Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, duke of Urbino, 1490-1538

Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, duke of Urbino (1490-1538) was an Italian general who spent most of career in the Papal service, but who was unable to prevent the sack of Rome in 1527, and was often seen as a rather sluggish commander.

His father was Giovanni della Rovere, Papal captain and lord of Senigallia. Giovanni had been given his titles in 1474 by his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, and held them to his death in 1501.

At this stage Francesco was only 11, and in 1502 they family lost Senigallia to Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI and then involved in a campaign to carve out a principality for himself in the Papal States.

In 1503 Pope Alexander died. Cesare Borgia lost his lands soon afterwards and was forced into exile. The short-lived Pius III was followed as Pope by Francesco's uncle Giuliano della Rovere, Pope Julius II. The young Francesco was quickly restored to Senigallia. The pope also supported another of Francesco's uncles, the heirless Guidobaldo I, duke of Urbino, when he adopted Francesco as his heir in 1504.

In 1508 Guidobaldi died and Francesco became Duke of Urbino. In the same year he married Eleonora Gonzaga, a daughter of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, a fairly successful Italian general of the early Italian Wars and Isabella d'Esta, one of the most famous women of the Italian renaissance.

In 1509 Urbino was appointed captain-general of the Papal States. He commanded the Papal army at Caselechio (21 May 1511), but was defeated by a French army led by Giacomo Trivulzio. In the aftermath of this defeat the French captured Bologna and the Papal forces retreated to Ravenna. Cardian Alidosi publically blamed Urbino for the defeat, and in a rage Urbino killed him (or had his men kill him). Despite this behaviour he retained his command and papal support and in 1513 was made Lord of Pesaro.

The biggest weakness of Urbino's position was his dependence on Papal favour. Later in 1513 Pope Julius II died and was followed by Pope Leo X, a member of the Medici family. Pesaro was quickly transferred to his nephew Lorenzo II de Medici, and in 1516 della Rovero was excommunicated and expelled from Urbino, which was also given to Lorenzo.

In 1521 Pope Leo died and in the same year della Rovero was restored as duke of Urbino. He was appointed captain-general of the Venetian Army during the First Hapsburg-Valois War (1521-26), when the Republic was fighting on the side of the French. This ended in 1523 when Venice made peace with Charles V, taking them out of the war.

The First Hapsburg-Valois War ended with Francis I in Spanish captivity. As soon he was released in 1526 he joined the League of Cognac, an anti-Imperial alliance formed by Pope Clement VII. Urbino was supreme commander of the Army of the Holy League during the Second Hapsburg-Valois War, although his relationship with Clement, who was another Medici Pope, was poor.

Urbino was seen as a sluggish commander in this period, and his inaction was seen as one of the reasons for the fall and sack of Rome in 1527. However he was still being employed by Venice, and some of his actions were inspired by orders from the Republic.

At the start of the war Milan was held by Francesco Sforza. He had been placed in power by Imperial troops, but now sided with Francis I and the League. He was immediately attacked by Imperial forces, who besieged Sforza in Milan. Urbino slowly led a league relief army towards Milan, and on 6 July 1526 attacked the siege lines. The attack failed, and he decided to wait for Swiss reinforcements. He planned to attack again on 25 July, but Sforza was forced to surrender on the previous day. Urbino withdrew from Milan and instead besieged Cremona. After Cremona fell on 23 September he implemented a loose blockade of Milan, but had to withdraw late in the year. He withdrew to the east, where he intercepted German reinforcements heading into Italy under the command of Georg von Frundsberg. He attacked Frundsberg at Borgoforte (25 November 1526), but once again failed to achieve his aims. The able Italian commander Giovanni de Medici was mortally wounded in the battle, and Frundsberg was able to join up with the main Imperial army, under Charles, duke of Bourbon (a French exile).  After this setback Urbini made no further efforts to stop the two Imperial forces from uniting.

By 1527 the Venetian government didn't trust Pope Clement, and ordered the Duke to limit his actions to the defence of Venetian territory. When the undisciplined and unpaid Imperial army began to move south towards Rome under Charles, duke of Bourbon, Urbino shadowed it at a safe distance. He was unable to prevent the sack of Rome, and missed a possible chance to rescue the city while the Imperial army was distracted by the sack of the city. His well known dislike of the Medici made his actions suspect, but there is also evidence that he didn't trust his troops, and he had good reason to believe that they would be unable to face Bourbon's Spanish veterans.

After the sack Clement was forced to come to terms with Charles V. One of Charles's conditions was that he should be reconciled with Urbino.

Urbino remained in the Venetian service after the sack of Rome. His position was threatened after Clement VII was replaced by Alessandro Farnese as Pope Paul III in 1534, but he held on to Urbino.
He died in 1538, probably after being poisoned and was succeeded by his son Guidobaldo II della Rovere, who held the title from 1538 until his death in 1574,

The Pope’s Army – The Papacy in Diplomacy and War, John Carr. A military and political history of the Papacy, from the earliest years under Roman rule, through the long period where the Pope was also the temporal ruler of the Papal States, through the unification of Italy and on to the present day. An entertaining dash through the almost two thousand long life of one of the oldest institutions in the world (Read Full Review)
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 March 2015), Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, duke of Urbino, 1490-1538 ,

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