Italian Wars

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Italian Wars

Italian Wars, 1494–1559, series of regional wars brought on by the efforts of the great European powers to control the small independent states of Italy. Renaissance Italy was split into numerous rival states, most of which sought foreign alliances to increase their individual power. It thus became prey to the national states that had begun to emerge in Europe. Foremost among those were France and Spain, whose prolonged struggle for supremacy in Italy was to curtail Italian liberties for more than three centuries.

The wars began when, in 1494, Charles VIII of France invaded Italy and seized (1495) Naples without effort, only to be forced to retreat by a coalition of Spain, the Holy Roman emperor, the pope, Venice, and Milan. His successor, Louis XII, occupied (1499) Milan and Genoa. Louis gained his next objective, Naples, by agreeing to its conquest and partition with Ferdinand V of Spain and by securing the consent of Pope Alexander VI. Disagreement over division of the spoils between the Spanish and the French, however, flared into open warfare in 1502. Louis XII was forced to consent to the Treaties of Blois (1504–5), keeping Milan and Genoa but pledging Naples to Spain.

Trouble began again when Pope Julius II formed (1508) an alliance against Venice with France, Spain, and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (see Cambrai, League of). But shortly after the French victory over the Venetians at Agnadello (1509), Julius made peace with Venice and began to form the Holy League (1510) in order to expel the French “barbarians” from Italy. The French held their own until the Swiss stormed Milan (1512)—which they nominally restored to the Sforzas—routed the French at Novara (1513), and controlled Lombardy until they were defeated in turn by Louis's successor, Francis I, at Marignano (1515). By the peace of Noyon (1516), Naples remained in Spanish hands and Milan was returned to France.

The rivalry between Francis I and Charles V, king of Spain and (after 1519) Holy Roman emperor, reopened warfare in 1521, and the French were badly defeated in the Battle of Pavia (1525), the most important in the long wars. Francis was forced to sign the Treaty of Madrid (1526), by which he renounced his Italian claims and ceded Burgundy. This he repudiated, as soon as he was liberated, by forming the League of Cognac with Pope Clement VII, Henry VIII of England, Venice, and Florence.

To punish the pope, Charles V sent Charles de Bourbon against Rome, which was sacked for a full week (May, 1527). The French, after an early success at Genoa, were eventually forced to abandon their siege of Naples and retreat. The war ended (1529) with the Treaty of Cambrai (see Cambrai, Treaty of) and the renunciation of Francis's claims in Italy. France's two subsequent wars (1542–44 and 1556–57) ended in failure. Francis died in 1547, having renounced Naples (for the third time) in the Treaty of Crépy. Complete Spanish supremacy in Italy was obtained by the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), which gave the Two Sicilies and Milan to Philip II.

The wars, though ruinous to Italy, had helped to spread the Italian Renaissance in Western Europe. From the military viewpoint, they signified the passing of chivalry, which found its last great representative in the seigneur de Bayard. The use of Swiss and German mercenaries was characteristic of the wars, and artillery passed its first major test.


See F. L. Taylor, Art of War in Italy, 1494 to 1529 (1921).

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References in periodicals archive ?
His career coincided with the intensive military focus of a French court heavily invested in the Italian Wars, which pitted successive monarchs against Charles V.
A dynastic dispute led the Duke of Milan to invite the French king Charles VIII to intervene; French invasion ensued in 1494, starting the first of the Italian Wars (13).
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Set in late 1562 but published in 1573, Jean de la Taille's Les corrivaux captures the uncertainty of French politics in the short time between the conclusion of the Italian wars in 1559 and the Duke of Guise's 1562 massacre of sixty-three Huguenot worshippers at Vassy, the opening event of the civil wars that raged for the rest of the century.
Montaigne's father, Pierre, was a veteran of the Italian wars and seems to have a kept a journal (now lost) of his Italian experiences.
The Italian Wars, 1494-1559; war, state and society in early modern Europe.
Venice Besieged: Politics and Diplomacy in the Italian Wars, 1494-1534.
Antonio Santosuosso discusses the Italian Wars' impact on intellectuals and artists--the Berneschi and the Mannerists--in the 1520s and 1530s, suggesting that their grotesque, cynical, and obscene style, their rejection of the humanist ideals, and their desire to shock do not reveal some kind of social criticism, but express their alienation from a world which offered them nothing but despair and frustration.
Spangler trains his sights on the Lorraine-Guise, the three cadet branches of the ducal House of Lorraine descended from Claude de Lorraine, a younger son of the duke of Lorraine who joined the French court, was married to a Bourbon, served Francois I with distinction during the Italian wars, and was rewarded with the duchy of Guise.
Antonio Santosuosso's essay on poetry and painting, "A Society in Disarray: Satirical Poets and Mannerist Painters in the Age of the Italian Wars," and Erika's Rummel's essay on two versions of a play about Cardinais Cisneros, "Cardinal Cisneros as Dramatic Hero: Enlightened Statesman or Miracle Worker?" are consistent with Eisenbichler's thesis and underline the extent to which Renaissance arts were inextricably linked to social and civic agendas.
The Italian wars and contemporary rulers have been the subject of a good deal of recent study.

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