THE AFTERMATH OF THE BATTLE
"All is lost save honour..." - Francis I King of France
Armoured French knights routed by imperial arquebusiers at Pavia... detail from a contemporary tapestry
No one was more surprised by his victory than the imperial commander. Lannoy had planned nothing more than a diversion to allow the Pavia garrison to make a desperate bid for freedom so why did what should have been a minor skirmish result in a catastrophic defeat for the French?
The answer lies more in the different arms and armour employed by the two sides than any tactical brilliance on the part of the imperial captain-general.
Lannoy's army had a high proportion of handgunners in its ranks but the French and their Swiss mercenaries treated such weapons with disdain. Thus the backbone of Francis' army was still the armoured mounted knight but the best steel plate offered no protection against an arquebus ball fired at close range.
Francis' attempt to use his horsemen to rout the imperial infantry in the woods to the east of his camp therefore proved his undoing. Had the French caught the imperials in the open, the handgunners could not have reloaded fast enough to stop 6,000 steel clad gens d'armes at full gallop but the trees broke the impetus of Francis' attack. Using the cover to its best advantage, the imperial handgunners simply shot the knights to death or used their long halberds to haul the noble chevaliers off their horses. The charge into the trees had also isolated Francis from his own infantry so the French king soon found himself surrounded with no choice but to surrender. Pavia was thus the first battle in history where firearms were decisive.
Though the defeat of the French at Pavia didn't end The Italian Wars, it did mark a shift in both the political and military history of Western Europe. Having renounced his claims to the crowns of Lombardy and Naples, Francis was forced to seek alliances elsewhere and he made a secret pact with the Ottoman Turks to open a second front by attacking the Hapsburg emperors territories in the east. Pavia also marked the end of the aristocratic medieval knight's supremacy on the battlefield. Henceforth professional soldiers carrying firearms would become the decisive weapon of modern warfare.