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Biographical notes on War Captains and Mercenary Leaders operating in Italy between 1330 and 1550

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Bernardon De Serres Between Italy’s Wars and French Rivalries

Italian CondottieriBernardon De Serres Between Italy's Wars and French Rivalries

Bernardon De Serres was A natural son of Bernardo della Sala (Bernardon de la Salle). According to some interpretations, he is considered the last (albeit quite mediocre) of the foreign condottieri active in Italy before the emergence of Alberico da Barbiano with the Compagnia di San Giorgio. However, French historiography views him as a skilled and valiant warrior, especially active in his country within the factions dividing the Armagnacs from the Burgundians.

Indice delle Signorie dei Condottieri: ABCDEFGIJLMNOPQRSTUVZ

Bernardon De Serres: A Figure in the Turbulent Conflicts of the 14th Century

Bernardo della Serra (Bernardon de Serres). A Gascon, he was born in the diocese of Aire, near Saint-Sever. He held the titles of lord of Tuscania, Malancène, Mollans, and Noves. Bernardo della Serra was a natural son of Bernardon de la Salle (Bernardo della Sala).

Born: 1359 ca.
Death: 1412, April

Year, monthState, Comp. venturaOpponentConductActivity AreaActions taken and other salient facts
1375ChurchFlorenceBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) arrived in Italy with his father, Bernardo della Sala (Bernardon de la Salle).
1379
JuneComp. venturaChurchUmbria, LazioBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) advanced towards Rome alongside his father, Bernardo della Sala (Bernardon de la Salle). During their approach to the city, they sacked all the towns loyal to Pope Urban VI.
1385AntipopeNaplesFranceBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) was employed by Antipope Clement VII to defend Provence and the Comtat Venaissin, which were threatened by the partisans of King Charles of Durazzo of Naples.
1387
MayVicoChurchUmbria, LazioBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) always served alongside Bernardon de la Salle (Bernardo della Sala) under Francesco di Vico, the lord of Viterbo. When Orvieto rose in support of the papal forces, Bernardon de Serres abandoned the city with only six companions and sought refuge in Canino.
1392
Apr.AntipopeChurchLazio, UmbriaBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) remained in Lazio, in the service of Antipope Clement VII. He supported Cardinal Pileo da Prata of Ravenna. Alongside Nicola Farnese, he seized Bolsena and negotiated the surrender of its fortress, which was defended by Peccia da Montalfina.
With a force of 170 cavalry and 150 infantry, Bernardon de Serres attacked Corbara and set fire to the village. He also captured the castle of Ripa, where 12 men were killed. This fortress, too, was set ablaze.
1393LazioBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) was reported to be active in the Viterbo region, where he took part in the defense of the provincial capital, Viterbo.
1394
Sept.Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) was enfeoffed with Malancène, a castle located in the diocese of Vaison, by Antipope Clement VII. Later, he also received the fiefs of Mollans and the port of Noves at the mouth of the Rhône River from Duke Louis of Anjou.
Nov.Upon hearing of the conquest of Savona by Enguerrand de Coucy, Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) offered to deliver, on behalf of Louis of Orléans (Luigi d’Orleans), the cities, fortresses, and castles under his control in the Patrimony to de Coucy. At the beginning of the following month, he received a gift of 100 florins as a token of gratitude.
1395
………Comp. venturaSienaHe moved through the territory of Siena with the Breton company. He was given 2,875 florins (3,053 florins, including gratuities for the various captains).
………ChurchUmbriaHe arrived at Castel Rubello and initiated negotiations to facilitate peace in Orvieto between the factions of the Beffati/Muffati and the Mercorini.
Apr.OrvietoChurchUmbria, LazioUpon the failure of the negotiations aimed at pacifying the two factions, he fought for Orvieto against the papal troops. He allied with Brandolino Brandolini and Ceccolo Broglia. He captured and sacked Toscanella (Tuscania), occupied Canino, Bagnorea (Bagnoregio), and Civitella d’Agliano, which he had to pledge to Broglia.
JulyFarneseLazioHe assisted the Farnese family by entering Isola Farnese and freeing Ranuccio Farnese, who had been imprisoned there by the locals. The people of Orvieto took advantage of the situation to kill several men from the area, despite his explicit orders against such actions.
1396
………MantuaMilan
Aug.FlorenceMilan, SienaCaptain of War commanding 200 lances and 200 archersHe commanded the Florentine troops, leading 200 lances and 200 archers. On his part, he sold the lands he controlled in the Patrimony of Saint Peter to the commune. The Florentines, in turn, transferred these lands to the Pope of Rome. He held the position of captain from 1396 to 1398 and then again from 1401 to 1402.
Oct.Romagna, TuscanyUnder pressure from the Florentines, he left Romagna and moved into the territories of Arezzo and Siena, devastating the countryside. He approached Montalcino, where a conspiracy in his favor was uncovered. After receiving 3,500 florins from the Sienese, he advanced into the territory of Pisa and rejected the sums offered to him by Jacopo d’Appiano. In response, the Sienese captains Guido da Correggio and Ceccolo Broglia came to Pisa’s defense, forcing him to retreat and position his troops between Volterra and Colle di Val d’Elsa. By mid-month, he was directly hired by the Florentines to confront the Visconti and their allies.
1397
Jan.TuscanyHe plundered the Sienese territories all the way to Montieri.
Feb.TuscanyWith 600 cavalry and 200 expert infantry, he countered the diversionary actions of Giovanni da Barbiano, who was supporting Benedetto Mangiadori from the territory of Lucca in his attempt to incite rebellion in San Miniato. He moved to Pescia to monitor and control the enemy forces.
Apr.TuscanyAlberico and Giovanni da Barbiano evaded his watch and reached the gates of Florence. After ten days of plundering, the Visconti army was forced to retreat to Siena as the Florentines weakened the opposing forces by hiring Paolo Orsini, Biordo and Ceccolino dei Michelotti.
MayTuscanyAlberico da Barbiano was stationed in Val di Chiana, while Bernardo della Serra was tasked with causing as much devastation as possible in the Sienese territory. With 1,500 select cavalry, he rode to Siena, then returned to Colle di Val d’Elsa. After a few days, he launched another incursion into the Sienese lands. He captured the castle of Selve and garrisoned it with 30 lances and 100 men, comprising infantry and crossbowmen.
JuneGeneral captainTuscanyHe lost the castle of Selve. By the end of the month, his army grew to 2,000 lances, 1,500 crossbowmen—mostly Genoese—and 3,000 infantry. He was ordered to march against Alberico da Barbiano and was given the baton of captain general. He advanced again to the borders of the Sienese territory; however, he was then commanded to halt.
JulyTuscanyA serious incident threatened the unity of his army when Bartolomeo Boccanera challenged his authority and disregarded his orders. Driven by anger and jealousy, he had Boccanera beheaded under the pretext of restoring discipline; this occurred on a day when Boccanera’s troops were far from the camp. Immediately, disorder erupted within the Florentine camp, as commanders like Paolo Orsini (with 400 lances) and Giovanni Colonna (with another 400 lances) refused to accept the notion that the captain general had the right to decide life or death for his subordinates. Despite this, the Signoria approved his actions, and Bernardo della Serra did not render military honors to Boccanera.
An investigation was launched by Simone Altoviti and Niccolò da Uzzano. Following the inquiry, Paolo Orsini returned to the ranks, and Bernardo della Serra‘s position and prestige were significantly strengthened. By mid-month, he had regained control of the situation and successfully repelled an offensive by Alberico da Barbiano from Mercatale. The opposing captain was forced to quickly retreat back to the Sienese territory; many of his troops were robbed and killed by the Florentines during the retreat.
Aug.Città di CastelloUbaldiniMarcheEncouraged by the inhabitants of Città di Castello, he advanced near Apecchio to confront the local lord, Ottaviano degli Ubaldini della Carda. He remained in the area for twelve days, attacking the castles of Baciocheto and Pietra Gialla, both of which were sacked. The crops were destroyed, and livestock was plundered. However, his assaults on the castle of Apecchio were repelled.
Sept.FlorenceMilan, SienaTuscanyWith Alberico da Barbiano summoned to Lombardy by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the lord of Milan, Bernardo della Serra advanced into the Maremma to once again attack the Sienese territories. On his return journey, he encountered Ceccolo Broglia, who, after a fierce battle, reclaimed much of the plunder from della Serra.
Later in the month, he moved into the Valdarno region towards Cascina, alongside Paolo Orsini and Ludovico Colonna, commanding 2,500 cavalry and another 3,000 men, including infantry and pioneers. They set many rural houses ablaze. In response, 500 cavalry and numerous infantry emerged from Pisa and ambushed the Florentines. Della Serra crossed the Arno near Caprona and stormed into the territory of Pisa, devastating the areas around Campo and Cesanello for nine days.
1398
Mar.TuscanyHe entered the territory of Pisa, raiding as far as San Piero in Grado and seizing a rich bounty. On the return journey, he was attacked by Pisan men-at-arms who had come out through the Porta di San Marco. He defeated them in just over an hour and drove them back within the city walls, capturing about a hundred soldiers. At San Miniato, he brought 500 head of large livestock, 2,000 smaller animals, 1,000 buffalo, and 300 prisoners for ransom.
Apr.TuscanyFollowing his previous incursion, Bernardo della Serra camped at San Savino and Cascina, inflicting severe damage on the Pisans. Upon his return to San Miniato, Gherardo d’Appiano planned to retaliate by seizing Barbialla through treachery. Informed of this scheme, della Serra laid an ambush for the adversaries who came to take the castle. He captured 300 Pisans, including 150 cavalry. The exiled Florentines caught among them were executed—some at San Miniato and others in Florence.
MayTuscany, UmbriaHe raided the Sienese territory one last time with 600 lances and many infantry before a truce was signed between the parties. Shortly after, he moved to Orvieto, where Giannello Tomacelli handed him 8,000 ducats to ensure that he did not support either of the two factions vying for control of the city.
JuneTuscanyHe returned to Florence and handed over his command insignia to the priors. He received his wages and was retained on standby for ten months with 200 lances, receiving a monthly stipend of 2,300 florins, in anticipation of the possibility that Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the Duke of Milan, might break the current truce prematurely.
JulyUmbria, AbruzzoHe moved to the region around Perugia, where he was recruited by the commune along with Corrado Prospero, commanding 4,000 cavalry. The two condottieri were promised a total of 10,000 florins. However, the contract lasted only five days because the Perugians lacked the immediate funds to pay them and had to pledge Cannara as collateral.
Subsequently, Bernardo della Serra, through the commissioner of the Count of Montorio, relocated to the Kingdom of Naples to serve Louis of Anjou (Luigi d’Angiò) in opposition to the Durazzo faction. He captured L’Aquila and several castles and was appointed Viceroy of the Abruzzi.
1399
Aug.FlorenceCaptain General commanding 300 lances and 200 infantryUmbriaHe was in Città di Castello when the Florentines reengaged him, assuring him the title of Captain General. His contract included leading 200 lances and 100 infantry during peacetime and 300 lances and 200 infantry during wartime. He was granted a monthly stipend of 500 florins for a period of six months.
Sept.UmbriaHe was hosted in Corbara by Francesco da Montemarte. After a few days, 90 infantry from his companies left their quarters and entered Fichino, finding the village with its gates open and only five women present, as all the inhabitants had joined the processions of the White Penitents. His soldiers were promptly confronted by 100 cavalry from Paolo Orsini and 100 men from Francesco da Montemarte, who arrived in Fabro and persuaded the infantry to leave the village in exchange for 550 florins.
…………FlorenceMilanLazioHe reclaimed Valentano on behalf of the Farnese family. He then confronted the Visconti forces, achieving some partial successes.
1401
Sept.TuscanyHe entered Pistoia with 200 lances and many infantry to quell the rebellion led by Ricciardo Cancellieri. During this period, the Florentines unsuccessfully pressured him to march into the Pisan territory under the imperial banner. Instead, he carried out a raid into the Pisan lands as far as Montopoli in Val d’Arno, bearing the standard of Florence.
Oct.LazioAt Toscanella (Tuscania), he renewed his contract with the Florentines.
………TuscanyHe donated 200 florins to the Dominicans of Santa Maria Novella so that they would celebrate a mass in perpetuity for the repose of his father and his brother Antonio.
1402
MayFlorenceMilanGeneral Captain of 240 lances and 200 infantryEmiliaHe was sent to assist Giovanni Bentivoglio of Bologna in response to the ongoing threats from the Visconti. Following a clash at San Giovanni in Persiceto, he moved to the location, leveled the villages around the castle, diverted the nearby stream, and set the countryside ablaze. Considering the enemy army’s superior numbers compared to his own troops, he contemplated retreating into Bologna for safety. However, Bentivoglio (or, according to some sources, the Florentine ambassadors Niccolò da Uzzano and Bardo Bastari) compelled him to engage in a decisive battle. While awaiting precise instructions from Florence, he fortified himself in Casalecchio di Reno.
JuneEmilia, LombardyThe initial skirmishes were favorable to Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra). He was sent a bloody gauntlet as a challenge, which he accepted. Bernardon positioned himself at the head of the fourth division, commanding 2,500 cavalry. He, along with Giacomo da Carrara, intervened when he saw his men retreating and struck Ludovico Gabriotto Cantelli with his lance. However, abandoned by the Bolognese troops and the Company of the Rose who fled the battlefield, Bernardon was ultimately defeated by the Visconti forces led by Alberico da Barbiano, Francesco Gonzaga, Jacopo dal Verme, Facino Cane, Ottobono Terzi, and Pandolfo Malatesta. Captured along with Francesco Terzo da Carrara by Facino Cane, he was sent as a prisoner to Pavia and ransomed for 20,000 ducats.
The Florentines accused him of choosing a weak position for the defensive line. The soldiers who returned to Florence were re-enlisted by the republic and dispatched to monitor the threatened areas along the northern frontier of the state.
1404
Jan.FranceBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) agreed to serve under Duke Louis of Orléans (Luigi d’Orléans) for a stipend. Stationed at Pont-Saint-Esprit, he committed to fighting on behalf of the duke against any adversary, with the sole exception of the antipope. In recognition of his service, the duke granted him a provision of 4,000 livres tournois, which was paid to him in Lyon in the early days of the following month.
Oct.ChurchCunioEmiliaIn the service of Pope Innocent VII, Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) once again confronted Alberico da Barbiano. He set up camp near his opponents between Castel Bolognese and Imola. Despite his efforts, he was unable to prevent the enemy forces from crossing the Reno River.
1405
Aug.FranceBurgundyFranceReturning to the service of Duke Louis of Orléans (Luigi d’Orléans), Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) joined forces with the ducal troops at Melun. Their mission was to engage the Burgundians in battle.
1407
………PiedmontBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) was appointed by Duke Louis of Orléans (Luigi d’Orléans) as the governor of Asti, replacing Jean de Fontaines. He was granted an annual provision of 3,000 florins, the title of the duke’s chamberlain, and a seat on his council. Bernardon administered his duties with the same rigor he had shown in the service of the Florentines. In March, he removed Louis de la Tour from his position as the castellan of Asti and replaced him with Mignonet de Gascogne. During his absences from the city, he delegated the guardianship to his brother, Gratien de Serres, the lord of Serres, whom he appointed as vice-governor.
Oct. – Nov.PiedmontBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) united his forces with those of Jacopo dal Verme to defend the Duke of Milan against the plots of rebels opposing the Visconti cause.
1408
Nov.Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) assisted Carlo Malatesta, the governor of the Duchy of Milan, in negotiating with the castellans of Porta Giovia who were rebelling against the policies of Duke Giovanni Maria Visconti.
1409
………Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) once again became involved in the affairs of the Duchy of Milan. He supported Jean le Maingre, known as Boucicaut, the governor of Genoa, in his efforts to benefit the Duke of Milan at the expense of Facino Cane.
MayPiedmont, FranceDuke Louis of Orléans (Luigi d’Orléans) was assassinated by henchmen sent by the Duke of Burgundy. As a result, Bernardon de Serres‘ (Bernardo della Serra) role diminished, and Louis de Montjoie was appointed to govern Asti. Bernardon retired to his estates in Provence, where Bishop Guillaume de Passerat of Vaison ceded full authority over the lands of the diocese to him.
1410
Apr. – MayFranceBurgundyFranceIn mid-month, Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) left Provence to join forces with the troops of the Dukes of Berry, Orléans, and Brittany, as well as those of the Counts of Clermont, Alençon, and Armagnac—forming the League of Gieu—to fight against the Burgundians. By mid-May, he was in Blois, standing alongside Duke Charles of Orléans.
Nov.FranceBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) collaborated with Jean Planterose, the Viscount of Caudebec, in an expedition in the Lower Seine. Caudebec was accused of negotiating with the opponents of the Armagnac faction for having met with the Duke of Bourbon.
1411FranceBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) supported the Count of Vertus and the Count of Alençon. He also accompanied the Duke of Bourbon on his expedition to Normandy.
1412
Jan.FranceBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) attended the council in Orléans with the new Duke of Orléans, Guillaume Le Bouteiller, and Jean de Fontaines.
Feb.FranceAt the beginning of the month, Charles of Orléans presented Bernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) with a gift valued at 200 scudi.
Apr.FranceBernardon de Serres (Bernardo della Serra) died in mid-month during a clash with the troops of the Duke of Burgundy near Villefranche in the Beaujolais region. He was married to Romana di Baschi.

Sources

-“Etait tenu pour un des meilleurs capitaines. Qui portoit un tronçon de lance gros comme la cuisse d’un homme, et valoit mille hommes d’armes. Le meilleur capitaine des chretiens.”

-“Virum per ea tempora rei militaris peritissimum.” MANETTI

-“Bravo condottiere d’armi in que’ tempi.” VERCI

-“Consueto lungo tempo per Italia al mestieri dell’arme.” ARETINO

-“Riputato valentissimo uomo.” MORELLI

-“Che avea fama di valoroso.” LANCETTI

-“Vir fortissimus.” CRIVELLI

-“Summae rei praefectus, vir genere Aquitanicus, caeterum longa militia per Italiam cognitum.” SANT’ANTONINO

-“Latronum insignem ex Aquitania ducem.” BEVERINI

-“Secondo il suo contemporaneo Lapo Mazzei, Serres aveva fama di imprevedibilità e velocità, tanto che di lui si diceva che volasse.. Secondo la storiografia ottocentesca italiana (Ricotti, 1844), egli fu soltanto uno degli ultimi (e non dei più celebri) capitani stranieri attivi nella penisola prima che, con il Barbiano, si imponessero le compagnie di italiani. La sottovalutazione di Ercole Ricotti contrasta con l’apprezzamento di Durrieu, la cui biografia di Serres (pure qui e là encomiastica) resta tuttora imprescindibile; la storia francese vide in lui un abile e valente guerriero che, attraverso il mestiere delle armi, seppe riscattarsi dal ristretto ruolo di semplice avventuriero cui pareva destinato. Anche Michael E. Mallett ne limita sbrigativamente la carriera, con un ” non particolarmente brillante”, ..ma forse a torto. Serres fu personaggio all’epoca sua non irrilevante, esponente non trascurabile di un periodo di transizione della storia militare italiana.” BARGIGIA

-“Ce qui excitait particulièrement l’admiration des contemporaines, c’était sa vigilance, son activité et sa prodigieuse habileté à dérober sa marche et à apparaitre tout à coup sur un point menacé par l’ennemi, alors qu’on le croyait à l’autre extremité du territoire.. A ses qualités de soldat, Bernardon de Serres joignait une pieté sincére… Mais chez lui.. comme la plupart des capitaines de l’époque, la nécessité de se faire obèir par des bandes de routiers indisciplinés  avait developpé une sévèrité poussée parfois a l’extreme… Bernardon de Serres était tenu pour un des melleurs capitaines armagnacs, lorsqu’il soccombe.” DURRIEU

-“Vir genere aquitanus, ceterum longa militia per Italiam cognitus.” BRUNI

-“Bernardone Guascone fortissimo capitano.” GIOVIO

-“Presumibilmente egli si formò alla scuola del patrigno divenendo un noto condottiero nei primissimi anni del Quattrocento.” BULTRINI

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Roberto Damiani
Roberto Damiani
Roberto Damiani è l'autore del sito Condottieri di ventura.