Thursday, 20 June 2013

Garde Ecossaise - In the Reign of Charles VIII

Bernard Stewart d'Aubigny
During the reign of Charles VIII, the Garde Ecossaise played a prominent part in the monarch's political and military dealings and were constantly in the forefront of the French army, distinguishing themselves in the many actions of the early Italian Wars.

One of the first acts of his reign, Charles VIII sent Bernard Stewart (Captain of his Guard) to Scotland to announce his accession to the French throne and agree a treaty renewing the alliance between Scotland and France.

Around the same time the Earl of Richmond (the future Henry VII of England) had fled to France and asked for aid. In 1485, Bernard Stewart, with a detachment of troops largely made up of Scots, was sent to England and were present at the Battle of Bosworth, fighting on Henry's behalf.

In 1494, Charles launched his forces into Italy and marched triumphantly to Naples. It is documented that on his entry into Florence on the 15th September the king rode into the city, 'lance on thigh, at the head of his troops, surrounded by his Scots Guards'. It is here that one of the few descriptions of the Garde Ecossaise is encountered, describing them thus;

"Nearest the king march 25 Scots archers, denominated lifeguardsmen, arrayed in white jerkins embroidered with gold from top to bottom, bearing a crown on the breast. Now the above mentioned archers are under the orders of my Lord Stewart d'Aubigny, and are quartered nearest the king's chamber. My Lord Stewart d'Aubigny has under his orders all the other Scots guardsmen, as well as 100 men-at-arms not entered on the Guard Muster Roll; and the aforesaid Scots, as soon as it is dark, and when the officer in command has retired with his archers, mount guard, while the captain of the 100 Guardsmen [not the officer in command of the 25 lifeguardsmen] goes to fetch the keys."

French under Charles VIII enter Florence

The Guard present were described as real giants, the shortest nine hands high, all on foot and armed with halberds. The ones described above are obviously the 'Garde de la Manche' who throughout the Garde's existence are described to be wearing white.

Companie d'Ordannance - Charles VIII
The other interesting item of note is the mention of a further 100 men-at-arms over and above the Garde Ecossaise. Whether these are the still existent body of Scots gentlemen formed during the founding of the Ordinances or were a part of Bernard Stewart d'Aubigny's own retinue is not clear however.

The French march to Naples was generally uneventful, but fearing that his lines of communication were under threat, Charles left Naples a few days after arriving leaving Gilbert de Montpensier in command of 11,000 troops in Naples, with Bernard Stewart as his lieutenant.

Now, the thing of note here in regards to the Garde Ecossaise is that on the return journey to France, the French army under Charles reaching the pass of Pontremoli was forced to give battle to the Venetian proveditori at the Battle of Fornovo. I'll not go into the details of the Guards actions in the battle here (as I intend to explore this in more depth another time) but it is well documented that the Garde Ecossaise fought in this action (particularly in the well known Memoirs of Phil. de Commines) and lost nine of their number in the battle. However, Bernard Stewart, in command of the French forces also fought, this time against the Spanish-Neapolitan forces under The Great Captain Gonsalvo de Cordova, at the First Battle of Seminara where Stewart led the French forces to victory. The point here is that Stewart d'Aubigny had with him in Calabria, a number (likely to be a hundred) of the Scots Guards, though these may be the 100 Men-at-Arms '..not entered on the muster roll..'.

That he had Guards with him in southern Italy is proven by the fact that once he returned to France in August following his expulsion from Italy following an extended guerilla style struggle, it can be noted that twenty two of their number had fallen in Italy with him as he is recorded in ordering new uniforms to re-equip the Scots Guards but is only charged for the embroidery of seventy eight uniforms.

Obviously the same troops cannot be in two places at once, but the troops present at Fornovo are described by de Commines as being 'cranniquinier' and the troops in southern Italy appear to be men-at-arms (the Garde de la Manche would presumably be with the king as part of his household during the battle though they are not explicitly named).

This observation strengthens the belief that the Garde encompassed a far greater number than just those of the Garde de la Manche and the 100 Archers (or men-at-arms) as previously discussed.

On his death bed, Charles' father Louis XI had entrusted the care of Charles into the hands of the Scots Guards. On the death of Charles (only after a short reign of eight years) an archer and a butler died of sorrow showing the great affection that the Guard had for their king.

Charles' successor Louis XII was to continue the conflicts in Italy and the Garde Ecossaise were also to continue in their devotion to duty and were in the fore front of many of the actions of the French army in the coming campaigns.


  1. Nice background and wonderful illustrations. Dean

    1. Thanks Dean, an area I'm especially interested in and enjoy exploring. The source for a couple of planned units for the table top too.

  2. Great stuff, please post more of your findings. I look forward to seeing your interpretations of them when they are complete


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