War of the League of Cognac

John Florens | Apr 14, 2023

Table of Content


The War of the League of Cognac - the name of the armed conflict fought from 1526 to 1530, included in the so-called Italian Wars. The fighting was between the armies of Charles V, emperor and ruler of the Habsburg Empire, and his opponents - France, the Church State, the Republic of Venice, the Duchy of Milan, England and the Republic of Florence.


The War of the League of Cognac was actually a continuation of previous conflicts between France and the Habsburgs, vying for hegemony in Italy, and the Italian states, which sought to expand their territories and preserve their independence. After Spanish forces defeated the French in 1521, the dominant position in Italy was gained by the Spanish ruler Charles V, who after the death of Maximilian I inherited his estates and the imperial title. Francis I, King of France, was taken prisoner after the Battle of Pavia, and signed a peace treaty in Madrid in which he relinquished his rights to Italian lands and ceded all of Burgundy to Charles V. However, the emperor's success also carried negative consequences - many Italian states turned against him, and now considered him a major threat to their independence. The monarchs of other European countries were also concerned about the rise of Habsburg power, which made them potential allies of anyone who wanted to wrest Italy from imperial rule. One of the main instigators of the League was Pope Clement VII, perceiving a threat from the Habsburgs to his position on the Italian peninsula. In order to remove Charles V's forces from Italy, he began looking for allies, which, for the reasons mentioned earlier, was not difficult to find. The French ruler, Francis I, captured in captivity after the Battle of Pavia, did sign the Treaty of Madrid, in which he relinquished his claim to Italian lands, but in reality he was still interested in them. After his release, he proclaimed that his agreement was coerced, giving him the right to declare the provisions null and void. Venice, Lombardy and Florence also joined the League. England did not take part in the anti-Habsburg alliance for the time being, citing as an official reason that the League was not established in the Isles, as Henry VIII insisted. The alliance was finally signed at Cognac on May 22, 1526.

Course of the conflict

War broke out that same year when League forces attacked Lodi. However, through their tardiness and ineptitude, they gave Charles V time to prepare. He gained allies among some Italian princes, such as Ferrara, which was very important for the success of military operations. With the help of the Tyrolean nobleman George Frundsberg, the Imperials led an enlistment of 12,000 German lancknechts. They penetrated the undefended Alpine passes and, at Borgoforte near Mantua, smashed the League forces. Charles V's army also entered Milan, forcing the princes of the Sforza family to leave their capital. The imperial army consisted of the aforementioned German Lancknecht Frundsberg and Spanish troops commanded by Charles III de Bourbon-Montpensier. While the League's forces clashed with the imperial ones, the Colonna family troops attacked and occupied Rome, forcing Pope Clement to pay a contribution to leave the city. The forces of Frundsberg and Charles III united at Pavia and advanced on the capital of the Church State.

The papal troops commanded by Francisco Guicciardini were unable to put up a determined resistance to the attackers and the Eternal City fell into the hands of the enemies in 1527. Meanwhile, Frundsberg died of apoplexy, and Charles III was killed during the assault. Undisciplined, left to their own devices, and additionally unpaid for some time, imperial troops began looting Rome, plundering not only money, but also valuable works of art, accumulated here over the years. The inhabitants were also murdered, not sparing those of the upper classes either. Pope Clement VII, fearing for his life, took refuge in the Castle of Saint Angelo. These events have gone down in history under the name Sacco di Roma.

The defeat of the Church State highlighted the impermanence of the League - the Venetians took the opportunity to seize Cervia and Ravenna. In Florence, the Medici rule collapsed, the people opposed to them considered the events in Rome as the fulfillment of Savonarola's prophecies. They rose again against their rulers, forcing them to leave the city and establishing a republic in place of Medici rule.

The events in Italy, especially the Sacco di Roma, reverberated throughout Europe, stirring resentment against Charles V, who was accused of barbarism and disrespect for the sacred. The situation was decided to be exploited by Francis I, who allied himself with Henry VIII, signing the Treaty of Westminster on April 30, 1527, in which the monarchs promised to join forces in the fight against the Habsburgs. Having security from England, French troops commanded by Odet de Foix, Viscount Lautrec, and Pedro Navarro, Count of Oliveto, headed for Italy via Genoa. Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria joined the French, and his fleet forced Spanish ships to retreat from under Naples. The French army, prudently bypassing Lancknecht-controlled Rome, reached Naples in the summer of 1528 and laid siege to the city.

However, Doria quickly moved to the side of Charles V, who pledged to respect Genoa's freedom and regime. Deprived of naval support, the French were further affected by a plague, decimating Navarro and Lautrec's troops. Doria broke the blockade of Genoa and forced French troops there to surrender. The decisive battle of the French campaign was fought at Landriano, where the French led by Prince St. Pol suffered defeat. Francis I's efforts to subjugate Italy failed.

Completion of

Charles V was unable to fully exploit his military successes due to financial problems and growing religious tensions in his empire. The defeated Francis I also had no way to send new forces to Italy for the time being. In view of this, the two sides entered into negotiations for peace. They began in July 1529 in the border town of Cambrai. On the French side, the negotiations were conducted primarily by François I's mother, Louis of Savoy, and the imperial side was represented by Margaret of Habsburg - an aunt of Charles V, who was in fact related to Louis. For this reason, the Peace of Cambrai is called the Paix des Dames - the Ladies' Peace. Its provisions confirmed the Treaties of Madrid-Francis I gave up his claims to Italian lands, Artois, Tournai and Flanders and was to pay 2 million gold écus for the release of his sons. The Peace of Cambrai marked France's withdrawal from the war, thus leaving Venice, Florence and the Papacy at the mercy of the Emperor.

Charles V met with the Pope in Bologna, obtaining from him, in exchange for the withdrawal of troops and the recovery of territories seized by Venice, the promise of coronation as emperor and the granting of an investiture to the Kingdom of Naples. After the peace was concluded, Charles, now the hegemon of Italy, called a convention in Bologna at which almost all the rulers of the Italian states appeared. The new order on the Apennine peninsula was brought about by the dictates of the emperor, who decided everything. The House of Savoy was gaining Asti for the losses it suffered, caused by the violation of its neutrality. The Sforzas, paying a huge sum of money, obtained permission from the emperor to return to Milan. Venice ceded the disputed territories to the Church State, and gave the rest of its possessions in Apulia to the Kingdom of Naples, whose ruler, incidentally, was the Emperor. In Genoa, the signoria remained in the hands of the Doria. On December 23, 1529, a "perpetual league" was concluded to permanently bind the Italian states to the House of Habsburg. On February 22, Charles V was crowned king of Italy and on February 24 he was crowned emperor. Charles triumphed, succeeding in gaining hegemony in Italy and forcing all Italian states to obey him. All except Florence, where a rebellion was still smoldering, raised by rebels who had risen against the Medici.

The Florentine Republic continued its fight against the imperial forces by attacking the troops of Filibert de Châlon, Duke of Orange. The battle took place at Gavinana on August 3, 1530. Although de Châlon was killed his army defeated the rebels, forcing the city to surrender 10 days later. The Medici were returned to the throne, at the emperor's will. This was the last campaign of the War of the League of Cambrai.

The emperor succeeded in subjugating the Italian states and forcing obedience from the papacy. Charles V considered himself the superior of the entire West, and the traditional imperial coronation was supposed to be a symbol of a return to universalism, which in the realities of the time was already a pipe dream, not least because of the religious wars about to break out. Charles V's growing imperial power brought him numerous enemies who feared his hegemony in Europe. Anti-Habsburg attitudes became the guiding idea of French foreign policy for several centuries. Among other things, enemies stoked tensions in Germany, hoping that internal fighting would weaken the Habsburgs.

The wars also lowered the already low authority of the popes, who resembled secular rulers more than religious superiors. The Italian states suffered the greatest losses. They lost numerous political freedoms and were economically and demographically devastated. Testimony to the devastation is given by Henry VIII's deputy: "between Vercelli and Padua for 50 miles.... sheer emptiness. We met neither man nor woman working in the fields, no animal.... The vineyards were feral." The Habsburg hegemony, however, had pluses for the Italian states as well - it provided them with a defense against the expansive Turks advancing into Western Europe. Another consequence of the League's war with Cognac was the end of Italy's traditional municipalities. The Republic of Florence was the last such creation.


  1. War of the League of Cognac
  2. Wojna Ligi z Cognac
  3. . «thedevilstonechronicles.com/the-war-of-the-league-of-cognac».
  4. a b c d Ludwig von Pastor: Historia de los papas, vol. IX
  5. Guicciardini, Storia d'Italia, 369.
  6. Blockmans, Emperor Charles V, 60.
  7. [1]
  8. ^ Guicciardini, History of Italy, 369.
  9. ^ Blockmans, Emperor Charles V, 60.
  10. ^ Guicciardini, History of Italy, 372–375.
  11. ^ Guicciardini, History of Italy, 376.
  12. ^ Francesco Guicciardini, Storia d'Italia, Lib.19, cap.4

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