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

specious behaviour.

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

princely manner.

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

at Villaro.

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

following conditions:

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

the inhabitants.

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

be safe.

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

enterprise himself.

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

come near."

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

more wounded.

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

little loss.

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