The Italian Wars

The Italian Wars

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The Italian Wars

Italy was the background for outside powers between the French invasion of 1494 and the accession of Francis 1 in 1515 for different reasons.

Between these years, the States of Italy were invaded on a number occasions by armies from France, Spain and other countries. At this time, the Italian States were very vulnerable; there were conflicts in Italy itself, they had out of date military equipment and Italy had insecure frontiers and unreliable allies – “That Italy failed to organise herself against invaders was due to the selfish policies.” This gave outside powers reason to use Italy as their battleground. Italy was a very wealthy country, showing this wealth, a Florentine Historian, Guicciardini said “Italy has never enjoyed such prosperity or known so favourable a situation” Also, because the Pope lived in Italy, it gave enemies more incentive to fight in Italy as opposed to any other country.
Another reason for Italy being the battleground was that foreign powers felt they had dynastic claims to certain states and therefore felt obliged to fight for them.

I feel the most important reason why outside powers chose Italy to fight in was basically because they ‘could.’ Italy was divided, unstable and disunited; there were even civil disputes e.g. when Venice and its neighbour Ferrara went to war. It was hard to keep foreign powers out of their country because they weren’t working together; each state was not strong enough to protect Italy on its own. The Papacy also didn’t help in keeping enemies out – “there was always scope for dissension between them (Orsini and Colonna); and while they remained armed before the very eyes of the pontiff, they kept the papacy weak and insecure.” Also, it was playing its usual game of self interest.
Pope Leo X in 1513 set about promoting the interests of himself and his family. He was prepared to negotiate for French aid to further his ambitions – this lead to more foreign powers (especially France), being able to easily use Italy as the main battleground. It can be disputed that the most important reason for Italy being the battle ground was that it was wealthy, but I feel that even though it was wealthy, there were certainly other wealthy states which could have been the battleground, had Italy not been such an easy target, with certain assets other countries did not have.

This leads me to the next important reason why Italy was the battle ground; wealth.

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Italy was probably one of the wealthiest countries of the time, and was well worth ruling. The Italian cities were advanced, prosperous and the centre of trade and manufacture. A French political philosopher once said “Those who are called to be rulers of states should have glory, expansion and enrichment as primary aims” – Italy offered all of these in one go! Every country wanted a share of Italy’s riches - which were well recognised by all European rulers. Although this wealth could have been received through trade, most foreign powers felt the only way was by invasion.

The third most important reason for Italy being the battle ground is, in my opinion, because it was where the Pope was. The Pope meant power, wealth and influence. This also shows religious importance in Italy being the battleground – “The Germans, who comprised over half the force, included many followers of the fiery Reformer Martin Luther, they had and extra interest in entering Rome for the pleasure of despoiling churches and abusing Catholic clergy” This source gives us insight to the reason for fighting in Italy without much influence by the writers own feelings and thoughts etc. This quote has been taken from a book written by a man who was neither there at the time let alone part of the wars, thus would not have as strong or as influenced thoughts as others. This reason is also linked to how the soldiers felt towards the Pope; “They had been short of money since Pavia and the idea grew at the end of 1526 that the Pope was to blame for all their distress.” Thus causing the soldiers to want to fight in Italy – mainly Rome – where the Pope was.

Equally as important is the fact that foreign powers had (or at least thought they had) dynastic claims to some of the Italian states. Foreign leaders who had these dynastic claims felt obliged to fight for their rights e.g. Charles V’s claim to Naples through the House of Anjou. These dynastic claims lead to more foreign powers fighting in Italy.

As a bonus for foreign powers, Italy had out of date military equipment and standards – adding to the already unstable and disunited states. In France “his men-at-arms were almost subjects of the king and not low born but gentlemen whom the captains could not enlist or dismiss at will” this made the soldiers “want to work hard; serve honourably; glory; bravery and no other goal than to win praise from the king” As opposed to the Italians where “many of the men-at-arms were either peasants or commoners subject to some other prince and completely dependant on the captains with whom they contracted for their wages, and who had the power to pay and dismiss them.” This gave the Italian troops no incentive to serve well. There were also differences between the Italian and other infantries. “The Italians didn’t fight in firm well-organised units, but scattered throughout the countryside” whereas the French infantry “fought with similar discipline.” These problems in Italy gave reason to fight there.

The culture of the Italian states was unlike any other of the time. The renaissance was born in Italy. Renaissance pictures, sculptures, writings etc were significant to leaders in giving them a good name and more power because, if the art of the Renaissance was important to them, it showed their followers that they were cultivated, sophisticated and civilised. All kings wanted to be seen in this way – and therefore made Italy a more welcome candidate for outside powers to fight in.

Each of the outside powers had their own individual reasons of why they invaded Italy rather than any other country; other foreign powers simply had an interest in Italy- most probably due to the power it could bring them.

France invaded Italy for honour and profit (gained by ransoms, tax etc). It was the ‘thing to do’ when a king succeeded the throne and came of age. The French invasion of 1494 occurred primarily from financial incentives for Charles VIII of France. He declared that he intended to use Naples as a base to drive the Ottomans out of Europe and liberate Constantinople. In actual truth his main motivation was self-glory and the mouth-watering prospect of acquiring some exquisite prizes of war. On the way he would acquire rich cities and portable pieces of art. As soon as both Charles VIII and Louis XII came to the throne, they immediately started a war – as if to say war was the sport of kings. Also, late Medieval Kings were expected to show force – it was an extension of power and image. The political division and disunity in Italy offered an excellent opportunity for military glory and territorial gains for the French. Another reason why Italy was the battle ground was because of an invitation by Ludovico Sforza – the ruler of Milan. Ludovico was ruling on behalf of his young nephew Gian Galezzo, Duke of Milan. Gian was married to Isabella (the grand daughter of the king of Naples). Isabella complained that Ludovico wasn’t letting her and Gian take up their rightful positions as Duke and Duchess of Milan. Naples therefore threatened military action against Milan.
Ludovico was worried his country would not be able to defeat Naples (because of its large population etc), so he looked for a powerful ally. He chose Charles VIII, king of France, and asked him to enter Italy to defend Milan and conquer Naples, causing Italy to be the battleground. There were also dynastic claims. The French descended from the House of Anjou, which had ruled Naples until forced out in 1442. Charles VIII had inherited their claim; and he was bound by honour to pursue it.

Spain, Italy’s main opposition, invaded Italy for other reasons than those of France.
Spain clearly became involved in the wars because of the foreign policy interests of Ferdinand of Aragon (who ruled Spain along with Isabella). At this time, it was not know as Spain, but it was two separate states known as Castille and Aragon. They both had their own interests. Aragon was more interested in the Kingdom of Naples because it was ruled by Ferdinand’s cousin and there had been a continuous rivalry between Aragon and France. Naples had been part of the lands of Aragon until the accession of Ferrante in 1458. Ferdinand was not surprised when Charles VIII invaded Italy, but he was taken aback by the speed at which it was done. Ferdinand therefore set his targets on Italy – mainly Naples – because his grand father had been King there. Aragon had a different story. They became involved with Italy because of trade. They had a large amount of trade occurring on the coasts. If the French became too powerful in Italy, they risked loss of trade and therefore money problems, they therefore felt they had to get involved to stop the French. Dynastic claims to parts of Italy also lead them to fight there.
England had its own reasons for involvement in Italy. Prince Arthur (Henry VII’s son) married Catherine of Aragon. An alliance was therefore formed with Spain. England had joined the Holy league (which was an alliance against France formed in 1495) this meant England and Spain were on the same side, so if Spain fought, England fought.

The Swiss were determined to take Milan to protect their southern boundaries, and to secure their supplies of grain and wine, and therefore lead to even more foreign powers using Rome as a battleground.

In conclusion, there were many reasons why Italy became the battle ground for outside powers between 1494 and 1515. There were some general reasons such as the fact that foreign powers simply ‘could’ invade Italy as it was an easy target and there were the reasons specific to certain countries such as the Aragonese preventing French power in Italy so that their trade would not be disrupted.
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