Marshal Odet de Foix, Count of Lautrec, 1485-1528

Marshal Odet de Foix, count of Lautrec (1485-1528) was a French commander of the Italian Wars most famous for suffering a heavy defeat at La Bicocca in 1522.

Lautrec was born in 1485. He rose to prominence after Francis I came to the throne, and at least partly owed his advancement to being the brother of Francis's mistress Francoise, Countess of Châteaubriant. He was part of the French army that invaded Italy in 1515, and fought at Francis's great victory of Marignano (15-16 September 1515). This gave Francis possession of Milan, and Lautrec was appointed governor.

Lautrec was an unpopular ruler. After the outbreak of the First Hapsburg-Valois War (1521-26) he was faced with a Spanish-German-Papal army commanded by the able Italian leader Prospero Colonna. At first Colonna attempted to capture Parma, but the siege bogged down. Colonna then decided to concentrate on Lautrec's army instead. The French were outmanoeuvred, and Colonna was able to advance on Milan. Lautrec was unable to stop Colonna from crossing the Po, joining up with his own Swiss allies, crossing the Adda and advancing on Milan. Lautrec's unpopularity now resulted in an anti-French revolt, and on 23 November the city fell to the Imperialists. Only Milan Castle remained in French hands. Lautrec had to retreat to Como, then under Venetian command.

Lautrec was soon reinforced, giving him around 25,000 men (including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries), and 10,000 Venetian allies. Money was short, and the Swiss were unpaid. They agreed to fight one battle before they left, forcing Lautrec to attack quickly. He chose to attack Colonna's fortified camp at La Bicocca, close to Milan. Colonna had fewer men, around 20,000, but they included the excellent Spanish infantry and were in a strong position, having added entrenchments to the existing ditches and walls of the garden at La Bicocca.

The battle of La Bicocca (27 April 1522) began with a frontal assault against the Spanish fortifications. Lautrec's Swiss troops failed to make any progress, and suffered very heavy casualties, losing around 3,000 dead in a short period. Lautrec attempted to help them by sending his cavalry to outflank the Spanish position, but this move was defeated by the Milanese cavalry under Francesco Sforza. Lautrec and his surviving troops were forced to retreat east into Venetian territory, while the Swiss survivors returned home.

Late in 1524 Francis I led a fresh army into Italy. Lautrec joined this force, and was thus present at the disastrous battle of Pavia (24 February 1525). Like Francis, Lautrec was captured during the battle. He was released after paying a ransom.

Francis was taken to Spain, where he eventually agreed the Treaty of Madrid (March 1526), officially ending the First Hapsburg-Valois War. He was then released at the French border

Soon after his release Francis renounced the treaty, triggering the Second Hapsburg-Valois War. One of the first results of this renewed war was the disastrous Imperial sack of Rome of May 1527. Although Charles V was embarrassed by the sight of his armies plundering the Holy City, it did him control of Pope Clement, who had been forced to surrender on terms in early June.

In July 1527 Lautrec returned to Italy at the head of a large French army, supported by Andrea Doria, the Genoese leader. Lautrec captured Alessandria and Pavia, and then moved south in an attempt to rescue Pope Clement, but on 26 November the Pope made peace with Charles V.

Although Lautrec had failed to help the Pope, he continued to move south. In January 1528 he began to march towards Naples, and by the spring of 1528 he was able to begin a siege of Naples, once again aided by Doria and the Genoese. At first the campaign went well, but Francis then managed to alienate Doria. In July 1528 the Genoese leader switched sides, joining the Imperial cause. He withdrew his fleet from the blockade at Naples, and helped get food into the city. The Genoese then imposed a naval blockade on the French, and food began to run short in their camp. Lautrec didn't help matters by alienating many of the Neapolitan nobles who had originally supported the French cause.

A plague broke out in the siege camp and the army began to suffer heavy losses. Lautrec was one of the victims of the plague, dying outside Naples on 15/ 16 August 1528. On 28 August the French were forced to lift the siege, and shortly afterwards the survivors of Lautrec's army surrendered.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 November 2014), Marshal Odet de Foix, Count of Lautrec, 1485-1528 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_lautrec_odet_de_foix.html

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