the isolated castle of Lodeve, from which he hoped to threaten the Iberians’ supply lines and force them to pull back from Provence. He succeeded in reliving the castle, a fairly significant morale victory for such a beleaguered army, and began raiding the roads south-west of Montpellier. However, his scouting court was essentially nonexistent, and so an Iberian force fell upon them by surprise. The army was shattered by overwhelming attack from two directions, and Louis was forced to flee the field again.
In spite of all these defeats, Louis was certain that he still had a chance at victory. He spent the winter of 1522-1523 trying to muster forces from northern and central France, which was by now overrun by peasant revolts due to overtaxation and devastation because of Munsterian and Iberian raids. Most recruitable men were dead, already revolting, or helping de Foix in his manic defense of the capital. Unable to muster anything more than a few hundred men, he marched south once again in hopes of raiding the enemy and mustering more support. On 28 February 1523, near the small town of Vichy, the king and his men encountered a party of Iberian raiders. A Castillian arquebusier fired and Louis fell from his saddle, the left side of his head reduced to a bloody pulp. With him died the French war effort; within a few weeks, the war would be over.
 The Aragonese crown was quite decentralized, and so Ferdinand raised a small host so as to not anger his subjects while he was out of the country.
 These were unusually large fleets, and this was part of the reason why they took so much damage; the vast majority of these armadas were merchantmen turned transports.
 I think this might be the contemporary name, but I’m not sure,
 He had been asked to send 20,000 men to the north, but obviously refused to send the latter half. He actually tried to recall de Nandufe, but the message never made it through.
 Hyginus was still an adamant reformer, however, and refused to excommunicate Louis for anything other than a mortal sin. They may disagree vehemently (to say the least) but he would not damn him for a temporal falling out.
 Butterflies mean Rodez never falls into union with Armangac.