A Narrative Of The Piedmontese War
The massacres and murders already mentioned to have been committed in
the valleys of Piedmont, nearly depopulated most of the towns and
villages. One place only had not been assaulted, and that was owing to
the difficulty of approaching it; this was the little commonalty of
Roras, which was situated upon a rock.
As the work of blood grew slack in other places, the earl of Christople,
one of the duke of Sa
oy's officers, determined, if possible, to make
himself master of it; and, with that view, detached three hundred men to
surprise it secretly.
The inhabitants of Roras, however, had intelligence of the approach of
these troops, when captain Joshua Gianavel, a brave protestant officer,
put himself at the head of a small body of the citizens, and waited in
ambush to attack the enemy in a small defile.
When the troops appeared, and had entered the defile, which was the only
place by which the town could be approached, the protestants kept up a
smart and well-directed fire against them, and still kept themselves
concealed behind bushes from the sight of the enemy. A great number of
the soldiers were killed, and the remainder receiving a continued fire,
and not seeing any to whom they might return it, thought proper to
The members of this little community then sent a memorial to the marquis
of Pianessa, one of the duke's general officers, setting forth, "That
they were sorry, upon any occasion, to be under the necessity of taking
up arms; but that the secret approach of a body of troops, without any
reason assigned, or any previous notice sent of the purpose of their
coming, had greatly alarmed them; that as it was their custom never to
suffer any of the military to enter their little community, they had
repelled force by force, and should do so again; but in all other
respects, they professed themselves dutiful, obedient, and loyal
subjects to their sovereign, the duke of Savoy."
The marquis of Pianessa, that he might have the better opportunity of
deluding and surprising the protestants of Roras, sent them word in
answer, "That he was perfectly satisfied with their behaviour, for they
had done right, and even rendered a service to their country, as the men
who had attempted to pass the defile were not his troops, or sent by
him, but a band of desperate robbers, who had, for some time, infested
those parts, and been a terror to the neighbouring country." To give a
greater colour to his treachery, he then published an ambiguous
proclamation seemingly favourable to the inhabitants.
Yet, the very day after this plausible proclamation, and specious
conduct, the marquis sent 500 men to possess themselves of Roras, while
the people, as he thought, were lulled into perfect security by his
Captain Gianavel, however, was not to be deceived so easily: he,
therefore, laid an ambuscade for this body of troops, as he had for the
former, and compelled him to retire with very considerable loss.
Though foiled in these, two attempts, the marquis Pianessa determined on
a third, which should be still more formidable; but first he imprudently
published another proclamation, disowning any knowledge of the second
Soon after, 700 chosen men were sent upon the expedition, who, in spite
of the fire from the protestants, forced the defile, entered Roras, and
began to murder every person they met with, without distinction of age
or sex. The protestant captain Gianavel, at the head of a small body,
though he had lost the defile, determined to dispute their passage
through a fortified pass that led to the richest and best part of the
town. Here he was successful, by keeping up a continual fire, and by
means of his men being all complete marksmen. The Roman catholic
commander was greatly staggered at this opposition, as he imagined that
he had surmounted all difficulties. He, however, did his endeavours to
force the pass, but being able to bring up only twelve men in front at a
time, and the protestants being secured by a breastwork, he found he
should be baffled by the handful of men who opposed him.
Enraged at the loss of so many of his troops, and fearful of disgrace if
he persisted in attempting what appeared so impracticable, he thought it
the wisest thing to retreat. Unwilling, however, to withdraw his men by
the defile at which he had entered, on account of the difficulty and
danger of the enterprise, he determined to retreat towards Villaro, by
another pass called Piampra, which, though hard of access, was easy of
descent. But in this he met with a disappointment, for captain Gianavel
having posted his little band here, greatly annoyed the troops as they
passed, and even pursued their rear till they entered the open country.
The marquis of Pianessa, finding that all his attempts were frustrated,
and that every artifice he used was only an alarm-signal to the
inhabitants of Roras, determined to act openly, and therefore
proclaimed, that ample rewards should be given to any one who would bear
arms against the obstinate heretics of Roras, as he called them; and
that any officer who would exterminate them should be rewarded in a
This engaged captain Mario, a bigoted Roman catholic, and a desperate
ruffian, to undertake the enterprise. He, therefore, obtained leave to
raise a regiment in the following six towns: Lucerne, Borges, Famolas,
Bobbio, Begnal, and Cavos.
Having completed his regiment, which consisted of 1000 men, he laid his
plan not to go by the defiles or the passes, but to attempt gaining the
summit of a rock, from whence he imagined he could pour his troops into
the town without much difficulty or opposition.
The protestants suffered the Roman catholic troops to gain almost the
summit of the rock, without giving them any opposition, or ever
appearing in their sight: but when they had almost reached the top they
made a most furious attack upon them; one party keeping up a
well-directed and constant fire, and another party rolling down huge
This stopped the career of the papist troops: many were killed by the
musketry, and more by the stones, which beat them down the precipices.
Several fell sacrifices to their hurry, for by attempting a precipitate
retreat, they fell down, and were dashed to pieces; and captain Mario
himself narrowly escaped with his life, for he fell from a craggy place
into a river which washed the foot of the rock. He was taken up
senseless, but afterwards recovered, though he was ill of the bruises
for a long time; and, at length, he fell into a decline at Lucerne,
where he died.
Another body of troops was ordered from the camp at Villaro, to make an
attempt upon Roras; but these were likewise defeated, by means of the
protestants' ambush-fighting, and compelled to retreat again to the camp
After each of these signal victories, captain Gianavel made a suitable
discourse to his men, causing them to kneel down, and return thanks to
the Almighty for his providential protection; and usually concluded with
the eleventh psalm, where the subject is placing confidence in God.
The marquis of Pianessa was greatly enraged at being so much baffled by
the few inhabitants of Roras: he, therefore, determined to attempt their
expulsion in such a manner as could hardly fail of success.
With this view he ordered all the Roman catholic militia of Piedmont to
be raised and disciplined. When these orders were completed, he joined
to the militia eight thousand regular troops, and dividing the whole
into three distinct bodies, he designed that three formidable attacks
should be made at the same time, unless the people of Roras, to whom he
sent an account of his great preparations, would comply with the
1. To ask pardon for taking up arms. 2. To pay the expenses of all the
expeditions sent against them. 3. To acknowledge the infallibility of
the pope. 4. To go to mass. 5. To pray to the saints. 6. To wear beards.
7. To deliver up their ministers. 8. To deliver up their schoolmasters.
9. To go to confession. 10. To pay loans for the delivery of souls from
purgatory. 11. To give up captain Gianavel at discretion. 12. To give up
the elders of their church at discretion.
The inhabitants of Roras, on being acquainted with these conditions,
were filled with an honest indignation, and, in answer, sent word to the
marquis, that sooner than comply with them they would suffer three
things, which, of all others, were the most obnoxious to mankind, viz.
1. Their estates to be seized. 2. Their houses to be burnt. 3.
Themselves to be murdered.
Exasperated at this message, the marquis sent them this laconic epistle.
To the obstinate Heretics inhabiting Roras.
You shall have your request, for the troops sent
against you have strict injunctions to plunder,
burn, and kill.
The three armies were then put in motion, and the attacks ordered to be
made thus: the first by the rocks of Villaro; the second by the pass of
Bagnol; and the third by the defile of Lucerne.
The troops forced their way by the superiority of numbers, and having
gained the rocks, pass, and defile, began to make the most horrid
depredations, and exercise the greatest cruelties. Men they hanged,
burnt, racked to death, or cut to pieces; women they ripped open,
crucified, drowned, or threw from the precipices; and children they
tossed upon spears, minced, cut their throats, or dashed out their
brains. One hundred and twenty-six suffered in this manner, on the first
day of their gaining the town.
Agreeable to the marquis of Pianessa's orders, they likewise plundered
the estates, and burnt the houses of the people. Several protestants,
however, made their escape, under the conduct of Captain Gianavel, whose
wife and children were unfortunately made prisoners, and sent under a
strong guard to Turin.
The marquis of Pianessa wrote a letter to captain Gianavel, and released
a protestant prisoner that he might carry it him. The contents were,
that if the captain would embrace the Roman catholic religion, he should
be indemnified for all his losses since the commencement of the war; his
wife and children should be immediately released, and himself honourably
promoted in the duke of Savoy's army; but if he refused to accede to the
proposals made him, his wife and children should be to put to death; and
so large a reward should be given to take him, dead or alive, that even
some of his own confidential friends should be tempted to betray him,
from the greatness of the sum.
To this epistle, the brave Gianavel sent the following answer.
My Lord Marquis,
There is no torment so great or death so cruel, but
what I would prefer to the abjuration of my
religion: so that promises lose their effects, and
menaces only strengthen me in my faith.
With respect to my wife and children, my lord,
nothing can be more afflicting to me than the
thoughts of their confinement, or more dreadful to
my imagination, than their suffering a violent and
cruel death. I keenly feel all the tender
sensations of husband and parent; my heart is
replete with every sentiment of humanity; I would
suffer any torment to rescue them from danger; I
would die to preserve them.
But having said thus much, my lord, I assure you
that the purchase of their lives must not be the
price of my salvation. You have them in your power
it is true; but my consolation is, that your power
is only a temporary authority over their bodies:
you may destroy the mortal part, but their immortal
souls are out of your reach, and will live
hereafter to bear testimony against you for your
cruelties. I therefore recommend them and myself to
God, and pray for a reformation in your heart.
This brave protestant officer, after writing the above letter, retired
to the Alps, with his followers; and being joined by a great number of
other fugitive protestants, he harassed the enemy by continual
Meeting one day with a body of papist troops near Bibiana, he, though
inferior in numbers, attacked them with great fury, and put them to the
rout without the loss of a man, though himself was shot through the leg
in the engagement, by a soldier who had hid himself behind a tree; but
Gianavel perceiving from whence the shot came, pointed his gun to the
place, and despatched the person who had wounded him.
Captain Gianavel hearing that a captain Jahier had collected together a
considerable body of protestants, wrote him a letter, proposing a
junction of their forces. Captain Jahier immediately agreed to the
proposal, and marched directly to meet Gianavel.
The junction being formed, it was proposed to attack a town, (inhabited
by Roman catholics) called Garcigliana. The assault was given with great
spirit, but a reinforcement of horse and foot having lately entered the
town, which the protestants knew nothing of, they were repulsed; yet
made a masterly retreat, and only lost one man in the action.
The next attempt of the protestant forces was upon St. Secondo, which
they attacked with great vigour, but met with a strong resistance from
the Roman catholic troops, who had fortified the streets, and planted
themselves in the houses, from whence they poured musket balls in
prodigious numbers. The protestants, however, advanced, under cover of a
great number of planks, which some held over their heads, to secure them
from the shots of the enemy from the houses, while others kept up a well
directed fire; so that the houses and entrenchments were soon forced,
and the town taken.
In the town they found a prodigious quantity of plunder, which had been
taken from protestants at various times, and different places, and which
were stored up in the warehouses, churches, dwelling houses, &c. This
they removed to a place of safety, to be distributed, with as much
justice as possible, among the sufferers.
This successful attack was made with such skill and spirit, that it cost
very little to the conquering party, the protestants having only 17
killed, and 26 wounded; while the papists suffered a loss of no less
than 450 killed and 511 wounded.
Five protestant officers, viz. Gianavel, Jahier, Laurentio, Genolet, and
Benet, laid a plan to surprise Biqueras. To this end they marched in
five respective bodies, and by agreement were to make the attack at the
same time. The captains Jahier and Laurentio passed through two defiles
in the woods, and came to the place in safety, under covert; but the
other three bodies made their approaches through an open country, and,
consequently, were more exposed to an attack.
The Roman catholics taking the alarm, a great number of troops were sent
to relieve Biqueras from Cavors, Bibiana, Fenile, Campiglione, and some
other neighbouring places. When these were united, they determined to
attack the three protestant parties, that were marching through the open
The protestant officers perceiving the intent of the enemy, and not
being at a great distance from each other, joined their forces with the
utmost expedition, and formed themselves in order of battle.
In the mean time, the captains Jahier and Laurentio had assaulted the
town of Biqueras, and burnt all the out houses, to make their approaches
with the greater ease; but not being supported as they expected by the
other three protestant captains, they sent a messenger, on a swift
horse, towards the open country, to inquire the reason.
The messenger soon returned and informed them that it was not in the
power of the three protestant captains to support their proceedings, as
they were themselves attacked by a very superior force in the plain, and
could scarce sustain the unequal conflict.
The captains Jahier and Laurentio, on receiving this intelligence,
determined to discontinue the assault on Biqueras, and to proceed, with
all possible expedition, to the relief of their friends on the plain.
This design proved to be of the most essential service, for just as they
arrived at the spot where the two armies were engaged, the papist troops
began to prevail, and were on the point of flanking the left wing,
commanded by captain Gianavel. The arrival of these troops turned the
scale in favour of the protestants; and the papist forces, though they
fought with the most obstinate intrepidity, were totally defeated. A
great number were killed and wounded on both sides, and the baggage,
military stores, &c. taken by the protestants were very considerable.
Captain Gianavel, having information that three hundred of the enemy
were to convoy a great quantity of stores, provisions, &c. from La Torre
to the castle of Mirabac, determined to attack them on the way. He,
accordingly, began the assault at Malbec, though with a very inadequate
force. The contest was long and bloody, but the protestants, at length,
were obliged to yield to the superiority of numbers, and compelled to
make a retreat, which they did with great regularity, and but little
Captain Gianavel advanced to an advantageous post, situated near the
town of Villaro, and then sent the following information and commands to
1. That he should attack the town in twenty-four hours.
2. That with respect to the Roman catholics who had borne arms, whether
they belonged to the army or not, he should act by the law of
retaliation, and put them to death, for the numerous depredations, and
many cruel murders, they had committed.
3. That all women and children, whatever their religion might be, should
4. That he commanded all male protestants to leave the town and join
5. That all apostates, who had, through weakness, abjured their
religion, should be deemed enemies, unless they renounced their
6. That all who returned to their duty to God, and themselves, should be
received as friends.
The protestants, in general, immediately left the town, and joined
captain Gianavel with great satisfaction, and the few, who through
weakness or fear, had abjured their faith, recanted their abjuration,
and were received into the bosom of the church. As the marquis of
Pianessa had removed the army, and encamped in quite a different part of
the country, the Roman catholics of Villaro thought it would be folly to
attempt to defend the place with the small force they had. They,
therefore, fled with the utmost precipitation, leaving the town and most
of their property, to the discretion of the protestants.
The protestant commanders having called a council of war, resolved to
make an attempt upon the town of La Torre.
The papists being apprized of the design, detached some troops to defend
a defile, through which the protestants must make their approach; but
these were defeated, compelled to abandon the pass, and forced to
retreat to La Torre.
The protestants proceeded on their march, and the troops of La Torre, on
their approach, made a furious sally, were repulsed with great loss, and
compelled to seek shelter in the town. The governor now only thought of
defending the place, which the protestants began to attack in form; but
after many brave attempts, and furious assaults, the commanders
determined to abandon the enterprise for several reasons, particularly,
because they found the place itself too strong, their own number too
weak, and their cannon not adequate to the task of battering down the
This resolution taken, the protestant commanders began a masterly
retreat, and conducted it with such regularity, that the enemy did not
choose to pursue them, or molest their rear, which they might have done,
as they passed the defiles.
The next day they mustered, reviewed the army, and found the whole to
amount to four hundred and ninety-five men. They then held a council of
war, and planned an easier enterprise: this was to make an attack on the
commonalty of Crusol, a place, inhabited by a number of the most bigoted
Roman catholics, and who had exercised, during the persecutions, the
most unheard-of cruelties on the protestants.
The people of Crusol, hearing of the design against them, fled to a
neighbouring fortress, situated on a rock, where the protestants could
not come to them, for a very few men could render it inaccessible to a
numerous army. Thus they secured their persons, but were in too much
hurry to secure their property, the principal part of which, indeed, had
been plundered from the protestants, and now luckily fell again to the
possession of the right owners. It consisted of many rich and valuable
articles, and what, at that time, was of much more consequence, viz. a
great quantity of military stores.
The day after the protestants were gone with their booty, eight hundred
troops arrived to the assistance of the people of Crusol, having been
despatched from Lucerne, Biqueras, Cavors, &c. But finding themselves
too late, and that pursuit would be vain, not to return empty handed,
they began to plunder the neighbouring villages, though what they took
was from their friends. After collecting a tolerable booty, they began
to divide it, but disagreeing about the different shares, they fell from
words to blows, did a great deal of mischief, and then plundered each
On the very same day in which the protestants were so successful at
Crusol, some papists marched with a design to plunder and burn the
little protestant village of Rocappiatta, but by the way they met with
the protestant forces belonging to the captains Jahier and Laurentio,
who were posted on the hill of Angrognia. A trivial engagement ensued,
for the Roman catholics, on the very first attack, retreated in great
confusion, and were pursued with much slaughter. After the pursuit was
over, some straggling papist troops meeting with a poor peasant, who was
a protestant, tied a cord round his head, and strained it till his skull
was quite crushed.
Captain Gianavel and captain Jahier concerted a design together to make
an attack upon Lucerne; but captain Jahier not bringing up his forces at
the time appointed, captain Gianavel determined to attempt the
He, therefore, by a forced march, proceeded towards that place during
the whole night, and was close to it by break of day. His first care was
to cut the pipes that conveyed water into the town, and then to break
down the bridge, by which alone provisions from the country could enter.
He then assaulted the places and speedily possessed himself of two of
the out posts; but finding he could not make himself master of the
place, he prudently retreated with very little loss, blaming, however
captain Jahier, for the failure of the enterprise.
The papists being informed that captain Gianavel was at Angrognia with
only his own company, determined if possible to surprise him. With this
view, a great number of troops were detached from La Torre and other
places: one party of these got on top of a mountain, beneath which he
was posted; and the other party intended to possess themselves of the
gate of St. Bartholomew.
The papists thought themselves sure of taking captain Gianavel and every
one of his men, as they consisted but of three hundred, and their own
force was two thousand five hundred. Their design, however, was
providentially frustrated, for one of the popish soldiers imprudently
blowing a trumpet before the signal for attack was given, captain
Gianavel took the alarm, and posted his little company so advantageously
at the gate of St. Bartholomew, and at the defile by which the enemy
must descend from the mountains, that the Roman catholic troops failed
in both attacks, and were repulsed with very considerable loss.
Soon after, captain Jahier came to Angrognia, and joined his forces to
those of captain Gianavel, giving sufficient reasons to excuse his
before-mentioned failure. Captain Jahier now made several secret
excursions with great success, always selecting the most active troops,
belonging both to Gianavel and himself. One day he had put himself at
the head of forty-four men, to proceed upon an expedition, when entering
a plain near Ossac, he was suddenly surrounded by a large body of horse.
Captain Jahier and his men fought desperately, though oppressed by odds,
and killed the commander-in-chief, three captains, and fifty-seven
private men, of the enemy. But captain Jahier himself being killed, with
thirty-five of his men, the rest surrendered. One of the soldiers cut
off captain Jahier's head, and carrying it to Turin, presented it to the
duke of Savoy, who rewarded him with six hundred ducatoons.
The death of this gentleman was a signal loss to the protestants, as he
was a real friend to, and companion of, the reformed church. He
possessed a most undaunted spirit, so that no difficulties could deter
him from undertaking an enterprise, or dangers terrify him in its
execution. He was pious without affectation, and humane without
weakness; bold in a field, meek in a domestic life, of a penetrating
genius, active in spirit, and resolute in all his undertakings.
To add to the affliction of the protestants, captain Gianavel was, soon
after, wounded in such a manner that he was obliged to keep his bed.
They, however, took new courage from misfortunes, and determining not to
let their spirits droop, attacked a body of popish troops with great
intrepidity; the protestants were much inferior in numbers, but fought
with more resolution than the papists, and at length routed them with
considerable slaughter. During the action, a sergeant named Michael
Bertino was killed; when his son, who was close behind him, leaped into
his place, and said, I have lost my father; but courage, fellow
soldiers, God is a father to us all.
Several skirmishes likewise happened between the troops of La Torre and
Tagliaretto, and the protestant forces, which in general terminated in
favour of the latter.
A Protestant gentleman, named Andrion, raised a regiment of horse, and
took the command of it himself. The sieur John Leger persuaded a great
number of protestants to form themselves into volunteer companies; and
an excellent officer, named Michelin, instituted several bands of light
troops. These being all joined to the remains of the veteran protestant
troops, (for great numbers had been lost in the various battles,
skirmishes, sieges, &c.) composed a respectable army, which the officers
thought proper to encamp near St. Giovanni.
The Roman catholic commanders, alarmed at the formidable appearance, and
increased strength of the protestant forces, determined, if possible, to
dislodge them from their encampment. With this view, they collected
together a large force, consisting of the principal part of the
garrisons of the Roman catholic towns, the draft from the Irish
brigades, a great number of regulars sent by the marquis of Pianessa,
the auxiliary troops, and the independent companies.
These, having formed a junction, encamped near the protestants, and
spent several days in calling councils of war, and disputing on the most
proper mode of proceeding. Some were for plundering the country, in
order to draw the protestants from their camp; others were for patiently
waiting till they were attacked; and a third party were for assaulting
the protestant camp, and trying to make themselves masters of every
thing in it.
The last of them prevailed, and the morning after the resolution had
been taken was appointed to put it into execution. The Roman catholic
troops were accordingly separated into four divisions, three of which
were to make an attack in different places; and the fourth to remain as
a body of reserve to act as occasion might require.
One of the Roman catholic officers, previous to the attack, thus
harangued his men:
"Fellow-soldiers, you are now going to enter upon a great action, which
will bring you fame and riches. The motives of your acting with spirit
are likewise of the most important nature; namely, the honour of showing
your loyalty to your sovereign, the pleasure of spilling heretic blood,
and the prospect of plundering the protestant camp. So, my brave
fellows, fall on, give no quarter, kill all you meet, and take all you
After this inhuman speech the engagement began, and the protestant camp
was attacked in three places with inconceivable fury. The fight was
maintained with great obstinacy and perseverance on both sides,
continuing without intermission for the space of four hours; for the
several companies on both sides relieved each other alternately, and by
that means kept up a continual fire during the whole action.
During the engagement of the main armies, a detachment was sent from the
body of reserve to attack the post of Castelas, which, if the papists
had carried, it would have given them the command of the valleys of
Perosa, St. Martino, and Lucerne; but they were repulsed with great
loss, and compelled to return to the body of reserve, from whence they
had been detached.
Soon after the return of this detachment, the Roman catholic troops,
being hard pressed in the main battle, sent for the body of reserve to
come to their support. These immediately marched to their assistance,
and for some time longer held the event doubtful, but at length the
valour of the protestants prevailed, and the papists were totally
defeated, with the loss of upwards of three hundred men killed, and many
When the cyndic of Lucerne, who was indeed a papist, but not a bigoted
one, saw the great number of wounded men brought into that city, he
exclaimed, ah! I thought the wolves used to devour the heretics, but now
I see the heretics eat the wolves. This expression being reported to M.
Marolles, the Roman catholic commander in chief at Lucerne, he sent a
very severe and threatening letter to the cyndic, who was so terrified,
that the fright threw him into a fever, and he died in a few days.
This great battle was fought just before the harvest was got in, when
the papists, exasperated at their disgrace, and resolved on any kind of
revenge, spread themselves by night in detached parties over the finest
corn-fields of the protestants, and set them on fire in sundry places.
Some of these straggling parties, however, suffered for their conduct;
for the protestants, being alarmed in the night by the blazing of the
fire among the corn, pursued the fugitives early in the morning, and
overtaking many, put them to death. The protestant captain Bellin,
likewise, by way of retaliation, went with a body of light troops, and
burnt the suburbs of La Torre, making his retreat afterward with very
A few days after, captain Bellin, with a much stronger body of troops,
attacked the town of La Torre itself, and making a breach in the wall of
the convent, his men entered, driving the garrison into the citadel, and
burning both town and convent. After having effected this, they made a
regular retreat, as they could not reduce the citadel for want of