Italian Wars

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Feb 27, 2023

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Italian Wars - a series of armed conflicts fought between 1494 and 1559, involving France, Spain, the German Habsburg family, the Church State, Venice, Florence, Naples, Milan and numerous small Italian states; sometimes other countries - England, Scotland, Switzerland or even the Ottoman Empire - were involved in the wars.

The immediate cause of their outbreak was French claims to succession in the Kingdom of Naples and the Duchy of Milan. Andrzej Wyczanski said that two phases of the Italian wars could be distinguished: in the first, lasting from 1494 to 1516, the aim of the wars was the subjugation of all or part of the Apennine Peninsula by Western European powers. In the second phase, which lasted from 1521 to 1559, Italy was just one theater of warfare, and the cause of the wars was primarily a rivalry for hegemony in Western Europe, fought between the Habsburgs, who under Charles V had concentrated in their hands the thrones of Spain, Naples, Sicily, the Netherlands and Austria, as well as the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire, and France, now encircled by Habsburg possessions. The largest of the clashes is the Battle of Pavia in 1525, in Lombardy, in which Charles V's army defeated the French army, taking King Francis I of France prisoner. However, this one, breaking a later (capitulation) peace treaty, eluded the Spaniards. The Italian wars ended, due to Spain's bankruptcy and the beginning of religious upheaval in France (Huguenots), with the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis in the Netherlands. A significant element of these wars is the frequently changing coalitions that were often formed by recent enemies against recent allies.

Parties to the conflict

The Italian Wars were initiated by King Charles VIII of France's 1494-1495 expedition to Italy with the goal of conquering the Kingdom of Naples. In the 15th century, claims to this kingdom were made by the Valois of the Anjou-Valois line, and in 1435 they even succeeded in subduing it, but in 1442 they were ousted from there by King Alfonso V of Aragon. When the Anjou-Valois dynasty expired in 1481, their claim to Naples was taken over by the French crown, but King Louis XI did not raise claims to the territory, and only his son and successor Charles VIII, who decided to claim the Andegavian inheritance militarily as soon as he took the helm of government in France. Plans for wars in Italy were also supported by a wide swath of the French aristocracy and nobility, hoping for the opportunity to enrich themselves with great booty and war fame, while Italy, broken into many feuding states, seemed a potentially easy prey. Also, the regent of the Duchy of Milan, Louis Sforza, encouraged Charles VIII to invade, fearing the alliance between the Kingdom of Naples and Florence concluded against him, and hoped to destroy his enemies and secure his supremacy in Italy thanks to the French. Pope Alexander VI, who was in conflict with King Ferdinand I of Naples over Anguillara, Cervetri and several other strongholds near Rome (which were held by Virginio Orsini, one of the commanders of the Neapolitan army, who was a friend of Peter II de Medici), entered into an alliance with Milan and the Republic of Venice in April 1493; he also initially approved Ludovico Sforza's plan to summon Charles VIII to Italy. Ferdinand I, however, compromised with the pope by forcing Virginio Orsini to pay Alexander to leave him in possession of the disputed castles, and by marrying Sancia, the illegitimate daughter of Alfonso, son of Ferdinand I and heir to the Neapolitan throne, to the pope's illegitimate son, Jofré Borgia, and granting Jofré the duchy of Squillace; In return, the pope recalled the Milanese and Venetian troops sent to him, and made an alliance with Ferdinand. Ferdinand I died on January 25, 1494; the throne was succeeded by his son Alfonso, who renewed his alliance with Alexander VI shortly after ascending the throne. Shortly thereafter, envoys of Charles VIII arrived in Rome in an attempt to obtain the Pope's investiture of the Kingdom of Naples for the French king. The Pope stated that as the senior of the Kingdom of Naples, it was up to him to decide who had greater rights to its throne and that Charles should leave the issue to his judgment; he also warned Charles against starting a war to assert his rights to Naples.

The first French troops crossed the Alps in May 1494; hostilities had already begun in the summer. Expecting the French to strike Naples through the eastern part of the Apennine Peninsula, the new King Alfonso II of Naples decided to send troops under the command of his son Ferdinand against them. They reached Romagna in mid-July, but proved too weak to threaten the Duchy of Milan. Alfonso also sent his fleet north to threaten Genoa, which was subordinate to Milan. In July 1494, the fleet unsuccessfully attempted to disembark on the Ligurian coast, but after failing, sailed for Livorno, only to return to Ligurian waters in late August. This time it succeeded in disembarking 4,000 troops on the coast and occupied Rapallo on September 5, but on September 8 the French fleet forced the Neapolitan fleet to retreat, and the Neapolitan troops disembarking at Rapallo were broken up by the French and the Swiss in their service.

A little earlier, at the end of August 1494, the main French force, numbering more than 30,000 troops under the command of Charles VIII himself, crossed the Alps and entered the Duchy of Milan through the Duchy of Savoy and the Duchy of Orléans belonging to Louis of Asti. It was not until the second half of October that the French moved further south into Tuscany; meanwhile Ludovico Sforza, taking advantage of the death of the rightful ruler of Milan, Gian Galeazzo, assumed the title of duke himself. In turn, Neapolitan troops in Romagna, after the capture of Mordano by Franco-Milanese forces operating in the area, retreated to Cesena in late October, from where they began a further retreat south a month later.

The main French forces crossed the Apennines and attacked Florentine territory; although the siege of Sarzana, which they had begun, was unsuccessful, Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici, terrified by the French attack on his country, agreed to negotiate with Charles VIII and soon accepted all of his opponent's terms; according to the agreement signed, he agreed to let the French pass through Florentine territory, pay them a 200,000 florin ransom and surrender to them the fortresses in Sarzana, Pietrasanta, Pisa and Livorno. This capitulation of the Florentine ruler, however, angered the Florentine people, who overthrew Medici in early November and restored the republic. This did not stop the march of French troops; Charles VIII, after passing through Lucca and Pisa (which, taking advantage of the cover of French troops, declared independence) entered Florence on November 17, 1494. Here, once again, he had to negotiate a treaty with the Florentine authorities, as the new republic rejected Medici's agreement with France. In the end, Charles VIII agreed to reduce the ransom to be paid to him by Florence, and promised to return the seized fortresses as soon as he succeeded in conquering Naples.

In late November, the French left Florence and advanced on Rome via Siena. Pope Alexander VI initially tried to resist the French; however, he could not count on the support of the Roman people or the powerful Roman factions, and the situation was made worse by his indecisive actions. The papal commanders Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna sided with the French and occupied Ostia; the French took Civitavecchia; and finally, the pope was betrayed by some of the Orsini, offering Charles VIII his fortress of Bracciano. Faced with these setbacks, Alexander VI decided to cease resistance and allowed Charles VIII's troops into Rome on December 31, 1494. Some of the anti-papal opposition, including. Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who accompanied the French king, proposed to Charles VIII that he take the opportunity to convene a council to remove Alexander VI from the throne; however, Valesius chose not to take this step and contented himself with making a deal with the pope under which he gained the right to march through the territory of the Church State, the fortress of Civitavecchia and two hostages, including the pope's son Caesar (who, by the way, soon fled to Spoleto).

At the end of January 1495, Charles VIII left Rome and continued toward Naples. French troops crossed the border of the Kingdom of Naples and entered Abruzzo, where they occupied L'Aquila. Alfonso II, horrified by the invasion, abdicated in favor of his son Ferdinand (reigning as Ferdinand II) and fled the country. The new king, however, failed to organize the country's defense. The French, after an artillery bombardment of several hours, captured Monte San Giovanni, then moved against the Neapolitans defending the Liri River line; however, the Neapolitans retreated toward Capua, allowing the French to capture Gaeta. Ferdinand II had to leave his army to relieve unrest in Naples; in his absence, Gian Giacomo Trivulzio was to command the Neapolitan troops. This one, however, entered into negotiations with Charles VIII and went over to his side, surrendering Capua to him and opening the way to Naples. Ferdinand II fled to Ischia, and on February 22, 1495, Charles VIII entered Naples. The castles of Castel Nuovo and Castel dell'Ovo were still in the hands of Neapolitan troops at the time, but their crews, too, surrendered by the end of March. In Naples, Charles VIII crowned himself King of Naples and also Emperor of Byzantium, a title to which - since the fall of Constantinople in 1453 no longer of real significance - he bought the rights from Andreas Paleologus, nephew of Emperor Constantine XI; he also began planning a crusade against the Turks to rebuild the Byzantine Empire under his scepter.

Meanwhile, the rapid advances of the French army terrified the Italian states, including hitherto neutral Venice and even Ludovico Sforza, who was allied with the French (they realized that the success of Charles VIII could mean French domination in Italy and a threat to the independence of all Italian states. Also, the rulers of the Western European powers - King Ferdinand of Aragon of Spain and King Maximilian I of Habsburg of Rome - did not want to look idly at the rise of French power. Ferdinand of Aragon sent an army and fleet to Spanish-owned Sicily under the command of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, and the Republic of Venice began to arm itself, officially against the Turks. On March 31, 1495, the anti-French League was finally concluded in Venice with the participation of the Pope, Milan, the Republic of Venice, Maximilian Habsburg and Spain. Of the more important Italian states, only Florence did not join the League. The threat of being cut off from France hung over French troops in Naples.

Fortunately for Charles VIII, the Duke of Orléans Louis, who remained in Asti, quickly received reinforcements from France, so that he was able not only to defend Asti from the League's troops, but even in June 1495 to enter Milanese territory and capture Novara (thus tying up the League's forces, mainly Milanese, and giving Charles VIII time to retreat north. Charles VIII left Naples at the end of May, leaving, incidentally, some troops in the Kingdom of Naples to fight Ferdinand II, who had landed in Calabria with Spanish troops, in order to retake his state. Passing through Rome (from where, on hearing of the approach of the French, Alexander VI fled to Orvieto), Siena and Pisa, the French king reached northern Italy. Here he split his forces, sending part of his troops to an operation against Genoa, which was acting against the French. Another of his troops occupied and sacked Pontremoli, opening the main army's way towards Asti. The further road, however, was replaced by the French by the troops of the League. On July 6, 1495, at Fornovo di Taro, a French force of about 10,000 men clashed with the League army, which was 3 times more numerous. The Italians, however, were unable to exploit their numerical superiority and a large part of their army did not enter the battle; although they were able to seize most of the French stock (with the huge booty captured by the French during the campaign), they failed to destroy or immobilize the French army. As a result, Charles VIII was able to continue his march north after the battle and finally reached Asti in mid-July.

Here the French monarch learned how serious the situation of his troops was in northern Italy. Even before the Battle of Fornovo, a small French fleet carrying booty from Naples had been wrecked at Rapallo by the Genoese fleet; the campaign against Genoa had failed; and finally Novara was besieged by the main Milanese force, which after the Battle of Fornovo was joined by the rest of the League army. Charles decided not to move to Novara's aid, considering that he did not have enough forces to do so; he enlisted the Swiss to reinforce his army, but at the same time entered into peace negotiations with the League. At the end of September, his French garrison left Novara on honorable terms; shortly thereafter, however, some 20,000 Swiss mercenaries arrived in the French camp. Both sides were no longer interested in prolonging hostilities; in October, Charles VIII made peace with Milan at Vercelli, after which he returned to France with his army.

Hostilities ceased in northern Italy, but continued in the Kingdom of Naples. At the end of June 1495, the French (with the help of Swiss mercenaries) defeated the Spanish-Neapolitan forces there at the Battle of Semina. However, this did not significantly improve their situation in this theater of warfare; in early July Ferdinand II, with the help of his fleet and with the support of the city's inhabitants, captured the city of Naples. The French viceroy of Naples, Gilbert de Bourbon-Montpensier, withdrew his troops to the Neapolitan castles; after a siege of several months, however, he and some of his troops left Naples and fled to Salerno. By February 1496, the French garrisons of Castel Nuovo and Castel dell'Ovo had surrendered to Ferdinand II. Neapolitan and Spanish forces gradually reduced the area controlled by the French. In July 1496, the main French forces in the Kingdom of Naples capitulated at Atella; King Ferdinand II of Naples died shortly thereafter, and his uncle, reigning as Frederick IV, took over the kingdom. It was during his reign that the last French resistance point in his kingdom, Gaeta, fell (November 19, 1496). In March 1497, Córdoba's Spanish troops helped Pope Alexander VI recapture Ostia.

In 1496, hostilities also took place on the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees. The Spaniards organized raids into the Languedoc, ravaging areas from the border as far as Carcassonne and Narbonne. In retaliation, the French attacked Spanish Roussillon, capturing the fortress of Salses; however, in October 1496, a truce stopped hostilities in the Pyrenees. However, a final peace between France and Spain was not concluded until after the death of Charles VIII, on August 5, 1498.

The war brought only minor territorial changes in Italy; Venice seized several ports in Apulia in exchange for help to Ferdinand II, Florence's neighbors, taking advantage of its weakness, took several strongholds from it, and Pisa declared independence, which became the cause of its years-long war with Florence. To France, Charles VIII's Italian expedition brought only losses; however, this did not discourage the French king, who soon began planning a new expedition to Italy. In preparation for it, he concluded an agreement with the Swiss cantons in 1496, and in 1497 began negotiations with Spain on the matter, hoping to conquer Naples in concert with it. The sudden death of Charles VIII in 1498 interrupted these plans. Earlier, however, terrified by the threat of a new invasion, the Italian states tried to communicate with Maximilian of Habsburg, urging him to come to Italy and take back Asti from the French. In the fall of 1496, Maximilian even entered Italy at the head of a small army; he attacked the territory of Florence, still favorable to France, besieging Livorno. However, the French fleet was supplying Livorno, and the rains and cold made things worse for the besiegers; eventually Maximilian began a retreat and reached Milan's Pavia with his army in December, after which he retreated beyond the Alps.

Territorial impact on individual countries

Charles VIII left no male descendant, so the throne of France was assumed by his distant cousin, Louis, Duke of Orleans, reigning henceforth as Louis XII. The new monarch inherited his predecessor's claim to Naples, but soon also raised his own claim to another Italian territory: The Duchy of Milan. Louis was the grandson of Valentina of the Visconti, daughter of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan; the Valois of the Orleans line claimed that after the extinction of Milan's reigning Visconti dynasty in 1447, it was they who had inherited the rights to the principality, and from this they made claims to it. Added to this was the fresh memory of Ludovic Sforza's betrayal during Charles VIII's Italian War; so when Louis could already wield all the military power of France, he immediately turned against Sforza.

In preparing for war, Louis XII sought to secure the most favorable international situation possible. He made treaties with England, Spain and the Dutch ruler Philip, securing himself from their attack; he reached an agreement with the Swiss cantons, ensuring that he could enlist mercenaries; finally, he also dragged the Republic of Venice and the Pope to his side. To the Republic, he promised Cremona and the Milanese lands east of the Adda River; to Alexander VI, the marriage of Cesare Borgia to Charlotte d'Albert, sister of King John III of Navarre; the granting to Cesare of the Duchy of Valentinois in the Dauphinate; and the assistance of French troops in bringing under papal authority the numerous states in Romagna, formally under papal sovereignty but in practice almost completely independent. The Pope, in return, not only supported Louis XII's war plans, but additionally annulled his marriage to Joanna de Valois, allowing the French king to marry Anne, Duchess of Brittany.

Ludovico Sforza in the spring and summer of 1499 tried to prepare his country for defense against a hostile invasion; he also tried to secure the military assistance of Maximilian of Habsburg, but the latter was too involved in the war with the Swiss to support the Duke of Milan. The King of Naples was also unable to help Ludovic; a desperate Sforza went so far as to call on the Turks for help. Bayezid II even went to war with Venice in 1499; the war lasted until 1503 and brought Turkey territorial gains at the expense of the Republic, but did not improve the situation of the Duke of Milan. In July 1499, French troops crossed the Alps and in early August concentrated around Asti. Under the command of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, the French moved west, took Valenza and Tortona, and approached Alessandria on August 25. Galeazzo San Severino, who was defending the city, had to face a numerically superior enemy, unsure of the loyalty of his soldiers; after a few days he fled, leaving his troops to the mercy of the French. Those, having occupied Alessandria, moved further east. When, in addition, the commander of the Milanese troops defending the Duchy's eastern border against the Venetians, the Marquis of Mantua, Francis II Gonzaga, offered Louis XII his services, further defense of Milan became impossible. On September 2, Ludovico Sforza left Milan and fled to the Tyrol. He left only a garrison in the Milan castle under the command of Bernardino da Corte; however, this one soon betrayed, selling the castle to the French. Eventually, the French garrisoned the entire area of the Duchy of Milan west of the Adda, while the areas east of that river were occupied by Venice; the French king's sovereignty was also recognized by Genoa. On October 6, 1499, Louis XII made a triumphal entry into Milan.

The French king spent a month in Milan; in early November 1499 he set off back to France, taking with him Gian Galeazzo Sforza's first-born son, Francesco, and leaving Gian Giacomo Trivulzio as commander-in-chief of the French troops in Milan. Part of Louis XII's army, in accordance with his agreement with Alexander VI, was now moving into Romagna to help Cesare Borgia break the resistance of the states there. With the help of the French king, the pope planned to carve out a state in Romagna for his son, which could become the basis for the power of the Borgia family. Caesar's forces and the French still captured Imola in late 1499, and Forlì on January 12, 1500. Caesar now planned to attack Pesaro, but the French troops supporting him left his camp and advanced toward Lombardy, forcing the Borgia to temporarily halt their campaign.

The reason for the French marching north was unexpectedly a threat to their rule in the Duchy of Milan. The population of the Duchy quickly became alienated from the invaders, who hindered the development of trade and imposed heavy taxes to maintain the occupying army, which in turn unscrupulously looted the civilian population. The discontent of his former subjects decided to take advantage of Ludovico Sforza, deciding to try to retake his duchy. This time he obtained the help of Maximilian Habsburg, who had already ended the war with the Swiss; Sforza also enlisted a large number of Swiss mercenaries. Eventually, with an army of 20,000 soldiers, Sforza struck the principality in January 1500. When, on top of this, uprisings against the French began to break out in the principality's territories upon hearing of Ludovic's approach, the French were forced to retreat. On February 3, 1500, Trivulzio evacuated Milan, leaving only a garrison in the Milanese castle; 2 days later Ludovico Sforza himself entered the city. However, he did not succeed in preventing Trivulzio's troops from retreating to Novara and Mortara, nor from joining up there with French troops advancing from Romagna; attempts to recapture Milan Castle from the hands of the French also failed. Ludovico therefore moved west with his army; through Pavia he reached Vigevano, which he captured, after which he besieged the French in Novara; this surrendered to him at the end of March. However, at Mortara, the French gradually prepared for a counterattack; reinforcements from France soon arrived, and in early April Swiss mercenaries also arrived. Then the French decided to move against the Milanese troops. Sforza summoned Francis Gonzaga to his aid and returned to his service - but the latter, foreseeing the imminent demise of the Duke of Milan and not wishing to incur the wrath of France and the Venetians, limited himself to sending a small detachment of troops to his aid. On April 8, 1500, Ludovico decided to fight a battle with French troops at Novara; however, when the Swiss in his service refused to fight against his compatriots fighting on the side of the French, further resistance became impossible. On April 10, Sforza was taken prisoner; soon after, he was taken to Loches Castle, where he died in 1508. Louis XII's power in the Duchy of Milan was restored. The Swiss, as payment for their help in defeating Sforza, occupied Bellinzona in 1500.

Now that French rule in the Duchy of Milan was not threatened, Louis XII could begin to plan the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. He revisited the idea of attacking the country in concert with Spain, and in November 1500 concluded the Treaty of Granada with Ferdinand of Aragon, providing for the division of Naples; the southern part of the country, with Apulia and Calabria, was to be occupied by Ferdinand of Aragon, while the northern part, with Campania, Abruzzo and the city of Naples itself, was to be seized by Louis XII. The French king also received the support of Alexander VI; King Frederick of Naples tried in vain to pull the Pope to his side, even threatening to call the Turks to his aid - he only gave the invaders a propaganda pretext to attack his kingdom. Unfamiliar with the contents of the Treaty of Granada, Frederick hoped that Spanish troops arriving in Sicily under Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba would help him repel the French invasion; Ferdinand of Aragon did not lead him astray. In May 1501, French troops concentrated in the Duchy of Milan and then moved south, reaching Capua in July. The Neapolitans tried to organize defenses here, but the French quickly managed to break their resistance and capture the town. The Spaniards landed in Calabria; Frederick, thinking they were coming to relieve him, let them into the fortresses himself. When he realized that France and Spain had allied against him, further defense of the kingdom was no longer possible. On August 2, Frederick fled to Ischia; 2 days later the French garrisoned the castles of Naples. In the south, Córdoba, without encountering much resistance, occupied the part of the Kingdom of Naples falling to Ferdinand of Aragon. Only Tarent put up fierce resistance to the Spaniards; it fell only in March 1502. King Frederick finally decided to make a deal with Louis XII, relinquishing the Neapolitan crown in his favor and going into exile in France.

Very soon, however, disputes began to erupt between France and Spain over the exact division of the Kingdom of Naples. The Treaty of Granada explicitly assigned certain parts of the Kingdom to the various invaders, but made no mention of the affiliation of other provinces, such as Basilicata and Capitanata. The question of the latter's affiliation in particular proved difficult to resolve; it had strong economic ties with French-controlled Abruzzi, and on the other hand the Spaniards considered it part of their appurtenant Apulia. Border disputes grew and in July 1502 led to an open war between France and Spain. In the first phase of the war, the French, reinforced by freshly arrived reinforcements, gained the upper hand over the Córdoba-led Spaniards; they captured Cerignola and Canosa later in the summer. Córdoba retreated to Barletta, also holding Tarent; fortunately for him, the French commanders were unable to seize the opportunity to destroy a weaker opponent. Although Spanish troops going to Córdoba's relief in late 1502 were defeated by the French at the Battle of Terranova in Calabria, in early 1503 the Spanish fleet surprised the weaker French fleet in the port of Otranto, forcing the French to sink their ships to prevent them from falling into enemy hands; this success ensured the supply of supplies to Barletta by sea. Córdoba, taking advantage of the passivity of the French, led frequent raids against them; in February 1503, during one such raid, he even succeeded in seizing Ruvo. In March, reinforcements from Spain arrived in Reggio, tying up part of the French forces in Calabria; in April, soldiers from Germany sent to Barletta by Maximilian of Habsburg came to his aid. By the end of April, Córdoba could already decide on a major offensive; with his army he left Barletta and took Cerignola. The French, under the command of the Duc de Nemours, moved against him. On April 28, 1503, the Battle of Cerignola took place; the attack of the French and the Swiss fighting on their side on the Spanish fortifications ended in their total defeat, de Nemours himself was killed in the course of the battle. Since earlier, on April 21, 1503, another French army had suffered defeat at Semina in Calabria, Córdoba was now able to move directly on Naples; he entered it in mid-May. The French held only castles in the kingdom's capital, which, by the way, thanks to the actions of Spanish engineer Pedro Navarro, soon also fell into Córdoba's hands; an Italian condottier in Spanish service, Prospero Colonna, took Abruzzo. The French, however, managed to hold Gaeta and even sent reinforcements from Genoa by sea; further south, French troops rescued from the Battle of Cerignola held Venosa.

After the loss of Naples, Louis XII sent three new armies against the Spanish; two of them took up positions on the border with Spain in the Pyrenees. One of them, under the command of Alain d'Albret, was to strike in the western Pyrenees against Spanish Fuenterrabía. Ferdinand of Aragon, however, secured friendly relations with Alain d'Albret's son, King John III of Navarre, whose estates were adjacent to the planned route of march of d'Albret's army; as a result, the latter did not attack Spanish territory at all. The second army attacked Roussillon in September, besieging Salses on September 16. However, the French failed to capture the fortress, and to make matters worse for them, in October Spanish troops under the command of Ferdinand of Aragon himself moved to its relief. When Ferdinand reached Perpignan on October 19, the French began a retreat; Ferdinand followed them into French territory, garrisoning several border towns and reaching Narbonne, then turned back with his booty, abandoning the captured towns.

A third army, commanded by Louis de la Trémoille and reinforced by contingents from Florence, Ferrara, Bologna and Mantua, moved into southern Italy in August to retake Naples. Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia tried to manoeuvre between the warring powers during this period; their efforts were interrupted by the death of the Pope on August 18. French troops, instead of Naples, now moved near Rome, stopping only at Nepi; their presence was intended to influence the cardinals to elect a French candidate, Cardinal d'Amboise, as the new pope. Córdoba, too, sent some troops under the command of Mendoza and Fabrizio Colonna to the vicinity of Rome to observe the movements of the French. Subjected to such pressure, the cardinals decided on a temporary solution, choosing the old and ailing Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini. It was realized that this would not be a long pontificate; indeed, Piccolomini, as Pius III, was pope for only a month. After his election, French troops - under the command of the Marquis of Mantua François Gonzaga, who was again in the service of Louis XII, replacing the ailing Trémoille - moved further south. This gave the cardinals more freedom at the next conclave after the death of Pius III; this time they elected Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who took the name Julius II.

While the French troops remained near Rome, the Spaniards under Córdoba's command besieged Gaeta; however, the losses suffered and the ineffectiveness of the siege eventually forced them to withdraw to Castellone (now part of Formia), a few kilometers away. At first, Córdoba prepared to return to Gaeta, but when he learned that after the election of Pius III the French had crossed the Tiber and were moving south, he left Castellone with his army on October 6 and retreated to the more easily defended Garigliano River line. The French initially marched south along the Via Latina, but soon encountered Córdoba's army here, controlling San Germano, Aquino and Roccasecca; the French attack on Roccasecca was repulsed, and the incessant rain and problems obtaining food made it difficult to continue the march. Francis Gonzaga therefore decided to change his route of march and along the right bank of the Garigliano River moved toward the Via Appia. In early November, the French attempted to cross the Garigliano, but were repulsed by Spanish troops; both armies now took up positions on opposite sides of the river, remaining there for almost two months. Both armies lacked food and money, and had to contend with rain and cold. However, while Córdoba managed to maintain discipline in his army, the Marquis of Mantua and the Marquis of Saluzzo, who helped him, did not; they did not enjoy the respect of the French officers and soldiers under them. The French also began to disperse in search of food. Córdoba took advantage of this dispersion; in the last days of December he prepared his army for battle and crossed Garigliano on December 29, attacking the unsuspecting French. The battle of Garigliano ended in total defeat for the French army; their survivors retreated to Gaeta, where they capitulated on January 1, 1504. At that point, the garrison of Venosa under the command of Louis d'Ars, no longer able to count on relief, abandoned this fortress and crossed into France. Ferdinand of Aragon, now lord of the entire Kingdom of Naples (not counting a few ports on the Adriatic Sea that had been occupied by Venosa since the invasion of Charles VIII), appointed Córdoba as the first Viceroy of Naples; he also gave him the honorary title of El Gran Capitán - "The Great Captain."

These defeats prompted Louis XII to cease hostilities; in early 1504, the French king concluded a truce with Ferdinand of Aragon in Lyon, under which Spain kept the Kingdom of Naples and France kept the Duchy of Milan (without relinquishing its rights to Naples, by the way). Relations between France and Spain improved in 1505, when Ferdinand of Aragon, after the death of his wife, Queen Isabella I of Castile, married Louis XII's cousin, Germaine de Foix. The French king then transferred his rights to the Kingdom of Naples to Germaine, recognizing it as her dowry. Ferdinand of Aragon, in return, pledged to return the Kingdom of Naples to France if his marriage to Germaine proved childless; however, he had no intention of keeping this pledge. In June 1507, the two monarchs even met in Savona.

In the shadow of this war, Caesar Borgia's downfall took place. From the autumn of 1500, he resumed hostilities, expanding his own state in Romagna and Marche. He quickly occupied Pesaro, Rimini and Faenza, then also Piombino, Camerino, the duchy of Urbino and Senigallia; the still-struggling Florence of Pisa surrendered to him. Borgia now began planning a crackdown on Bologna and Florence; however, the death of Alexander VI, depriving him of support from Rome, interrupted these plans. To make matters worse, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere was a fierce enemy of the Borgias and, after becoming pope, turned against Cesare in no time. The Borgias quickly lost all their estates; some, like Imola and Forli, were incorporated directly into the papal possessions, while others, like Pesaro, Piombino and the duchy of Urbino, were returned to their former rulers. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Venetian troops entered Romagna, occupying Rimini and Faenza. Combined with Ravenna, which had already been occupied for decades, this gave the Venetian Republic a strong position in Romagna; at the same time, however, it brought it into inevitable conflict with Julius II.

Territorial impact on individual countries

After the French were ousted from the Kingdom of Naples, peace reigned between the Western European powers for several years. There were no large-scale wars in Italy at the time, but there were several smaller armed conflicts. There was still a war between Pisa, which was fighting for its independence, and Florence, which was trying to regain control of the city. During its course, the Italian condottieri Bartolomeo d'Alviano, then in Spanish service, attacked Florentine territory in an attempt not only to help Pisa, but also to restore Medici rule in Florence; however, on August 17, 1505, Florentine troops led by Ercole Bentivoglio and Antonio Giacomini inflicted a defeat on him at the Battle of San Vincenzo. Finally, the Florentine army captured Pisa in 1509.

The war effort was also led by Pope Julius II. This fierce enemy of Alexander VI and the entire Borgia family, largely continued his policy of subjugating quasi-independent states within the Church State to papal authority. Having dismantled the state of Cesare Borgia, he began to prepare for a crackdown on Perugia and Bologna. He even managed to enlist the cooperation of Louis XII, although Bologna had so far been under the protection of the French king; the pope accomplished this by promising Louis' associate, Cardinal d'Amboise, that he would appoint his relatives as cardinals. In August, the pope, at the head of his troops, left Rome and advanced on Baglion-ruled Perugia; the Baglions did not even try to resist and opened the city gates to the pope on September 13. Having put the city's affairs in order, Julius II moved further north to capture Bologna, on the way (October 7) excommunicating Giovanni Bentivoglio, who ruled it. Bentivoglio initially counted on the help of the French king; however, when he learned that the latter had allied himself with the Pope and sent troops to help him capture Bologna, he could no longer defend himself. So he fled the city and surrendered to the French, while Bologna opened its gates to the troops of Julius II.

Having subjugated Perugia and Bologna, Julius II was able to focus on preparations for war with Venice. The pope wanted to subjugate all of Romagna to his authority, and this required taking back from the Venetians their possessions in the area - Faenza, Rimini, Ravenna and Cervia. His demands for the return of these cities were rejected by the Venetian Senate, prompting the Pope to begin preparations for war with Venice. However, Julius II was too weak to start a war against the Republic of St. Mark alone; hence, during this period, papal diplomacy worked to form a coalition against the Republic with the participation of Western European powers.

Parties to the conflict

The opportunity for an armed crackdown on Venice was provided by the Pope's conflict between the Republic and Maximilian of Habsburg. Maximilian, hitherto bearing only the title of King of Rome, in 1507 began preparations for an expedition at the head of his troops to Rome, where he could be crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Reaching Rome, however, required passage through Venetian territories, and the authorities of the Republic refused Maximilian's troops the right to march through their lands. For Habsburg, who dreamed of expanding his access to the Adriatic Sea and taking back from Venice the lands that were once part of the Empire, this refusal was the perfect pretext for war. In February 1508, Maximilian, having assumed the title of "elected Roman emperor," invaded Venetian territory. However, the war did not go the Habsburg's way; France (for the time being) did not act against its Venetian ally, and the imperial troops were driven outside the borders of the Republic. To make matters worse for Maximilian, the Venetian army, commanded by Bartolomeo d'Alviano (who had managed to switch from Spanish to Venetian service) went on the counteroffensive, capturing - included in Maximilian's hereditary possessions - Pordenone, Gorizia and Trieste. Defeated, Maximilian in June 1508 concluded a three-year truce with Venice, leaving the cities seized in the course of the war in its possession; the emperor was thus cut off from the Adriatic Sea.

France tried to seize the opportunity and include its ally and fierce enemy of Maximilian, Prince Charles of Gelderland, in the truce; however, Venice did not support this proposal. This led to a cooling of Franco-Venetian relations and made Louis XII more sympathetic to the papal proposals for an anti-Venetian alliance. In fact, this was not just one diplomatic affront; the growing power of Venice, whose past wars in Italy had brought territorial gains in Apulia, Lombardy, Romagna and on the border with Austria, was causing concern and jealousy among other states. In the process, Maximilian I and Julius II had territorial claims to Venice; Ferdinand of Aragon also wanted to take back the Apulian ports controlled by the Republic. Louis XII, meanwhile, was beginning to hope that territorial gains at Venice's expense would compensate him for the loss of Naples. Finally, after lengthy negotiations, on December 10, 1508, representatives of Louis XII and Maximilian I formed a league against Venice in the city of Cambrai; Ferdinand of Aragon, Savoy, Ferrara and Mantua later joined the league as well. The League's goal was the partition of Venetian possessions in Italy. Ferdinand of Aragon was to occupy the Venetian-occupied ports in Apulia; Maximilian of Habsburg was to regain the lands lost in 1508, and on top of that occupy the areas that were once part of the Empire - Friuli, Padua, Verona, Vicenza and Treviso; finally, Louis XII was to occupy those areas of the Duchy of Milan that Venice had captured in 1499, and on top of that, Brescia, Crema and Bergamo.

The Venetian Republic was preparing to repel the attack, while negotiating with Julius II in an effort to prevent him from joining the League of Cambrai. However, the Pope was already determined to attack Venice; in March 1509 he formally joined the League. On April 7, France declared war on the Republic; on April 27, Julius II excommunicated Venice and entered the war; Duke of Urbino Francesco Maria della Rovere, Julius II's nephew, entered Romagna at the head of papal troops. Ferdinand of Aragon and Maximilian I had not yet joined the war for the time being.

In this situation, the settlement took place in Lombardy. The first French troops crossed the Adda in mid-April, capturing the French-friendly town of Treviglio. However, the French were still too weak for a major offensive, and soon the main Venetian force, led by Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Niccolò di Pitigliano, arrived at Adda. The Venetian commanders, however, did not agree on how the war should be conducted; d'Alviano wanted to cross the Adda and attack the French in the Duchy of Milan; the more cautious Pitigliano wanted to limit himself to holding the Adda line and recapturing Treviglio from the hands of the French. His opinion prevailed; in early May, Venetian troops recaptured Treviglio, then ravaged and burned the town to punish them for their treachery. While the Venetians were occupied at Treviglio, the main French force, commanded by Louis XII himself, crossed the Adda at Cassano. The Venetian commanders were bound by orders from the Senate of the Republic, according to which they were to avoid a pitched battle; the French, taking advantage of their passivity, captured Rivolta. Louis XII's troops then moved toward Pandino, with the intention of cutting off the Venetians from Crema and Cremona; they failed to carry out this plan, as the Venetians also moved south. However, on May 14, near Agnadello, French troops encountered the rear guard of the Venetian army, commanded by Bartolomeo d'Alviano. This one, occupying a conveniently defensible position on the hills, repulsed the first French attacks, while calling for help from Niccolò di Pitigliano. This one, however, decided to stick to the Senate's instructions and avoid battle; so he continued his march, leaving d'Alviano to fend for himself; meanwhile, the Venetian rearguard, after repelling the first attacks, had to face the main French force, which joined the battle. The battle against a much stronger opponent ended in total defeat for the Venetians; d'Alviano himself was taken prisoner. To make matters worse, although Pitigliano avoided a clash with the French and was able to retreat in peace, the news of the defeat at Agnadello reached his soldiers and caused their morale to collapse; and soon the greater part of them deserted.

Now the French were able to seize Venetian-controlled cities unhindered. They quickly captured the areas west of the Mincio River; Cremona, Bergamo, Brescia and Crema fell into their hands. The Venetians evacuated their now untenable possessions in Romagna, which the Pope took over. After the Battle of Agnadello, the allies of France and Julius II also became active; Ferdinand of Aragon seized Venetian-controlled ports in Apulia, Maximilian I seized lands lost in the 1508 war with Venice, Mantua seized Lonato, and Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, captured Polesine (the area corresponding to today's Rovigo Province). Retreating east with the remnants of his army, Pitigliano left Padua, Vicenza and Verona to their fate; when envoys of Maximilian I arrived in these cities, they agreed to recognize the supremacy of the emperor.

Meanwhile, the Venetians gradually rebuilt their land army; at the same time, they attempted to break up the League by signing a separate peace treaty with the Pope. So they proposed to Julius II to formally hand over the disputed cities in Romagna. However, the Pope considered the Venetian peace proposals, coupled with the evacuation of Romagna, to be signs of the Republic's weakness. Accordingly, he began to impose additional conditions: he no longer demanded not only the cities in Romagna, but also freedom of trade and navigation in the Adriatic Sea (which Venice considered "its" internal sea) and privileges for the Church within the Republic. To this Venice refused to agree for the time being, and the war continued.

Meanwhile, in the areas of the Republic of Venice occupied by Louis XII and Maximilian I, discontent was beginning to grow over the presence of the occupying troops and their prevention of trade with Venice, with which these areas had strong economic ties. Maximilian, realizing that his new acquisitions in the Veneto were under threat, began concentrating his army in the Tyrol in June; however, the concentration of his troops was slow, which the Venetians took advantage of. During the summer, having fielded a new land army, they went on the offensive and captured Padua on July 17. At the beginning of August, the Venetians achieved another success: the Marquis of Mantua, Francisco Gonzaga, who had accidentally ventured into territory controlled by the Republic's troops at the time, was sent into Venetian captivity. Also in August, Maximilian I finally assembled a strong army, with which he entered the Veneto and, joined by reinforcements sent by Louis XII and Julius II, moved toward Padua. However, the Venetian garrison of the city, commanded by Niccolò di Pitigliano, who wished to rehabilitate himself for his actions at Agnadello, withstood the siege; in early October, the League's troops withdrew from under the city walls. Venetian troops, exploiting this success, attacked and captured Vicenza; of the more important cities in the Veneto, only Verona still remained in the hands of Maximilian I. The Venetians also recaptured Friuli and Polesine. The Venetian fleet, intending to attack Ferrara itself, entered the waters of the Po; here, however, on December 22, the Duke of Ferrara's troops, using artillery, destroyed the Venetian fleet at Polesella. After this victory, the Duke of Ferrara once again occupied Polesine; the Venetians, meanwhile, concentrated on defending their newly regained cities in the Veneto, evacuating even Friuli.

In early 1510, Venetian diplomacy finally succeeded in excluding Julius II from the League of Cambrai. The Pope realized how dangerous the rise to power of Louis XII and Maximilian I could be for the independence of the Italian states, especially if it came at the expense of weakening the Republic. He therefore decided to end the war with Venice and turn against its enemies; this came all the more easily to him as, in the course of negotiations, the Venetians finally agreed not only to cede to him the coveted cities in Romagna, but also to grant his papal subjects freedom of trade and navigation in the Adriatic and to guarantee the privileges of the Church within the Republic. Having obtained all that he demanded, Julius II made peace with Venice on February 24, 1510. On this occasion, he solemnly removed the excommunication from the Republic and even allowed the recruitment of papal subjects into the Venetian army; he also ordered all participants in the League of Cambrai to cease hostilities. The Church State did not openly side with Venice for the time being; the Republic was still fighting with Louis XII, Maximilian I and Alfonso d'Este. However, the peace between the Pope and Venice set in motion a sequence of events that led to the liquidation of the League of Cambrai and the formation of a coalition against Louis XII.

Territorial impact on individual countries

When Julius II ordered the members of the League of Cambrai to end the war with Venice, Duke Alfonso of Ferrara, eager to retain Polesine (lost by his father Ercole d'Este as a result of the 1482-1484 war with Venice) at all costs, outright declared that he would continue the war with the Republic despite the papal order. Such a declaration in his case had special significance, as he was formally a fief of the Pope. Julius II, long hostile to the d'Estes and eager to seize the salinas in Comacchio that belonged to them, now gained the perfect pretext for a crackdown; however, since the Duke of Ferrara was allied with Louis XII, an attack on him would inevitably lead to a confrontation with France. Hence, papal diplomacy worked to draw Spain, England and the Emperor into the new coalition. However, Maximilian did not want to give up his cities in the Veneto, and Ferdinand of Aragon, although he had obtained the investiture of the Kingdom of Naples from the Pope, did not yet want to openly stand against Louis XII. Instead, Julius II's diplomacy was successful in Switzerland. France's alliance with the Confederation, providing Louis XII with the ability to recruit Swiss mercenaries, expired in 1509, and the French king failed to renew it; and the Swiss, whose country had strong economic ties with the Duchy of Milan, were beginning to resent French rule there. Thanks to this, at the Diet of Union in 1510, the Bishop of Sion, representing the interests of Julius II, Maciej Schiner, succeeded in bringing about a defensive alliance between the Confederation and the Church State.

French, Imperial and Spanish troops meanwhile continued hostilities against Venice; in May 1510 French and Imperial troops captured Vicenza, where they slaughtered the civilian population, and Legnago. These successes of the League prompted the Republic to accept Julius II's proposal for an alliance; Venice, with the support of the Pope, could think of going on the offensive, especially since Julius II had enlisted Swiss mercenaries to attack French-occupied Milan and then join with the papal troops in Ferrara. In August, Julius II excommunicated Alfonso d'Este and sent troops against him under the command of the Duke of Urbino, who captured Modena, which belonged to Alfonso; in the same month, Venetian troops once again went on the offensive in the Veneto, capturing Vicenza. However, the Venetian fleet's attack on French-occupied Genoa was unsuccessful; the Republic's troops also failed in their attempt to capture Verona. Julius II, in order to be closer to the theater of hostilities, arrived in Bologna. The Swiss entered the Duchy of Milan; however, they conducted hostilities very slowly, reaching only the area between Lakes Como and Maggiore. Eventually the French succeeded in bribing the Swiss mercenaries, who, having accomplished nothing, returned home in September. The Marquis of Mantua also disappointed the Pope. Francis Gonzaga, who regained his freedom in July 1510, accepted the position of commander-in-chief of the Venetian-Papal army in September; however, he quietly continued to favor the French and did not join the troops he was to command, explaining his illness. A major influence on this attitude was his wife, Isabella, sister of the Duke of Ferrara Alfonso; Isabella even went further, secretly communicating with the French and allowing them to march to Ferrara through the Mantuan estates.

After the departure of the Swiss, when the Duchy of Milan was not threatened, the French commander Charles d'Amboise de Chaumont was able to attack the territory of the Church State; taking advantage of the fact that part of the papal forces were in Modena, he moved towards the poorly defended Bologna, where Julius II, immobilized by illness, was staying. The pope was in danger of falling into French captivity; fortunately for him, his diplomats managed to establish negotiations with Chaumont and dragged them out until Venetian troops arrived in relief. Chaumont withdrew from under Bologna; the French, however, managed to enter the territory of the Duchy of Ferrara, thus strengthening its defenses. Having recovered, Julius II sent troops to capture Concordia and Mirandola, strategic points on the road to Ferrara. However, the siege of Mirandola dragged on; annoyed by this, the Pope personally took command and captured the city in January 1511. After this success, he returned to Bologna and then to Imola; in Bologna he left the unpopular Cardinal Alidosi as his legate. His rule in that city contributed to the growing hostility to papal rule.

Meanwhile, Chaumont died in February 1511; he was replaced as commander by Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. The new commander of French troops recaptured Mirandola and Concordia from papal hands, then entered the Church State; in May, he unexpectedly attacked Bologna, defended by a weak garrison, from which Cardinal Alidosi had already fled, and captured it, restoring there the rule of the Bentivoglians, who were favorable to France. Prince Alfonso d'Este also succeeded, recapturing Modena. Cardinal Alidosi was killed by the Duke of Urbino; Julius II returned to Rome from Romagna, threatened by French invasion.

Louis XII, meanwhile, did not stop at warfare in Italy, but also began to seek the overthrow of Julius II. In September 1510, taking advantage of the king's traditionally strong influence over the clergy in France, he convened a synod in Tours; the French clergy gathered there recognized the king's right to wage war against the pope in defense of himself and his allies, and proposed convening a universal council. Louis XII hoped that this council would decide to remove Julius II from power and appoint a new pope in his place; backed by Maximilian I, he launched an intensive propaganda campaign in Italy to this end. Indeed, in September 1511, a council supported by the French king and the emperor met in Pisa, controlled by Florence, which was favorable to Louis XII; however, it was attended only by a small group of cardinals and French clergy opposed to Julius II. Soon, moreover, the participants of this council moved the proceedings further north, to French-controlled Milan. Julius II eventually rendered the Council of Pisa irrelevant by convening the rival Lateran Council V in 1512. He also took revenge on Florence providing the Council of Pisa with a venue for its deliberations by imposing an interdict on Florence and Pisa.

In 1511, shortly after the capture of Bologna by the French, the international situation of the Pope and Venice paradoxically improved. Other Western European powers, concerned about French advances in northern Italy, came to believe that even the combined forces of the Republic of Venice and Julius II might not be enough to stop Louis XII. Ferdinand of Aragon in particular feared that, having subjugated northern and central Italy, the French king might want to claim the Kingdom of Naples. England's King Henry VIII was also concerned about the successes of the French; at the same time, he hoped to take advantage of the French involvement in Italy to regain at least some of the English possessions on the European continent lost in the Hundred Years' War. The Spanish king had already been gradually shifting his support to the Pope and Venice since 1510. At the end of 1510, without yet officially breaking his alliance with Louis XII and the Emperor, he recalled his troops fighting in northern Italy alongside French and Imperial troops against Venice; he officially explained this by saying that he needed these troops to defend the Kingdom of Naples against the Turks. He then placed a Spanish detachment of 300 copies at the pope's disposal; he declared to Louis XII and Maximilian that he was obliged to do so as a vassal of the pope by virtue of ruling the Kingdom of Naples, and that the troops were to be used only for the defense of the Church State. In June 1511, Ferdinand proposed to the pope that a league be formed to halt the advance of Louis XII's troops. Negotiations on the matter lasted several months and culminated in the formation of the Holy League in October 1511 with the participation of the Pope, Spain and Venice. The League had as its goal the protection of the Church and the fight against the "barbarians" (fuori and barbari), by which was meant in practice the complete expulsion of the French from Italy. Henry VIII also joined the League in November, promising to begin hostilities against France from the following spring. The diplomacy of the League states also worked to break up the alliance linking Louis XII and Maximilian I.

Having gained support from Spain, and once again enlisting Swiss mercenaries, Julius II was able to once again go on the attack in the winter of 1511. The Swiss once again entered the Duchy of Milan in November; at the same time, papal forces threatened Bologna and Parma. Fortunately for the French, however, the Swiss forces did not merge with the papal and Venetian forces; the Swiss, without the support of their allies, were unable to besiege Milan and withdrew from Lombardy before the end of the year. Nevertheless, at the beginning of 1512 the international situation in France was difficult. Louis XII tried to pull the Swiss to his side; however, he found the conditions they set impossible to meet. In April 1512, the Holy League achieved another diplomatic success - the unstable Maximilian I Habsburg finally concluded a truce with the Pope and Venice. Now the League was able to turn all its forces against France, which was left - not counting a few weak Italian states - with virtually no allies.

At the beginning of 1512, the League's armies were successful. In January, the Venetians finally recaptured Bergamo and Brescia from the French (Papal and Spanish troops threatened Bologna and Ferrara. Fortunately for the French, the new commander of their troops in Italy, Gaston de Foix Duke de Nemours (nephew of Louis XII), proved more capable and energetic than his predecessors in the post. He successfully repelled attacks by the League's armies on Bologna; when he learned of the fall of Brescia, he gathered all the soldiers not needed to defend Bologna and moved north through the Mantuan territories. In February he defeated the Venetian army under Giampaolo Baglioni at Isola della Scala, and then besieged Brescia, broke the resistance of the Venetians defending it and captured the city. Brescia was subsequently ravaged by French troops; the people of Bergamo, to avoid a similar fate, opened the city gates to the French. After this success, Gaston de Foix returned to Romagna. However, he realized that time was working against France; in the summer, France could be attacked by the English and Spanish, and the German mercenaries fighting on the French side could return home after the Emperor's withdrawal from the war. De Foix therefore decided to settle the fate of the war in Italy in a single decisive battle; the Spanish army under the command of Viceroy of Naples Ramón de Cardona, however, avoided a pitched battle. In early April, de Foix, backed by the troops of the Duke of Ferrara, laid siege to Ravenna; de Cardona, unwilling to allow the loss of such an important city, moved against the French and on April 10 set up a well-fortified camp on the right bank of the Ronco River, a few kilometers from the French army positions. However, during the night, the French built a bridge over the Ronco River; on the morning of April 11, French troops crossed the river on this bridge, then attacked the camp of the Papal and Spanish troops. On the same day, a battle ensued in which the French won an excellent victory; however, after the battle, Gaston de Foix was killed during the pursuit of the retreating Spanish infantry in order.

The French victory at Ravenna initially dismayed the Pope and Ferdinand of Aragon; the latter even hesitated to send de Córdoba, who had been recalled from Naples several years before and had been in royal disfavor ever since, to Italy. Fortunately for the League, however, Gaston de Foix's successor, Jacques de Chabannes de La Palice, did not have the military talent of his predecessor; nor was he able to capitalize on the victory won by his predecessor, limiting himself to only seizing and sacking Ravenna. The French now controlled most of Romagna; however, this was only a temporary success.

The Swiss Diet in April 1512 decided to support the Holy League. Julius II succeeded in preventing the truce between Venice and the emperor from breaking down; moreover, the emperor soon joined the Holy League. Maximilian allowed the Swiss to march into Italy through the territory of the Tyrol in his possession; in June he went even further, ordering German mercenaries serving in the French army to return home immediately. Meanwhile, French forces in Italy were dwindling; some troops were sent back to France, for defense against attack from the English and Spanish.

In May 1512, the Swiss once again entered Italy; this time, however, they were joined by the Venetians at Villafranca near Verona. Papal and Spanish troops entered Romagna once more, quickly recapturing Rimini, Cesena and Ravenna from French hands. The Bentivoglians fled Bologna, which returned to papal rule. La Palice still hoped that, as in previous years, the allies would not coordinate their actions, so that their attack could be repelled; this time, however, their enemies did not stop their advance. To make matters worse, the French army, obeying Maximilian I's order, abandoned 4,000 German landsknechts. In this situation, La Palice withdrew from Cremona to Pavia; in mid-June, League troops arrived at Pavia, which a few days later forced La Palice to withdraw further west. Gian Giacomo Trivulzio evacuated the city of Milan; the main French forces retreated beyond the Alps, losing even Asti, the hereditary estate of the Dukes of Orleans, since Louis XII's accession to the French throne taken over by the French crown. Papal troops garrisoned Modena, Reggio, Parma and Piacenza; most of the Duchy of Milan fell into Swiss hands. By the end of June 1512, the French controlled in Italy only Brescia, Crema, Legnago, Peschiera, the castles of Milan and Cremona, and the lighthouse and Castelletto in Genoa. The anti-papal council, which had begun its deliberations in Pisa, moved beyond the Alps to Lyon, where, however, it no longer undertook significant activity. Duke Alfonso I of Ferrara made an attempt at reconciliation with the Pope: he came to Rome, where he stood before the Pope on July 9. He obtained a solemn pardon and the removal of the excommunication; Julius II, however, demanded that the duke cede to him not only Modena, but also Ferrara itself, in exchange for which he would receive Asti, which had been captured from the French. Alfonso refused to accept this and fled Rome, after which he took refuge in the fortress of Marino, which belonged to the Colonnas who favored him.

In 1512, France's opponents also succeeded in the French-Spanish borderlands in the Pyrenees. Henry VIII planned to invade Guiana, the former English possession on the continent, together with Ferdinand of Aragon; in early June, ships carrying English troops under the command of Thomas Grey, the second Marquis of Dorset, arrived in Guiana to join with Ferdinand of Aragon's army and strike France. However, Ferdinand of Aragon actually had other plans - he was preparing to conquer the Kingdom of Navarre. The country had so far remained neutral, but Ferdinand feared that Navarre - due to its strong ties with France - might side with Louis XII, which would make it easier for the latter to attack Spain; at the same time, possession of Navarre would provide Spain with an easily defensible border with France along the line of the Pyrenees. He therefore demanded that the rulers of Navarre - John III and Catherine de Foix - allow his troops to march through the territory of their kingdom, and that they surrender to him for the duration of the war the six most important strongholds in the Navarre area - as a guarantee that they would not turn against Spain until the end of the war. However, John and Catherine recognized that this would be a prelude to Ferdinand's seizure of their kingdom; so in mid-July they concluded an alliance with Louis XII. Ferdinand, explaining to the English that without first capturing Navarre, an attack on Guiana would be impossible, gave the Duke of Alba, Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo (grandfather of the famous Fernando Álvarez de Toledo), in command of the Spanish army, the order to attack Navarre. The Duke of Alba crossed the border of the Kingdom of Navarre on July 21; he had already entered Pamplona, abandoned by the royal couple of Navarre, on July 24. The French did not help their new allies - for they feared that if they moved to their aid, the English, who remained in Gipuzkoia, would seize the opportunity and attack Bayonne. Taking advantage of this, the Duke of Alba quickly captured all the estates of the Navarre rulers lying south of the Pyrenees. However, the English did not like the fact that they were stuck idly under the Pyrenees, merely covering the actions of the Spaniards in the Kingdom of Navarre; discipline was failing in the English army and disease was spreading. So when the Duke of Alba crossed the Pyrenees to conquer that part of the Kingdom of Navarre that lay north of those mountains, and called on Dorset to help him complete the conquest, the latter refused; eventually the English commanders, without waiting for orders from Henry VIII, who remained in England, loaded troops on ships and returned to their country. Now the French were able to move against the Duke of Alba, who quickly retreated back behind the Pyrenees. The French, reinforced by La Palice's troops arriving from Italy, moved after them, eager to restore John III's power in his kingdom, and besieged Pamplona, defended by the Duke of Alba; however, the assaults they launched in late November were repulsed by the city's defenders, and when news of the coming Spanish relief reached the French after several weeks of siege, they retreated beyond the Pyrenees.

In Italy, the armies of the states comprising the Holy League besieged the last strongholds remaining in the hands of the French and divided the spoils among themselves. In August 1512, representatives of the League states met in Mantua; the main purpose of the meeting was to decide the fate of the Duchy of Milan. Maximilian I and Ferdinand of Aragon wanted their grandson Charles, ruler of the Netherlands and Franche-Comté, to receive the Duchy; however, this was fiercely opposed by: Julius II and the Swiss. Since the latter countered the Principality, their opinion prevailed - and the Milanese throne was given to Maximilian Sforza, son of Ludovico Sforza. Throughout his reign in Milan, Sforza was completely dependent on the Swiss mercenaries who had elevated him to the throne; as a token of gratitude, he even gave the Swiss cantons possession of Valtellina, the area of today's Ticino canton, Domodossola with its adjacencies (Genoa had regained its independence. The League now decided to crack down on one of the last bastions of French influence on the Apennine Peninsula, and the former host of Julius II's hated Council of Pisa - the Republic of Florence. The attack on Florence was to be carried out by the Spanish viceroy of Naples, Ramón de Cardona; so he set off from Romagna into Tuscany, soon reaching Barberino north of Florence. That's when he presented his demands to the authorities of the Republic: they were to remove the gonfalonier Pier Soderini from power and allow the Medici to return to Florence as ordinary citizens. However, the Florentines did not want to agree to remove Soderini from power. In response, de Cardona attacked Prato; the city fell on August 30, and Spanish troops brutally sacked it. The fall of this city broke the resistance of the Florentine Republic - Soderini fled Florence, and the Medici returned to the city; Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici took power.

The single points of French resistance in Italy were gradually eliminated. While the Spaniards were restoring Medici power in Florence, further north the League's troops captured Genoa's Castelletto; however, the French still held the lighthouse at Genoa, as well as the castles at Milan and Cremona. Meanwhile, a dispute was growing between the Republic of Venice and the other states that were part of the Holy League. The Venetians wanted to reclaim the part of the Duchy of Milan east of Adda that they had seized in 1499, but the Swiss, who controlled the Duchy, claimed that the territory belonged to Maximilian Sforza. The Emperor still had only a truce signed with Venice, and did not want to relinquish claims to Friuli and cities in the Veneto, let alone return to the Republic the cities in these areas currently in his possession (Verona remained under his control the whole time, and on top of that, in 1512 the French garrisons in Legnago and Peschiera surrendered not to the Venetians, but to the envoy of Maximilian I); in addition, Julius II (who was keen that the emperor, formerly a supporter of the Council of Pisa, now recognized the Lateran Council) supported the emperor in this dispute. Finally, in November 1512, Spanish troops drove the French out of Brescia. The Venetians, who at the same time drove the French out of Crema, demanded that Brescia be handed over to them as belonging to them before the war; but the Spaniards refused, leaving their garrison in the city. The Venetian Republic felt threatened again, prompting it to enter into negotiations with Louis XII.

The first months of 1513 saw an improvement in France's international situation. In February, in preparation for the conquest of the Duchy of Ferrara, Pope Julius II died. In March, a conclave elevated Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, brother of Florence's ruling Giuliano de' Medici, to the papal throne; Giovanni took the name of Leo X. On March 23, the Republic of Venice concluded an alliance with France at Blois; in turn, on April 1, Louis XII concluded a truce with Ferdinand of Aragon, at the price of leaving the areas of the Kingdom of Navarre south of the Pyrenees under Spanish rule. Having gained an ally in Italy and secured himself on the side of the Pyrenees, Louis XII could once again attempt to capture Milan. In the spring, a strong French army (backed by contingents of German landsknechts who, despite the Emperor's objections, had gone into French service) under the command of Louis de la Trémoille and Gian Giacomo Trivulzia, attacked the Duchy of Milan; at the same time, the Venetians attacked the Duchy from the east. Ramón de Cardona's Spanish troops stood idly by in Piacenza, not helping Sforza; the Duke of Milan could not even count on the loyalty of his own subjects, unwilling Swiss mercenaries who actually ruled the Duchy. From there, the French rapidly captured most of the Duchy, with Milan itself, and also subjugated Genoa. In the east, the Venetians reached Cremona, also capturing Brescia (but failed to recapture Verona. In the Duchy of Milan, by the end of May, only Novara and Como remained in Swiss hands. In early June, the main French force, commanded by Louis de la Trémoille himself, laid siege to Novara; however, a new Swiss army came to the relief of the city. On June 6, even before dawn, it attacked the French; a battle ensued in which the Swiss won a complete victory. The French suffered such heavy losses that they were forced not only to abandon the siege of Novara, but to retreat beyond the Alps altogether. Maximilian Sforza returned to Milan; however, he had to pay the Swiss cantons for their help with the cession of further territories - including Cuvio and Luino - and accept the de facto rule of Swiss mercenaries in Milan. In early September, the Swiss entered Burgundy, reaching Dijon on September 8 and besieging that city. Louis de la Trémoille, who was defending the Burgundian capital, had to enter into negotiations with the Swiss, and after a few days reached an agreement with them; in exchange for a high ransom and France's relinquishment of its rights to Milan and Asti, the Swiss agreed to withdraw from Burgundy. Taking hostages, the Swiss lifted the siege and returned home; Louis XII took advantage of this and refused to ratify the Treaty of Dijon.

In May, while the French were still fighting in Lombardy, English troops began landing in Calais; King Henry VIII himself also arrived in the city on June 30. Even before his arrival, the English had entered France and besieged Thérouanne on June 22; however, in early August, when Henry joined his army, the town was still defending itself. On August 16, however, the English won a victory over the French army going to the relief of the city at the Battle of Guinegatte (Thérouanne capitulated on August 23. However, Henry VIII could not afford to leave a large garrison in the city; so he soon abandoned the city, having previously demolished its fortifications, and with his army entered the Habsburg Netherlands, where he overran the French enclave of Tournai. Although in August King James IV of Scotland, in order to relieve the pressure on his ally Louis XII, attacked England, but on September 9 the English army remaining on the island inflicted defeat on the Scots at the Battle of Flodden Field; James IV himself was killed in the battle, and Scotland withdrew from the war. The French decided to avoid a pitched battle with the English; Tournai, having failed to receive a reprieve, surrendered in late September. The fall of this city ended hostilities in the Netherlands in 1513 In October, Henry VIII, Maximilian I and representatives of Ferdinand of Aragon signed a treaty in Lille, committing the three monarchs to jointly continue the war against France; Henry VIII returned to England shortly thereafter.

In Italy, after the withdrawal of the French from the Duchy of Milan, Ramón de Cardona became active, acting against the Republic of Venice; Maximilian I also sent his troops to Italy to fight the Republic. Spanish and Imperial troops occupied Brescia, Bergamo, Peschiera, Legnago, Este and Monselice; their siege of Padua, however, was unsuccessful. Cardona therefore advanced deep into Venetian territory, reaching Mestre in late September. His artillery even shelled the island of San Secondo in the Venetian Lagoon; without a strong fleet, however, he was unable to threaten the Republic's capital and began his retreat. The Venetian army, commanded by Bartolomeo d'Alviano, moved after him. On October 7, a battle took place between Venetian and Spanish troops near Vicenza, known as the Battle of Schio, La Motta or Creazzo; the Spaniards were victorious in this battle. However, they were unable to capitalize on this victory - the Venetians still did not intend to make peace on the terms of the League. In Lombardy, the French crews of the castles of Milan and Cremona capitulated at the end of 1513; in Italy, the French now controlled only the lighthouse of Genoa.

There was no large-scale warfare in 1514. The Venetians fought Spanish, Imperial and Milanese troops in Veneto and Friuli, but neither side in the conflict won a decisive victory. The Venetians succeeded in recapturing Bergamo, Rovigo and Legnago; Spanish and Milanese troops, however, quickly retook Bergamo. In Liguria, the French defending themselves in the lighthouse at Genoa surrendered. Over the English Channel, a small French detachment landed in England, where it burned the fishing village of Brighthelmstone. (The English made a similar foray onto the Normandy coast in retaliation. Louis XII, meanwhile, was active in the field of diplomacy. As late as 1513, he improved his relations with Pope Leo X by recognizing the Lateran Council. In early 1514, he renewed the truce with Ferdinand of Aragon; Emperor Maximilian I joined the truce shortly thereafter. Henry VIII, preparing for a new invasion of France, recognized that the Emperor and the King of Spain, who had previously promised him to continue the war against France, had deceived him. So he began negotiations with Louis XII; in August 1514, he made not only peace, but also an alliance with the French king, while marrying his sister Mary to him. However, Louis XII had to relinquish the city of Tournai in favor of Henry VIII in return. In the new situation, the French king began to prepare another expedition against Milan; however, he died before completing the preparations, on January 1, 1515.

Territorial impact on individual countries

In 1515, there was a change in the French throne, with Francis I ascending it. He did not change the direction of his predecessor's policies and continued his expansion into Italy. Allied with Venice, he beat the forces of the Holy League at Marigano (1515) and occupied Milan. Admittedly, Emperor Maximilian I still tried to recapture the principality, but was unsuccessful and concluded a truce at Cambrai in 1517. Other states also decided to sign settlements. As early as 1516, the Swiss signed a treaty in Freiburg, and the Spanish, after Charles Habsburg took the throne in Noyon.

Territorial impact on individual countries

A new phase of the Italian wars began when Charles Habsburg, grandson of Emperor Maximilian I, became ruler of the Netherlands and Franche-Comte (1515) and King of Spain (1516) successively after his parents (Philip the Beautiful and Joanna the Mad). Then, after the death of Maximilian I, he was elected Roman-German king in 1519, thus surrounding France on all sides. Francis I, recognizing this danger, attacked Spain in 1521 and then launched an offensive in Italy itself. Despite his initial victories, Francis succumbed at the Battle of La Bicocca in 1522 which forced him to retreat beyond the Alps. The following year, the French king launched another offensive, which ended even worse for him. In 1525, one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the 16th century was fought at Pavia. The French army lost almost 12,000 soldiers in it, and Francis de Valois was taken prisoner by Charles V. In Madrid he was forced to sign a peace treaty in which he relinquished his claims to Italian possessions and Burgundy. After signing the treaty, he was freed from captivity in 1526, after which Francis immediately stated that he would not abide by a treaty signed under duress.

In 1526, Francis I formed an alliance with Charles' former allies, terrified by the rise of Charles' power. The Holy League, formed by France, was joined by the Doge of Venice, Pope Clement VII and the rulers of Milan and Florence. Charles V responded with lightning speed. As early as 1527, he captured and sacked Rome to the ground. Fighting continued until 1529, when the two exhausted sides made peace. The Peace of Cambrai of 1529 was kinder to Francis, even though he had to relinquish his claim to Italy he managed to retain Burgundy. Charles V was crowned Roman German emperor the following year by Clement VII.


  1. Italian Wars
  2. Wojny włoskie
  3. Francesco Guicciardini Storia d’Italia. Księga I, rozdział 3.
  4. Francesco Guicciardini Storia d’Italia. Księga I, rozdział 4.
  5. ^ Guerre horrende d'Italia.
  6. ^ This is disputed; lack of medical knowledge meant deaths from unknown disease were often ascribed to poison, while Gian Galeazzo had shown symptoms of what may have been stomach cancer since the age of 13
  7. ^ But the victory was universally adjudged to the French on account of the great Disproportion of the slain, of their driving the Enemy on the other side of the River, and because their Passage was no longer obstructed, which was all they contended for, the Battle being fought on no other Account[15]
  8. ^ Ostensibly created by Pope Julius to resist Ottoman expansion and thus formally known as the "Holy League"[37]
  9. ^ Asti had been a Valois possession from 1380 until 1526, when Charles acquired it through the Treaty of Cambrai
  10. Lessafer, Peace Treaties and International Law in European History: From the Late Middle Ages to World War One, 23.
  11. Morris, Europe and England in the Sixteenth Century, 150.
  12. Albert Guérard, France: A Modern History (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1959) p. 132.

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