John Hawkwood

Last updated

Engraving representing John Hawkwood. John hawkwood.jpg
Engraving representing John Hawkwood.
Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello (1436). Paolo Uccello 044.jpg
Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello (1436).

Sir John Hawkwood (c. 1323–1394) was an English soldier and condottiero . As his name was claimed to be hard to pronounce by non-English contemporaries, there are many variations of it in the historical record. As a result, he often referred to himself as "Haukevvod", and others called him "Giovanni Acuto" meaning "John the Astute" or "John Sharp" referring to his "cleverness or cunning". [1] :9–10 His legacy has made him a man shrouded in myth in both England and Italy.


Early life

Hawkwood is understood to have been born in Sible Hedingham, which is an old Roman outpost in Essex. He was the second son of Gilbert Hawkwood. Modern accounts like to present Hawkwood's upbringing as a poor peasant, but the facts tell a different story. Some sources claim that his father was a tanner, [2] but the historical record has uncovered that Gilbert Hawkwood was a landowner of "considerable wealth". [1] :33 His father had property in both Sible Hedingham and Finchingfield. [1] :33 Other sources state that his father was a tailor, but this was likely a mistranslation from his Italianized name, Acuto (or sharp, as in needles). [3] Lack of information has created many myths about his childhood. For example, the Florentine chronicler Filippo Vilani claimed that the reason his last name was "Hawkwood" was because when his mother was in labour she demanded that she give birth in a forest, so he was literally the "hawk of the wood". [4] However, he did not reside at home for long, and there are records that show he moved to London to be apprenticed to a tailor.[ citation needed ]

Sible Hedingham village and civil parish in the Colne Valley in Essex, England, United Kingdom

Sible Hedingham is a large village and civil parish in the Colne Valley in the Braintree District of Essex, in England. It has a population of 3,994 according to the 2011 census. Sible Hedingham lies in the northern corner of Essex, close to both the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire borders. The village covers some 2,123 hectares.

Essex County of England

Essex is a county in the south-east of England, north-east of London. One of the home counties, it borders Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent across the estuary of the River Thames to the south, and London to the south-west. The county town is Chelmsford, the only city in the county. For government statistical purposes Essex is placed in the East of England region.

Finchingfield village in England, United Kingdom

Finchingfield is a village in the Braintree district in north-west Essex, England, a primarily rural area. It is approximately 6 miles (10 km) from Thaxted, further from the larger towns of Saffron Walden and Braintree.


Hawkwood began his career in the Hundred Years' War in France under Edward III as a longbowman. [1] :38 It has been argued that he participated in both the Battle of Crécy in 1346 and the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. [1] :41 After Poitiers, he joined the White Company, an infamous band of mercenaries, with whom he crossed into Italy in 1361; he became its captain in 1363. Although Hawkwood was knighted, there is no clear evidence by whom or where. Some sources claim he was knighted by the Black Prince after the Battle of Poitiers, but there is no historical record of this. In Italy, all major condottieri were classified as knights, which means the distinction in itself is ambiguous. After arriving in Italy, he fought for numerous factions such as the Pope, Milan and Florence for the rest of his life, ending his career in Florence.

Hundred Years War Series of conflicts and wars between England and France during the 14th and 15th-century

The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the French House of Valois, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Each side drew many allies into the war. It was one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. The war marked both the height of chivalry and its subsequent decline, and the development of strong national identities in both countries.

Edward III of England 14th-century King of England and Duke of Aquitaine

Edward III was King of England and Lord of Ireland from January 1327 until his death; he is noted for his military success and for restoring royal authority after the disastrous and unorthodox reign of his father, Edward II. Edward III transformed the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe. His long reign of 50 years was the second longest in medieval England and saw vital developments in legislation and government, in particular the evolution of the English parliament, as well as the ravages of the Black Death.

Longbow type of bow that is tall and has a long draw

A longbow is a type of bow that is tall – roughly equal to the height of the user – allowing the archer a fairly long draw. A longbow is not significantly recurved. Its limbs are relatively narrow so that they are circular or D-shaped in cross section. Flatbows can be just as long; the difference is that, in cross-section, a flatbow has limbs that are approximately rectangular.

During Hawkwood's career, he was most often paid in gold florins, the most widely used currency of the time. In the 30 years that he served as a captain, Hawkwood's earnings ranged between 6,000 and 80,000 florins annually (in comparison, a skilled Florentine craftsman at the same time earned 30 florins a year). [5]

Mercenary in France

After the Treaty of Brétigny on 8 May 1360, many free companies began to form. The largest, the Great Company (later popularly known as the White Company or the English Company), was formed in eastern France. Hawkwood joined this and eventually rose to be its commander. During his time, the band moved to Champagne, Burgundy, and eventually Avignon. The company seized Pont-Saint-Esprit near Avignon for three months on the night of 28/29 December 1360. This blocked the collection point for taxes to pay for the ransom of King John, who was taken in the Battle of Poitiers. Initially, Pope Innocent VI wrote to the group seeking peace, in a letter which identified Hawkwood as its leader. The group was unresponsive to the Pope's plea and continued to harass the fort, which resulted in its excommunication. In March 1361, the company and the Pope made peace through a deal to contract them to fight for him "across the Pyrenees in Spain and across the Alps in Italy", with the promise of guaranteed military service, thus splitting the group. [1] :45 Hawkwood joined the group travelling to Italy.

Treaty of Brétigny treaty

The Treaty of Brétigny was a treaty, drafted on 8 May 1360 and ratified on 24 October 1360, between King Edward III of England and King John II of France. In retrospect it is seen as having marked the end of the first phase of the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453)—as well as the height of English power on the Continent.

White Company

The White Company was a 14th-century English mercenary Company of Adventure, led from its arrival in Italy in 1361 to 1363 by the German Albert Sterz and later by the Englishman John Hawkwood. Although the White Company is the name by which it is popularly known, it was initially called the Great Company of English and Germans and would later often be referred to as the English Company.

Champagne (province) Province in France

Champagne is a historical province in the northeast of France, now best known as the Champagne wine region for the sparkling white wine that bears its name. It was founded in 1065 near the city of Provins and was made up of different counties descended from the early medieval kingdom of Austrasia.

However, before the company arrived in Italy under papal orders, it joined the Marquis of Montferrat and his war against Amadeus VI, ruling Count of Savoy. It successfully attacked Savigliano and Rivarolo, and remained in Savoyan territory for a year. Amadeus made his last stand in 1362 in Lanzo and lost to the company. This victory decided Marquis of Montferrat to sign a contract with the company on 22 November, stating they would now fight the Visconti under him. [1] :51–55

Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy Count of Savoy 1343-1383

Amadeus VI, nicknamed the Green Count was Count of Savoy from 1343 to 1383. He was the eldest son of Aymon, Count of Savoy and Yolande Palaeologo of Montferrat. Though he started under a regency, he showed himself to be a forceful leader, continuing Savoy's emergence as a power in Europe politically and militarily. He participated in a crusade against the Turks who were moving into Europe.

Savoy Cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe

Savoy is a cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe. It comprises roughly the territory of the Western Alps between Lake Geneva in the north and Dauphiné in the south.

Savigliano Comune in Piedmont, Italy

Savigliano is a comune of Piedmont, northern Italy, in the Province of Cuneo, about 50 kilometres (31 mi) south of Turin by rail.

Serving Italian factions

Hawkwood and his company arrived in Italy during the power vacuum following the Great Schism of the papacy, and many different political figures were vying for power. The Pisan–Florentine War was the beginning of Hawkwood's military career there, as he assumed command of the Pisan army in the winter of 1364–65, at the age of almost forty. [1] :97 The Battle of Cascina determined the war. Before the war, John Hawkwood and the Pisan army had met at Malatesta. Hawkwood's tactics in this battle is what distinguished him as a military commander, even though he lost it. He took account of the terrain and conditions of the battlefield and positioned his army accordingly. However, the turning point came when the opposing commander ordered an enveloping move that cut Hawkwood off from the rest of his army. Hawkwood ordered his army to retreat. Modern perception of the battle is romanticized, as it is claimed as a heroic stand against great odds. Yet the defeat is likely to have been due to young, undisciplined soldiers fighting on Hawkwood's side. [1] :109–113

The second telling battle in Hawkwood's career was Rubiera on 2 June 1372, fought between papal forces and Bernabó Visconti. Both sides had concluded a formal truce, but in reality they were gathering more troops. Hawkwood and Visconti commanded a force of a thousand lancers with no infantry. The papal forces were larger: 1,200 lancers as well as infantry. Hawkwood outflanked and outmanœuvred his enemy and took most of the high-ranking officers captive. The victory shows Hawkwood's ability as a commander, although it had no significant political results and ended in a truce between the Visconti and the Pope. [1] :141–143

One of Hawkwood's more important roles was in the Great Raid on Tuscany, which shows the connections of the condottiere and the political prosperity of the Italian states. The raid led directly to war between Florence and Gregory XI and boosted Hawkwood's career in fame and wealth. Frustrated by not being paid by the Pope, Hawkwood marched along the Via Emilia towards Tuscany and Florence. Two Tuscan ambassadors met him to conclude a truce, for which they paid him 130,000 florins. [1] :164 He continued to march through various territories, such as Pisa, Siena, and Arezzo, where he continually pressed for money. Many believed these raids were under orders from the Pope, and so they led to a defensive league between Florence and Milan. Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo, and Queen Joanna I of Naples soon followed and joined the defensive league against the company and the Pope. No matter who was responsible for the raid, Hawkwood's raid proved the casus belli, which eventually led to the War of Eight Saints. [1] :171

In the War of Eight Saints in 1375, Hawkwood and his company began fighting for Pope Gregory XI against Florence. In December, he went to Città di Castello on orders to put down a rebellion, but ended up capturing the city, which was not what the frustrated Pope had intended, but Hawkwood did so in an attempt to extract payment from the Pope. As a result, Gregory "had little choice but to formally invest him with it, in return for uncompensated services." [1] :181 After capturing Città di Castello, Hawkwood rode to Faenza on 12 February 1376, on orders from the papal governor for protection because he feared revolt. While at Faenza, Hawkwood attempted to lay siege to the neighbouring town of Granarola, but was forced to retreat to Faenza. The papal governor opened the gates to Hawkwood, who once he had entered demanded that the inhabitants surrender their arms. Being unpaid by the Pope, they sacked the town instead. On hearing this, the opposing side, Florence, bribed Hawkwood not to fight and offered him a pension, as well as forgiveness for all betrayals and wrongdoings that he had committed against Florence. Yet Hawkwood remained with the Pope. Later he took part in the Massacre at Cesena, to which he was called to help enforce a decree promising forgiveness to citizens who laid down their arms. Thus Hawkwood and his men joined in the attack on the unarmed civilians. [1] :189–190 This was a turning point in Hawkwood's career, after which he left papal service and began working with Milan, Florence, and their allies.

Hawkwood would eventually sign a contract with Florence after a quarrel with his father-in-law, Bernabó Visconti. After winning a battle against John Horvatí, Hawkwood and Lutz Landau crossed paths with Horvatí and stole some prey from his hunt. Bernabó was unsettled with this, and consequently stripped Hawkwood of Milanese land received in his wife's dowry. Thereafter Florence hired Hawkwood, the Landau brothers and their company for eight months, but the contract lasted much longer. [1] :205–208

Last years with Florence

By 1385, Hawkwood was over sixty years old, with land holdings in both Italy and England. Most of his duties under Florence were defensive, and he had not fought in a major battle for over a decade. However, in the winter of 1385–86, war broke out between Padua and Verona. The most important engagement in the war was the Battle of Castagnaro, which has been described as Hawkwood's "finest victory and one of the greatest feats of military prowess of the era". [1] :261 During the battle, Hawkwood saw that the Veronese's left flank was exposed and ordered his men to advance, in this way securing victory for him and his Paduan allies. The Paduan Chronicle claimed that 4,620 fighting men were captured. [1] :265

Hawkwood's role in the 1390–92 war against Milan was his last major military campaign. No new glory was won, except for an exceptional and wise retreat while in Milanese territory. His last military deed was to help to repulse an opposing mercenary company under Biordo Michelotti, Broglia da Chieri, and "other unemployed soldiers", which he and his men successfully drove back. [1] :302–309

Personal life

Hawkwood had two wives. Little is known of the first, except that she was probably English, and she gave birth to at least one child, a daughter named Antiochia, who married into a prominent English Essex family, the Coggeshales. [1] :13 Through her daughter Alice Coggeshall, Hawkswood is an ancestor of the Earls of Inchiquin.

His second marriage is well documented. He was married in 1377 to Donnina Visconti, an illegitimate daughter of the great Milanese ruler, Bernabó Visconti. It was political match; she is described as a "forceful character, in the mold of her father and the Visconti women in general". [1] :13 They had four children: Janet, Catherine, Anna, and John.

It is also clear that Hawkwood had many mistresses and illegitimate children, like many men in his profession. Two of his documented illegitimate sons were John and Thomas Hawkwood. Hawkwood used favours from the Pope to obtain John an ecclesiastical appointment in London, while Thomas was taken hostage in 1376 in Bologna and returned to England, where he started a career as a mercenary captain. [1] :14


Some claim that Hawkwood could neither read nor write, based on one event in which he had his contract with Florence read aloud to him in 1385. Yet this practice was not uncommon for captains of his status, and it should be suggested that he could read or write. In one correspondence with the Count of Armagnac, the Flemish chronicler, Jean Froissart, claimed that reading matter was either "read or had read to him." [1] :11 Based on this, it is reasonable to claim some education for Hawkwood.


Although descriptions of other condottieri exist, a consistent description of John Hawkwood is never clearly stated. In a modern account by Joseph Jay Deiss, Hawkwood is said to have been a "heavy set sort, a young ox in the shoulders, powerful of arm and hand... His brown eyes were large, calculating and set wide apart under heavy brows. His nose was long, irregular and came to a point... His straight chestnut hair clung carelessly." [2] The only clear source for Hawkwood's appearance is a fresco by Paolo Uccello. The portrait is not a first-hand image, but a copy of an earlier portrayal. A physical description is hard to derive from it, as it shows Hawkwood sitting on a horse in partial armour. Recent scholarship has suggested "Hawkwood's very pose is suspect... the composition was probably a piece of Florentine propaganda, intended to convey the image of the obedient captain conducting an inspection of troops." [1] :9 Given this information by various authors, there is no true observation of his physical appearance, and evidence from pictures must be treated with caution.


During his life, the main traits used to describe Hawkwood were craft and brutality. Evidence of his craft was seen in his tactics, which included feigned retreats, ambushes, and the use of false information. For example, before fleeing Milanese territory in 1391, Hawkwood accepted his opponent's challenge to meet on the battlefield next morning. However, Hawkwood "picked up camp and quietly escaped through back routes, placing his battle standards and banners high on the trees so that the enemy would assume he was still there. He then detached a contingent of his men and placed them in the woods to entrap the enemy as it pursued [him]." [1] :18 His troops would rape women, murder peasants, and dismember their enemies. This has brought Hawkwood's religious faith into question. He was known to sack monasteries and holy places. He even harassed the Pope in Avignon, but there is also evidence that he was not completely godless, as he requested a portable altar for Mass while on campaign. Geoffrey Trease gives "fidelity" as his main characteristic, because of his persistent commitment to fulfilling orders from his employers. [6] However, this is untrue, as he often flouted contracts and disobeyed employers. In one case, he abandoned the Milanese army twice.


Hawkwood died on 17 March 1394 before he was able to retire to England. [1] :314 His funeral on 20 March was followed by an elaborate burial ceremony in the Duomo. It is recorded that the town fathers "furnished three banners with the arms of Florence and a helmet with a golden lion holding a lily in its claw as the crest," and his personal brigade sent "fourteen caparisoned warhorses, bearing the Englishmen's personal banner, sword, shield, and helmet. [1] :314 As his reputation spread through Europe in his lifetime, even Richard II of England requested that Hawkwood's body be transferred back to his "native land".

Memory and monuments

Originally, under the Albizzi government, it had been intended to build a marble tomb for Hawkwood, but the money was lacking. In 1436, the Medici hired Paolo Uccello to paint the Duomo. Uccello painted a portrait of Hawkwood that survives today in the third bay of the northern wall. He is seen on a grey-green horse with a commander's baton, dressed in partial armour. Uccello used a technique called terra verde to attempt to emulate a bronze statue in painting. [1] :318

Hawkwood is also honoured at St Peter's Church, Sible Hedingham in England. The structure has canopied arches where there is a symbolic picture of a hawk on an arch, under which is a low altar, where a picture of Hawkwood standing in prayer between two wives used to be, although it has disappeared over time. It had Hawkwood saying "Son of God, remember me," while the first wife said "Mother of mine, remember me," and the second wife "Mother of Christ, remember me." [1] :328

Notes and references


Other sources


  • The Final Encyclopedia (1984)
  • The Chantry Guild (1988)


Documentary film

Related Research Articles

Galeazzo II Visconti ruler of Milan

Galeazzo II Visconti was a member of the Visconti dynasty and a ruler of Milan, Italy.

Condottieri mercenary soldier leader in Italy XIV-XVI

Condottieri were Italian military leaders involved in classical formation battles, first as mercenary captains commanding free companies and later as generals of multi-national armies. In medieval Italian, condottiero meant "contractor" but the term later acquired the broader meaning of "military leader", also in reference to Italian Catholics serving as commanders for the Roman Catholic side during the Counter-Reformation.

Braccio da Montone Italian condottiero

Braccio da Montone, born Andrea Fortebracci, and also known as Braccio Fortebraccio, was an Italian condottiero.

Bernabò Visconti Lord of Milan

Bernabò or Barnabò Visconti was an Italian soldier and statesman, who was Lord of Milan.

The War of the Eight Saints (1375–1378) was a war between Pope Gregory XI and a coalition of Italian city-states led by Florence, which contributed to the end of the Avignon Papacy.

Battle of Anghiari battle on 29 June 1440, between the forces of Milan and those of the Italian League led by the Republic of Florence

The Battle of Anghiari was fought on 29 June 1440, between the forces of Milan and those of the Italian League led by the Republic of Florence in the course of the Wars in Lombardy. The battle was a victory for the Florentines, securing Florentine domination of central Italy.

Alberico da Barbiano first of the Italian condottieri

Alberico da Barbiano was the first of the Italian condottieri. His master in military matters was the English mercenary John Hawkwood, known in Italy as Giovanni Acuto. Alberico's compagnia fought under the banner of Saint George, as the compagnia San Giorgio.

The Wars in Lombardy were a series of conflicts between the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Milan and their respective allies, fought in four campaigns in a struggle for hegemony in Northern Italy that ravaged the economy of Lombardy and weakened the power of Venice. They lasted from 1423 until the signing of the Treaty of Lodi in 1454. During their course, the political structure of Italy was transformed: out of a competitive congeries of communes and city-states emerged the five major Italian territorial powers that would make up the map of Italy for the remainder of the 15th century and the beginning of the Italian Wars at the turn of the 16th century. They were Venice, Milan, Florence, the Papal States and Naples. Important cultural centers of Tuscany and Northern Italy—Siena, Pisa, Urbino, Mantua, Ferrara—became politically marginalized.

Battle of Castagnaro middle ages battle

The Battle of Castagnaro was fought on 11 March 1387 at Castagnaro between Verona and Padua. It is one of the most famous battles of the Italian condottieri age.

Malatesta II Malatesta, best known as Guastafamiglia was an Italian condottiero and lord of Rimini.

Niccolò da Tolentino Italian condottiere

Niccolò Mauruzzi, best known as Niccolò da Tolentino (c. 1350 – March 20, 1435) was an Italian condottiero.

The Great Company was a group of mercenaries, chiefly of German origin but operating in the Italian peninsula, who flourished in the mid-14th century. At its height, the company numbered approximately 10,000-12,000 men, chiefly armored cavalry. The Great Company's power set the pattern for later condottieri who came to dominate Renaissance Italian warfare.

<i>Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood</i> Fresco by Paolo Uccello

The Funerary Monumentto SirJohn Hawkwood is a fresco by Paolo Uccello, commemorating English condottiero John Hawkwood, commissioned in 1436 for Florence's Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The fresco is an important example of art commemorating a soldier-for-hire who fought in the Italian peninsula and is a seminal work in the development of perspective.

Galeotto I Malatesta (1299–1385) was an Italian condottiero, who was lord of Rimini, Fano, Ascoli Piceno, Cesena and Fossombrone.

RidolfoII da Varano, signore di Camerino, was a condottiero operating in Italy from the 1360s. His forebears had long held the rocca of Varano on the borderland of the Papal States, controlling a major strategic pass between Umbria and the Marche, a link between Rome and the Adriatic coast. He inherited from Gentile di Berardo da Varano in 1355, and undertook the improvement of the fortifications that protected the commune and its rocca.

The Compagnia di San Giorgio was the name of several companies of mercenaries in Italy during the 14th century.

The Battle of Alessandria or Battle of Castelazzo was a battle during the Florentine-Milanese Wars which was fought at Alessandria, Piedmont, Italy on 25 July 1391 between the mercenary army of Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan and that of the Jean III of Armagnac. It ended in victory for Milan.

The La Compagnia della Stella was the name of two separate companies of mercenary soldiers which operated in northern Italy at different times in the 14th century.

Albert Sterz was a German noble who was a leader of mercenary Free companies, primarily operating in Italy.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Caferro, William (2006). John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN   9780801883231.
  2. 1 2 Deiss, Joseph Jay (1966). Captains of Fortune. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company. pp. 113–114.
  3. Saunders, F.S. (2005) The Devil's Broker. Fourth Estate Publishing
  4. Elogia. Giovio. p. 316.
  5. Mazzeno, L. W. (2017). John Hawkwood. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia.
  6. Trease, Geoffrey (1971). Condottiere: Soldiers of Fortune. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. p. 73.
  7. Angellotti, Marion Polk (2010). The Black Death: The Saga of Sir John Hawkwood and the Adventures of the White Company. Black Dog Books. ISBN   978-1-928619-89-5.
  8. Clark, Cassandra (2009). The Red Velvet Turnshoe. London: John Murray. ISBN   9780719522918. OCLC   824605477.
  9. Ludlow, Jack (2016). Hawkwood. London: Allison & Busby. ISBN   9780749019532. OCLC   965118168.
  10. 大塚, トミイ (2011). ホークウッド. Japan: メディアファクトリー. ISBN   9784040665689.