The Battle of Capua and the First Italian Campaign of Louis the Great

  By Raider, 1 January 2007; Revised 1 January 2007
  Category: Hungarian History
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Hungary under the Anjous

After a long struggle, Charles I  (ruled 1311-1342) finally defeated the oligarchs and restored royal authority over the kingdom. Under the rule of Louis I the Great (1342-82), Hungary became more rich and powerful than ever before.

The power of the Arpads was still based on the vast royal estates. Under the Angevins, the royal family was restored as the greatest land owning family of the realm (they had one-third of all lands), but the Angevin power rather based on the possession of castles. In the 14th century, Hungary had ca. 300 castles and 160-170 of them were in the property of the king. Charles I introduced direct taxation and reformed the royal mining monopoly. At that time Hungary had rich gold, silver and salt mines.

The Anjous introduced the so-called honor (=office; in old Hungarian becsü) system. Instead of large donations the faithful servants of the king were given an office. Powerful officials of the kingdom, like the count palatine, were appointed count (lat. comes, hung. ispán) to several counties. They became the keepers of royal property (including castles) in their counties and the representatives of the king. The barons administered these possessions by their own men (familires, roughly: vassals). Honor ensured real power. While most of the aristocrats had only 2 or 3 castles (even the exceptionally powerful Lackfi family had only 7 castles), the possessions of a greater honor ensured power over 10 or 20 castles. These offices were not given for eternity. The king could deprive the baron of his honor any time. The most powerful honors often rotated among the members of aristocracy.

The Hungarian military organization was based on the honor system. Every baron, the holders of the great honors, led a banderium (Eng. banner). The banderium was composed of the baronical retinue, the armed noblemen of the baron’s counties, and some peasants from the royal estates who served as light infantry. The banderia ensured a numerous, but mostly inexperienced, army. Noblemen were obligated to serve 3 months in defense of the country and 40 days for foreign campaign. On the other hand, the king was powerful enough to neglect this rule if he wished.

Besides the banderia, the king could directly raise an army by paying dispositio (salary) to every noblemen who joined him. The king also hired mercenaries for his campaigns. The privileged group of Cumans and Seklers also served the king.

The armies of Louis the Great consisted mostly of cavalry. There were infantries, but their roles were insignificant.  Only the mercenary heavy infantry is notable and used mainly in sieges. The bulk of the banderium cavalry was a medium cavalry. It was much heavier than before, but still didn’t reach the Western standards. Members of the royal and baronical  retinues and the freelancers also had full knightly armour. To further increase the number of heavily armed horsemen, the king usually hired mercenaries. Cumans and Seklers continued to fight as steppe style horse archers with light chainmails and small shields.


Charles d’Anjou was the younger brother of Louis IX of France and the founder of the 2nd (or in other opinions, the 3rd) Anjou dynasty. He became the king of Sicily in 1262. The Kingdom of Sicily consisted of Southern Italy and the island of Sicily itself. In 1282, Charles d’Anjou lost Sicily,  but he preserved Southern Italy. From that time, there were two Kingdoms of Sicily and historians often named it Kingdom of Naples – Naples was the capital- the one ruled by the Angevins.

Charles II the Lame was the son of Charles d’Anjou and married Mary of Hungary. They had fourteen children. Their first son Charles Martel died before Charles II and left a son, Charles Robert. Their second son, St. Louis of Toulouse, also died before his father. The third son of Charles II was Robert the Wise. Based on the rule of primogeniture, the heir of Charles II was Charles Robert. When Charles II died, Charles Robert (Charles I of Hungary) was in Hungary struggling with the oligarchs, and as his uncle used his absence,  the eldest surviving son usurped the throne.

Charles Robert (Charles I of Hungary) never gave up his right to the throne of Naples and, finally, by papal mediation, he signed a treaty with Robert. He recognized Robert as the king of Naples, and his second son, Andrew, married Joanna, granddaughter and only heir of Robert. According to the treaty Andrew, became the duke of Calabria and, together with his wife, the heir of the throne.

Robert, on his deathbed (1343), changed his last will and appointed Joanna as the sole heir of his kingdom. In order to force the coronation of Andrew, his mother, the dowager queen of Hungary, traveled to Italy. She spent 27 000 mark (6630 kg) silver, 21 000 mark (5156 kg) gold and a half of a coach gold coin (~600 kg) to ensure Andrew’s coronation. A Hungarian chronicle mentions an additional 44 000 mark (10 780 kg) silver as a bribe to the pope. Finally, the pope ordered the coronation of Andrew in 1345.

The conspiracy of those who opposed Andrew’s future rule finally murdered Andrew. Andrew had a talisman protecting him from blade and poison, so they strangled him with a cord. It is highly probable that his wife Joanna was also part of the conspiracy.

Since diplomatic solutions failed, Louis I, the brother of Andrew, lauched a campaign against Joanna to avenge his brother and seize the throne of Sicily and of Jerusalem. (The kings of Naples were also the titular kings of Jerusalem.)

Louis’s first Italian campaign and the Battle of Capua

Louis carefully prepared his campaign. Since Hungarian - Venetian relations were hostile, he had to choose the land trip from Hungary to Naples. In order to avoid conflict with the powers of Northern Italy, he left Hungary with a small army and recruited mercenaries in Italy. When he reached the border of Joanna’s kingdom, he had 2000 Hungarian knights, 2000 mercenary heavy cavalry, 2000 Cuman horse archers and 6000 mercenary heavy infantry. He successfully avoided conflict in Northern Italy, and his army was well-paid and disciplined. The king forbade plundering, and all supplies were bought from locals and paid for with gold.

The army of Naples, 2700 knights and 5000 infantrymen,  was led by Louis of Taranto (the new husband of Joanna, an Anjou himself) who fortified his position near Capua. Louis ordered count Niccolo Gaetanto (2500 cavalry and 1000 infantry) to keep Louis of Taranto busy while he captured the unprotected Benevento and Naples. Count Gaetano not just kept the Napolitans busy, but managed to flank them. He followed the traditional Hungarian tactics. First Cuman horse archers attacked to cause disarray and to kill the horses of the enemy. In the second wave, Hungarian heavy cavalry crushed the disturbed enemy. Louis of Taranto was defeated within two hours and Louis occupied the kingdom of Naples unopposed.

Many of the conspirators escaped, but king Louis would capture Charles of Durazzo and ordered his execution. Unfortunatelly, it seems he was innocent and Louis became very unpopular in Italy. King Louis also did not trust the locals who originally supported Andrew’s cause, and, because of his behaviour, they became hostile. Finally, the Black Death reached Naples and Louis left the city leaving only a small garrison under István Lackfi, the count palatine. He returned to Hungary with glory as the new king of Naples and Jerusalem.

(His new title was: Ludovicus, Dei gratia Hungariae, Jerusalem, Siciliae, Dalmatiae, Croatiae, Ramae, Serviae, Lodomeriae, Galiciae, Cumaniae, Bulgariaeque Rex, Princeps Salernitanus et honoris montis sa

Louis the Great, by Jan Matejko
Louis the Great, by Jan Matejko
ncti Angeli dominus)


Some time later, Louis of Taranto returned from France with a new army and Lackfi, with the Hungarian garrisons, had to retreat from the city of Naples. King Louis immediately launched a second campaign and soon arrived with the reinforcement, this time across the Ardriatic Sea. This campaign was more difficult than the first, but the Hungarians won again. (Even the king was twice seriously wounded). He was an Alexander type leader. He led assaults personally and climbed city walls together with his soldiers. His barons once warned him that this behaviour was not worthy for a king.)

After all these victories, he realised that Hungary was unable to permanently hold Naples because supply depended on Venice and the local population was hostile, too. Additionally, the pope was against him, and a Hungarian-Neapolitan union would have harmed papal interest. Finally, he resigned as king of Naples, but remaind the prince of Salerno and the lord of Monte Sant’ Angelo (princeps Sallernitanus, et honoris ac montis sancti Angeli dominus). Joanna returned to the throne.

The Naples-Hungary dispute finally settled in 1281, one year before Louis’ death. The pope stripped the royal title from Joanna and authorized king Louis to execute his decision. He was too old and ill to go personally, but his nephew (Charles of Durazzo) aided with Hungarian gold, and the men seized the throne and killed Joanna.

When Louis the Great died he was one of the most powerful kings in Europe. Under his rule, the prestige of the Hungarian kingdom reached its peak.