A Tuscan raid on Famagusta, 1607 [article]

The Porta di Limisso (Limassol gate) on the southwestern part of the Famagusta walls

The Porta di Limisso (Limassol gate) on the southwestern part of the Famagusta walls

I have just finished and submitted (finally) the article that sprung out from my paper at the Historic Famagusta Conference in Budapest in 2012 (has it really been that long?). My article looks at the raid, carried out by a force of the Knights of St. Stephen, Spanish forces, English and other corsairs. In fact, it included some celebrities who would go on to bigger and greater things, such as the Tuscan admiral Jacopo Inghirami, Don Antonio De’Medici (Grand Duke Francesco I’s son), Pietro Velasco (future Duke of Osuna and Viceroy of Sicily), Richard Gifford (an English merchant and corsair based in Livorno) and his partner Robert (who was either Sir Robert Dudley (Leicester’s son) or more likely Robert Thornton, who in 1608 would lead the first and only attempt to establish an Italian colony in the Americas (in Brazil in particular). There were others, scions of important Italian families of Pisa, Livorno and Siena, corsairs, soldiers, common ‘rubble’.

The attack was very likely the result of the pleas of Cypriot notables who were looking for a political future after the conquest of the island by the Ottomans in 1571. These notables, most of whom had retained their Catholic sympathies, sent pleas to royal courts around Catholic Europe, exaggerating the number of Cypriots who could take up arms and seriously under-representing the Ottoman forces on the island to make it sound feasible to capture the island. One such person, Pedro Avendaño (“Griego de nación de la ínsula de Chipre”, as he is referred to in the Spanish archives) claimed to have led a rebellion on the island in 1606 where he rallied a force 12,000 strong which killed 3,500 Turks, but due to the lack of arms the rebellion was suppressed and 4,000 men fled to the mountains in anticipation of a suitable opportunity, such as the intervention of a christian force, to rise again.

Avendaño’s hugely exaggerated claims failed to raise eyebrows at the Spanish court, but it seems that somebody somewhere swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, because in June of 1607 the raiders were eagerly anticipating the Greci to come to their support and take up arms, as part of a wildly ambitious plan to control the island.

The raid represents a hilarious example of communication breakdown, shambolic preparations and misinformation. Despite the fact that Francesco Bourbon Del Monte and Jacopo Inghirami, the leaders of the force, had at their disposal a model of the city of Famagusta, as well as the benefit of local informants (one of whom was Girolamo of Famagusta, an experienced navigator and pilot with the forces of Jacques Pierre, a French corsair), the attack ended in resounding failure.

The attack was meant to be carried out at night and in stealth, taking control of the city before the garrison had time to fortify itself. The idea was to breach the walls with explosives (petards) and scale them with ladders at different locations, including the 2 main gates-the sea gate (Porta del Mare) and the land gate (Porta di Limisso), as well as a postern (porta falsa) on the northern side. The petards failed to breach the postern (which was thought to be hollow but wasn’t), the ladders were too short (despite numerous affirmations to the contrary) and a large part of the force could not make its way round to the marina to attack the sea gate, due to the inaccessibility of the passage, which meant that they became trapped in the moat, between the walls and the companies behind them for three hours. The force that was supposed to attack the land gate was part was on teh ships which became separated from the main force and turned up at the scene a day too late, to put the icing on the cake. Indeed, the descriptions in the archives of Florence, Venice and Siena at times read like the script of Holy Grail 2: İneği getirin!.

The failed attack meant that Del Monte was relieved of his duties and was excluded from the subsequent attack on Bona (Annaba in modern-day Algeria) which brought the Grand Duke of Tuscany a little bit of the glory he so craved.

In the article I discuss the military aspects of the incident, with detailed maps of the walls and the plans of the attack.

In my next article I will be discussing the identity aspects of period of transition from the Venetian to the Ottoman Cyprus.