John Hawkwood: Florentine Hero And Faithful Englishman
By William Caferro
The Hundred Years War (Part 2): Different Vistas, edited by Andrew Villalon and Donald Kagay (Brill, 2008)
Introduction: The Englishman John Hawkwood was fourteenth-century Italy’s most famous and successful mercenary soldier. He began his career in France in the battles of the Hundred Years War and arrived on the peninsula with the famed White Company in 1361. He passed the next thirty-three years on Italian soil, during which time he distinguished himself by his feats of arms. His successes included the brilliant tactical victory on behalf of Padua at Castagnaro in 1387 and the daring retreat from Milanese territory at the head of Florentine forces in 1391, which forestalled certain defeat. When Hawkwood died in 1394, Florence commemorated him with an elaborate funeral and commissioned a mural in his honor in the cathedral, later repainted (1436) by Paolo Uccello.
Uccello’s portrait remains in the cathedral and is Hawkwood’s most enduring legacy to the modern world. It has fixed for generations the connection between the Englishman and Florence, and has served as a starting point for scholarly studies. Hawkwood’s first biographer, the eighteenth-century Italian scholar, D. M. Manni, cast the captain’s life wholly in terms of his Florentine employment. Manni entitled his book Commentario della vita del famoso capitano Giovanni Aguto Inglese, general condottiere d’armi orentini, laying the focus on Hawkwood’s military service to that city. Manni’s English contemporary, the antiquarian Richard Gough, presented Hawkwood in a similar manner. Although stating his intention to “reclaim” Hawkwood for his native land, Gough in fact followed closely Manni’s model, treating the captain’s career in terms of the Florentines, whom Hawkwood purportedly served “with irreproachable fidelity.”
Top Image: 1436 fresco depicting Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello, Duomo, Florence.