The Italian Wars, 1494-1559

Italy at the Start of the Wars
Round One - First Italian War/ Italian War of Charles VIII (1494-95)
Round Two - Second Italian War/ Italian War of Louis XII (1499-1503)
Round Three - War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1510)/ War of the Holy League (1510-14)/ Francis I's First Invasion of Italy (1515-1516)
Round Four - First Hapsburg-Valois War/ First Italian War between Charles V and Francis I/ Fourth Italian War (1521-25)
Round Five - Second Hapsburg-Valois War (1526-30)
Round Six - Third Hapsburg-Valois War (1536-38)
Round Seven - Fourth Hapsburg-Valois War (1542-44)
Round Eight - Fifth Hapsburg-Valois War (1551-59)
Italy at the End of the Wars

The Italian Wars (1494-1559) saw a prolonged period of struggle between the major European powers for control of Italy. It began with a French attempt to press a claim to the Kingdom of Naples, but soon expanded into a general clash between the houses of Valois and Habsburg, and in particular between Francis I of France and the Emperor Charles V. By the end of the wars the French had been expelled from the Peninsula, and large parts of Italy, from Milan down to Naples had come under direct Spanish rule, while others, including Florence, were part of the Spanish sphere of influence. Italy wouldn't regain her independence until the mid nineteenth century. 

Italy at the Start of the Wars

At the start of the Italian wars Italy was made up of a patchwork of independent states of various types. The only direct foreign rule was in the far south, where Sicily was ruled by the kings of Aragon. On the mainland the largest state was the Kingdom of Naples, ruled by a side-branch of the royal family of Aragon.

To its north were the Papal States, a hodgepodge of various types of government, with the Pope as their overlord. During this period the extent of Papal control of the Papal States varied greatly, with some areas ruled by military strongmen, others under more direct Papal control, and frequent invasions from outside (in particular from Venice). 

In the north the main powers were the Republic of Venice, unusual in that it combined an Italian mainland empire in the north-east with a sizable overseas empire, and the Duchy of Milan, once ruled by the Visconti, but by 1494 securely in the hands of the Sforza. The far north-west was part of the Duchy of Savoy, but at the start of the war Savoy was more in the French orbit.

In between these northern powers and the Papal States was a band of city states of various types and size. The best known was Florence, which alternated between Medici rule and Republican rule. Genoa was generally a republic, although with constant internal strife. There were also a number of smaller duchies, including the Gonzaga dukes of Mantua and the Este Dukes of Modena, Reggio and Ferrara.

A handful of independent republics survived the war. Venice was the most powerful, but began a slow decline. Genoa remained independent, although generally allied with Spain. Finally Lucca and San Marino both survived as independent republics at the end of the war.

For most of the fifteenth century Italian wars had generally been fought between bands of mercenaries led by the famous Condottieri (from the Italian for contract). Warfare was quite formalised, slow paced, with low casualties and a high level of hostage taking, and tended to encourage a balance of power. In 1494 the large French army crashed into this system and caused shockwaves because of its rapid movement and most notably its powerful artillery train, which battered down in hours fortifications that had previously been able to withstand sieges of years.

Round One - First Italian War/ Italian War of Charles VIII (1494-95)

The First Italian War or Italian War of Charles VIII was triggered by a French claim to the Kingdom of Naples, which had once been held by an Angevin dynasty. In January 1494 Ferrante I of Naples died, and the throne was inherited by his son Alfonso II. Alfonso also had a claim to Milan, and so Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan encouraged Charles VIII's attempt to impose his rule.

In October 1494 Charles invaded at the head of 25,000 men (including 8,000 Swiss pikemen and a powerful artillery park). He swept south, brushing aside what little resistance there was, and had seized Naples by February 1495. Alfonso abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand, who fled to Sicily. The Italians now began to unite against him, led by Pope Alexander VI. The resulting League of Venice also included Spain (Ferdinand of Aragon was related to the kings of Naples), the Holy Roman Empire, and even Milan. A League army was formed, under the command of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Charles realised that there was a real danger he might be trapped, and so retreated north. The League army attempted to stop him at Fornova (July 1495), but the French got past and by the end of the year Charles was back in France.

Meanwhile in the south Ferdinand of Naples was able to return with Spanish help. After a setback at Seminara (28 June 1495) Ferdinand seized Naples, and was restored to his throne. The French commander in Naples didn't surrender until July 1496, and the last French stronghold didn’t fall until November. Ferdinand didn't survive long to enjoy his new throne, dying on 7 September 1496. He was succeeded by Frederick IV, the brother of Alfonso II. 

The First Italian War hadn't really changed much, at least on the surface. The French had made a dramatic entry into Italy, but had been unable to maintain their position and at the end of the war the status quo was largely restored.

Round Two - Second Italian War/ Italian War of Louis XII (1499-1503)

The Second Italian War had two phases. The first part of the war saw Louis XII invade Milan in August 1499, expelling Duke Ludovico Sforza. Ludovico raised an army in the Tyrol and in February 1500 reoccupied Milan. The French soon gathered together a strong army and attacked Ludovico at Novara (8 April 1500). His underpaid army dissolved, and Ludovico was captured two days later. Ludovico spent the remaining ten years of his life in French captivity, while Louis XII became Duke of Milan.

The second phase of the war began in 1501. Late in 1500 Louis XII and Ferdinand II of Aragon agreed to split the Kingdom of Naples between them. Louis's men captured Capua in July 1501 and took Naples soon afterwards, while the Spanish took Taranto.

The allies soon fell out. The French blockaded the Spanish commander Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba (El Gran Capitan) in Barletta (August 1502-April 1503) but they missed the chance to defeat the Spanish. Cordoba received reinforcements in April 1503 and defeated the French at Cerignola (26 April 1503). The French were reinforced again, but once again Cordoba defeated them, this time at the Garigliano (28-29 December 1503). The French were expelled from Naples, and in the Treaty of Blois of 1505 Louis XII officially abandoned his claim to Naples (not the last time that the French would abandon that claim).

Round Three - War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1510)/ War of the Holy League (1510-14)/ Francis I's First Invasion of Italy (1515-1516)

The next period of conflict is sometimes called the Third Italian War (1508-1516), but it can also be split into three clear conflicts. The War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1510) was an attack on Venice by an alliance that included the Emperor Maximilian, Pope Julius II, Louis XII of France and Ferdinand II of Aragon. The War of the Holy League (1510-14) began when the Pope became concerned about French power, and formed an alliance to try and reduce it. Finally Francis I's First Invasion of Italy was fought to try and secure his claim to Milan, and was probably the most successful of his many Italian adventures.

Venice's creation of a mainland empire had made her powerful enemies. The Papal States had lost Faenza, Rimini and Ravenna to Venice. During the First Italian War the Republic had captured Brindisi, Otranto and a number of other Neapolitian ports. Louis had granted Venice the eastern part of the Duchy of Milan during the Second Italian War and now wanted it for himself. Finally the Emperor Maximilian had a long-standing grudge against the Republic, claiming Padua, Verona and Friuli, and the right of free passage for Imperial armies heading into Italy. Maximilian actually attacked before the League had been agreed, suffered a defeat at Cadore (2 March 1508) and made peace in June. Soon after this he joined the new League of Cambrai.

The official War of the League of Cambrai began with the French declaration of war on 7 April 1509. The Pope joined in on 27 April and the Venetians soon suffered a defeat at French hands at Agnadello (14 May 1509). In the aftermath of this defeat they withdrew from most of their outlying posts and entered into peace negotiations with the Pope. The Emperor entered the fray in June, besieging Padua (8 August-2 October 1509). Once again he was defeated and had to retreat back into the Tyrol. This effectively ended the League. By now the Pope was worried about the danger of foreign domination in Italy, and began to form a new Holy League.

The first step in the creation of the Holy League was a peace treaty between the Pope and Venice, agreed in February 1510. The Pope began his new war with a failed attack on Genoa and a brief attempt to threaten Ferrara. At this stage the Pope lacked other allies, and was thus vulnerable when a French army invaded late in the year. He was able to fight off a French attack on Bologna, then early in 1511 led a successful attack on Mirandola, an outlying fortress of Ferrara. The French then struck back, capturing Concordia and Mirandola and defeating a Papal army at Casalecchio (21 May 1511). After that Bologna fell to them. Late in the year a Swiss attack on French-held Milan also failed. The Pope's only real success of the year came in October when the Spanish joined the Holy League.

The League performed better in 1512. At the start of the year the Venetians retook Brescia and Bergamo, while a Spanish and Papal army attacked Bologna and Ferrara. The French had a brief comeback under Gaston de Foix. He raised the siege of Bologna, defeated the Venetians at Isola della Scala, captured Brescia and then besieged Ravenna. The Holy League attempted to lift the siege, and suffered a heavy defeat in the resulting battle of Ravenna (11 April 1512). The death of Foix in this battle ended the French comeback. His replacement wasn't really up to the task, and was soon forced to abandon Milan, which fell to the Swiss. Once again success triggered the collapse of an Italian league. The process started in November 1512 when Pope Julius agreed an alliance with the Emperor Maximilian, at the same time reducing his support for Venice.

In February 1513 Pope Julius II died and was replaced by Pope Leo X. The new Pope almost immediately lost a key ally when Venice agreed a new alliance with France. The new allies then invaded Milan, but the French suffered a heavy defeat at the battle of Novara (6 June 1513), one of the last major successes for the Swiss pike men. The Venetians were forced to retreat into their home territory, where they suffered a heavy defeat at Imperial hands at La Motta Vicenza (7 October 1513). Once again Maxmilian was unable to take advantage of this victory and Venice survived again.

France was now invaded. Henry VIII attacked from Calais in June and won a significant victory at the battle of Guinegate (16 August 1513). In the aftermath of this defeat Thérouanne surrendered to the English. In September the Swiss joined in, invading Burgundy, but at Dijon they accepted a large payment in return for peace and French acknowledgement of their candidate for Duke of Milan. After this most of the combatants made peace, starting with Pope Leo X (December 1513). In March 1514 Maximilian made peace with France as did Henry VIII in July. Any chance of a longer peace ended when Louis died on 1 January 1515, to be succeeded by the warlike Francis I.

Francis I inherited the French claim to Milan, along with a large army and Venetian allies. At the start of his First Invasion of Italy (1515-16) he just about outnumbered the Swiss around Milan, while the Venetians matched their Spanish opponents. As he approached Milan Francis was able to convince a large part of the Swiss army to go home. The remaining troops decided to fight, but were defeated at the battle of Marignano (13-14 September 1515). The Swiss were able to retreat in fairly good order, but they were unable to hold onto Milan, which soon fell to the French.

This was the high point of Francis's career in Italy. Pope Leo made peace in December 1515, the new King Charles I of Spain (later the Emperor Charles V) made peace in August 1516 and in November the Swiss League agreed an everlasting peace with France (a rare example of a durable treaty from this period, lasting until the French Revolutionary period). Maximilian made one last attempt to invade Milan in March 1516 but failed yet again and came to terms with Francis in December 1516.

Round Four - First Hapsburg-Valois War/ First Italian War between Charles V and Francis I/ Fourth Italian War (1521-25)

The peace didn't last for long. In 1519 Charles I of Spain was elected as Holy Roman Emperor, becoming Charles V. This led to a fierce rivalry between the two kings, with Francis angry that had lost the election and determined to stake his claims to parts of Italy, and Charles wanting to establish a universally monarchy, a secular authority to match the religious authority of the Pope (all at a time when the Reformation was shattering that authority).

The inevitable war broke out in 1521 (First Hapsburg-Valois War, 1521-25). It started with fighting around the French borders, with enemies of Charles V campaigning in Luxembourg and the Netherlands in the north-east and in Navarre in the south-west, but these campaigns all failed. Charles responded with a major invasion of eastern France that was foiled by Bayard's defence of Mézières and the arrival of France I with the main army. In Italy the French fortress of Parma came under siege, but the Imperial forces then concentrated on the main French army. The French were outmanoeuvred and were forced to abandon Milan.

The fighting in 1522 went against the French. Lautrec, the commander in Italy, received reinforcements but little or no money. His Swiss troops insisted on an immediate attack on the Imperial forces and suffered a heavy defeat at Bicocca (27 April 1522). The French were forced to retreat into Venetian territory, while the victorious Imperial forces captured the French base at Genoa. 1523 began with the defection of Charles, duke of Bourbon, the Constable of France, after Francis attempted to seize part of his inheritance. This delayed a planned French invasion of Italy, and when the invasion did begin Francis didn't want to risk leaving France. The new French commander, Admiral Guillaume de Bonnivet, had some early successes, but was then pinned down outside Milan.

The campaigns that decided the war began in the spring of 1524. An Imperial army forced the French to retreat from Novara. While crossing the Sesia River the famous French leader Pierre Terrail, seigneur of Bayard was killed and the French were forced to retreat back to the Alps. This Imperial victory was followed up by an invasion of the south of France. Marseille was besieged by the Constable of Bourbon, but the city held out until Francis arrived. Francis followed the retreating Imperials back across the Alps into Italy. He was able to take the city of Milan, but not the castle, and then began a siege of Pavia (November 1524-24 February 1525). This gave Charles time to raise a relief army, and on 24 February 1525 Francis suffered a crushing defeat at the battle of Pavia (24 February 1525). Francis was captured in the battle and taken to Madrid as a prisoner.

The defeat at Pavia and the resulting Treaty of Madrid (14 January 1526) saw the collapse of the French position in Italy. Although Francis would fight another three wars he was never able to gain more than temporary control of Madrid or parts of Savoy and Piedmont. Much of the fighting in the later wars would take place on the north-eastern frontiers of France. The Treaty saw Francis abandon all rights to Milan, Naples, Genoa, Asti, Flaners, Artois, Tournai and the Duchy of Burgundy. His two eldest sons became hostages.

Round Five - Second Hapsburg-Valois War (1526-30)

Unsurprisingly the Treaty of Madrid led to the shortest period of peace in the entire Italian Wars. Francis was released on the French border on 17 March 1526 and on 22 May he joined the League of Cognac, an anti-Imperial alliance that included Pope Clement, Florence, Venice and even Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan. The Italian powers had been alarmed by the expansion of Imperial power after Pavia but the events of the war would prove that they were unable to unite to oppose Charles.

The Second Hapsburg-War started with an ineffective League siege of Milan. Imperial reinforcements arrived in time to prevent the fall of the city. The League captured Cremona, but then failed in a second siege of Milan. At the start of 1527 the Pope faced two threats - a Spanish army in Naples, and a League army under the Constable of Bourbon in the north. Bourbon's chaotic army managed to reach Rome and attacked the city on 6 May. Bourbon was killed early in the attack, but the city still fell and was sacked. Charles V faced the embarrassing situation of having the Pope as his virtual prisoner. Francis I finally made a move in July, sending an army under Odet, count of Lautrec, into Lombardy. The French captured Alessandria, Pavia and western Lombardy, while their then ally Andrea Doria took Genoa off the Imperialists. Lautrec then attempted to rescue the Pope, but arrived too late and on 26 November Clement made peace with Charles V.

Early in 1528 Lautrec moved south to besiege Naples. At first he had the support of the Genoese fleet, but Francis managed to alienate Andrea Doria, who switched sides. He withdrew from the blockade of Naples, leaving the French short of supplies. Lautrec died on 16 August and the siege was lifted on 28 August. In the following month Doria captured Genoa, which then became a major Imperial naval base. The war came to an end in 1529 after Francis I's mother Louise of Savoy and Charles V's aunt Margaret of Austria negotiated the Peace of Cambrai (also known as the Ladies' Peace). Francis abandoned his claims to Milan and Naples (again), and his claim to Flanders and Artois. He also married Eleanor of Austria, the sister of Charles V. In return Charles returned Francis's two eldest sons and agreed not to press his claim to Burgundy. Sforza remained in power in Milan, but the duchy would pass to Charles after his death.

Round Six - Third Hapsburg-Valois War (1536-38)

Although there was a six year gap between the Second and Third Hapsburg-Valois Wars Francis spent much of this gap plotting. In 1531 he agreed to marry Henry, Duke of Orleans, to Catherine de Medici, a relative of Pope Clement. In return the Pope agreed to support Francis's claim to Milan and Genoa. The marriage took place in 1533 and Catherine later became a dominant figure during the French Wars of Religion. Charles V was concerned with a wider theatre. The Barbary Pirates had recently expanded from Algiers to Tunis and now threatened the Italian coast. In 1535 Charles launched an invasion of Tunis. Hayreddin Barbarossa II, the Barbary leader, was expelled, and the previous Muslim ruler restored. Charles kept some strongpoints near Tunis and then in August returned to Sicily.

On 1 November 1535 Francesco Sforza died, and the Duchy passed to Charles. He offered the Duchy to to Charles of Angouleme (then third in line to the French throne), as long as he supported Charles on a range of issues and was raised at Charles's court. Francis insisted that the duchy should go to either the Dauphin or the Duke of Orleans, but neither of the elder sons were acceptable to Charles - the Dauphin's health was poor, and so in either case the Duchy was likely to pass to the French throne.

Fighting broke out in 1536 with a French invasion of Savoy. Turin fell, and the invasion triggered war with Charles (Savoy was then part of the Imperial defensive league). Imperial troops occupied parts of Piedmont as quickly as possible. This news reached Charles as he was moving north towards Rome, and infuriated him. At Rome he asked the Pope to decide the case, and issued a challenge to a dual. Nothing came of either idea, and so Charles prepared for a two-pronged invasion of France. Neither attack made much progress. In the north a French army under the Count of Nassau captured Guise, but then got stuck outside Peronne and retreated in September. In the south Anne of Montmorency fought a defensive war, blocking the French at Avignon and Valence on the Rhone. Charles was unable to take Marseille, and in September retreated back into Italy.

In 1537 Francis invaded Flanders and Artois. He started to build a fortress at Saint-Pol, but then moved his main army away before the new fortress was complete. This allowed a Netherlands army to attack and destroy it. The Imperial force then attacked Therouanne, but the siege ended on 30 July when a ten month armistice was agreed in the north. This didn't stop a French invasion of Savoy in which Anne of Montmorency captured Turin and Pinerolo, but the war finally came to an end in November when a wider armistice was agreed. The Truce of Nice was agreed on 17 June 1538 and acknowledged the position at the end of the war. The French were thus allowed to keep parts of Artois, Savoy and Piedmont.

Round Seven - Fourth Hapsburg-Valois War (1542-44)

The Fourth Hapsburg-Valois War was the last clash between Francis I and Charles V, and was another inconclusive war. Once again the war was triggered by Francis's inability to accept the status quo. He formed an alliance with Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, and he also arranged alliances with William of Cleves and Christian III of Denmark. The threat of war in Europe forced Charles to carry out a planned invasion of Algiers before he was really ready, and the expedition was a short-lived expedition, setting off in October 1541 and returning home in the following month.

The war started in 1542 when four French and allied armies attacked Hapsburg territory. Francis led an attack on Perpignan, the main Spanish fortress east of the Pyrenees. The remaining armies attacked in the north-east, with invasions of Artois, Flanders and Luxemburg, two armies attacking from the west and the third from Cleves, just to the east. The French had some early successes, but Francis was repulsed at Perpignan, while his son the Duke of Orleans abandoned a campaign in Luxemburg to join his father.

The campaigns of 1543 demonstrated the problems caused by Charles's vast empire. He began the year in Spain. In May he arrived in Italy, and then moved north into Germany to raise an army to face Francis, who was campaigning in Hainault. As Charles moved north a Franco-Turkish fleet attacked and sacked the Imperial city of Nice, then the Turks spent the winter at Toulon as guests of the French. By now Charles was campaigning in the north. While Francis invaded Luxemburg, Charles captured Duren and forced the Duke of Cleves to surrender. Charles then moved to Hainault, where he hoped to join up with Henry VIII. He did come up against the main French army, but Francis refused to fight and the armies retired into winter quarters.

1544 was meant to see a joint Imperial-English invasion of northern France, but the allies failed to coordinate their activities. Charles moved first, invading in May and besieging St. Dizier (19 June-18 August 1544). Henry VIII began to move in  mid-July, but instead of joining Charles he chose to besiege Boulogne. By the time Boulogne fell on 14 September Charles was already involved in peace negotiations, and on 18 September Charles and Francis agreed the Peace of Crépy. This restored the situation at the start of the war, while Francis once again renounced his claims to Flanders, Artois and Naples. Henry VIII, who was now left without an ally, managed to hold on to Boulogne.

Round Eight - Fifth Hapsburg-Valois War (1551-59)

The Fourth War was the final direct clash between Francis I and Charles V. Early in 1547 Francis encouraged a failed coup at Genoa, but this didn't turn into open warfare. On 31 March 1547 Francis died, and was succeeded by his son Henry II. Earlier in the year Henry VIII had also died, and it took a few years for the new diplomatic situation to become clear. In the meantime the Pope drew closer to France. In September 1547 Pierluigi Farnese, duke of Piacenza, was murdered. The Spanish occupied the city, and this triggered an alliance between the Pope and France. Although the tension was rising, 1548 was a quiet year. 1549 saw fighting between England and France, and a failed French attack on Boulogne, which distracted Henry II. This Anglo-French War ended in 1550, when Henry simply bought Boulogne from the regency government in England. The same year saw the Cardinal del Monte elected as Pope Julius III. He turned out to be a supporter of Charles V, but the complex web of family ties left in place by Pope Paul III still helped trigger the outbreak of the Fifth Hapsburg-Valois War.

Pope Paul had been determined to restore his grandson Ottavio Farnese to the duchies of Parma and Piacenza. He had failed, but Pope Julius had agreed to restore him to Parma as part of the agreement that led to his election. Ottavio was on poor terms with his father-in-law Charles V, and the Imperial Viceroy of Naples already occupied Piacenza. He also wanted to seize Parma, and in December 1550 this pressure forced Ottavio to asking for assistance from Henry II of France. In May 1551 the Pope stripped Ottavio of Parma and Piacenza and in June a Papal and Imperial Army attacked. The French sent help, but this didn’t yet count as a direct clash between France and Charles. The fighting was quickly stalemated - the French threatened Bologna, while the Imperial forces blockaded Parma and Mirandola.

Open war finally broke out in September 1551 when a French army began to campaign in Savoy. This diverted Imperial attention away from Parma and Mirandola, and in April 1552 Pope Paul made peace with Henry II. Ottavio kept Parma, and the sieges ended.

The main French effort for 1552 came in the north. Henry formed an alliance with the German Protestant princes, and in return they agreed to give him the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, then part of the Duchy of Lorraine. Henry invaded Lorraine on 13 March 1552 and quickly overran the bishoprics, but he was unable to capture Strasbourg. Charles was caught out of place and wasn't able to respond until late in the year. He attempted to retake Metz, but this turned into an epic siege which only ended at the start of 1553. Charles's army suffered heavy losses in the siege.

In Italy the main event of the year was the outbreak of an anti-Spanish revolt at Siena on 17 July 1552. The French managed to get a garrison into the city. In 1553 the Spanish started a long siege of Siena, while in the north Charles captured Térouenne. He then passed command of his army to Emmanual Philibert, duke of Savoy, who captured and destroyed Hesdin in the Pas-de-Calais. Henry II responded with an attack on Cambrai but retired when Charles appeared in person.

1554 wasn't an especially significant year in the war, but politically it saw the start of Charles V's abdication of power. On 25 July 1554 his son Philip, already Duke of Milan, was made King of Naples. There was fighting on the northern front, where the French captured Marienburg, Dinant and Bouvines, but then failed to capture Namur. Siena held on throughout the year, despite the defeat of the military commander of the defence at the battle of Marciano (2 August 1554).

Siena was finally starved into surrender in April 1555. Florence eventually received the city, while the Spanish kept five sea ports. The year also saw three popes - Julius III died on 24 March, his successor Marcellus II on 30 April. In May the anti-Spanish Giampiero Caraffa was elected as Pope Paul IV. Charles's abdication continued, when on 25 October 1555 he passed the Netherlands to Philip.

The process of abdication was effectively completed in 1556. On 16 January Charles abdicated as King of Spain and Sicily, in favour of Philip II. On 5 February he arranged the Truce of Vaucelles with Henry II, allowing him to begin the process of abdicating as Holy Roman Emperor in favour of his brother Ferdinand. The German Diet held up the official change-over for a couple of years, but in September 1556 Charles sailed into retirement at Yuste in Spain (where he died on 21 September 1558). His great empire had now been split, with Philip II inheriting the more powerful and wealthy parts of the empire and Ferdinand getting the troubled German inheritance.

Fighting resumed late in the year, this time triggered by Pope Paul IV. He had agreed a defensive alliance with the French, and then arrested a secretary at the Spanish Embassy in Rome. The Duke of Alva, Viceroy of Naples, demanded his release, and when the Pope refused invaded the Papal States from the south. This triggered the defensive alliance, and in December Francis, duke of Guise, crossed the Alps into Italy at the head of a French army. The Pope convinced Guise to attack Naples. He led his army through the Papal States and began a siege of Civitella.

The main theatre for the rest of the war would be the north-eastern frontier of France. On 7 June 1557 Philip's wife Mary I of England declared war on France. In July Philip invaded northern France at the head of 50,000 men. Philip proved to be an uninspired commander, failing to take full advantage of his position. Instead of threatening Paris he chose to besiege Guise, and then St. Quentin. St. Quentin managed to hold out long enough for Anne of Montmorency to arrive in the area with a smaller army, He attempted to harass the defenders, but instead suffered a heavy defeat at the battle of St. Quentin (10 August 1557). For a short time Paris was vulnerable, but Philip insisted on finishing the siege of St. Quentin, which held out to 27 August. By now the French had recovered from their defeated, and in September Philip decided to retreat back into the Netherlands.

Henry II responded to the danger in the north by recalling Guise. He arrived late in the year and raided Champagne and into the Netherlands, keeping the Imperial forces off balance. His greatest triumph came at the start of January when Guise attacked and easily captured Calais, the last English foothold in France. The French then planned a two-pronged invasion of the Netherlands. First Guise would capture Thionville, and then two armies would invade, one on the coast, on further south. This plan fell apart when Thionville held out until 22 June. By this point the northern French army, under Marshal Paul des Thermes, was already on the move. The French were able to capture Dunkirk (30 June), but a Spanish-Netherlands army under Egmont forced them to retreat. On 13 July 1558 Egmont, supported by an English fleet, defeated the French at the battle of Gravelines.

By now both sides were ready for peace. Negotitions got underway at Saint Pol in October, before moving to Cateau-Cambrésis. The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was finally signed on 2 April 1559, ending the long series of Hapsburg-Valois Wars and the period of the Italian Wars. Only three years later the First French War of Religion broke out, marking the start of an equally long period of civil war in France. As a result the settlement agreed at Cateau-Cambrésis remained in place for much longer than any previous treaty of the period.

Italy at the End of the Wars

The Spanish were the big winners from the Italian Wars. Philip II was acknowledged as King of Naples and of Sicily, and they remained tied to the Spanish crown until the extinction of the Spanish Hapsburgs. The Duchy of Milan was also directly tied to the Spanish crown, and was ruled by a governor appointed by the monarch.

The Italians were the big losers, with large parts of the country falling into foreign hands. Spain was eventually replaced by Austria after the extinction of the Spanish Hapsburgs. Austrian power was shaken during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, but didn't end until the Italian Wars of Independence in the second half of the nineteenth century. 

Only a handful of independent republics survived. Venice was the most powerful, but began a slow decline. Genoa remained independent, although generally allied with Spain. Finally Lucca and San Marino both survived. Elsewhere the Dukes of Este ruled Modena, Reggio and Ferrara, the Gonzaga Dukes held Mantua and Monferrat and the Farnese were dukes of Parma and Piacenza.

The Republic of Florence became the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, ruled by the Medici dynasty until the eighteenth century, but very much within the Spanish sphere of influence.

Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy emerged from the wars with his power enhanced. Savoy had been held by the French, but in 1559 he was restored to power in most of Piedmont and Savoy (apart from Turin and a few minor towns, but he soon gained them as well). The only condition was that Emmanuel Philibert was to remain strictly neutral in any wars between France and the Hapsburgs.

The French failed to achieve any of their aims in Italy, ending up with no footholds in the peninsula. The most permanent French achievements of the war all came quite late, and were the final expulsion of the English after the fall of Calais, and the seizure of the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun. Further expansion east towards the Rhine would come at the end of the Thirty Years War.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 October 2014), The Italian Wars, 1494-1559 ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy