Historical context

The sinking of the Lomellina occurred during the Wars of Italy.

Between 1494 and 1546, armies commissioned by the Kings of France (successively, Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I) pursued the “Italian dream”, fighting various coalitions led by Ferdinand of Aragon, the Pope or Charles the Fifth.

These wars required the movement of many soldiers, and were therefore characterised by the use of an artillery in keeping with such heavy convoys.
Most campaigns used to mobilise numerous men-at-arms, as well as very large fleets (42,000 men rallied under Charles VIII, and almost 80 ships, in 1494). These fleets were used not only to fight at sea, but also to support on-land operations by transporting troops (one quarter of all men during the Charles VIII campaigns) and equipment: artillery and ammunition, foodstuffs and other supplies. They also served as covers by attacking defensive fortifications or coastal fortresses.
For lack of a sufficient number of royal vessels, the King resorted to foreign ships and foreign squadron commanders. Merchant and foreign ships (most of the time from Genoa) were chartered at the King's expense. Galleys and round ships were then used: mainly vessels, from the Orient to the West.

Villefranche played a notable role in these operations. It was the last covered harbour before the difficult seaway along the coast of Liguria. Everything used for supporting the armies would embark from this point.
This harbour represented a shelter large and safe enough to host any relatively large fleet happening to operate in the area.

Villefranche was also a shipbuilding port in liaison with Nice and it was on its beaches where recently built ships were sent for final touches and equipment. Finally, it was also a careening port, as indicated by the name of the Espalmador bay: the French word “espalmer”means to tar the hull, or in seamen jargon “to pay a ship's bottom”, referring to one of the procedures included in careening.
Villefranche had a significant role in several operations:

- In 1295, the Count of Anjou decided to create Villefranche and to anchor his fleet there in order to collect tolls from merchant ships.

- In 1388, Villefranche was annexed to Savoy.

- In 1431, the Duke of Savoy equipped a fleet there,

- In 1440, the Duke of Savoy granted the Duke of Burgundy, who had no access to the Mediterranean, the right to outfit merchant ships in Villefranche, with four galleys to ensure their protection,

- From 1522 to 1530, the Hospitallers of The Order of Saint John of Jerusalem who had been expelled from Rhodes settled in Villefranche and equipped carracks and galleys. Among these was the Santa Anna, the order's carrack, built in 1522 on the beach of Nice.

However, this strategic importance also led Villefranche to be in the centre of a number of battles:

- In 1504, a Genoese vessel was attacked by a small Florentine squadron,

- In 1507, the Genoese rebelled against Monaco and anchored their fleet in Villefranche,

- In 1522, the French fleet gathered in Marseilles took shelter in Villefranche before fighting against Charles the Fifth's fleet at the mouth of the river Var, under the command of Andrea Doria,

- In 1524, the constable of Bourbon penetrated into Provence, at the same time attacking Villefranche and seizing the Hospitallers' ships, although they were unarmed,

- In 1529, Charles the Fifth landed in Villefranche,

- In 1543, Barbarossa, called by François I, besieged Nice and anchored his fleet in Villefranche with the French.

Nevertheless, as we shall see, the sinking of the Lomellina was not related to one of the many battles that took place in the Villefranche harbour, but to an unexpected hurricane which occurred in September 1516.