Condottieri and bullets

When handguns had come into vogue, death rate of commanding officers increased tremendously. This corollary is probably the most vivid evidence of firearms superiority over bows and crossbows.

Proud commanders of the time were clad in finest armour of the age. They often emerged from battlefield with only minor wounds, being invincible to arrows, swords and almost anything else except for special anti-armour weapons like maces and spiked warhammers. How good that armour was in stopping bullets is a huge research topic but handguns definitely could pierce it more often than any arrow. Also, in 15th and early 16th century many prominent warlords fell victim to the fact that firearms could kill at the distance dimmed safe in the age of bows and crossbows.

But still there were miracles of surviving even bullet wounds.

Condottiere Bernardino Fortebraccio survived the battle of Fornovo (1495) with 12 wounds, some of them gunshot. According to some sources, doctors had to remove three broken pieces of skull from his head. Apparently, the complex operation was successful because few weeks later that condottiere was seen strolling in Venice, devouring juicy apples and blowing kisses to pretty ladies.

Giovanantonio di Gattamelata could tell a more interesting story. In 1452 he was shot straight in the head but managed to survive. In contrary to popular jokes about martinets, his brain wasn’t unharmed. After that wound Giovanantonio became a pale shadow of his former self but lived on for another 4 years. That is an astonishing example because in that century even gunshot wounds of one’s arm could be lethal.

This unique survival left citizens of Brecia in doubts: should they send congratulations or curses? That’s because they had already donated money for the most luxuriest funeral of their beloved condottiere. With di Gattamelata alive all costly preparations were seemingly as good as lost. However, before long, Giovanantonia’s uncle Gentile della Leonessa got hit by the bullet as well and luckily for people of Brecia he wasn’t so ungratefully enduring. The funeral was held with great splendour and in full accordance to the previous plan.


Filed under 15th century, Condottieri, Italy, Weapons

4 responses to “Condottieri and bullets

  1. Pingback: “They shot at the skies”: soldiers and firearms of 16th century | Sellswords, mercenaries and condottieri

  2. jennifer

    Hi there,

    I am writing a school paper about condottieri and I was wondering if you had any sources to share about the information you posted?


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