In reading about the mother of Mary Queen of Scots, Marie of Guise, I came across a touching story about Marie of Guise’s father, Claude, Duke of Guise. Claude was a cousin of King Francis I of France’s mother, Louise of Savoy. Duke Claude and King Francis were very close friends. Francis decided soon after he ascended the throne of France at the age of twenty-one, that he was the rightful heir to the Duchy of Milan. Milan had been in French hands at one time but the Swiss had taken it militarily and appointed the Italian Duke Massimiliano Sforza as its ruler. Duke Massimiliano was a good-for-nothing sort and it probably would have been easy to defeat him but the Swiss decided to defend the duchy against attack.
Francis gathered an army to make an assault on Milan. Duke Claude, his brother Duke Antony and their younger brother Ferry joined the King’s army and went with him into battle. Francis hauled maybe as many as seventy cannons and his troops over the Alps on a newly made road through a previously unknown route at a pass called the Col d’Argentière. At the time this was considered a formidable achievement; equal to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. The astonishing appearance of the French army on the plains of Piedmont shocked the Italians and the Swiss.
The two armies met at Marignano outside of Milan in what is now Italy on September 13, 1515. King Francis had organized each division of his army with a combination of cavalry, infantry and artillery. The Swiss had no artillery or cavalry yet they were very successful in their first attack. More attacks and counter-attacks came until darkness fell. Both armies stopped fighting and rested. In the morning, the battle began anew. It was a heavy and cruel confrontation but the French eventually were victorious.
The Guise brothers, Claude, Antony and Ferry had become separated during the action. Antony frantically searched for his brothers. Even the King’s retinue joined the search, combing the field. Eventually they found Ferry dead. Claude was found too but he looked to be mortally wounded.
He had no fewer than twenty one wounds. His right arm was shattered, his thigh had been pierced by an arquebus ball and his horse had been killed beneath him, falling on him and pinning him on the ground. When Claude’s esquire Adam Fouvert saw the plight of his master during the battle, he fell on top of him, shielding him. As the enemy drove forward Adam was killed. But Claude had somehow managed to survive. Claude received immediate medical treatment and was able to ride in triumph into Milan by the side of King Francis on October 16, 1515. Upon his return home to his duchy of Guise several months later, he saw his newborn baby daughter Marie of Guise for the first time.
Further reading: “Mary of Guise, Queen of Scots” by Rosalind K. Marshall