This is the first of my blogs on historical subjects that interest me and influence my writing. They are not intended to be a authoritative exposition on the subject area, just a general discussion on things that interest me. If the topic catches your imagination, a peer reviewed academic work is the place to go for the definitive story! Feel free to point out if you think there is anything blatantly wrong, but I hope to keep it all as accurate as I can!
Today’s subject is the condottieri. To me, even the word is quite eye catching. Simply put, it derives from the Italian word for ‘contract’, and it was used to refer to the mercenary troops that were prevalent in Northern Italy from roughly the middle of the 14th century.
A large proportion of these troops, particularly in the early days, came from other parts of the world, many being English troops looking for work during the lulls in fighting during the Hundred Years War in France. The Germanic mercenary Landsknechts are another example, but there were men from many parts of Europe present.
Around this time, Northern Italy was becoming very wealthy, with several towns and cities growing and seeking to assert both their independence and authority. As these cities and the personalities behind them started to come into contact with each other, violence often ensued. This created a vibrant market for the services of mercenaries.
There are a number of very colourful characters in the story of the condottieri, such as Sir John Hawkwood, an Englishman who had fought in France and later was in the service of Florence, where he would ultimately be granted citizenship and become something of a hero. He is also notable for leading one of the great mercenary bands, The White Company.
The stories of the condotierri make for very interesting reading; they were heroes and villains and they lived lives of adventure and violence and there is so much inspiration to be drawn from them that a 500-ish word blog post can’t even begin to scratch the surface. While there were many larger than life characters, most were just ordinary soldiers who passed in and out of this world unnoticed, but they too had stories, even if they’ve never been told.
The condottieri were just one element in the society of early Renaissance Italy, and there were many factors that contributed to their existence, some of which will form the topics for later posts in this series. It was a particularly conflicted era, with so much beauty being created by famous artists like da Vinci and Michaelangelo on the one hand, and a huge amount of violence on the other. As such it is a very rich and vibrant period and it represents one of my favourite in history. There was so much change as the old feudal order of the medieval world began to give way to the concept of early modern Europe. It’s an incredibly interesting and inspirational area for both fantasy and historical fiction writers.