Siege of Forli
Siege of Forli (1497)
Conflict: Italian Wars
Date: 1497
Place: Forli, Romagna, Italy
Outcome: Sforza victory

Papal.png Papal States

Sforza.png House of Sforza


Papal.png Juan Borgia
Papal.png Hernando de Caballos

Sforza.png Caterina Sforza
Sforza.png Ludovico Sforza







The Siege of Forli (1497) was a battle of the Italian Wars. The battle saw the Papal army of Juan Borgia fail to conquer Forli and capture Caterina Sforza as the result of a surprise attack on the Papal rear by Ludovico Sforza's Milanese army. The Papal army was destroyed in an ignominious defeat.


The House of Sforza was one of the most powerful families in Renaissance-era Italy, controlling the Duchy of Milan, Forli, and Pesaro, among other holdings. Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, chose to side with King Charles VIII of France when he invaded Italy in 1494, and his cousins, Lady Caterina Sforza of Forli and Lord Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro, chose to forsake the Papal States in favor of allying with France. In 1495, the Sforza clan switched sides and created a league against France, fighting the French at the Battle of Fornovo. The Sforzas and the Borgia Papacy continued to be rivals, however, as Caterina Sforza refused to head to Rome and kneel before Pope Alexander VI in submission. The Pope insisted that she kneel before him as a sign of her submission, and he sent his son, Cardinal Cesare Borgia, as an envoy to Sforza to deliver these demands. Borgia had sexual relations with her at her castle, but she refused to go to Rome and kneel before the Pope. Cesare Borgia told his father of this, and Pope Alexander decided to send his second son, Juan Borgia, to lead an army to besiege Forli, while Cesare Borgia would instead be sent to Florence to coordinate the fight against Girolamo Savonarola. Juan Borgia was accompanied by Hernando de Caballos, a Spanish veteran of the Reconquista and the conquest of the New World, who would serve as his adviser.


Borgia's army set up camp in the treeline next to the forest of Romagna, which surrounded the castle of Forli. Borgia attempted to negotiate with Sforza, who rode out with one of her generals and her fifteen-year-old son Benito Sforza, but Sforza refused to surrender. As the Sforzas turned to re-enter the castle of Forli, Borgia had his archers shoot Benito's horse, and two Papal horsemen kidnapped Benito. Caterina Sforza had her men hold their fire as her son was taken behind Papal lines, and she returned to the castle with her general. Juan Borgia repeatedly attempted to convince Sforza to surrender by displaying her tortured son, and he threatened to kill him. Sforza brazenly lifted her skirt, showing her vagina to the besiegers, and she claimed that she had the instrument to make ten more sons. Borgia's bluff was called, and he waited to starve the defenders out. 

However, the army of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, quietly marched through the forest of Romagna and closed in on the Papal army from all sides, surprising it. The Milanese troops wielded hand cannons, and these weapons literally tore the Papal troops apart. Borgia's forces were eradicated, and many fled in disarray. Borgia himself was wounded in the leg by an arrow, and he was unhorsed by a cannon explosion. He hid in the forest as he watched his men fall back in disarray, and he proceeded to escape the field of battle. Caballos, who was ordered to kill the young Benito Sforza, instead rescued him and delivered him to a prison in Rome, saying that he "fought men, not boys"; Juan Borgia thought that Benito Sforza had perished in the heat of battle. The Papal army's ignominious defeat strengthened the resolve of the Sforza family, which would become strong enemies of the Papacy.

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