Book Review: Italy 1636: Cemetery of Armies


by Gregory Hanlon

Oxford & Nwe York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xiii, 224. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $110.00. ISBN:0198738242

The Thirty Years’ War in Italy

In this impressive example of battle history, Gregory Hanlon, author of the outstanding The Twilight of a Military Tradition (1998), covers the Battle of Tornavento (June 22, 1636), which led to the failure of France’s bid to conquer Northern Italy during the Thirty Years’ War.

Pulling together a wide variety of historical sources, the book represents an outstanding example of a battle history in the broader sense, incorporating medical and social history. The core of the book is Hanlon’s description of the battle and its tactics within the framework of the military practice of the times. In defending a small bridgehead over the Ticino river, the superior Spanish tercios almost broke the French army, which was only saved by Duke Victor-Amadeus of Savoy, who rushed reinforcements across the river to reverse a desperate situation. The Spanish retreated, and the French held the battlefield.

But in the weeks following, the French suffered serious attrition because of Spanish raids on their supply line, and the effects of poor sanitation in an area made worse by the hundreds of corpses left unburied following the battle. Unable to link up with reinforcements from across the Valtelline Alps, the French army retreated back to Savoy while suffering additional losses from harassment by its Spanish pursuers. The result was to put a definite end to Cardinal Richelieu’s plans for France to replace Spain as the dominant power in Northern Italy.

For anyone looking for insights into European warfare in the era of the Thirty Years War, this is a must-read that makes a strong argument for the effectiveness of the Spanish military system in the first half of the seventeenth century.

Note: Italy 1636 is also available in e-format

Our Reviewer: Dr. Alexander Stavropoulos received his Ph.D. in History from the CUNY Graduate Center in 2013. Currently an Adjunct Professor at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, his previous reviews for StrategyPage include Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras: The French Perspective and Braddock's Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution.


Reviewer: Alexander Stavropoulos   

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