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The Italian Wars 1494-1559: - Introduction:
The key issues over which the Italian Wars were fought were primarily 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. It seems that this invasion had been planned for two years prior since Charles had already bought off potential rivals like Henry VII of England, Ferdinand and Macsimilion. He had also enlisted the support of Genoa and Milan, both within Italy. The regent of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, needed allies and his invitation in 1594 seemed to Charles’ plans perfectly. He accepted and the Italian wars began. Also, the Cardinal of Genoa resented the current Pope, Alexander VI. He invited Charles to come in, depose him and spark off the eagerly awaited church reform.
Events 1494-1516: -
There was a mixed reaction to the arrival of Charles in Italy. Florence revolted against its leader, Piero de Medici. The Popes army deserted him. In Naples the king died and rather than unite against his son the populous decided to capitulate.
There was however some reaction against Charles’ activities. Ferdinand of Aragon decreed that since Naples was subject to the papacy, that the Popes honour had been attacked. He formed the League of Venice. His main intentions were to expel Charles and become the ruler of a united Naples, Sicily and Aragon. Charles began to withdraw to France and although he won a battle at Fornovo, his outnumbered garrisons couldn’t retain Naples.
By 1498 the situation in Italy was one of chaos and turmoil. Charles died in 1498, which meant that there wasn’t going to be a re-invasion. Popular uprisings in Milan and Florence saw the Medicis and the Sforzas overthrown. Civil war was raging on between Pisa and Florence and the accession of Louis VIII as French King meant that the prospects for peace did not look too good.
Louis had inherited Naples, but his main objective was Milan, which he invaded in 1499.
He settled for the Western half and gave the Eastern half to Venice. He then headed southward to Naples, which he had agreed to jointly rule with Ferdinand.
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Pope Julius II came to power in 1503 after the death of Alexander. He acted in a ‘Iago’ (Othello) role, by encouraging various rulers to invade Italy so that he may gain control of Venetian lands. In 1508 the league of Cambrai was formed that promised Maximillian, Padua and Verona, Ferdinand, who was recognised as king of Naples and Louis who was offered Eastern Milan. Despite a victory by Louis’s infantry at Ravenna in 1512, he lost his hold on Milan, Venice and Navarre, by being defeated the following year.
Peace looked a reasonable possibility in 1514 as Julius II had died and was replaced by the less ‘ambitious’ Leo X. The Sforzas and Medicis had retuned to their traditional lands of Milan and Florence. The idea of peace soon evaporated when Louis died in 1515.
His successor Francis I, invaded Milan with 30,000 men, and upon an emphatic victory the only person capable of raising troops, was the Emperor, aided by English money. By 1516 peace was signed at Noyon. France controlled Milan and Genoa. Venice regained all the lands that it had lost and Spain retained Naples.
Events 1516-1529: -
The accession Charles V to the Spanish throne became a very significant point in the Italian wars. When he was elected as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. Upon inheritance of the Netherlands, Franche Comte and Naples, France saw him as a clear and abundant threat. The war had now become a Habsburg Vs Valois affair, both had considerable financial and military might.
Both sides saw Milan as being vital to them. Charles saw it as being paramount since it lay on the route of the Habsburg, Austria-Spain communications route. Francis on the other hand would have felt very threatened by the strong and imminent presence of the Habsburg throne all around him. It would be a setback of the greatest magnitude if he, like his predecessors Charles VIII and Louis VIII, was driven back from the prosperous trade centre that was Milan. It also comprised the only route he had through the Alps into N.Italy.
Disaster struck for Francis in 1521, when his invasion of Spanish Navarre was defeated. Even worse though, was the fact that in subsequent battles he lost Milan to Spain. In 1525 Francis was taken prisoner at the battle of Pavia and extradited to Madrid. It can be insinuated that Charles acted ‘naively’ in not seizing the initiative and believing Francis’s pleas for release in return for forfeiture of all Valois claims in Burgundy and Italy.
Francis was released, but it became clear in 1526 that Francis would never willingly relinquish Milan. Charles marched into Florence and deposed the Medicis. His unpaid troops then reacted by marching southward into the Papal States, sacking the city of Rome and leaving it in waste. Francis retaliated by marching into Lombardy and attacking Spanish held Naples. His prospects for success seemed slim since in 1528 his Genoese allies had deserted him.
The acquisition of Genoa then swung the war into Charles’s favour. It severely damaged the North-South communications in Italy. Charles capitalised on this by defeating the French decisively in Milan and becoming crowned the official King of Naples. With French presence in Italy pacified, the Medicis were restored as rulers of Florence and the Sforzas to Milan, as clients to the Spanish throne. Furthermore Francis relinquished his claims to Milan, Naples, Genoa, Artois and Flanders. In 1531 the Habsburgs were the effective rulers of Italy, as Charles was officially crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1530 and his brother, the King of the Romans in 1531.
Events 1529-1559: -
The restart of the war was delayed until 1535, after both France and Spain found themselves suffering severe financial shortfalls. They were both forced to uphold a truce. The French called for truces in 1538, ‘46 and ‘57. The Habsburgs called for them in 1534, ‘in ‘44 and ‘57.
Francis took advantage of the death of Francesco Sforza, the Duke pf Milan in 1535, and invaded once more. Fortunately for Francis the Ottomans had invaded Genoa and Charles had his hand forced into playing for time, as he didn’t have the resources to fight both of these opponents simultaneously.
Francis retained Savoy for 3 years, but soon became impatient and invaded Nice, while ‘ambitiously’ laying claim to Artois, Brabant, Luxembourg, Milan and Roussillon.
As a result of Francis’s aggressive behaviour Charles, aided by Henry VIII, invaded France. Savoy and Boulogne were captured, and even Paris was threatened. The focal point of the Habsburg-Valois rivalry had shifted from Italy to France itself and N.West Europe. The death of Francis in 1547 should have prompted a recession in aggression, but the successor to the French throne, Henry II had a personal score to settle with Charles. He had just spent 3 years in a Madrid prison. He did not however let his emotions rule his decision-making and ruled ‘prudently’. He capitalised on the Anglo – Scottish skirmishes to take back Boulogne in 1550. Even more an intriguing acquisition was made when he turned Charles’s problems with the Lutheran princes into his favour. He promised support to them in return for the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdon. This gave him a tactical advantage of having access to Germany.
The balance of the affair had swung back towards the French as the Spaniards had several problems to deal with. Firstly the princes in Germany were being swung by the popular reformation. France now had troops in Metz and the Duke of Guise was winning battles in Italy, with Milan being threatened. To make matters worse the ottomans were making good progress up the N.African coast towards Spain. It seemed that the problems lay much closer to home now for Spain. All these factors culminated in the abdication of his throne by Charles, with power going to his son Philip II. Philip negotiated a peace with France and peace looked a more realistic prospect for the long term. The accession of the anti-Habsburg Pope Paul IV, again opened invitations for the French to invade Italy.
The Duke of Guise tried for 2 years to regain Naples and Milan but his attempts were unfruitful and ended when he was recalled to defend France from a Spanish invasion. From his HQ of the Netherlands Philip won his first battle against a French army in 1557.
Henry finally thought that his work was complete when he had regained Calais from England. Both countries now had no choice but to make peace since neither had the finance to continue.
The treaty of Château – Cambresis signalled the end of the wars. France was allowed a handful of towns such as Turin, Pinerolo and Saluzo, on the Italian side of the Alps.
This meant that France still had a route through the Alps into Italy for not only trade but for a future invasion. France also retained control of Metz, Toul and Verdon, as well as Calais.
The result of the wars was that Spain gained effective control of Italy, but France on the other hand had reduced its Spanish ‘encirclement’. Both countries were now financially impotent.
In Italy the effects of armies trudging up and down the countryside had taken its toll. Scenes of slaughter were commonplace, while several cities had been plundered. Italy as a whole had demonstrated that it had no ‘cohesion whatsoever and as a band of separate states was highly susceptible to invasion. The traditional Italian rivalries had been clearly shown in the conflicts, while many privately rejoiced at the sack of Rome since it was the Pope who ‘ironically’ had invited foreign armies into Italy anyway.