The "Bande Nere" of Giovanni de’Medici
The origin of the Bande Nere (litteraly “Black Bands”) can
be traced to the companies that the young Giovanni de Medici headed during
the war of Urbino of 1517.
The Bands operated like an independent force from the
larger part of the army of the League (led by Francesco Maria della Rovere,
duce of Urbino). The “Gran Diavolo” (the Big Devil, which
Giovanni was called) with his chavalry and archibusers was a torment for
the imperials directed to Rome, creating many difficulties for them. His
death revealed the duce of Urbino's lack of military virtues when he left
the road free to the enemy.
The Bands would next be employed by Florence and were
entrusted to Orazio Baglioni. Under him they participated in the foolish
expedition led by Odet de Foix, Visconte of Lautrec, for the conquest
of the reign of Naples. During this campaign they had more opportunity
to demonstrate their value. They were prone, however, to demonstrations
of cruelty and ferocity, such as in the invasion of Melfi “where,”
so writes the Sannuto, “they rushed in, killing anyone on their
path, soldiers, men and women, and the children too, taken prisoners,
and sacked and plundered the land. No one saved himself, except those
who jumped down the walls, killing themselves or being taken or killed.”
The name of "Black" with which the bands of Giovanni de' Medici passed to the history, and with which same they began to call themselves after the death of their leader, was due to the color of their flags that Giovanni had changed from white and viol to black in sign of mourning for the death of the uncle, Pope Leone X.
The Black Bands represented the best expression of the "Italian" strategy and tactics emerged in the course of the renaissance wars. Composing largely of archibusers, they utilized very fast light troops, specialized in the “little war”. While in the big campaign struggle they weren't able to sustain the clash of big massed pikeman squares if not supported themselves by framed infantry in a closed order, they were the best “the market” could offer in the guerrilla, close combat, vanguard and cover operations. So, the struggling factions contended for their services, each side increasing their offer in an attempt to outbid the other.
Nevertheless Giovanni was a professionist of war and also
a much skillful one, and so he was really well payed for his service.
However it wasn't only money to attract him, but also the hope that, forming
an alliance once with someone and then with someone else, he could get
his own feud. The money, and it was really a big amount, was indispensable
for paying the soldiers and so keep united the company of his Bands. In
an age where all was for sale, he remained however faithful to Florence
andto the Medici family, reppresented in that period by the popes Leone
X and Clemente VII.
The popularity of Giovanni and his Bands did spread very
fast. Joined them, like witnesses again the Guicciardini, the “best
Italian soldiers that took payment”; many joined for adventure spirit
more than from true thirst of income, since discipline was much more severe
than in other formations and the payment usually was slow to come and
sometimes it didn't come at all. In their rows there were failed men of
literature, sons of broken noble families or seeking a little honour,
adventurer professionisti, desperates and refused of society, farmers
who for avoiding to starve to death joined to do someone else what was
done to them. Skillful with archebus and sword, these soldiers mutated
from Big Devils on the battlefield to devils of the robbery, violence
and plunder when there was the occasion and expecially when the payment
was very slow to come. Between them there were also deserter and traitors.
The firsts, once taken, were hung, while the latter, until found, were
inexorably “passed to the pikes” from their companions, to
simbolise the collective punishment that struck who didn't respect the
oath to the captain and to the loyal tie to his companions.