Sir John Hawkwood

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Sir John Hawkwood
English Mercenary

Sir John Hawkwood (1320-1394), also known as Giovanni Acuto, was an English mercenary fighting in Italy during the 1300s. He is considered the first military leader of the modern times. He was a member of the White Company of Englishmen, which was famous for its white armor, and loud harsh war cries. These men were infamous for their night raids. Hawkwood and his men never remained loyal to one side but were always changing sides of the war depending on who paid the most money. Money is what Hawkwood desired.

He learned to fight during the Hundred Years War in France, where he fought first under Edward III and then at the command of his own company, which sacked Provence. When he came to Italy in 1360, he was first employed by the city of Pisa, then by the Viscontis of Milan, by Pope Gregory XI and lastly by Florence. In 1364 Hawkwood with his Pisan troops was the enemy of the Florentines and had raided their city but they forgave him and established such a good relationship with him that he was honored on his death with the equestrian monument frescoed by Paolo Uccello in Santa Maria del Fiore (1436). This monument is in the Florence Cathedral.

In August of 1372, Hawkwood's White Company under the pay of the Viscontti fought Enguerrand de Coucy. Hawkwood's men were served with at least two pages. These pages made sure the armor was as bright as a mirror, and they also held the horses during the battles. Hawkwood desired the armor to look like a mirror in order to make them look more fierce. The men fought on foot in a tight circle that no enemy could break. Coucy claims that the war cries of the White Company were fierce and instilled fear in the enemy. After this battle, Hawkwood teams up with Coucy to take the city of Mantua.

In 1375, at the age of 55, John Hawkwood fathered two sons without getting married. In this same year, he led raids into Tuscany to get spoils since the Pope was late on his payments. Hawkwood was not a religious man and did not deal with authority very well.

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"Sir John Hawkwood." 17 Mar 2018
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In 1377, Hawkwood was being paid by Cardinal Robert of Geneva, the Popes legate in Italy. He ordered Hawkwood to lay seize and kill all the people in Cesena. He kills 5000 but showed his kindness by letting 1000 women and some men to escape. This shows that he had more desire for money than for killing. Sir John Hawkwood spent his whole life going from battle to battle. Hawkwood's last campaign, at the age of 70, was with the Florentine Signoria against Gian Galeazzo, the Duke of Milano. After this Hawkwood lived the rest of his life wealthy and respected. He was named Captain of Florence. For the rest of his life, he was paid by the city states of central and northern Italy.

Hawkwood was the most feared warrior of his time. He is forever immortalized by Paolo Uccello in his fresco at the Florence Cathedral. In this fresco he is seen riding on a horse. A chivalric person must have a horse. Sir John Hawkwood, however, was not chivalric. He did not portray the qualities of chivalry such as loyalty, honor, largess, and religiosity. He never remained loyal to a cause but always followed the money. He had little honor by performing night raids on the unprepared enemy camps. From my research, he was never mentioned being generous. This makes since because he turned down many offers of war because the price was too cheap. Most of the fights that he participated in was either with the Church or against it. He did not care about the Church but only for the money they were providing for him. Sir John Hawkwood was not a chivalric warrior.


Brewer: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1996

Catholic Encyclopedia. "Pope Bl. Uran V"

"John Hawkwood called Giovanni Acuto" 1996.

Monument to Sir John Hawkwood.

Paolo Uccello Biography. 1994

Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1978,
pp. 254-258, 320-323, 400-410, 635, 642-643.

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