SEE ALSO The Borgias Home I 15th Century Italy I Foreign Relations I The Papal States I The Historical Characters I The Discussion Forum
|The Italian Wars|
2. Italy in the Fifteenth Century
3. The Peace of Lodi, 1454
4. The Build-Up to the Invasion
5. The French Invasion, 1494
6. The Holy League, 1496
7. The Battle of Fornovo, 1495
8. Ferrante II reconquers Naples, 1496
9. Louis XII conquers Milan, 1499
10. The Wars of Cesare Borgia, 1499 - 1502
11. The Partition of Naples, 1500 - 1504
12. The later wars and fall of Cesare Borgia, 1502 - 1504
13. Pope Julius II - the Warrior Pope, 1503 - 1507
14. The Wars of the League of Cambrai, 1508 - 1511
15. The Battle of Ravenna, 1512
16. The Battles of Novara and La Motta, 1513
17. Francis I and the Battle of Marignano, 1515
18. The Wars of 1521 - 1525 and the Battle of Pavia
19. The League of Cognac and the Sack of Rome, 1526 - 1529
20. The Later Italian Wars, 1536 - 1559
21. The Armies of the Italian Wars
23. Sources and Further Reading
Between the French invasion of 1494 and the final peace treaty of 1559, Italy was devasted by a series of wars. The main combatants were France and Spain, which after 1519 was linked with the Holy Roman Empire through their mutual ruler Charles V.
At various stages, all the major Italian powers were involved , and the wars and their various spin-offs involved many other European nations, including England, Scotland, Switzerland, the German states, the Netherlands, Navarre, Hungary, Bohemia, and the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Many thousands of soldiers were killed in the various battles - ordinary men as well as generals, nobles and even two kings (James IV of Scotland and Louis II of Hungary). Many others died by violence or of disease and hunger as the various armies sacked cities and devasted crops.
Why did these wars come about and what effect did they have? To answer this, we must look at Italy before the invasion and at the course of the wars themselves.
2. Italy in the Fifteenth Century
Italy in the fifteenth century was not one unified country but a patchworks of duchies, city-states, republics and one kingdom. These varied in size from small lordships consisting of a town and the surrounding countryside to the kingdom of Naples, which occupied over a third of the Italian landmass. Parts of what are now Italy were separate countries or belonged to other countries - the Duchy of Savoy was a separate entity and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia belonged to the Spanish kingdom of Aragon. In addition, Venice held territories outwith Italy in what is now Albania and Greece.
The most powerful states were the republics of Venice, Florence and Genoa; the Duchies of Milan and Ferrara-Modena; and the kingdom of Naples. The Papal States, which occupied a swathe of territory across the middle of Italy, were a fragmented group of lordships over which the Pope had only nominal control.
Map - Italy in 1494 on the eve of the French invasion
Prior to the French initiative of 1494, Italy had largely been free from foreign invasion, despite its fragmented nature. Although Alfonso of Aragon and Rene of Anjou had fought for control of Naples after the death of Queen Joanna II without heirs in 1435, the rest of Italy was not directly involved in the fighting. Alfonso's eventual victory in 1443 established a new dynasty of Aragonese kings based in Naples.
Further wars took place in the 1440s and 50s as Francesco Sforza attempted to build himself a lordship within the Papal States and there was a succession crisis in the duchy of Milan, but the rest of Italy was largely unaffected.
3. The Peace of Lodi, 1454
By 1454, the Ottoman Empire had taken Constantinople and theTurkish armies were seen as a threat to Italy. Even more ominously, France was allied with the Sforza and Medici, leading to the possility that French troops, brutal and battle-hardened from their wars against England, could appear in Italy. Pope Nicholas V took the initiative and agreed a peace between Venice and Milan, the Peace of Lodi, out of which grew the Most Holy League. The aim was to keep the peace between the Italian powers and to protect them from foreign aggression.
By and large, these aims were successful. The growing development of a system of ambassadors from one power to another often nipped trouble in the bud. However, from 1454 to 1494, Italy was not completely at peace. Alfonso of Aragon refused to discontinue his war against Genoa for the posession of Corsica until Genoa made an alliance with France, and Venice launched an attack on Ferrara in 1482 with the connivence of Pope Sixtus IV. Naples intervened on behalf of Duke Ercole d'Este of Ferrara, whose wife Eleanor was a Neapolitan princess. The war was settled in 1484 with the secession of minor territory to Venice without it having erupted into a general Italian conflict. There were other, more minor, conflicts, but in the main, the Peace of Lodi held firm - 'for forty years, by virtue of the mutual jealousies of its balanced states, by the politics of continuous tension and by the help of its new diplomatic machinery, Italy did enjoy a kind of uneasy peace' (Garrett Mattingly).
These forty years were critically important in the flowering of the Renaissance. The fact that major states such as Florence, Milan, Venice and Naples were preserved from conquest by their neighbours gave them the opportunity to invest in art and architecture and to encourage humanistic scholarship. Such wars as were fought were generally carried by hired mercenaries known as condotierre: no towns were sacked, no major battles were fought and destruction of property was kept to a minimum. The peace-making efforts of Lorenzo 'the Magnificent' of Florence were much praised by contemporaries. Subsequently, many Italians, including Machiavelli and Guicciardini, looked on this period as a kind of 'Golden Age'.
4. The French Invasion of 1494 - the Build-Up
Why, then, did things change so drastically in 1494, leading to a series of wars which would devastate Italy for the next sixty years?
Lorenzo de Medici (pictured right) died in 1492, but it is doubtful whether even he could have prevented what followed.
A major cause was the establishment of the so-called 'New Monarchies' in the latter half of the fifteenth century. Until the middle of the century, France had been devasted by the prolonged English invasions. Much territory had been alienated to younger sons of the royal House of Valois, who acted more or less independently of the monarchy. The incompetent rule of Henry VI of England led to the loss of most of the English lands in France. In the reign of Louis XI (1461 - 1483), many of the cadet Valois lines died out, so that their territories were absorbed back into France. Louis was also able to conquer much of the Duchy of Burgundy. The English wars had given the French kings unprecendented tax-raising powers, which enabled them to equip powerful armies. By 1494, France was in a position to expand into Italy. The young king Charles VIII, finally independent of his sister's influence and now having reached his majority, sought military glory.
The Spanish kingdoms had been devastated by a series of civil wars, but by the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469, the way was paved for a united Spanish monarchy. Aragon already possessed the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada between 1481 and 1492 had developed a strong, experienced and well-equipped Spanish army. There were close ties between the Spanish sovereigns and the illegitimate line of Aragonese kings in Naples. By 1494, Ferdinand was ready to expand his power in Italy.
The Habsburgs had consolidated their position as Holy Roman Emperors, and with the succession of Maximilian I in 1494, they also turned their attention to Italian affairs. Maximilian was overlord of some fiefs south of the Alps and was married to Bianca Sforza, niece of the Duke of Milan.
Ludovico Sforza, known as 'il Moro', Duke of Milan (pictured left) , was blamed by many Italians for the disaster that followed. He was Regent for his nephew, but refused to resign power when his nephew came of age. As the latter was married to a princess of Naples, Isabella of Aragon, her grandfather King Ferrante opposed Ludovico. This led 'il Moro' to seek a change of regime in Naples. Others saw the dangers of Ludovico's conduct - one Italian compared him to 'a man who set loose a lion in his house to catch a mouse'!
But Charles had other incentives. He was young and anxious to make his mark on Europe. His ostensible aim was to conquer Naples as a springboard to a 'crusade' in Africa to reconquer Jerusalem, although as the Spanish pointed out, he could have done this far more effectively by using one of their bases in North Africa. Charles's court was filled with barons exiled by King Ferrante who urged him to press the ancient Angevin claims to Naples which he had inherited. The exiled Giuliano della Rovere wanted him to depose Pope Alexander VI. The contemporary writer Phillipe de Commynes said that Charles set out to conquer Naples 'because he was young and silly and had bad counsellors'.
Before setting out, Charles was obliged to buy off potential hostile nations. He returned the trans-Pyrrenean provinces of Roussillon and Cerdagne to Ferdinand of Aragon, gave his jilted bride Margaret of Austria and her dowry back to her father Maximilian, and agreed to pay Henry VII of England a fat pension. Having apparently squared these opponents and heartened by the death of Ferrante I of Naples in January 1494 and the succession of his brutal and unpopular son Alfonso, he set out to conquer Naples.
5. The French Invasion
Crossing the Alps in 1494 to march through Italy, the presence of Charles and his army, which numbered some 25,000 soldiers, caused the Medici government of Florence to collapse and the republic was restored. Charles entered Italy with little opposition - Pope Alexander said bitterly that 'the French have no need of weapons, only chalk to mark up their lodgings'. When his army reached Rome, Alexander was unable to oppose him but was canny enough to refuse Charles the investiture of Naples, which was a papal fief. As a guarantee of Alexander's goodwill, Charles took Cesare Borgia will him as a hostage. However, two days after leaving Rome, Cesare escaped disguised as a groom, and made his way to the papal castle of Spoleto. Suspecting, probably correctly, that the escape has been pre-arranged by the Pope, Charles flew into a rage and shouted that 'all Italians are dirty dogs and the Holy Father is as bad as the worst of them!'
Before Charles and his army got to Naples in February 1495, Alfonso abdicated in favour of his son Ferrante II and fled to Sicily. The French had encountered few problems in taking over Naples but opposition was building. In Naples itself, the arrogance of the French aroused hostility. Foreign powers and the remaining Italian states were unwilling to see the French permanently installed in Naples.
6. The 'Holy League', 1495
On 31st March 1495, Ferdinand of Aragon formed the 'Holy League' or 'League of Venice', which united Spain, the Pope, the Empire, Venice and Milan (where Ludovico had repented of his previous pro-French attitude) in order to expel the French from the kingdom. When Henry VII joined in 1496, it was clear that this was a European-wide coalition against France. Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua was appointed commander-in-chief of the northern army of the League, which was comprised of forces from Venice, Milan and Mantua. A further army was being built up in Spain under the command of Gonsalvo de Cordoba, later known as 'the Great Captain'.
Charles realised that he would be trapped in southern Italy as the forces against him mustered. Leaving a garrison in Naples on 20th May 1495, he marched north with the bulk of his army, laden with booty which he had taken from Naples and other cities. By 27th June, the army of the League was camped on the banks of the river Taro, near the village of Fornovo south-west of Parma.
7. The Battle of Fornovo
On 4th July, Charles and his army, which now numbered approximately 12,000, found their way blocked by the army of the League, which had about 20,000 soldiers. Running short of provisions, Charles decided to offer battle on 6th July. Although he had artillery, he was unable to use it due to rain, which dampened the powder. The battle lasted for about an hour before the French were forced back onto a hilltop.and the Italians into their own camp. The French lost around 1,000 men and the League approximately 2,000 which was far more than had been killed in a battle in Italy for many years. As the French suffered less casualties and were able to advance north, they are generally considered to have won the battle. However, they had lost their booty to the opposing troops. Returning to France, many of them, Charles included, took back another legacy from Italy - syphilis.
8. Ferrante II reconquers Naples
In the meantime, Spanish forces under the Catalan admiral Galeran de Requesens and the Castilian general Gonsalvo de Cordoba had landed in Sicily in support of Ferrante. Ferrante also gained support from Venice by ceding five ports in Apulia to the republic. The armies of Ferrante and his Spanish allies gradually pushed their way up through Calabria and Apulia, and despite defeat at the Battle of Seminara on 28th June, 1496, on 7th July Ferrante entered the city of Naples. He was greeted with great enthusiam by his subjects, who had been alienated by the arrogance and brutality of the French troops. Guicciardini stated that: he was received by the multitude with great cries of joy, the women showering him with flowers and perfumes from their windows; indeed many of the noble ladies ran into the street to embrace him'. By August of that year, the whole of Naples was back within Ferrante's control. But in September, Ferrante fell ill, probably with malaria, and he died on 7th September at the early age of 27. Left - Ferrante II, King of Naples (1469 - 1496)
9. Louis XII and the Conquest of Milan
On 7th April, 1498, Charles VIII died, apparently of a cerebral haemmorhage after striking his head on a door lintel at the Chateau of Ambroise in the Loire valley. Despite having gained nothing from his conquest of Naples, he was planning a further expedition to Italy at the time of his death. There were rumours of secret negotiaions between France and Spain. As he had no surviving children, Charles's heir was his cousin Louis, Duke of Orleans.
At the time of his accession, Louis was a mature man of 36, experienced in both politics and war, and considerably more intelligent than Charles VIII (which was not saying a lot!). Like his predecessor, Louis felt the lure of Italian conquest but his primary objective was Milan rather than Naples. His grandmother, Valentina Visconti, had been a member of the previous ruling family of that city. Louis successfully reached agreement with potentially hostile powers such as Spain and Venice and he was able to use the nearby town of Asti, inherited from his grandmother, as a base to attack Milan. His army conquered Milan on 17th September 1499: Ludovico Sforza fled to the Tyrol. However, he successfully re-entered Milan on 5th February 1500. Superior French forces caused him to fall back to Novara, where he was discovered disguised as a Swiss soldier. He died in captivity in France in 1508. Louis was able to re-establish his control of Milan. Pictured right - Louis XII enters Genoa in 1507
10. The Wars of Cesare Borgia
As it became clear that Louis had designs on Milan, Alexander decided that an alliance with France was the best way to forward both Papal and Borgia interests. He found his opportunity in Louis' desire to escape from his unconsummated marriage to Jeanne de Valois and wed Anne of Brittany, Charles' widow, to whom he had long been attracted. Alexander's price for facilitating an annulment and re-marriage was a French bride for his son Cesare, who had renounced his vows to the Church, and an army to subdue the Romagna, part of the Papal States. Louis arranged for Cesare to marry Charlotte d'Albret and Cesare followed him when he conquered Milan.
After Milan had been subdued, Louis provided Cesare (pictured left) with an army of 1,800 cavalry and over 4,000 Swiss and Gascon infantry under the command of Yves d'Alegret. The Romagna was ruled by a number of lords known as 'papal vicars, but they were increasingly under the influence of Venice, failed to pay their dues and were rumoured to be consipiring against the Pope. As a result, Alexander excommunicated them in July 1499 and declared their vicariates forfeit.
Cesare's first target was the towns of Imola and Forli, ruled by Caterina Sforza. He captured Imola on 17th December 1499 and the town of Forli two days later, Caterina having withdrawn to the fortress of the latter. The French troops sacked the town and the fortress fell three weeks later. It was rumoured that Cesare raped Caterina, but it is more likely that she seduced him in the hopes of obtaining favourable terms.
Cesare then turned his attention to Pesaro, the vicariate of Giovanni Sforza, Lucrezia's ex-husband, who had roused his ire by spreading rumours of incest about the Borgia family. Sforza fled as the army approached but the French were recalled when news came of an attack on Milan by Ludovico Sforza. Cesare installed Ramiro de Lorqua as governor of the conquered territories and returned to Rome in February 1500.
In Rome, Cesare and the Pope (pictured right) planned a new campaign to conquer the remaining part of the Papal States. This time, Cesare was determined not to be dependant on the French and therefore required an army of mercenaries. Alexander raised money by appointing new Cardinals who were prepared to pay for the privilege. An alliance was made with Venice, which agreed to withdraw its protection of the lords of Pesaro, Rmini and Faenza. On 2nd October 1500, Cesare left Rome at the head of an army of 10,000 mercenaries, accompanied by his captains Gianpaulo Baglione of Perugia, Vitzellozzo Vitelli and his favourite henchman Michelotto Corella. Cesare was able to take Pesaro without a shot being fired and move on Rimini, whose hated Malatesta governors had already been rejected by the citizens. This proved another easy conquest, but his next target was a tougher nut to crack.
Astorre Manfredi of Faenza was far more popular than Cesare's estwhile opponents, and Cesare was forced to mount a blockade of the town. As winter approached, he and majority of his troops withdrew into winter quarters before returning to the rest of the army outside Faenza in the spring of 1501, where he was joined by French troops under d'Allegret. The city surrendered in April: the unfortunate Manfredi was captured and imprisoned in Rome. In June 1502, his strangled corpse was found in the Tiber, almost certainly a victim of Michelotto. With the secession of Castel Bolognese by the city of Bologna, the conquest of the Romagna was complete.
Alexander was happy to stop there, but Cesare wished to go further. His armies captuted Piombino in July and he was now described as 'Duke of the Romagna'. By that time, there had been developments in Naples.
11. The Partition of Naples
Ferrante II had been succeeded by his uncle Frederick in 1496. However, Frederick had angered Louis of France by his support of Ludovico of Milan and when the conquest of that duchy was complete, Louis planned a move against Naples. But he was not the only one with a claim to the kingdom: Ferdinand of Aragon had never given up his own claims and despite his previous support of the illegtiimate Aragonese dynasty, he regarded them as usurpers, having previously disguised his claims 'with Spanish astuteness and patience' (Guicciardini). By the secret Treaty of Granada (11th November 1500), Ferdinand and Louis agreed to depose Frederick and divide Naples between them on the pretext that the Neapolitan king had been seeking Turkish support. Louis was much criticised by contemporaries for this: in 'The Prince', Machiavelli wrote: Whereas to start with, he (Louis) was master of Italy, he now brought in a rival to whom the ambitious and the discontented might have recourse. He could have left in Naples a king who was in his pay. Instead, he expelled him to put in his place one who could chase him out in turn".
Above - View of the city of Naples in the fifteenth century
The campaign against Naples was swift. Cesare Borgia and his troops were with the French when they entered Capua, and took part in the brutal sack of the town. Frederick quickly surrendered and retired to France, where he died in 1504. Under the terms of the Treaty of Granada, Spain took the south of the kingdom and France the north. But the allies soon fell out and war broke out again in 1502. The French, under the Duke of Nemours, were initially successful and the Spanish general de Cordoba was forced to retreat to Barletta. He was, however, able to profit by this interlude by decising a new type of infantry using a combination of pikes, short-swords and arquebuses (handguns). After receiving reinforcements from Spain, he attacked the French and defeated them at the Battle of Cerignola. This battle, fought near Bari in Apulia on 28th April 1503, saw the Spanish forces outnumbered by over three to one, Two French cavalry charges were defeated by cannonfire and a further charge by arquebus fire - Nemours was killed in this charge, making him the first general killed in action by a handgun. The French were forced to retire in disorder.
De Cordoba (pictured right) entered the city of Naples on 14th May, and French territory in the kingdom was restricted to the area around Gaeta. A large French force under Louis de la Tremouille (who subsequently married Cesare Borgia's daughter Louise) was sent to re-take the kingdom, but following the death of Pope Alexander on 18th August, he wasted three months in an unsuccessful attempt to influence the Cardinals to elect the French archbishop George d'Amboise as Pope.
By November 1503, the French and Spanish armies faced each other on either side of the River Garigliano, sixty kilometres north of Naples. Spanish soldiers suceeded in crossing the river and building a bridge on the night of 27th/28th December 1503. They attacked the French, who were commanded by the Marquis of Saluzzo, inflicting heavy losses and forcing them to retreat to Gaeta. The exiled Piero de Medici, known as 'the Unfortunate' was drowned in the river whilst attempting to escape with the French forces. Gaeta was forced to surrender on 1st January 1504, leaving the entire kingdom of Naples in Spanish hands. This was formally recognised by Louis XII two months later. Gonsalvo de Cordoba became the first Spanish Viceroy of Naples.
12. The Later Wars and Fall of Cesare Borgia
Following his involvement in the sack of Capua, Cesare gathered a new army of some 8,000 troops. He asked permission to pass through the Duchy of Urbino, which the Duke, Guidobaldo de Montefeltro, granted. Cesare used this as an excuse to take over the Duchy - his duplicity and nerve in a attacking an established ruler earned him both respect and condemnation. Niccolo Machiavelli (picured below), the Florentine ambassador, was very
impressed with this maneovre.
Cesare went on to take Cameriono and laid plans to attack Bologna but other lords were concerned that Cesare would take their lands next and some of his own captains were disaffected. The result was the so-called 'Vitelli Conspiracy'. Cesare initially made peace with the malcontents but on 31st December 1502, he turned on them - Vitelli and his fellow plotters were executed and Cesare was able to take Perugia.
Whilst Cesare entertained overtures from Pisa, long the subject of Florentine attacks, Alexander grew closer to his old ally, Spain, which was seemingly on the verge of a final victory in Naples. 'The aim seemed clearly to be to create a permanent hereditary state for Cesare which would free him from the ambiguous position of being a papal vicar to a potentially hostile Pope' (Mallet). But things were about to go wrong.
On 18th August 1503, Pope Alexander died, almost certainly of malaria. Cesare, seriously ill with the same disease, was unable to hold all his conquests in the Romagna. The old lords began to re-establish themselves and Venice took over part of the territory, but some towns remained loyal. Although much criticised by Machiavelli, Cesare had little alternative but to make a deal with Giuliano della Rovere, soon to become Pope Julius II, but Julius wanted the Romagna under papal control, not as an independent Borgia state. Cesare attempted to retain control of the remaining towns by making an alliance with Spain, but the Spanish viceroy de Cordoba, aware that Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to remain on good terms with the Pope, had him arrested and sent to Spain. Cesare was killed in a skirmish in Navarre, a small kingdom in northern Spain, on 12th March 1507.
13. Julius II, the warrior Pope
Although he had previously been known for his French sympathies, Julius was determined to prove the independence of the Papacy. He quickly saw that the best way to do this was to re-establish control of the Romagna. He was able to win back some of the territory lost to Venice by treaty in 1505. The first two years of Julius's pontificate were remarkably peaceful - as Guicciardini states, there were no wars in 1505 apart from the annual Florentine attack on Pisa.
Julius was determined to take back Perugia, controlled by the notoriously cruel Baglioni family, and Bologna, ruled by the Bentivogli. He declared that he 'would go in person to deliver these towns from the hands of tyrants'. When he heard of this statement, Louis of France said that the Pope, who was a famously heavy drinker, 'must have been too overheated with wine the night before!' (Guicciardini). But the Pope proved him wrong. In August 1506, dressed in armour, he set out at the head of his troops to take Perugia. Gianpaulo Baglione hastened to capitulate and delivered his city to the Pope on 13th September. On 7th October, Julius excommunicated and deposed Giovanni Bentivoglio, who fled Bologna. Julius entered Bologna in triumph on 10th November, and remained there until the following February.
14. The Wars of the League of Cambrai
Julius was angry that Venice continued to hold lands in the Romagna, including Rimini and Faenza, and that she defied his ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but the Republic was too powerful for him to act alone. At first, he encouraged the Emperor Maximilian to attack Venice, but Maximilian was defeated by Venetian forces at Vicenza, and forced to hand over Trieste and Fiume. The Venetians further angered the Pope by appointing their own nominee to the Bishopric of Vicenza. He was therefore delighted to join negotiations between Maximilian and Louis of France for the destruction of Venice. On 10th December 1508, the League of Cambrai was formed between France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, under which Venetian territory would be divided up between them: France would take Brescia and Cremona; Spain would recover Otranto and the other ports in Naples ceded by Ferranate II; the Empire would regain Istria and be given Verona and Padua; and the Pope would get the remainder, including Rimini and Ravenna. Julius publicly declared that the League would 'reduce Venice to its original condition of a fishing village'. Pictured below - Ferdinand of Aragon
On 15th April 1509, Louis left Milan at the head of a large army and advanced into Venetian territory. The general hired by the Venetians, Bartolomeo d'Alviano, was defeated by the French at the Battle of Agnadello (14th May) and Venetian resistance collapsed. Louis proceeded to occupy his allotted territories and Maximilan took Padua and Verona. Julius issued an Interdict against Venice which excommunicated all its inhabitants and seized Ravenna with the help of Alfonso d'Este of Ferrara, husband of Lucrezia Borgia. The Venetians soon recaptured most of the territory taken by Maximilian, but they were defeated by Alfonso d'Este at the Battle of Polesela. Venice was forced to come to terms: having made peace with Ferdinand of Aragon after returning the Neapolitan ports to him, the Republic made a treaty with Julius on 24th February 1510 which restored both Papal authority over the granting of benefices and the remainder of the Romagna.
By now, Julius was concerned at the growing power of the French and he wished to add her ally, Ferrara, to his own territory. He went to Bologna to prepare for an attack on Ferrara, but was forced to leave when d'Este defeated the Venetian army. Bologna surrendered to a French army on 23rd May 1511, which Julius blamed on the Duke of Urbino - the latter was so angy that he murdered the papal governor, Cardinal Alidosi, in full view of the papal guard!
In June 1511, with the French still in control of n control of most of the Romagna, Julius formed the Holy League, a coalition against France which included Spain, the Empire and England, whiose new ruler Henry VIII wished to expand his territory in France. The armies of the League were commanded by Ramon de Cardona, Viceroy of Naples, and those of France by Louis' nephew, Gaston de Foix.
15. The Battle of Ravenna
In late March 1512, Gaston de Foix and Alfonso I d'Este laid siege to the city of Ravenna. Foix was aware that Henry VIII was planning to invade France, and wanted to secure as much territory as possible before most of his troops were recalled. The army of the Holy League, commanded by Ramon de Cardona, moved up to defend Ravenna, making a fortified camp near the city. This army was outnumbered by the French, who had about 23,000 troops compared to the 15,000 under Cardona. Foix's army attacked, and many of the League's troops were killed by artillery fire: they responded in kind, decimating the French infantry. d'Este and Yves d'Allegret then turned further cannon on the Papal troops commanded by Fabrizio Colonna. The Spanish cavalry charged, but were unable to break the French line and the battle became general. Eventually, the Spanish were forced to retreat.
The Gascon infantry attacked the Spanish camp, followed by German mercenaries under Jacob Empser, who was killed in the initial push as the Spanish swordsmen slaughtered his troops. Eventually, the French cavalry overwhelmed the Spanish infantry. Seeing a large Spanish force retreating in good order, Foix attacked but was killed in the battle.
Ravenna was the bloodiest battle yet fought on Italian soil - about 4,000 soldiers in the French army were killed and almost 9,000 of the forces of the League. Although the French had won, it was at heavy cost - besides Gaston de Foix, many other commanders had been killed, including Yves d'Allegret. The new French commander, La Palice, managed to capture and sack Ravenna, but most of his troops were summoned back to France. Although contemporaries such as Guicciardini thought that Foix could have proceeded to further conquests had he lived, modern historians consider this unlikely - given the troop withdrawal, he would have been forced to retreat as La Palice did. By August, a new army of Swiss mercenaries hired by the Pope and Venetian troops had forced the French back across the Alps. Cardona gathered a new army and marched into Tuscany, crushing Florentine resistence and restoring the Medici to power. The French had been driven out of Milan and Maximilian Szorza would shortly be restored as Duke. Pictured left - Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara
16. The Battles of Novara and La Motta
In 1513, a new French army of about 10,000 men under the command of Louis de la Tremouille (soon to marry Louise Borgia) marched into Italy. They surrounded Novara, the second largest city in the Duchy of Milan. However, on 5th April, they were surprised by a Swiss army 13,000 strong , who encircled their camp, preventing the French from deploying their cavalry. This was another bloody battle, with the French losing over 5,000 men, although the Swiss losses were moderate. Some Swiss soldiers pursued the French all the way to Dijon - in the end, the French had to pay them to go away! Pictured right - The battle of Novara, an illustration from 1548
In the meantime, the French and their allies had come under further pressure: Ferdinand of Aragon had taken advantage of the deployment of most of the French army in Italy to conquer the kingdom of Navarre. On 9th September 1512, France itself was invaded by Henry VIII, and her Scottish allies suffered a catastrophic defeat and the death of their king, James IV, at the Battle of Flodden (9th September 1513). By now, Venice was also allied to France. A Venetian army under Bartolomeo d'Alviano confronted the Spanish army of Ramon de Cardona at the battle of La Motta on 7th October, but was decisively routed. Many prominent Venetian nobleman were killed as they attempted to flee. Venice's days as a major power in Italy were effectively over.
Pope Julius had died on 21st February 1513. Although he had not achieved his oft-stated aim of 'expelling the barbarians from Italy' - by which he meant all foreigners - he had lived long enough to see the French expelled. But in doing so, the other major 'barbarian' power - Spain - had increased her influence in northern as well as southern Italy. His successor, Leo X (Giovanni de Medici) was more concerned with preserving the balance of power in Italy between France and Spain, as well as ensuring his family's hold on Florence.
17. Francis I and the Battle of Marignano
On 1st January 1515, Louis XII died at the age of fifty two. Although he was generally an effective King of France, his wars in Italy had been a disaster - after huge expenditure and loss of life, he had finished his reign with no more Italian territory than he had started with. As France adhered to the Salic law and he had no sons, Louis was succeeded by his twenty year old cousin Francis of Angouleme (pictured left), who was married to Louis' eldest daughter Claudia.
Despite Louis' experiences, Francis was to follow the same pattern as his predecessor. He had assumed the title of Duke of Milan at his coronation and by July, had assembled a large army. He avoided the main alpine passes where Swiss and papal troops were waiting for him, and made his way to Piedmont. A detachment of French troops managed to surprise and capture the papal commander, Prospero Colonna. At first, Francis and the Swiss came to an agreement to oust Sforza and give Francis Milan, but the fiery Swiss Cardinal Matthew Schiner persuaded his troops to attack the French near the village of Marignano on 13th September. The French were taken by surprise, but quickly organised themselves. The Swiss attack was initially successful, but was driven off by the French cavalry. The outcome of the battle was still in the balance when night fell: the two armies stopped fighting, only to start again on the following day. The Swiss charged the French guns repeatedly but were prevented from gaining ground by the artillery fire and by a cavalry charge under the Chevalier Bayard. The arrival of Venetian forces under d'Alviano ensured a French victory.
As in previous battles, there were heavy casualties - over 10,000 soldiers were killed. Francis went on to capture Milan on 4th October, and Maximilian Sforza agreed to retire to France. At a meeting later that year, Leo effectively confirmed Francis as Duke of Milan. Right - Sixteenth century painting of the Battle of Marignano
On 23rd January 1516, Ferdinand of Aragon died at the age of sixty three. Of all the players in the politics of Italy, he had been the most skilful and the most consistent winner. His kingdoms, including Naples, Sicily and Sardinia were nominally inherited by his daughter Joanna but in practice by his sixteen year old grandson Charles.
Charles formally agreed to recognise Francis as Duke of Milan by the Treaty of Noyon in August and in return, Francis recognised Charles as King of Naples. The Emperor Maximilian made a similar agreement with Francis later in the year (Treaty of Brussels) which also recognised Venetian claims in Lombardy. Italy was at peace, at least for the next four years.
18. The Wars of 1521 - 1525 and the Battle of Pavia
The election of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor following the death of Maximilian in 1519 re-ignited the jealousy of Francis and rekindled his Italian ambitions. Francis began by invading Navarre, which Charles countered by invading France and allying himself with Pope Leo and Henry VIII. A French army entered Lombardy and was joined by troops from Venice but was defeated by Imperial and Papal forces at the Battle of Bicocca on 27th April 1522. Pictured left- the Emperor Charles V
The Battle of Bicocca or La Bicocca (Italian: Battaglia della Bicocca) was fought on April 27, 1522, during the Italian War of 1521–26. A combined French and Venetian force under Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec, was decisively defeated by a Spanish-Imperial and Papal army under the overall command of Prospero Colonna. Lautrec then withdrew from Lombardy, leaving the Duchy of Milan in Imperial hands. Having been driven from Milan by an Imperial advance in late 1521, Lautrec had regrouped, attempting to strike at Colonna's lines of communication. When the Swiss mercenaries in French service did not receive their pay, however, they demanded an immediate battle, and Lautrec was forced to attack Colonna's fortified position in the park of Bicocca, north of Milan. The Swiss pikemen advanced over open fields under heavy artillery fire to assault the Imperial positions, but were halted at a sunken road backed by earthworks. Having suffered massive casualties from the fire of Spanish arquebusiers, the Swiss retreated. Meanwhile, an attempt by French cavalry to flank Colonna's position proved equally ineffective. The Swiss, unwilling to fight further, marched off to their cantons a few days later, and Lautrec retreated into Venetian territory with the remnants of his army. The battle is noted chiefly for marking the end of the Swiss dominance among the infantry of the Italian Wars, and of the Swiss method of assaults by massed columns of pikemen without support from other troops. It was simultaneously the first of a series of engagements which established the decisive role of firearms on the battlefield.
The use of firearms proved decisive, particularly against the Swiss mercenaries serving with the French. Casualties were again high on the French side - more than 3,000 were killed - but their opponents lost very few men. The Swiss were severely demoralised: Guicciardini wrote 'they went back to their mountains diminished in numbers but much more diminished in audacity; for it is certain that the losses which they suffered at Bicocca so affected them that in the coming years they no longer displayed their wonted vigour'.
A further attempt by France to take Lombardy in 1524 failed, and the leading French general, Charles de Bourbon, was so angry at Francis' attempts to take his lands that he defected to the service of Charles. He got his revenge by invading Provence on behalf of the Emperor.
Francis was unwilling to give up: he crossed the Alps in October 1524 at the head of an army of 40,000. The Imperial army under Charles de Lannoy withdrew to Lodi and the French entered Milan, installing Louis de la Tremouille as Governor.
The French and Imperial armies clashed near the town of Pavia on 24th February 1525. The result was a rout: Francis was captured and most of his leading generals, including de la Tremoille, La Palice, and the Duke of Lorraine, were killed. Also killed in the battle was the Plantagenet pretender to throne of England, Richard de la Pole, which must have delighted Charles' ally Henry VIII.
Sixteenth Century Flemish painting of the Battle of Pavia
Francis was taken as a prisoner to Madrid where on 14th January 1526, he signed a treaty with Charles relinquishing any claim on Italy, Artois and Burgundy, the last of which he surrendered to Charles. He also promised to marry the Emperor's widowed sister Eleanor, and was released on 6th March. As soon as he got back to France, Francis repudiated the treaty, claiming that he had signed it under duress, and was backed in this by Pope Clement VII, who was afraid of the Emperor's growing power. It would not be long before the Italian Wars began again.
19. The League of Cognac and the Sack of Rome
In 1526, Pope Clement VII, (pictured below), worried at the dominance of Charles, formulated the League of Cognac with the aim of driving him out of Italy. The adherents to the League were Florence, Venice, the exiled Sforzas of Milan and Francis I, who was still sulking about the terms of the Treaty of Madrid.
The League marched into Lombardy and seized the town of Lodi, but were forced back by Imperial troops, who also ejected Szorza from Milan. The Colonna family, allies of the League, briefly seized control of Rome, but were paid to leave. Charles formed two armies - one, mainly composed of German landsknechts, under George Friedberg and the other, mainly Spanish troops, under the Duke of Bourbon. They met up at Piacenza and advanced on Rome. The commander of the Papal forces, the politican and historian Francesco Guicciardini, was unable to oppose them. But when Bourbon was killed by a stray shot from the walls of Rome, his army (who had not been paid for some time and included a group of anti-Catholic Lutherans), ran riot and sacked the city on 5th May 1527. For details, follow the link to Sack of Rome
Francis then persuaded Henry VIII, who was seeking a divorce from Charles's aunt Katharine, to join him (Treaty of Westminster, 30th April, 1527). French troops besieged Naples and Genoa, but the defection of the Genoese commander Andrea Doria to Charles helped ensure that these were unsuccessful. In addition, an epidemic broke out amongst the French camp which killed most of the army. Doria forced the French to surrender at Savona and a relief force under the Duke of St. Pol was defeated at the Battle of Ladriano.
Francis was therefore forced to make peace with Charles. Both were rapidly running out of men and money. The peace was negotiated at Cambrai by Francis' mother Louise of Savoy (pictured left) and Charles's aunt Margaret of Austria, and was therefore known as 'the Ladies Peace' (5th August 1529). The terms were similar to those of the Treaty of Madrid, but allowed Francis to retain Burgundy. Charles then met with Clement at Bolgna and made peace with him. Florence continued to resist for a short time, but after defeat at the Battle of Gavinana, made peace with Charles and Alessandro de Medici was made Duke of Florence.
20. The Later Italian Wars
Despite all these setbacks, Francis did not give up trying to conquer Italy. The death of Franceso Sforza of Milan in 1536 and the consequent inheritance of the Duchy by Charles's son Phillip provoked a French invasion. Francis took Turin, but was unable to advance further. The war ended in 1538 with France retaining Turin but the map of Italy otherwise unchanged.
In 1542, Francis shocked public opinion by forming an offensive alliance with the Ottoman Sultan. This resulted in an invasion of France by Charles and Henry VIII but the end of the war in 1546 left the status quo untouched.
Francis' son Henry II made one last attempt on Italy in 1551. Defeated at the Battle of Marciano in 1553, he was eventually forced to make peace with Charles's son Phillip II in 1559. By the terms of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis signed on 3rd April, all French claims on Italy were renounced, leaving Spain in possession of Naples, Sicily, Sardinia and Milan, and the dominant force in central and northern Italy through its various client states. The Italian Wars, which had lasted for sixty-five years, were finally over.
Sixteenth-century painting of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis. Although this shows Henry II of France and Phillip II of Spain embracing to symbolise their agreement, they did not meet in person and the Treaty was actually signed by their ambassadors.
21. The Armies of the Italian Wars
Most of the armies of the Italian states consisted of mercenaries under hired captains known as condotierre. Some of these, such as Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua, were the lords of powerful states, whilst others were landless. In contrast, the armies of the main belligerents, France and Spain, were mainly composed of native troops who were fighting for their king and country as well as pay. This gave them the advantage of having loyal troops, although they supplemented their armies with mercenaries, particuarly German landsknechts and Swiss infantry.
In 'The Prince', Machiavelli criticised the Italians for relying on mercenaries and persuaded Florence to form a native militia, although it was not very successful. He also pinpointed the weaknesses of the various foreign armies: 'the Spaniards cannot withstand cavalry and the Swiss succomb to Spanish infantry', and went on to recommend the use of new types of infantry. Right - Italian armour, c. 1500
The wars saw the increasing development of artillery, from cannon, which were used in the first invasion in 1494 in the form of a mobile siege train. As time went on, there was a move towards the increasing use of arquebuses, or handguns. Old fashioned mounted knights, wearing armour similar to that shown in the picture, remained important and the French were especially skilled in the use of cavalry. New infantry formations were developed, using a combination of pikes and guns - Gonsalvo de Cordoba was especially successful in his reorganisation of the Spanish forces to improve flexibility.
Many of the engagements in the war involved sieges, and new siege engines were developed, not just cannon but mines and devices which equipped the besiegers to breach the walls. Cities developed new types of fortification for protection.
Many captains and generals fought in the Italian wars. The greatest of these was de Cordoba, who had learned his skills during the long war to conquer Granada. French generals such as the Chevalier Bayard and Yves d'Allegret were noted for their chivalry as well as their skill, and Italian leaders such as Francesco Gonzaga and Prospero Colonna also made their mark.
The wars resulted in the subjection of most of the Italian city-states, who had largely sunk to the level of Spanish satellites by 1559. Early on, Pope Alexander VI had realised that the only hope lay in a balance of power following the French invasion of 1494 when he told the Venetian ambassador that: 'the only safety of Italy lay in the jealousy of France and Spain'.
Although not always the aggressor, France was principally to blame for the wars. Despite the expenditure of vast amounts of money and much loss of life, successive French kings - Charles VIII, Louis XII, Francis I, and Henry II (left) - persisted with their repeated invasions. They ended up with no more territory than they had started with, although the wars helped to spread the ideas of the Renaissance to France. Spain was not blameless either - her initial partition and conquest of Naples (1500 - 1504), although probably prompted by fears at the prospect of losing Sicily, had led to further expansion at the expense of the native Italians. Successive popes, with the possible exception of Julius II, had put their family interests above the interest of both Italy and the Church. Italian states had switched sides repeatedly according to the whims of their governments, and others such as Venice had put their trading interests first. On the positive side, weak governments had been largely eliminated - Naples was stable and protected from Ottoman attacks by the Spanish, and the governors installed by Cesare Borgia and Julius II were generally more effective than their predecessors.
However, the wars took their effect on everyone. Two English envoys travelling through Lomardy in 1527 reported that 'the most goodly countree for corne and vynes that may be seen is so desolate that in all ways we sawe not oon man or woman in the fylde, nor yet creatour stirring but in great villaiges fyve or six myserable persons and in Pavia children crying in the street and dying of hunger' (Barbara Tuchman).
Could it have been different? Could Francis I and Charles V have put aside their differences and concentrated instead on stemming the advance of the Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean and in the Balkans? This was probably a vain hope, giving their inheritance and upbringing. Instead, 'the vast and useless destruction of cities, this devastation of provinces and the massacre of hundreds of thousands of lives eventually so exhausted the two states and their treasuries that a peace would have to be signed, but time and time again, this turned out to be no more than a temporary truce; a mere pause for rearmament before the next round of conflict' (Barnaby Rogerson) - pictured riight Phillip II of Spain.
23. Sources and Further Reading
Memoirs, Phillippe de Commynes
History of Italy, Francesco Guicciardini
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
The Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli
Ferdinand and Isabella, Felipe Fernandez Armesto
Louis XII, Frederick Baumgartner
Maximilian I, Gerhard Benecke
Cesare Borgia, Sarah Bradford
Charles V, Karl Brandl
The Spanish Kingdoms, Volume 2, Jocelyn Hillgarth
The Borgias, Marion Johnson
The Borgias, Michael Mallett
The Italian Wars, 1494 - 1559, Michael Mallet and Christine Shaw
Renaissance Diplomacy, Garrett Mattingly
The History of Venice, John Julius Norwich
The Last Crusaders, Barnaby Rogerson
Julius II, Christine Shaw
The March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman
The Habsburgs, Andrew Wheatcroft
Wikipedia article on the Italian Wars