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

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The Military Exploits of Raimondo Orsini del Balzo

Italian CondottieriThe Military Exploits of Raimondo Orsini del Balzo

Raimondo Orsini del Balzo, disinherited by his father Niccolò, left Italy to fight the Turks in the Balkans and in Palestine, where, through the pillaging of various locations, he managed to accumulate immense treasures. He was later noted in Prussia alongside the Teutonic Knights. He returned to Italy at the head of his own mercenary company. As a skilled and brave captain, he soon became involved in the conflicts that saw popes and antipopes opposed, who were in turn allies of the King of Naples, Ladislaus of Anjou, or of the claimants to the same kingdom, the two Louis of Anjou. The evolution of his military career allowed him to rise in just a few years from the status of a mere squire to that of the most powerful lord ever to exist in the Neapolitan region.

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Raimondo Orsini del Balzo: The Rise from Squire to Power in Naples

Raimondo Orsini Del Balzo Orsini del Balzo (Raimondello Orsini del Balzo, Raimondello da Nola) of Taranto, was the Prince of Taranto, Count of Lecce and Soleto, Count of Acerra, and Baron of Flumeri. He was the lord of Venosa, Benevento, Brindisi, Conversano, Monopoli, Otranto, Gallipoli, Veglie, Nardò, Oria, Ostuni, Martina Franca, Ugento, Ginosa, Palagiano, Mottola, Galatina, Tricase, Marigliano, Vico Equense, Campagna, Guardia Lombardi, Marcianise, Flumeri, Castellaneta, Francavilla Fontana, Massafra, Mottola, Polignano a Mare, Acerra, Altamura, Lavello, Locorotondo, Minervino di Lecce, Trevico, Trentola Ducenta, and San Vitaliano. He was the son of Niccolò Orsini and took the surname Del Balzo from his mother. He is believed to be the probable father of Tartaglia.

Born: 1350 ca.
Death: 1406, January

Year, monthState, Comp. venturaOpponentConductActivity AreaActions taken and other salient facts
………Naples700 cavalryFrance, Campania, Greece, Israel, EgyptHis father appointed his half-brother Robert to succeed him in the county of Soleto. As the second son of a noble Roman family, in February 1370, he was sent to Avignon to be with Pope Urban V (Urbano V). His rebellious character soon brought him back to Nola. Upon his mother Maria del Balzo’s death, he inherited a large amount of gold and precious gems. Disappointed in his expectations, he formed his own mercenary company (700 horsemen). He offered his services to his cousin James del Balzo (Giacomo del Balzo), despot of Morea, who had been ousted from the principality of Taranto by the Queen of Naples, Joanna I of Naples (Giovanna d’Angiò). He fought the Turks in the Balkans and the Holy Land. In order to distinguish himself from his father and brother, he decided to adopt the surname Del Balzo alongside Orsini. At the same time, he adopted a new coat of arms, using both the Orsini and Del Balzo heraldic symbols. Through the pillaging of various locations, he accumulated immense treasures; he also began collecting all sorts of sacred relics, including a large piece of the True Cross, which he later donated to the church of Saint Francis of Assisi.
In Palestine, he befriended some members of the Nanteuil family (de Nantolio), knights from a noble French house related to the Angevin royal family. William of Nanteuil (Guglielmo di Nanteuil), baron of many lands and lord of numerous castles, became his most trusted knight. Before returning to Italy, he visited Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, at the monastery where the tomb of Saint Catherine of Alexandria is kept. While kissing the hand of the corpse, he bit off a finger of the relic, which he took with him back to Apulia. Other sources suggest that Raimondo Orsini del Balzo, in addition to his time in Palestine, also went to Prussia to connect with the Teutonic Knights of Guido di Chauvigny, lord of Chateauroux, during what are known as the “Prussian journeys,” undertaken to fight the pagan Lithuanians. He finally returned to Italy, landing at Otranto with his company of 700 horsemen and took possession of the county of Soleto. He reached San Pietro in Galatina (Galatina) and camped there with his men, initiating hostilities with the feudal lords of the neighboring towns.
Apr.NaplesCampaniaIn the service of the Queen of Naples, Joanna I of Naples (Giovanna d’Angiò), he was appointed captain of the Terra di Lavoro and tasked, along with the regent of the Vicariate, Stefano Ganga, with suppressing the brigandage plaguing the Neapolitan region. He issued a decree promising pardon to anyone who laid down their arms within eight days. However, he did not keep his promises and hanged the bandits he encountered; numerous were also the men tortured and quartered in Naples, especially among the supporters of Pope Urban VI who had caused riots in the city.
………PiedmontIn Santhià, he served as a witness to the peace agreement between the Marquis of Monferrato and the Visconti.
1381ApuliaHe participated in a joust where he managed to unseat Malacarne from his mount.
May – Aug.OrsiniNaplesApuliaHe occupied the county of Soleto in Taranto (with jurisdiction over the fiefs of Galatina and Cutrofiano, the hamlets of Zollino, Aradeo, Sogliano, and the castle of Sternatia), which was given to him by his uncle Raimondo Orsini Del Balzo but usurped by his father in favor of his elder brother, Robert. Niccolò Orsini appealed to King Charles of Durazzo. In June, the sovereign ordered the grand seneschal Marsilio de Confaloneris and Ruggero Gesualdo to go to Terra d’Otranto against him. Orsini del Balzo was demanded to return the lands and castles he had occupied. He confronted the San Severino and achieved a victory over his opponents.
Sept.NaplesAnjouCaptain of warA meeting was called in Sulmona to combat Orsini del Balzo. Days later, the King of Naples brought the condottiere to his side, bestowing upon him the chivalric Order of the Ship and appointing him as chamberlain with an annual income of 300 gold ounces. He was also elected as war captain in Terra di Bari and in Terra d’Otranto against the Count of Conversano, Louis of Enghien (Luigi d’Enghien), and the Count of Lecce, James of San Severino (Giacomo da San Severino). He was assured a monthly salary of 300 ducats; in return, he was to have at his service 10 selected lances (each recognized with a monthly salary of 18 ducats).
………ApuliaHe was sent to Barletta with 700 horsemen. His task was to defend the locality from the attacks of Louis I of Anjou (Luigi I d’Angiò).
Feb.CampaniaHe was captured near Naples by Count Francesco della Ratta of Caserta, who was fighting for the opposing side. He was freed through a prisoner exchange with Angelo Pignatelli.
………ApuliaIn Barletta, he entered into a dispute with some nobles, the Della Marra family, who questioned his orders. He had 9 members of the family beheaded, causing the inhabitants to complain to the king. The sovereign, suspecting Raimondo Orsini del Balzo of treason and wishing not to displease the citizens, dismissed him and ordered his imprisonment.
Apr.AnjouNaplesApuliaCaptured in Barletta, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo was imprisoned in a castle. The Breton, Italian, and German horses of his company left the area. At the end of the month, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo escaped from the city using a stratagem and hurried towards Bari, where Louis I of Anjou was encamped. He asked to serve in Louis’s army. He was soon joined by a company of soldiers who, eager to fight under his command, deserted from the Durazzo army to join him.
………General captainApuliaLouis I of Anjou, to further bind him to his cause, appointed him as the general captain and arranged for him to marry the Countess of Lecce, Maria d’Enghien. He suppressed a rebellion in Lecce organized by Malacarne.
July – Aug.ApuliaHe entered Bari, where he was granted citizenship. He then occupied Bisceglie.
Sept.ApuliaLouis of Anjou died in Bisceglie. Along with the Count of Conversano, Louis d’Enghien, and the Count of Potenza, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo participated in the proclamation of Louis of Anjou’s son, also named Louis, as king.
JulyChurchNaplesCampaniaPietro Tartaro, the abbot of Montecassino, besieged Pope Urban VI in Nocera. The pope called upon Raimondo Orsini del Balzo for support against the Durazzo faction. Along with Count Francesco della Ratta of Caserta and the Count of Sant’Agata (with 400 lances), Orsini del Balzo seized Afragola; he sent 60 horsemen ahead as scouts to Casa Nova; there he clashed with the men of Cobello Stendardo. He began raiding the territory between the capital, Acerra, and Aversa, seizing a lot of livestock and capturing some men-at-arms of Villanuccio da Villafranca, who was in turn stationed at Sarno. Alberico da Barbiano opposed him. Raimondo Orsini del Balzo overcame the resistance of his opponents in a fight where he was wounded in the foot by a lance; he entered the castle of Nocera where the pope was besieged. He learned of Urban VI‘s intention to abandon the location; he persuaded the pope to seek help from Tommaso da San Severino.
Aug.CampaniaHaving received 10,000 florins and the papal blessing, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo left and returned after thirteen days with Lothar of Swabia and Tommaso da San Severino at the head of 3,000 horsemen. He reentered Nocera, defeated Ludovico da Barbiano and Villanuccio da Villafranca, and broke through the besiegers. Leaving the castle, he began a dramatic escape that took Pope Urban VI through the roads of San Severino and Giffoni in the county of Campagna and Buccino, and to the mouth of the Sele River. Here, the pope was able to board 10 Genoese galleys, sent by Doge Antoniotto Adorno and commanded by Clemente di Facio, which safely transported him to Civitavecchia. According to some sources, Orsini del Balzo might have led the pope to Flumeri, then to Benevento, and Minervino. Urban VI would have embarked on Genoese ships between Barletta and Trani, first taken to Messina, then into the Gulf of Naples, and finally to Genoa. The overland journey proved more problematic than expected because Urban VI, during his flight from the fortress, took with him in chains several bishops and six cardinals, whom he had previously tortured on accusations of seeking his deposition. The bishop of L’Aquila was killed en route, and his body was left unburied by the roadside. The remaining cardinals were all killed in Genoa, some strangled, others thrown into the sea in sacks. During the march, there were mutinous episodes among the escort soldiers who feared not receiving the promised reward upon completing the mission. Near Salerno, Orsini del Balzo persuaded the reluctant to follow him and abandon any thought of selling Urban VI to antipope Clement VII. For the help received, the pope would acknowledge the Genoese with 60,000 florins for the expenses incurred in equipping the squadron and would pledge to them, until the payment was completed, Corneto (Tarquinia) and other lands of the Papal States.
………Gonfalonier of the Church StateLazioAppointed by the Pope as the Gonfalonier of the Church State, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo was granted the fiefdoms of Benevento and the barony of Flumeri, which included control over 18 castles. This position not only signified a high military and administrative role within the Papal States but also conferred significant territorial power and influence.
1386Church, NaplesAnjou, AntipopeApuliaUpon the death of Charles of Durazzo in Hungary, the pope issued a brief instructing Raimondo Orsini del Balzo to support Ladislaus of Anjou (Ladislao d’Angiò), Charles’s son, against the claims of Louis of Anjou, who was supported by the antipope. For this purpose, Orsini del Balzo was provided with 20,000 ducats to recruit new troops.
JuneCampaniaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo attacked Naples. Alongside Berardo da Recanati, he was defeated at Porta Formello (Porta Capuana).
JulyLazio, CampaniaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo gathered troops in the countryside of Sora. Upon hearing that Tommaso da San Severino and Otto of Brunswick were heading to Naples with the support of the Angevin party, he entered the city through Porta Capuana. Initially, at Nido, he overcame the resistance of the Eight Lords of the Good State. He then moved to the church of Santa Chiara where he clashed with the two opposing captains. Repelled, he was forced to retreat to Nola with heavy losses.
Aug.CampaniaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo received reinforcements in the form of papal militias. He established garrisons in Marigliano, Acerra, and Nola. From Aversa, he began to cut off the supply flow to Naples that was coming from Benevento and Apulia. This strategic move was aimed at weakening the opposing forces by restricting their access to essential resources and reinforcements.
AutumnCampania, ApuliaThe San Severino family thwarted all his attempts and forced him to take refuge in Otranto.
JuneCampaniaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo received the towns of Acerra and Guardia Lombardi as a pledge from Otto of Brunswick. By December, he definitively controlled these fiefs which are significant in Campania, including the county of Acerra and several towns such as Marcianise, San Vitaliano, and Trentola, as well as the baronies of Flumeri-Trevico and Guardia Lombardi in Irpinia.
………Church, NaplesAnjou, AntipopeGonfalonier of the Church StatePope Boniface IX reaffirmed Raimondo Orsini del Balzo in his titles as Gonfalonier of the Church State and Protector of the Kingdom of Naples.
1393Anjou, AntipopeNaples500 lancesApuliaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo abandoned the cause of Ladislaus of Anjou through the mediation of the Count of Conversano, Louis d’Enghien, and switched to the service of Louis II of Anjou. He was granted a command of 500 lances, the payment for which was secured by the tax revenues of the lands of Bari and Otranto. From Lecce, Orsini del Balzo sent the claimant to the throne of Naples a gift of 1,500 pounds of worked silver, three warhorses, a camel, two slaves, some monkeys, and other exotic animals of the time. Summoned, he left the Terra d’Otranto and met with Louis II of Anjou at Spinazzola, who promised him the principality of Taranto. He confronted the Durazzo faction without fully committing himself. He did not participate in military actions for a long time; he essentially remained in Apulia to guard his fiefs.
Mar.NaplesAnjouApuliaLeading a force of 4,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo marched against the Durazzo army. At Canosa di Puglia, he met with Ladislaus of Anjou; he offered his friendship and abandoned the cause of Louis II of Anjou. In return, he was promised the Principality of Taranto, which had previously been granted by the Durazzo faction to Otto of Brunswick.
Apr. – JuneNaplesTarantoApuliaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo joined Ladislaus of Anjou in the siege of Taranto. In June, he took command of the troops to complete the operations. He finally entered the city in the name of the King of Naples and under the banners of Pope Boniface IX.
Aug. – Nov.TarantoSan SeverinoApuliaBernabò da San Severino attacked him in defense of his fief of Nardò, which was theoretically included in the Principality of Taranto. In support of Raimondo Orsini del Balzo, the Marquis of Crotone arrived with 500 horsemen. In November, there was an initial clash with the adversary. In the same month, the King of Naples ratified the concession of the Principality of Taranto in his favor; as informed by the sovereign to Stefano da San Severino, the lands of Matera, Spinazzola, Laterza, Gioia del Colle, and Massafra were also granted to him, over which Carluccio Ruffo of Calabria and Benedetto Acciaiuoli also claimed rights.
Dec.ChurchGonfalonier of the Church StateMid-month, Pope Boniface IX once again chose Raimondo Orsini del Balzo as the Gonfalonier of the Church State and enfeoffed him with the Principality of Taranto. Ladislaus of Anjou appointed him as the viceroy in Terra d’Otranto.
Oct.TarantoSan SeverinoApuliaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo had a dispute with Ugo da San Severino over the possession of Castellaneta. He continued to fight against Bernabò da San Severino and was defeated between Galatone and Galatina. The conflict only came to an end through the intervention of Tommaso da San Severino, who, at the urging of King Ladislaus of Anjou, acted as a peacemaker between the two contenders.
Jan.ApuliaRaimondo Orsini del Balzo refused the proposals of Louis II of Anjou, whom he met in Spinazzola and hosted in Taranto, to join his cause against the Durazzo faction. Around the same time, Ladislaus of Anjou ordered him to occupy on behalf of the royal curia the fiefs in Terra d’Otranto owned by Rizzardo de Hughoth, who had left the Kingdom of Naples without permission. He was to confiscate these lands if Rizzardo did not return within a month.
Apr.ApuliaWith the return of the Angevin king to Provence, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo was summoned to Naples to attend a general parliament convened by Ladislaus of Anjou at Santa Chiara.
MayTarantoNaplesCampania, ApuliaHe did not participate in the assembly of nobles and was declared a rebel, leading to attacks on his possessions. Soon, he was stripped of Marigliano, Benevento, the barony of Flumeri, and Vico Equense. His adversaries entered the territory of Bari. Supported by the Orsini family, he headed to the plains of Canosa di Puglia to confront the king at the head of 4,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry. Instead of fighting, he ordered his soldiers to remain still. Enclosed in his armor, he galloped with a small escort toward the side of the plain where the figure of the Neapolitan sovereign appeared. This was followed by an act of homage from one side and the reconfirmation of the Principality of Taranto from the other (in exchange for 75,000 ducats, half of which was paid by the community of Lecce). He was also granted the fiefs of Otranto, Nardò, Ugento, Gallipoli, Oria, Ostuni, Mottola, and Martina Franca. However, he had to return certain lands to the royal domain, including Brindisi and Barletta with their respective ports. During this period, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo‘s revenues exceeded those of the royal court.
………ApuliaIn the following years, the King of Naples employed a “divide and conquer” tactic, pitting the great feudal lords against each other. The sovereign punished the inhabitants of Castellaneta who had rebelled against Ceccarella da San Severino to align themselves with Raimondo Orsini del Balzo. He also had Stefano da San Severino, Count of Matera, besiege Louis d’Enghien in Conversano, who was closely related to Raimondo Orsini del Balzo‘s wife.
………Raimondo Orsini del Balzo was granted the fief of Pozzogrande. He lent Pope Innocent VII 50,000 ducats, for which he received Brindisi as collateral and the right to collect part of the tithes from Sicily.
SpringLadislaus of Anjou managed to deceitfully capture many members of the San Severino family, including Venceslao and Tommaso with their children, and Gaspare, Count of Matera. They were all imprisoned in the dungeons of Castelnuovo, where they were strangled, and their bodies were thrown into the castle moat to be devoured by dogs.
………After the destruction of the Marzano, Ruffo, and San Severino families, Raimondo Orsini del Balzo began to fear for his own safety.
Dec.TarantoNaplesApuliaHe rises in support of Louis II of Anjou (Luigi II d’Angiò).


-“Famoso capitano di quell’età.” GUGLIELMOTTI

-“Uomo valorosissimo di braccio.” PETRONI

-“Fu di tanto valore, che di privato cavaliere si fece il maggior signore che fosse stato mai nel regno di Napoli.” DI COSTANZO

-“Questo fu quel Ramondello dello Orsini, che venuto a visitare il corpo di S. Francesco in Assisi, donò a quella chiesa un grosso pezzo del legno della Santa Croce, che seco aveva recato di Soria, il quale visto dopo da papa Sisto Quarto, e dubitando che per la grandezza non fosse frammento di tanta reliquia, volle accertarsi della verità, poiché postolo nel fuooco non arse. Nella qual chiesa Ramondello fece fare il suo ritratto in pittura.” GAMURRINI

-“Abile e prode capitano.” VOCINO

-“Il quale nell’arte militaria fo splendidissimo capitano et signore e al suo tempo fece di mirabil fatti, aquistando grandissimo honore.” BROGLIO

-“Un soggiorno in Prussia faceva parte a pieno titolo del “cursus honorum” di un cavaliere e – fatto importante nel caso di Orsini, allora semplice scudiero era l’occasione per ricevere l’investitura cavalleresca in campo di battaglia. Quindi proprio in Prussia egli divenne cavaliere, nonché confratello e familiare laico dell’Ordine teutonico, con il diritto di portare il mantello sul quale era raffigurata la croce dell’Ordine tagliata a metà ( a forma di T). Più tardi, divenuto uomo potente, figura come protettore e benefattore dei teutonici e si interessa alle vicende della Prussia: non è escluso che fu lui a inviare al gran maestro dell’Ordine la reliquia della manna di S. Nicola di Mira (di Bari)…Uno dei maggiori esponenti della mentalità cavalleresca, benché passasse la sua vita in battaglia e spedizioni militari, la sua cultura si fondava sull’esempio della nobiltà europea. Era membro dell’Ordine cavalleresco della Nave (Ordre de la Nef) che Carlo III di Durazzo aveva fondato a Napoli nel 1381, seguendo l’esempio degli ordini di S. Giorgio ungherese, della Giarrettiera inglese, dell’Ermellino di Bretagna e altre simili congregazioni. Commissionò opere architettoniche e artistiche tra le quali la chiesa di S. Caterina di Galatina, completate dalla moglie e dal figlio Giovanni Antonio che la munirono di un importante ciclo di affreschi, il campanile di Soleto (la cosiddetta “guglia di raimondello) e una torre eretta nel 1404 a Taranto (demolita nel XIX secolo)…Definito una delle figure più importanti nella sroria del Mezzogiorno tra il XIV e il XV secolo, Orsini del Balzo rimane, probabilmente, poco noto.” TOOMASPOEG

-” Valoroso e forte guerriero.” CUTOLO

-“Tu puoi comprender ben per segni certi/Del franco cavalier che fu del Balzo/Di fama adorno pe’ suoi tanti merti.” Cambino Aretino riportato da FABRETTI

-“Elenco delle reliquie riportate dall’Orsini del Balzo dalla Terrasanta “Un pezzo della Santa Croce dove venne inchiodato Gesù, due dita di San Giovanni Crisostomo, impegnate per scrivere la sua opera; un dito di San Pantaleone Martire; una costa di San Biagio, Vescovo e Martire; la mammella di Sant’Agata, recisale dal Tiranno di Catania; un dente di Sant’Apollonia Vergine e martire; un dente di San Donato ed una gamba di San Francesco Martire. Dono inestimabile del Paleologo (l’imperatore di Costantinopoli). Inoltre i doni del Despota della Morea (Giacomo del Balzo) cioè: due spine della Corona di Cristo, un braccio di Santa Petronilla, figlia di San Pietro; un ginocchio di San Cristoforo Martire; ed il cranio di Sant’Andrea apostolo.” STOMACI


-L. Stomaci. Raimondello Orsini del Balzo. Un principe a Galatina.

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