The Challenge of Barletta

September 18, 2009

In February 1503 a duel near Barletta was fought between thirteen French Knights and thirteen Sicilian ones for patriotic reasons, as related by Fabio Albergati in his “Tratto*.del modo di ridurre a pace l’inimicitie private” written in 1583.

Barletta, a town in the possession of the Spaniards, was besieged by the French. The Spanish army had a great many Sicilians among their ranks led by Prospero Colonna. During a skirmish a French captain by the name of La Motte was captured by Diego Mendoza and led into the town. During dinner with him and other French captors, La Motte proclaimed that the Sicilians were cowards and breakers of their word and that he and other Frenchmen were ready to maintain that statement by means of arms. Once this statement was reported to Colonna and his soldiers, two knights, Gianni Capoccio and Gianni Bracalone, were sent to proffer a retraction from La Motte. He refused to retract and they proclaimed a challenge to as many Frenchmen as would be willing, to duel with an equal number of Sicilians. La Motte eventually gave his permission, despite his initial opposition to the challenge.

The duel was fought between thirteen French knights under La Motte and thirteen Sicilian knights under Ettore Fieramosca on a field near Quarato, halfway between Barletta and the French camp.

Prospero Colonna and the famous knight Bayard judged the duel which was fought according to all the requirements of the code of knighthood. The French made the first attack and, after six hours, fell into disarray as some of them were unhorsed and captured and others were driven off of the field. La Motte was among the defeated, having been unhorsed by Fieramosca. The Sicilians only had two of their number forced out of bounds.

Thus the victory went to the Sicilians who returned, with the French prisoners, to Barletta to the salute of artillery and the ringing of bells.

Gonzalo de Córdoba, the commander of the Spanish army, gave hereditary decorations of nobility to each of the victors and Fieramosca’s family fiefs were confirmed and he was further created as the Count of Miglionico and Lord of Aquara. A monument was erected on the site of the duel and the prisoners were freed after the receipt of a ransom of one hundred gold ducats.