The “Great Captain” Gonsalvo de Cordoba: an unmatched leader

April 11, 2013

Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba

The real laurels of victory [in the Italian Wars] belong indeed to Gonsalvo de Cordoba; for, though the French army could boast heroes of chivalry, such as Bayard the “knight without fear or stain,” and generals of skill and courage, such as D’Aubigny, it had no soldier who could in any way approach the genius of the “Great Captain.” Gonsalvo had been bred in a school of war, which gave individual talent full scope, and like his elder brother, Alonso de Aguilar, he had been early singled out by Isabel for praise and advancement.

Broze statue of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba (1453–1515). Detail of the Monument to Isabella of Castile, the Catholic, at Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid, by Manuel Oms y Canet.

Bronze statue of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba (1453–1515). Detail of the Monument to Isabella of Castile, the Catholic, at Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid, by Manuel Oms y Canet.

To the light-hearted chivalry of the courtier, he united the prudence and foresight of a practiced statesman, and the patience and equitable temperament of the born ruler of men. In the fire before Granada which destroyed the Queen’s tent, he had been prompt to put at her disposal his wife’s wardrobe; an act of courtesy that caused Isabel to remark she was afraid he and his family had suffered more loss than herself. This and similar deeds of courtesy made him a pattern of manners in his own day, but like the English Sir Walter Raleigh he was no mere carpet-knight in search of royal favor. He was devoid of personal fear, yet, when large issues depended on his orders, he never let his courage degenerate into recklessness, after the manner of the average Castilian commander, and perhaps his greatest military gift was his power of judging whether the occasion required caution or a daring onslaught. Never was a leader more intrepid in attack, more cool in the hour of retreat, or less easily drawn from a good position by feint or scoff.

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Ierne L. Plunket, Isabel of Castile and the Making of the Spanish Nation: 1451-1504 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 368-69.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 272

 

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