A story of adventure, courage and rebelliousness.
Italian kingdoms 1499 (by kayac CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
There is not much information about Bona Lombardi’s early life. She seems to have been the daughter of a soldier of fortune, Gabrio Lombardi, and a merchant’s daughter. Orphaned at a very young age, she was raised by her paternal uncles. She had modest origins but was very beautiful and had a strong character. She grew up here in Valtellina, which was, at the time, the territory of the Duchy of Milan under Filippo Maria Visconti.
The House of Visconti is one of the oldest and most illustrious Italian noble families, attested since the end of the 10th century in the territory of northern Italy, where the Visconti Duchy with Milan as capital was enfeoffed. The Visconti were lords of Milan from 1277 to 1395, the year in which the Holy Roman Emperor Wenceslas of Luxembourg bestowed the title of Duke of Milan and imperial vicar on Gian Galeazzo Visconti. However, on the death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1402), his very young son Giovanni Maria could not maintain his father’s achievements, and the duchy rapidly disintegrated.
In 1412 Giovanni Maria was assassinated in Milan by conspirators terrorised by his frequent homicidal manias. He was succeeded to the throne by his younger brother Filippo Maria, who, after regaining control of most of the duchy, resumed the expansionist policy pursued by Gian Galeazzo and came into conflict with the Venetian Republic. The war, declared in 1426, lasted several years, and the Domine of Milan stationed garrisons in many northern Italian territories, including Valtellina. Valtellina extends horizontally from east to west and corresponds to the Adda river basin upstream of Lake Como in the Alpine region of Lombardy. Thanks to its strategic position and the shape of its territory, it has always been both a place of transit and military outpost. In fact, it demarcated the borders between the Duchy of Milan and the Brescian territories under the Serenissima Republic of Venice.
Precisely because of this position, it was the scene of clashes between the two powers in 1432, with the famous battle of Delebio, fought on 18-19 November in the village of Delebio, between the Milanese army led by Niccolò Piccinino and the Venetian army led by Giorgio Corner.
We can imagine all the peasants taking refuge in the woods far from the battlefield, waiting in agony for the battle’s outcome. In this rugged mountain setting, we must also imagine the young Bona still unaware of her future.
So, on 18 November 1432, the Visconti army, equipped with no less than 400 horses, reached Valtellina by climbing up the western shore of Lake Como and prepared to face the Venetians. It was commanded by the mercenary captain Niccolò Piccinino, and with him were Guido Torelli, captain of arms, lord of the fiefs of Montechiarugolo and Guastalla, Franchino Rusca, lord of Como, and Raffaele da Mandello. Last but not least, was also part of the venture Pier Brunoro Sanvitale of Fontanellato counts, known for the long love affair that was soon to begin with Bona Lombarda, the young peasant girl from Cosio Valtellino.
On the other side, the Venetian troops, in addition to Giorgio Corner, included Sante Venier, Bartolomeo Colleoni, Marquis Taddeo d’Este, and other renowned commanders. That same day, the Milanese crossed the Adda River near Sorico on an improvised pontoon bridge, taking the entrenched Venetian camp by surprise. The Venetians repulsed the ducal army at great cost, who left over 300 soldiers on the ground in the battle. The following night, Piccinino prepared for the final assault by filling the moat protecting the enemy camp at Delebio. On the morning of 19 November 1432, the Milanese attacked the Venetians from the west, while troops from Valtellina led by Stefano Quadrio and a contingent of militia from Val Chiavenna came from the east. Thanks to the decisive contribution of the Valtellinesi, the Venetians were finally routed. All the captains of the Serenissima who survived the bloody battle were taken to Milan as prisoners, except for Marco Dardinello and Bartolomeo Colleoni, who managed to escape. Special treatment was reserved for Giorgio Corner, who was locked up in the terrible “Forni” (prisons) of Monza Castle and tortured at length to reveal the secrets of the Venetian government. The Serenissima’s troops suffered huge losses: 1,800 horses and 3,500 infantrymen remained on the field, while 1,200 horses and 1,500 soldiers were taken prisoners. Some sources propose even higher numbers: 5,000 dead and 7,000 prisoners.
The locality near Delebio where the battle took place, near the church of Santa Domenica, is still called, not without reason, ‘the Venetians’ ditch’ in memory of the defensive moat created by the Venetians and then used for their burial.