The Triumphant Claude, Duke of Guise

In reading about Mary of Guise (mother of Marie, Queen of Scots), I came across a touching story concerning her father Claude, Duke of Guise. Claude was cousin to Louise of Savoy, better known as the mother of King Francis I of France’s.

Family trees aside, Duke Claude and King Francis were very close friends. Francis decided, soon after he ascended the throne of France at the age of twenty-one, that he was also the rightful heir to the Duchy of Milan. Milan had been in French hands, however, the Swiss had taken it militarily and appointed the Italian Duke, Massimiliano Sforza, as its ruler. Duke Massimiliano was a good-for-nothing sort; it probably would have been easy to defeat him, however the Swiss decided to defend him against King Francis’ assault.

Francis gathered an army to make an assault on Milan. Duke Claude, his brother Duke Antony and their younger brother Ferry joined the King’s army and followed him into battle. Hauling as many as seventy cannons and his troops over the Alps, Francis travelled a newly made road at a pass called the Col d’Argentière. At the time this was considered a formidable achievement; equal to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. The astonishing appearance of the French army on the plains of Piedmont shocked the Italians and the Swiss.

The two armies met at Marignano, just outside of Milan in what is now Italy, on September 13, 1515. King Francis had tactically organised each division of his army, combining cavalry, infantry and artillery. The Swiss had no artillery or cavalry, and yet were very successful in their first attack. A volley of attacks and counter-attacks ensued until darkness fell, and in the morning, the battle began anew. After a heavy and cruel confrontation, the French were eventually victorious.

Battle of MarignanoBattle of  Marignano: With 20 wounds Claude was definitely a survivor! 


The Guise brothers, Claude, Antony and Ferry, had become separated during the action. Antony frantically searched for his brothers, even the King’s retinue joined the search, combing the field. Eventually they found poor Ferry dead. Claude was also found, mortally wounded.

He had no fewer than twenty one wounds. His right arm was shattered, his thigh had been pierced by an arquebus ball and his horse had been killed beneath him, falling on him and pinning him to the ground. When Claude’s esquire, Adam Fouvert, saw the plight of his master during the battle, he fell on top of him in an effort to shield him from more harm. As the enemy drove forward Adam was killed, but Claude had somehow managed to survive. Claude received immediate medical treatment and was able to ride, in triumph, into Milan by the side of King Francis on October 16, 1515.

Upon his return home to his duchy of Guise several months later, he saw his newborn baby daughter Marie of Guise for the first time.

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