Bishop Guglielmino degli Ubertini of Arezzo

The military commander of the Ghibellines in this battle was the city’s powerful bishop, Guglielmino degli Ubertini. Note two features distinctive of ecclesiastical leaders who went to war in person: the crest on his helm fashioned as a bishop’s mitre, and his use of a mace (mazza ferrata) rather than a sword. The latter was a cynical ploy adopted to get around the religious prohibition on churchmen `shedding blood’: they could kill enemies, but only `sine effusione sanguinis’. The second half of the 13th century saw the development of plate armour elements worn in combination with the mail hauberk. Initially plate armour was mostly made of cuir bouilli (boiled, moulded and hardened leather); here, this material is used for the domed defences mounted on quilted cuisses at the knees, at the shoulders above leather strips, and for the gauntlet cuffs, but the greaves on the lower legs are already in metal. The mail hood worn under the helm was now a separate camail. Over the hauberk the bishop wears a `coat-of-plates’, called in Italian a lameria; buckled on at the back, this is a tabard-shaped garment made of small iron plates riveted between two layers of thick fabric in such a way as to allow some flexibility of the torso. Apparently, these lamerie were first introduced in Italy on a large scale by the German mercenary knights employed by Manfred of Swabia.

At a first glance, Guglielmino degli Ubertini would appear to fit the stereotypical worldly clergyman of literature. While there is no doubt that he often practised power mongering to a high degree in his more than 40 years as bishop of Arezzo (1248-89), switching his allegiance at will from Guelph to Ghibelline, he always had in mind the interests of his city and his diocese – at least when he saw them coinciding with his own and those of his family. A man of the sword as much as of the pen, at the battle of Montaperti in 1260 Ubertini led the exiled Aretine Ghibellines against the Guelph coalition besieging Siena `capturing and killing many’. On a number of occasions he did not hesitate to use the weapon of ecclesiastical censure against his fellow citizens to obtain his political goals. As a military leader he would show his limits during the 1289 campaign, when concerns over his own possessions in the Casentino area led him to seek battle at all costs, despite being advised otherwise. At Campaldino he demonstrated his attachment to his native city, not hesitating to join the fray even when given the chance to escape from the slaughter.

Guglielmo Ubertini who had served for forty years as the bishop of Arezzo by the time of the battle. “A man of the sword as much as of the pen”, Ubertini had proven to be capable, ruthless and brave military commander during several conflicts before 1289, though his strategic acumen was impeded by his interest in defending the possessions of his family at any cost. This greatly influenced his decision to seek battle at Campaldino, despite having been advised against it.

BATTLE OF CAMPALDINO, 1289

A Tuscan Guelf League army, mainly composed of Florentines, faced a Ghibelline League force from Arezzo in the Amo valley. The Florentine army appeared to be on the march for Arezzo along the well-worn road of the Upper Valdarno, when all at once they swung to the left and crossed the Consuma Pass without encountering any opposition, and entered the Casentino-the highest valley of the river Arno. From there they descended towards Arezzo.

At first the local forces fell back before them, but they eventually called a halt in the wide valley immediately north of Poppi after being reinforced by the Ghibellines of the Romagna and the Marche.

The Tuscans, consisting of 1,600 cavalry and 10,000 infantry (including a large number of crossbowmen), drew up with cavalry in the centre and the bulk of their infantry formed up on both flanks slightly in advance of the cavalry, thus constituting the horns of a crescent formation. The centre was covered by a detached screen of light cavalry. Behind the whole array a line of wagons was drawn up, behind which was positioned a reserve of 200 cavalry plus some infantry. (The poet Dante fought in the front rank of the Florentine cavalry.)

The Ghibellines formed up in 4 lines with their 800 cavalry divided between the first, second and last lines while their 8,000infantry, with a few crossbows among them, made up the third. They opened the battle with a charge which, although it routed the Florentine light cavalry and drove the Tuscans back to their baggage wagons, committed their first three lines, the flanks of which were then subjected to a devastating crossfire from the crossbowmen on the Tuscan wings while the rest of the infantry, armed with long spears, closed in around them. The Ghibelline reserve line of just 50 horsemen was never committed and eventually fled, at which the Tuscan reserve came in on the rear of their disorganised first lines, which were thus trapped. Ghibelline casualties totalled 1,700 killed and 2,000 captured.

Throughout most of this period archers were present on the battlefield in relatively small numbers. They and crossbowmen were usually positioned on the flanks of the army in separate units with spearmen in the centre, though they are also to be found skirmishing ahead of the main body, or else interspersed with other infantry. Archers on the left of the line, firing into the enemy’s unshielded flank, would have been particularly effective, and with archers on both flanks it was possible to achieve a crossfire, as did the Tuscan crossbowmen at Campaldino in 1289.

Suggested reading: General Works: Villaripi, I primi due secoli della storia di Firenze, Florence, 1910, Davidsohn: Geschichte ion Florenz, Vol. IL Firenze. On the Campaign: Koehler, G., Die Entwickelung des Kriegswesens und der Kriegfuhrung in der Ritterzeit, Book III, Breslau, 1889. On the Battle: Fieri, P., ‘Alcune quistioni sepra la fanteria in Italia nel periodo comunale’, in Rivista Storica Italiana, 1934.

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