Shrouded by The Mists of Time: The Battle on the Po


His ancestor, Geoffrey de Charny, had brought it back from the Holy Land in 1325. Aside from a few bejeweled Saracen scimitars, it was the only actual treasure the old knight had acquired during all his many years in Palestine. He was always evasive, even to members of his own family, when anyone asked how he had obtained it. For decades, it was kept in the family castle in Champagne, to be displayed to pilgrims in the church at Lirey only on certain high Holy days. The Bishop, who had refused to confirm or deny its authenticity, allowed this practice stating that it was "a fit object for prayer and contemplation". It had caused quite a stir locally during the early years after it arrived in France, but the excitement faded over the years, lost in the flood of relics of dubious authenticity that swept through the Frankish kingdoms in the years after the fall of Acre finally ended the long misnamed Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291. There was no doubt that the old crusader had believed it authentic. As the officials of the church became less tolerant of embarrassing artifacts of uncertain lineage, Geoffrey de Charny decided that new arrangements had to be made to protect it. The periodic displays ceased, and it was largely forgotten.

Having formed ties to the Knights of the Temple while in Acre, Geoffrey decided to create a small secret order to protect the sacred object. Trusted family members and descendents of his companions from the Holy Land took solemn vows to preserve and protect it, no matter where it might rest. Sir Geoffrey was killed in battle with the English at the Battle of Poicters, 1356, during the Hundred Years War. Over the following decades, it traveled across Europe, always accompanied by members of the Order. Hoping for a more enlightened view by the Church, it was displayed to the Bishop of Liege, who declared it a fake. Enraged and disheartened, the Order went underground, and eventually the holy object, along with descendents of de Charny, arrived in Savoy where ownership was transferred to the Dukes of Savoy in 1458, under the protection of the Order. A private viewing was arranged for the Pope who declared it to appear genuine, and granted a Rule to allow formal organization and establishment of the Order. The Duke of Savoy in turn granted to the Order the city and environs of Turin as theirs in perpetuity, and they continued to guard the Holy Shroud as it accompanied the Dukes of Savoy across Northern Italy. When the Duke of Savoy and his Spanish allies were defeated and the Duke captured by the French a few years ago, Duke Rinaldo granted custody of the Santissima Sindone to the Order, to prevent it from falling into the hands of King .

Etienne de Charny, Marshal of the Cavalieres della Sindone (Knights of the Shroud), was still lost in contemplation when the Grand Master of the Order, Yvonne Runalier, called him to complete his vesting and accompany him into the Cappella della Santissima Sindone. The remaining officer of the Order, the Senechal, Filippo Juvarra, also arose, accompanied by the Prior of the local chapter, Giacomo Guarini. As a group, they entered the Chapel and proceeded past the rows of kneeling Brother Knights, and up to the altar. The chanting of the Brotherhood of the Shroud provided a solemn but uplifting background to the ceremony.

The Prior pressed the hidden spots on the altar, and the entire massive stone supporting it slid aside. Prior Guarini, Senechal Juvarra, Marshal de Charny, and at last Grand Master Runalier each removed their golden keys from the chains around their necks. Each inserted their own key, decorated with the crown and cross emblem of the Order into the keyholes of the silver reliquary, and in a complex pattern of rotations, performed the secret sequence necessary to open the chest. The four knights removed the red velvet wrappings, and drew forth the Shroud.

"Behold, the Santissima Sindone, the Burial Shroud of our Lord, used by Joseph of Arimathea to wrap his battered and bloodied body!" intoned the Prior. "Behold the Shroud that lay empty on that morning when Mary Magdalene found the stone rolled away from the Sepulcher!" pronounced the Senechal. "Behold, his very countenance, engraved upon the Shroud by the power of the Resurrection!" proclaimed the Marshal. "Behold, the charge given to our Order, to preserve and protect, that Men of little Faith might find confirmation of the Truth of the Gospel!" thundered the Grand Master.

With a gesture, Grand Master Runalier bade all the Brother Knights to come forward and reverence the Shroud, which many of them would only view a few times in their entire lives. When this solemn procession was completed, he addressed the assembled Brother Knights. "My Brothers of the Holy Shroud, we are assembled here to fast and pray on the eve of combat. As you know, Duke Luigi Mendocino of Milan has crossed the Po, and encamped a short distance from this very chapel. Narrowly defeated by the forces of the Serene Republic of Venice a few years ago while trying to conquer the Duchy of Mantua, he has rebuilt his forces and hired a horde of mercenaries. Worried about the growth of French power after their conquest of Savoy, he has turned his greedy eye towards Turino, and seeks to bring our lands under his corrupt hand. Thus are we called to fulfill our ancient Duty, and go forth on the morrow to engage in Divine Battle those who would seize both our land and the Santissima Sindone itself. Let us all confess our sins, and then spend the night in silence, lying here on the floor of the chapel, in preparation for the victory which our Lord can not fail to grant us." "So it shall be", replied the assembled Brothers in unison.

A short distance away, amidst the gaily colored tents of the army of the Duke of Milan, Luigi Mendocino addressed his commanders. "We stand upon the threshold of a great day for the people of Milan. We have but to sweep aside the decrepit Knights of the Shroud, relics of the past centuries of superstition and Church dominance, and the second city of all northern Italy will join us and strengthen us, so that we might some day unite all the peoples of Italy under my banner. I have brought the flower of my Famiglia, and the finest soldiers that the treasures of the realm can hire, here, so that we might fulfill our destiny tomorrow. My scribes have prepared maps of our dispositions for the Battle tomorrow. Study them, and use them to guide your troops to their stations. Do not allow the mists that have descended upon us to confuse your men, but rather ensure that all will be in readiness for the dawn of the new day."

The Forces

Duchy of Milan

  • 1800 Swiss HI Mercenary Pikemen (Neuchatel)
  • 2400 Italian LI Mercenary Arquebusiers (Argento, d' Oro, Rame, Platino)
  • 600 Italian HI Mercenary Swordsmen (Nichel)
  • 1200 LI City Militia Crossbowmen (skirmish) (Stagno, Piombo, Ferro)
  • 1200 Famiglia (Elite Household EHC w/ barding, Hvy Lance) (Giallo, Bianco)
  • 1200 Lanze Spezatte (Mercenary EHC, Heavy Lance) (Porpora, Rosso)
  • 1200 Condotierre (Mercenary HC - Light Lance) (Verde, Azzurro)
  • 800 Mercenary LC Crossbowmen (Bottino, Sacheggio)
  • 1 Battery Heavy Guns
  • 1 Battery Organ Guns

Knights of the Shroud

  • 800 Foot Bretheren (Household HI w/ swords and Throwing Axes - like Pila)
  • 1200 Crossbowmen (HI Feudal) (Fede, Speranza)
  • 1600 Foot Sergeants (Feudal, HI Spear) (Verita, Giustizia)
  • 800 Archers (Feudal HI Simple Bow - skirmish) (Carita, Grazia)
  • 1200+ "Pilgrims" (Levy, LI, Imp weapons) (Sudicio, Fatica)
  • 800 Genoese Arquebusiers (Mercenary LI, skirmish) (Avarizia, Ghiottone)
  • 600 Brother Knights (EHC, Household, Elite, w/ barding, Heavy Lance)
  • 1800 Knights (EHC, Feudal, Elite, w/ barding, Heavy Lance) (D'Este, Nord, Abbondanza)
  • 600 Mounted Sergeants (HC, Feudal, Light Lance)
  • 800 Mercenary LC Crossbows (Pungere, Scoppio)
  • 1 Battery Heavy Guns

The Deployment

It was only with difficulty that the troops of both Milan and the Order had found their positions in the hours before dawn. The thick mists that had descended over the valley had made the maps which each side had prepared essential to avoid the men becoming hopelessly intermeshed. As the sun rose, and the mists began to lift, the officers made last minute adjustments to their deployments, and scouted those of the enemy.

The Milanese had deployed captain Rame's Arquebusiers and captain Nichel's Swordsmen, screened by a cloud of the Crossbowmen di Piombo on the far side of the stream, supported by the Organ Guns, the Condotierre of captain Verde, and the Lanze Spezatte of captain Porporo just across the stream. Quintilius Zamboni, who was suffering from the effects of some bad sausage consumed the day before, commanded these men of the Milanese right. In the Center, his Brother, Domenico Zamboni, commanded the excellent Swiss pikes from Neufchatel, supported by the Arquebusiers of captains Argento, D'Oro, and Platino. The whole command was screened by the Crossbows di Stagno. On the Left, Alexandro Umbruzzi commanded most of the Ducal cavalry: The Famiglia Bianco, the Lanze Spezatte of captain Rosso, and the Condotierre of captain Azzurro, and the Mounted Crossbowmen of Bottino and Sacheggio. The foot Crossbows di Ferro were ordered to seize the Orchard and the Mounted crossbows of Bottino were ordered to skirmish to its left and along the banks of the Po. The Duke's prize heavy guns were deployed in the middle of this mass of cavalry, in order to support them and harass the Knights of the Order, who were certain to be deployed in this area, as it was the only unbroken open ground on the battlefield. Duke Luiggi himself was positioned just behind the village, with his personal guards, the Famiglia Giallo. Stationed to the rear and center of the army was the great Carroccio of Milan, a tradition of prior centuries, the sight of which raised the spirits of every man from Milan near it

The Forces of the Order were drawn up with all of their heavy cavalry deployed in the Open fields opposite the village. On their far right were the Mounted Crossbowmen of Scoppio, and opposite the orchard were the mounted Sergeants of the Order. A unit of skirmishing Arquebusiers of Ghiottone screened the army's massed heavy cavalry, which was deployed in a concave line. First were the Knights of Abbondanza, then the Knights D'Este, and lastly the heavily armored Knights of Nord. This whole right wing was led by the Marshal of the Order, Etienne de Charny, who took station with the Knights of Nord. Behind them were the elite Brother Knights of the Order of the Shroud, accompanied by Grand Master Yvonne Runalier. Opposite the line of Poplars and near the vineyard was the command of the Seneschal, Filippo Juvarra, with the Mounted crossbows of Pungere, and held fairly far back, the Foot knights, the Foot Sergeants of Giustizia and Verita, the skirmish Archers of Carita and Grazia, and a horde of Pilgrims from Fatica, who had volunteered to defend the Sindone. Filippo had little doubt that these last would Panic at the first sign of adversity. Near his Chapel, Prior Giacomo Guarini had a small command consisting of the 2 units of armored crossbowmen of Speranza and Fede, the skirmishing Arquebusiers of Avarizia, the Heavy guns of the Order, and another horde of shaky Pilgrims, these from Sudicio.

The Battle

It appears that the plan of Duke Mendocino was for Domenico and Quintilius Zamboni to advance on the right flank with their superior infantry and seize the Chapel, whilst goading the Knights to attack his own heavy cavalry under Alexandro Umbruzzi with fire from his heavy guns sited in front of the Villa. The plan of Grand Master Yvonne Runalier was to delay the Milanese infantry on his left flank, and sweep the Milanese cavalry from the field with the thundering hooves of the combined Knights of the Order. The battle began with the advance of the Milanese infantry. As the Pike Block of Lucerne advanced across the gentle hill in front of the Orchard, they became exposed to the Guns of the order. A well aimed shot not only laid many of the Swiss pikes low, it also severely wounded Domenico Zamboni, depriving the entire Milanese center of its highly talented commander. As a result, the planned attack by the Swiss never seemed to develop. Dismayed but determined, his brother Quintilius threw the bulk of his command across the Staradi Lanzo stream and towards to Chapel. It was the Arquebusiers of the Order who arrived there first however, occupying the sacred buildings that they were never to relinquish despite the efforts of the Milanese.

On the Milanese left, the crossbows of Captain Ferro advanced up to and then into the light woods to their front. The Milanese cavalry stood their ground, awaiting the advance of the forces of the Order of the Shroud. They would not wait long. The entire Knighthood of the Order, save for the Brethren themselves, stationed in reserve with the Grand Master, moved forwards, their formation gradually coming to resemble the Crescent of the Muslims. The more lightly armed Sergeants maneuvered around the far right of the Knights and advanced upon the woods, supported by the mounted Crossbowmen under the aggressive capitano Scoppi. Loosing little time, Scoppi lead his men in a charge upon their opposite number, the mounted Crossbow of Sacheggio. The Milanese fired their crossbows as Scoppi's troopers charged home, but without much effect. The troopers of the Order decisively defeated their opponents, and suddenly the Milanese flank was in jeopardy. The situation became more hazardous as the Sergeants of the Order charged home on the foot Crossbowmen in the edge of the woods. This time, however, the crossbows were more effective, and emptied many saddles from among the Sergeants. Not being up to the Challenge, the Sergeants sulkily withdrew. Their own position now being very isolated, Ferro's' crossbowmen themselves began to withdraw from the woods.

Things now looked up for the Milanese, as a lucky shot from their Heavy battery in front of the Villa mowed down almost half of the Knights of Nord, a cannon ball narrowly missing the Marshal himself. On the far left, the Milanese infantry moved across the stream in front of the Chapel, and their skirmishing Crossbowmen finally reached the edges of the Orchard. Seeing that the battle would be won or lost in the clash of the heavy cavalry, Quintilius Zamboni ordered the Lanze Spezzatte of capitano Porporo to move to the center of the battlefield with all haste. Meanwhile, the Arquebusiers in the Chapel begin to chip away at the covering Milanese skirmish crossbowmen with a steady, effective fire. As their screen weekend, the Swordsmen of Nichel and the Arquebusiers of Rame closed to within 25 yards of the chapel. The Milanese Arquebusiers raked the holy chapel with their fire, killing 1 of the mercenary leaders of the Arquebusiers of Avoricia and threatening to seize control of the buildings.

The action now returned to the Milanese left flank, where the Knights of Abbondanza charged home on the Condotiere of capitano Verde. The heavier equipment and armor of the Knights told, and the Condotiere soon joined the Mounted crossbowmen streaming off the battlefield. This turn of events gave the Mounted Crossbows of Scoppi their chance. Ignoring the routed Milanese light cavalry, his troopers executed a tight wheel and maneuvered onto the flank of the Famiglia Giallo. In order to make the attack, however, the light cavalry men exposed their flank to fire from the foot crossbows of capitano Ferro. Bolts of iron sliced through the air and the cavalry, killing 3 of Scoppi's subordinates. Rising to the Challenge, the horsemen continued on with their charge despite their greatly depleted numbers, striking the Famiglia Giallo in flank. To the superb cavalry of the Ducal household, the lightly equipped and low born crossbowmen were little more than gnats to be swatted. Their charge had no direct effect, but it did Disorder the Famiglia as they turned their attention to the annoying distraction. Unfortunately for the aristocrats of Milan, their pirouette exposed their flank to the Knights of Abbondanza, who seized the Opportunity and slammed into the flank of the nobles, routing them completely. The third hour of the battle concluded with the Knights of Nord attacking the fully loaded Milanese Heavy guns.

The Grand Master of the Order of Knights of the Shroud had a secret. Not one of those that involved the rituals and traditions of the Order; that was understood. No, this was deeper and far more personal. The leader of a Holy order of Warrior Knights, and guardian of one of the most sacred relics of Christendom, Yvonne Runalier was, at heart, a coward. Trembling inwardly with a mixture of fear and self loathing, he lead the Brother Knights forward in support of the hard charging lay Knights of the Order and into danger. Shaking, the Grand Master brought forth the jewel encrusted gold pectoral cross that marked his office from under his surcoat. Kissing the cross, he lifted his eyes to the Heavens and prayed for Divine Intervention. "My Lord, who walked this earth himself as Jesus of Nazareth, I beseech thee. My Lord, who knew the weakness of the flesh as he rejected its temptations, hear my prayer. Dearest Lord, who conquered death itself, by the Shroud which briefly covered your broken body before it was left empty by your Resurrection, grant the request of your servant." Feeling hot under his heavy armor and slightly dizzy, the Grand Master whispered, "Take from me the burden of my weakness of spirit, and free me from the curse of unworthy cowardice, that I might do great deeds this day in your Name. Still, not my will but rather Thine be done." As he replaced his cross back under his garments, a ray of sunshine broke through the cloudy skies and bathed the Grand Master briefly in bright sunlight, before being shut off by the dark clouds that filled the skies. Many of the Brother Knights saw this brief glorification, and remarked to themselves that it was surely a sign of God's favor towards their cause.

As the Famiglia di Giallo turned and fled in panic, the Knights of Abbondanza lost Control and spurred their charges in pursuit, performing as the Heroes of yore, and catching the Famiglia in the rear. Rout turned to panic as the nobles flung aside their lances in their frantic haste to reach the presumed safety of the far side of the Po. The sight of the grim ranks of the Lanze Spezzatte of Rosso, under the personal command of Duke Mendocino, was enough to halt any further thoughts of pursuit. Nearby, the Milanese Heavy Guns spewed forth a double load of canister as the Knights of Nord thundered towards them. Unfortunately for the Milanese artillerists, they neglected the advice of the Duke of Ferrara, who wrote that the guns should always be depressed when firing hail shot, so as to avoid the embarrassment of firing over the heads of ones enemies. Firing as the Knights traversed a small fold in the ground; the projectiles shredded some of the multicolored plumes of the Knights but had little other effect. This of course meant that the revenge of the Knights of Nord could not be denied, and they slaughtered the crewmen without mercy. These events sorely tried the Morale of the Milanese army, and the troops began to wonder what they had in reserve. Apparently also seeking revenge for their earlier losses, Scoppi's mounted Crossbows wheeled and closed with the now unloaded Crossbows di Ferro, blocking them from further intervention in the cavalry melee.

Filled with fire, the Knights of Nord, still accompanied by the Marshal wheeled to face the flank of the second body of the nobility of Milan, the Famiglia di Bianco, as the Knights D' Este charge the Condotiere of capitano Azurro from the front. The devotion of the Knights to their discipline of martial training proves decisive, and the Condotiere also flee form the battlefield with the Knights D' Este in close pursuit. On the far flank, the Heavy Guns of the Order, having traversed their guns earlier, fire upon the Arquebusiers of Rame, splattering diverse parts of Chlorhydrio Ascerbo upon his appalled men, the Challenge of seeing their officer dissolved throwing the troops into Disorder. Later in the day, the arquebusiers in the chapel turn their fire on the swordsmen of Nichel, killing 2 of their leaders and disordering them as well.

However, the critical struggle remained the cavalry action in the center. Seizing the Opportunity presented by the flank of the Famiglia di Bianco, the Knights of Nord charge yet again. Disordered, they are checked by the Famiglia, who turn to face their tormentors. Unfortunately for the ladies of Milan, for the second time this day, victory was transmuted to defeat, as the Famiglia, in so turning, present their flank to the Brother Knights. With a cry of "Santissima Sindone!" the Grand Master leads his elite command into the side of the Famiglia, scattering them. Laying all about himself with his mace, Yvonne Runalier felt all traces of cowardice fly from his body. Leaving his men to carry on the pursuit, he realized that his task is to restore order to his army. In rapid order, the Grand Master rallies first the Knights D' Este and then the Sergeants, leading them forwards once again as a reserve.

Unable to see what is happening in the center, the pilgrims of Sudicio and Fatica get briefly Apprehensive, but hold firm to their cause. Back in the center, the forces of the Order of the Shroud retain the Initiative, and the Mounted Crosssbows of capitano Pungere move up to keep the pressure on the Milanese. Their opposites, the Mounted Crossbows of Bottino try to take advantage of the Opportunity presented by the advance of their opponents, but fail to do any significant damage. The moment is lost, as, in the end, is the battle, as the Knights D' Este charge into the flanks of Bottino's troopers, scattering them in turn. Most of his cavalry shattered, his artillery captured and his infantry unable to come to grips with the enemy, Duke Mendocino recognizes that the situation is hopeless, and directs the army to retreat across the Po, preserving the balance of his forces and the Carroccio for another fight on another day. Grand Master Runalier was nicknamed "The Hammer of the Lord" by his Brothers of the Order, and was rumored to have never known another day of fear in the remainder of his long and devout life.

Game Notes

This was the first full battle we played (on March 14, 2004/1503) using the working version of Band of Brothers 2. Joe and I were very pleased with how the rules played, with only a few areas of question identified. I finished the battle solo after Joe had to leave at the end of Turn 3. The action, which was far from a forgone conclusion, proceeded disastrously for Milan in the fourth turn. I rolled 59 impetus for the Order (plus numerous 2 pip bonuses for the routs) to zero for Milan (my side in the 2 player game) for the turn. Should have stuck with the Dominos!

This battle was part of our 6 year old pseudo campaign set during an alternate history of the Great Italian Wars. Because of the work on BoB2, it was our first campaign battle in almost 2 years. We played another battle May 1st, Ottomans vs. Habsburgs, and again the 2nd edition rules seem to be developing very nicely.

- Peter Anderson

Page Last Updated On: 18 Aug 2007