SCENE 1: Introduction and causes
The Italian Peninsula at
the time of the beginning of the Italian wars was split up into
many different States each ruled differently and with different
ruling families or Republican governments. The main “city states”
as they were called were as follows: Naples, The Papal States, Florence,
Milan, Venice and Naples. In 1454 all of these city-states signed
a pact of peace, called the Peace of Lodi that promised a time of
peace for a 40-year period. This however was not to be as other
countries from outside Italy believed that they had territorial
rights on the peninsula with the result that Italy became a battle
ground between two outside countries/influences. This rivalry is
often named the Hapsburg / Valois Rivalry as it was between the
rival Royal families of the Hapsburgs, Spain, Austria and Burgundy
and the Royal family of France, the Valois. Other players in the
battle for Italy were in the beginning the Swiss and the English.
There was no major central
issue. The countries involved did not fight to gain more territories
or land but simply to satisfy a thirst for war and gain influence.
There was a tradition which had held over from the Dark Ages, that
there should always be war, and if there was peacetime, war should
be created to keep the people occupied.
SCENE 2: The first advance into
Italy in 1494
In summer of 1494 King
Charles VIII of France led 30000 men over the Alps with the purpose
of conquering Italy. The armies that were sent still relied heavily
on men-at-arms clad in armor but artillery played an increasing
part, as French artillery was far superior to any Italian counterpart.
The first stage of the
attack into Florence was easy as a certain Dominican preacher by
the name of Savonarola had, that same year, exiled the ruling and
very rich merchant family of the Medici, taking control of Florence
and handing it over to France in the hope that France would aid
them in the creation of a democracy.
The French then moved south
passing through Milan and the Papal states without much trouble
with the Neapolitan army retreating before them. Reaching Naples,
they destroyed the Neapolitan army, securing all Italy.
SCENE 3: The League of Defense
While the French armies
were in the South running amok, a league of defense was being created
between the Spanish, the Pope, Venice and Milan.
When the league’s forces
had gathered, the French were obliged to retreat north to prevent
them from being cut off from France and their supplies. They met
the leagues’ army on the Northern side of the Apennines and began
to negotiate with the league but only 15 minutes after negotiations
had begun, the battle started. The battle had no decisive victor
but the French were not stopped in moving back north and the league
managed to re-take Naples.
In Florence the monk Savonarola
continued preaching political freedom until he was excommunicated
by the Pope in 1497 and burnt at the stake in 1498. Although Savonarola
died Florence remained a French vassal until the year 1512 when
the old government was restored along with the powerful presence
of the Medici family.
SCENE 4: The French return to
Late in 1494 the French
king Charles VIII died with his cousin Louis XII succeeding him.
Louis renewed the war over Italy again. In 1499 he led his army
to conquer Milan and took the city with no trouble but in doing
so allowed the leader Sforza to escape to Austria where he appealed
to the Swiss for help. The Swiss, dissatisfied with the French gave
him 10000 men, which in 1500, marched on the city. The people of
the city opened up the gates to him but the troops decided that
their loyalties lay elsewhere and turned on their leader, Sforza
who was then taken by the French and imprisoned for life.
The French then again decided
to conquer Naples and control the whole of Italy but they did this
in conjunction with the king of Aragon (a kingdom on the east coast
of Spain), Ferdinand. By the treaty of Granada the two countries
agreed to jointly control the area. By 1503 Ferdinand had dissolved
the treaty and had taken control of Naples.
SCENE 5: The end of the French in Italy
When Pope Alexander VI
(1492 – 1503) died, Julius II succeeded. Julius showed no religious
humility in the sense that he fully supported war and encouraged
it in many forms. Firstly he created the League of Cambrai in 1508
with France, Britain, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire and in 1509
the French took control of Venice.
The Pope then changed his
approach and decided to expel the French from Italy altogether.
Julius also managed to sway the opinion of the Swiss away from favoring
the French as they had done until that time to supporting the papacy
and Spain through the promise of 6000 troops to expel the French
from Italy in exchange for certain subsidies.
In 1512 Julius and his
Swiss mercenaries were thoroughly defeated at the battle of Ravenna
on the 11th of April by the brilliant French general
Gaston de Foix who was unfortunately killed in the battle. After
his death the French began to lose their footing in Italy and were
quickly driven back to their border by the Swiss.
After Julius II died Louis XII again
tried to take Italy again before being turned back by the Swiss
in Northern Italy.
SCENE 6: Francis I of France retakes Italy
On the death of Charles VIII his
heir Francis I (1515 –1547) completed the preparations made by Charles
for another invasion into Italy. In 1515 he launched 40000 men into
the campaign to cross the alps which were heavily guarded by the
Swiss. Francis passed the Swiss ranks in secret and attacked from
the rear forcing them to begin retreating. On 13th September
the Swiss launched a surprise attack on the French ranks beginning
the battle of Marignano which is known as one of the fiercest battles
of the Italian wars. The battle went back and forward on both side
for two long days until finally the French, re-enforced by an army
of men from Venice, managed to break the Swiss ranks. In that battle
alone over 16500 men died and the aura of supposed Swiss ‘invincibility’
vanished. From that point on the Swiss had a very diminished effect
on the Italian wars.
SCENE 7: Spain consolidates power
In 1517 Emperor Maximilian of the
Holy Roman Empire fell gravely ill and died. The seat of the Holy
Roman Emperor was not a hereditary one but an election of certain
bishops and nobles. The three obvious candidates for the seat were
Charles V of Spain, Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England.
In the Renaissance period bribery was not illegal so all the candidates
began using large sums of money to try and sway the electors and
make their country look rich and powerful. Francis I was disadvantaged
in several ways by this election. He did not have sufficient money
to spend on bribes, secondly he, unlike the other candidates, had
no way to secure it and exchange it and thirdly the Spanish had
the convenience of an army camped around the city in which the vote
was taking place. Charles V secured the title and became one of
the most powerful rulers in Renaissance Europe.
When Charles was making his way to
Rome after the elections in 1521 to be crowned Francis decided to
intercept Charles en route. He succeeded but the Pope Leo X retaliated
swapping sides from that of France to that of Spain. His army entered
France but was repulsed after a heroic French defense of the Mézières.
Leo died that same year and was coincidently replaced by Charles
V’s old tutor as Pope Adrian VI.
SCENE 8: Treason of Bourbon
The French ‘constable’ was a man
by the name of Charles of Bourbon. He had never really been on amicable
terms with Francis I and when he was denied right due to his position
of constable, being given a command during a war, he was angered
and decided to ‘switch sides’. He had planned to wait for Francis
to attack Italy and then cut off his supplies by attacking from
the rear but this was not to be so. In 1523 he was discovered and
narrowly escaped to the mountains. His revolt had failed but he
had succeeded in managing to delay Francis in his attack on Italy.
In 1524 he returned at the head of
an army but was almost immediately cut off from his supplies. He
had hoped that many of his former vassals would rise up with him
when he returned but he was sadly mistaken.
In 1525 Francis attacked Italy and
besieged the city of Pavia, and soon took it. The French army was
then placed under siege when an Imperial army, camped outside the
city having been sent to relieve the city. They stayed there for
3 weeks until their supplies began running low when they attacked
the city in one of the most successful attacks of the war. They
took the French by surprise breaching the wall in 3 places. 8000
Frenchmen died compared to 700 dead Spanish soldiers. Francis I
had been captured.
SCENE 9: The Holy League of Cognac and
the sack of Rome
When Francis was captured England
put pressure on Charles V to totally annihilate France. Charles
on the other hand had other matters on his hands at the time including
his unpaid and mutinous Italian army and the Peasants war in Germany.
While Francis was in captivity his sister ruled in his stead. Francis
agreed to the Treaty of Madrid giving away all claims to Italian
territory but as soon as he was released he renounced the treaty
and created the Holy League of Cognac consisting of France, Venice,
the Papacy, Florence and Milan against Spain. The Spanish under
Bourbon managed to survive in Italy and, in revenge, began without
orders to march on Rome.
Pope Clement VII tried to stop them
by bribes but their price was too high so on 6 May 1527 they attacked
the city. Bourbon was among the first to die but the city was sacked;
tens of thousands of people were murdered and raped as the city
was stripped of all that was of value. During the week long sacking
of the city the Vatican was saved only because it was designated
as the headquarters of the man in charge of the force.
The French were quickly pulled out
of their stupor and attacked Italy again in 1528 only to be stopped
by disease and treason at the city of Naples. The pope then ceased
his neutrality and sided with the Spanish. Both sides weary of war
and in the anticipation of war with the Ottomans, the Peace of Cambrai
was signed on the 3rd of August 1528.
SCENE 10: The end of the war in Italy
When the Milanese leader, who supported
the French, died in 1536 Francis I again decided to take Milan.
The pope in retaliation advanced into France to be turned back at
the capital of Provence, Marseilles. The truce of Nice was signed
Again in 1544 Charles V attacked
France at the same time as Henry VIII and almost entered the French
capital but outside pressures were too strong and they signed the
Peace of Crepy in September so that Charles could deal with the
After Charles V abdicated in 1555
his successor Phillip II renewed the war with France in 1559 but
the weariness of war lead to the treaty of Cuteau-Cambresis on the
3rd of April 1559 bringing an the end to the Franco-Spanish
and Italian wars. After this time civil war broke out in France
between the Protestants and Catholics preventing any type of further
war effort for some time.