Captain of Fortune: Galeazzo da Montova
By Gregory D. Mele
Published Online (2013)
Introduction: The city-state culture of late medieval Italy produced a unique military structure. Initially, each city produced a local militia under the command of its aristocracy, in which the lower classes from the city and its subject territories served as infantry, while the upper classes served as knightly cavalry. But by the early 1300s this system was collapsing. Increased inter-state violence, a growing preference amongst wealthy townsmen to hire others to fulfill their military duties, and the princes’ often justified distrust of arming their own subjects led to an almost complete reliance on paid mercenaries, the condottieri.
Named for the condotta, a contract specifying the terms of military service, the condottiero was the consummate professional; well armed, highly trained, and able to remain in the field indefinitely… Or at least as long as his employer could make good on his payments. It was quite common for a military captain to switch sides as soon as his contract was either fulfilled or negated. Equally part knight and part bandit, the profession of condottiero created opportunity and social mobility unlike anything seen in the rest of Europe. Throughout the 15th century, these “merchants of war” would paradoxically defend Italy’s borders against German, Spanish, French, and Turkish incursions, while they themselves contributed to the internal feuding and destabilization that would ultimately lead to the peninsula’s fall to outside invasion in the century that followed.
In the prologue to his 1409 treatise on knightly martial arts, Maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariaco writes, “many and many times many Signori, Knights, and Squires have asked to learn this art of fighting and of combat in the lists to the death, from the aforementioned Fiore.” Perhaps the most notable of Fiore dei Liberi’s students was the short but powerfully built Sir Galeazzo da Mantova, Captain of Grimello. Dei Liberi tells us that this is the only other student to whom he had ever given a book of his art: “As he [Galeazzo] has said that without books there will never be any good master or scholar in this art. And I Fiore confirm this truth, for this art is so vast that there is not a man with a good enough memory to retain the quarter part of it without books.”