1705 – Siege of Mirandola
The place was blockaded since 27 July 1704. The actual siege started on 18 April and lasted until 11 May 1705.
In 1704, shortly after laying siege to Verrua and after the capture of Revere, the French army began from afar a blockade of supplies bound for Mirandola, although there were several incursions by Imperialist soldiers into the neighbouring countries.
From July 27, 1704, the French opened for five days against Mirandola "with a storm of bombs", but with little success damaging several houses and churches and inflicting few losses (1 men killed and some wounded). The French then decided to maintain the blockade from a distance for the entire coming winter.
In January 1705, the French General Langallerie tried to deceive the Imperialist garrison of Mirandola. He sent a fake letter from General Heinrich von Leiningen, informing the commander of Mirandola that, because of the Kuruc Uprising in Hungary, it would not be possible to send him any relief and that therefore he had to surrender to the French. Commander Königsegg, however, suspected the veracity of the letter, as it was contrary to previous orders, and nevertheless decided to respond cautiously, but did not capitulate. Soon after, the French sent a second fake letter, but this time the fake seal was discovered: at this point Königsegg cut off the nose and ears of the messenger, who was sent back to the French to tell them to stop these frauds.
In mid-April 1705, after the capitulation of Verrua in Piedmont after a long siege, the Duc de Vendôme sent his troops in winter-quarters and went to Casale. Meanwhile, the army commanded by the Grand Prieur de Vendôme in Lombardy comprised 32 bns and 53 sqns. It held the two banks of the Po, on one side up to the Panaro River where it blockaded Mirandola; on the other side, it occupied Mantua where the Grand Prieur had established his headquarters.
Mirandola was a small stronghold with ramparts. The fortress had seven bastions surrounded by a wet moat and protected by a citadel and a detached fort (La Rocca aka La Motta).
It was defended by a garrison of approx. 1,000 men under the command of General Count Dominik von Königsegg-Rothenfels.
The imposing tower-keep of the Pico Castle was at the time still considered as impregnable (it would be destroyed in 1714).
Description of Events
In the spring of 1705, the French generals were informed that Prince Eugène de Savoie was going to return to Italy with an army of 20,000 soldiers. They decided to besiege the Fortress Mirandola, which was defended by only 1,000 men. This place allowed the Imperialists to have a foothold in the lower Mantuan behind the Secchia.
On 13 April, the Grand Prieur embarked at Mantua the artillery (28 cannon and 5 mortars) destined to the siege of Mirandola. It was transported on the Mincio, the Po, and the Secchia to Concordia. He also sent 9 bns and 4 sqns under Lieutenant-General Louis Lapara de Fieux, one of the most experienced French military engineers, to lay siege to Mirandola.
On 17 April, part of the Franco-Spanish artillery transported from Mantua arrived at the camp near Mirandola.
On April 18, Lapara arrived in front of La Mirandola with 3,000 men (5,000 men according to other sources) and found that the place was not invested, so he decided to isolate the Fort La Motta, which was quite far from the Castle of Pico.
On the night of 19 to 20 April, M. de Lapara opened the trench in front of Mirandola with 1,000 workers protected by 2 bns and 2 grenadier coys under M. d’Esclainvilliers. Some 700 m of trenches were made and the attack came to 45 m of the angles of the covert way. The defenders did not fire a single shot. M. de Lapara reconnoitred Fort La Motta and realised that it was too distant from the city. He sent 2 grenadier coys to cut its communication with Mirandola and established two 12-pdrs in front of the fort.
On 20 April at daybreak, the two French pieces opened on Fort La Motta. Seeing communications with the fortress cut off, the garrison of the fort (82 men) rushed to evacuate it. The fleeing garrison fell into an ambush prepared by the 2 grenadier coys and 50 men were killed or captured, the rest managed to reach the Fortress of Mirandola.
At this point, Lapara had only 9 bns and 4 sqns at his disposal. For the siege he had 23 guns, 800 pickaxes, 1,600 shovels... The artillery pieces were supplied with 500 rounds each.
On the same day (April 20), Lapara requisitioned 600 farmers, paying them with a loaf of bread a day (with the alternative of "several blows to the reluctants"). From then on, the defenders of Mirandola kept up a lively fire.
The attack planned by Lapara was simple and ingenious, he directed his attack on a front extending from the Bastion of the Servittes, by way of the Bastion of Bonaga up to the Bastion of St. Louis, where the walls had no more than 1 m above the level of the moat. However, his plan could not serve as a model: a road, flanked by artillery pieces, led to a point located 100 toises (194.9 m) from the centre of the front, where there was a fork in two semi-parallels, embracing the covert way, reaching in some places within 60 toises (116.94 m) from the defensive works. These preparatory works were carried out over four nights.
On 22 April, mortar batteries opened on Mirandola.
On the night of 23 to 24 April, the French made a lodgement on the angle to the right of the covert way.
On 24 April, cannon batteries opened on Mirandola. However, a heavy rain, which last since three days, filled the trenches and work was interrupted.
On 25 April, the Grand Prieur de Vendôme arrived at Lapara’s camp in front of Mirandola to observe the progress of the siege.
On 26 April, the Grand Prieur de Vendôme, informed that Prince Eugène was at Rovereto, returned to Mantua. M. de Lapara sent the 2 cavalry rgts that were part of his siege corps to reinforce Châteaumorant, who was posted on the right bank of the Po in the region of Ferrara.
On 27 April, weather improving, M. de Lapara was able to resume the siege of Mirandola. Trenches were emptied, siege works repaired and artillery pieces placed in batteries.
By 29 April, M. de Lapara had 18 artillery pieces ready to open on Mirandola. And three galleries were made to get closer to the moat.
On the night of 3 to 4 May, the fifteenth day of the siege, engineer Lapara directed the 4 artillery pieces placed in the covered trench, to fire on the embankment of the wet moat. The three galleries now reached beyond the palisade of the covert way.
On 4 May, M. de Lapara completed the galleries leading to the moat of Mirandola.
On 5 May, 8 artillery pieces opened from the lodgement on the covert way of Mirandola.
On 6 May, M. de Lapara started to fill the moat in front of his attack on Mirandola. His batteries set fire to the batteries of the defenders and caused damage to the walls. The same day, Lieutenant de La Riviera was sent from Mantua to bring additional guns to Lapara's siege corps.
On May 9, the Convent of San Francisco was badly damaged by the bombing.
On May 10 the French managed to open a wide breach in the city walls. The moat was now almost completely filled.
On May 11, Mirandola capitulated to M. de Lapara, its garrison (930 men, including officers) surrendering as prisoners of war. The French also captured 11 colours, which were sent to the king, as well as 40 cannon and 2 mortars.
General Königsegg was imprisoned in Modena, which was conquered by the French on 13 May.
Mirandola would remain under French rule until 1708, when it was retro-ceded to the Empire.
The siege was very significant for the history of the Duchy of Mirandola, since the sixteen-year-old Duke Francesco Maria II Pico decided to side with the French, initially winners, and for this choice he was accused of felony by the emperor to whom he owed obedience.
Soon after, Emperor Joseph I sold the Mirandola for 175,000 doubles (equivalent to one ton of gold) to the Duke of Modena Rinaldo dEste. From this moment the city of Mirandola, stripped of all its riches, began its long decline. A few years later, in 1714, lightning struck the powder keg of the Great Tower of Homage of the Castle of Pico, causing the destruction of most of the buildings in the city.
French: 9 bns and 4 sqns under Lieutenant-General Louis Lapara de Fieux (between 3,000 and 5,000 men)
Imperials: 1,000 men under Königsegg
Pelet and François Eugène de Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 4 and 5
Kripkit – Sitio de Mirandola (1705)
Wikipedia – Italian Edition – Assedio della Mirandola (1705)
Dinos Antoniadis for the research and the initial version of this article