Fifth Hapsburg-Valois War (1547-59)

The fifth and final Hapsburg-Valois War (1551-59) was the last in the series of clashes between the Hapsburg and Valois dynasties that began under Francis I and Charles V (Italian Wars, 1494-1559). The war broke out late in 1551, after Francis had been succeeded by his son Henry II, and covered the period in which Charles V abdicated in favour of his son Philip II in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands and his brother Ferdinand in the Holy Roman Empire. There was fighting in Italy and on the northern borders of France.

At the end of the Fourth Hapsburg-Valois War in 1544 France held parts of Savoy and Piedmont, but Francis I had failed to impose his claims to Milan or Naples, both of which were now held by the Emperor Charles V. The French had made some limited gains on their eastern border, and these were acknowledged in the ten-year truce that ended the war.

Although open war between France and the Empire didn't break out until 1551 there was a constant background of smaller scale combat, mainly in Italy, for several years beforehand. This would eventually expand into full blown war late in 1551, but the first significant campaign didn't come until 1552, when Henry II invaded Lorraine. The war wasn't ever very coherent, and instead was dominated by a series of short campaigns, mainly on the north-eastern borders of France, but with some in Italy.


Even towards the end of his life Francis was still interfering in the affairs of Italy. In 1546 the pro-French party in Genoa, led by Gian Luigi Fieschi, began to plot a revolt against Andrea Doria and the pro-Imperial government. The plotters were encouraged by Francis, and by Pier Luigi Farnese, duke of Parma. The revolt began with the capture of the Genoese fleet on 2 January 1547. Doria's adopted son Giannettino was killed when he attempted to resist the attack on the fleet, and Doria himself fled the city, but the plotters also suffered a heavy blow when Fieschi drowned during the attack. The heart soon went out of the revolt, and the surviving plotters surrendered and were granted an amnesty. Doria returned to the city on 4 January, ignored the amnesty and took vengeance on the surviving members of the Fieschi family.

1547 saw two of the dominant monarchs of the era die. On 28 January Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his young son Edward. On 31 March 1547 Francis I died and was succeeded by his son Henry II (1519-1559). Both of these deaths offered the promise of a change in the political climate in Europe, with England ruled by a regency and France by a new monarch.

The year also saw fighting break out at Piacenza, where Pierluigi Farnese, a relative of Pope Paul III, was a deeply unpopular ruler. On 10 September 1547 Pierluigi was killed by rebels. The Spanish moved quickly to seize the city, occupying it two days later, on 12 September. This triggered an alliance between the Pope and France.


1548 saw the French, the Pope and Charles V all prepare for war, and Henry II occupy Saluzzo, on the border between France and Savoy. Otherwise the year passed fairly peacefully, although there was a simmering conflict between England and France, partly triggered by the English occupation of Boulogne and partly by fighting in Scotland.


In the spring of 1549 the French attempted to recapture Boulogne, but an assault in May was foiled. Boulogne was then effectively under siege until the following year.

On 10 November 1549 Pope Paul III died, after a reign in which he had focused much of his energy on attempts to increase the power of his own Farnese family.


On 7 February 1550 the Conclave finally decided on a compromise candidate for Pope, electing the Cardinal del Monte, who took the name of Pope Julius III. He proved to be a supporter of Charles V (one of his acts was to move the stalled religious council then being held from Bologna back to Trent). 

On 24 March 1550 England and France made peace (Treaty of Boulogne). Henry II, having failed to capture Boulogne, simply bought it in the peace treaty. This left Henry II free to prepare for war with Charles V.

Back in Italy trouble developed at Parma. Pope Julius had restored the duchy to Ottavio Farnese, a grandson of the previous Pope and son-in-law of Charles V. Ottavio's relationship with his father-in-law was poor, and he had been dispossessed by Imperial forces after the murder of his father in 1547. He now clashed with Ferrante Gonzaga, the Imperial Viceroy of Naples, who already occupied Piacenza and wanted to take Parma. In December 1550 Ottavio made the fateful step of asked for assistance from France in response to pressure from Gonzaga. Henry II accepted his request and moved an army to Mirandola, in the northern Romagna.


In May 1551 the Pope responded to Ottavio's move by stripping him of Parma and Piacenza. In June a combined Papal and Imperial army prepared to move against Parma. This fighting involved both Imperial and French troops, but wasn't seen as a direct war between Henry and Charles. The fighting began with a minor defeat for the Papal forces on their way to join with the Imperial army. The Farnese then threatened papal territory at Bologna, and the Pope pulled part of his army back to defend the city. The French sent troops from Mirandola to Parma, and the Imperial commander decided to try and attack both places.

Both places were soon blockaded, but to add to Charles's woes another French army, under Francois de Brissac, began operations in Savoy in September 1551. Charles lacked the resources to conduct both campaigns and so Parma and Mirandola held out until the Pope was ready to make peace.

By now Henry II was preparing for an alliance with the Protestant Princes of Germany. He began by forming an alliance with Prince Maurice of Saxony.


Major fighting finally broke out in 1552. The Duchy of Lorraine was then part of the Holy Roman Empire, and was ruled by the Dukes of Lorraine. The previous duke, Francis I, had married Christina of Denmark, the niece of Charles V, but had then died in 1545, leaving his two-year old son Charles as Duke. On 15 January 1552 at Chambord Henry II agreed an alliance with the Protestant Princes of Germany. One of the terms of this agreement was that the princes agreed to give the French the three bishoprics of Toul, Metz and Verdun, then the western part of the Duchy.

On 13 March 1552 Henry II invaded Lorraine to establish his power in the bishoprics. He also attempted to capture Strasbourg, on the eastern edge of Lorraine, but was repulsed.

Charles V was caught out of place by the outbreak of open warfare in Germany. He attempted to reach the Netherlands, where his forces were active, but spent part of the summer trying to avoid the Protestant princes. He eventually came to terms with them and was able to raise an impressive army, with which he besieged Metz (October 1552-January 1553). This siege ended with a major defeat for the Imperial forces. Charles's men suffered heavy losses in the siege lines and the attack eventually had to be abandoned.

In April 1552 the fighting at Parma came to an end when Pope Paul made peace with Henry II. Under the terms of the agreement Ottavio was able to keep Parma, at first for two years. He remained Duke of Parma for the rest of his life.

In the summer revolt broke out in Siena, where the Spanish were building a castle. The revolt broke out on 17 July 1552, and the Spanish were quickly expelled from the city. Cosimo de Medici, duke of Florence, was able to prevent the trouble from spreading, but the French were able to get a garrison into the city, and it held out against the Spanish into 1555.


The main military action of 1553 was the start of the long siege of Siena. The city was ruled for France by Blaise de Montluc, with Piero Strozzi commanding much of the defence. The attackers were commanded by Cosimo de Medici and Gian Giacomo Medichino, Marquis of Marignano.

There was also fighting on the northern front, where Charles captured Térouenne after a two month long siege (April-June 1553). Command of the Imperial army then passed to Emmanual Philibert, duke of Savoy, who captured Hesdin (in the Pas-de-Calais). Charles had the old fortified town of Hesdin destroyed, and a new town was built a few miles away. Henry II attacked Cambrai, but retreated when Charles V appeared in person.


The siege of Siena dragged on through. On 2 August 1554 Strozzi was defeated at the battle of Marciano, allowing the blockade to be strengthened, but the defenders still held on into 1555.

The main French campaign of the year came in the Meuse valley, where they captured Marienburg, Dinant and Bouvines. In response Charles ordered the construction of fortresses at Charlemont and Philippeville, both in the area around Liège. Henry then attacked Namur, tempting Charles into the field for the last time. Henry II pulled back to besiege Renty, and the two sides clashed in the minor battle of Renty (12 August 1554). Both sides claimed victory, but in the aftermath Henry retreated from the area. Charles ordered a raid across Picardy, which ended the year's fighting.

Perhaps the most significant event of 1554 was the start of Charles V's abdication of power. His son Philip was already Duke of Milan, but on 25 July 1554 he was made King of Naples, making him the main representative of Imperial power in Italy. Two years later, when the Empire passed to his uncle Ferdinand this would see Italy fall into the Spanish sphere.


In April 1555 Siena finally surrendered after the last food supplies ran out. At first the entire area was held by the Spanish, but in 1557 Philip gave the city and most of the area to Florence. Five sea ports were kept by the Spanish and ruled from Naples as the 'Stato dei Presidi' or the 'State of the Garrisons'.

1555 was a year of three Popes. Julius III died on 24 March 1555 and was followed by Marcellus II, but he died just over a month later, on 30 April. Less than a month later Giampiero Caraffa was elected as Pope Paul IV. The new pope turned out to be a stubborn opponent of Spain, which at the time of his election also thus made him an enemy of Charles V. Late in the year the new Pope arranged a new alliance with France, hoping at this point that it would be an offensive alliance.

The year saw Charles V continue the process of abdication. On 25 October 1555, in a ceremony at Brussels, he passed the Netherlands to Philip.


On 5 February 1556 Charles and Henry II agreed to the Truce of Vaucelles. Charles used this to secure the transfer of his remaining powers. He had abdicated as King of Spain and Sicily on 16 January 1556, and now began the process of abdicating as Holy Roman Emperor in favour of his brother Ferdinand. This process took a little longer to complete, as it involved the German Diet, but in September 1556 Charles set sail for Spain and retirement at Yuste. His great Empire had now been divided between his son Philip II who ruled Spain, the Netherlands, Naples, Sicily, Milan and the New World and his brother Ferdinand, who already ruled the Hapsburg lands in Eastern Europe and who became Holy Roman Emperor in 1558.

Pope Paul reacted to the Truce of Vaucelles by renewing his alliance with France, this time officially as a defensive alliance. This alliance would trigger the next stage of open warfare in Italy. Pope Paul was quickly able to engineer a Spanish threat by arresting the secretary of the Spanish Embassy at Rome. In August 1556 the Duke of Alva, then Viceroy of Naples, demanded his release, and when the Pope refused launched an invasion of the Papal States from the south. This triggered the defensive alliance with France, and during December a French army under Francis, duke of Guise, crossed the Alps into Italy.  


The Pope managed to convince Guise to move south to attack Naples. Guise reached the northern part of the kingdom, and began a siege of Civitella.

The main theatre of war for 1557 was northern France. At this stage Philip II was married to Mary I of England, and on 7 June England declared war on France. This would be an unpopular war and lead to the fall of Calais, but for the moment it appeared to put France in grave danger.

In July Philip II invaded northern France at the head of 50,000 men (including an English contingent), with Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy the main military commander. The French only had a small army in the north, led by Anne of Montmorency, and Paris was vulnerable to attack.

Instead of exploiting their numerical advance the Spanish besieged Guise, and then St. Quentin. Admiral Coligny managed to get into St. Quentin before the siege began, and was able to inspire the defenders to hold out for much longer than expected. Montmorency attempted to harass the besiegers, but instead he suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of St. Quentin (10 August 1557). Even now Philip refused to advance on Paris, and instead insisted on capturing St. Quentin. Coligny was finally forced to surrender on 27 August, giving the French time to recover from the defeat. In September Philip abandoned the campaign and retreated back to the Netherlands. 

News of the defeat at St. Quentin soon reached Guise in Naples, forcing him to abandon the siege of Civitella and retreat back to France. He was thus in place to play a vital part in the defence of France, but also left Pope Paul IV without any allies in Italy. Philip II didn't want to repeat his father's disastrous attack on Rome, and so a fairly lenient peace was soon agreed between the Pope and the Spanish.

Late in the year, after his return to France, Guise carried out a series of raids into Champagne and across the frontier of the Netherlands, helping to keep the Imperial forces off balance.


1558 began with a major French triumph. At the start of January Guise attacked and captured Calais, the last English foothold in France. This greatly reduced the chance of any further English adventures in France by removing their easy port of entry. The news of the capture of Calais also helped convince the notables of France, then meeting in Paris, to agree to a loan of 3,000,000 crowns to pay for the war.

When the fighting resuming in the spring of 1558 the French held the initiative. The plan was to capture Thionville then launch a two-pronged invasion of Calais, with Guise commanding the right and Marshal Paul des Thermes the left. This plan was disrupted by the defenders of Thionville, who held out until 22 June. This prevented Guise from taking part in the invasion of Flanders.

Despite this the left wing of the French army still attacked. Thermes took Dunkirk on 30 June, but was then forced to retreat in the face of a Spanish-Netherlands army commanded by Egmont. On 13 July 1558 the French were defeated by a combination of Egmont's army and English naval gunnery at Gravelines. Guise rushed to the area and was able to prevent the allies from taking advantage of their victory.

On 21 September Charles V died in retirement in Spain, just before the final end of the long series of wars that had dominated his reign.

Peace negotiations had begun in May, and they resumed at Saint Pol in October. The death of Mary I of England in November removed one complication, lifting any need for Philip to try and arrange the return of Calais to England. Early in the next year Elizabeth I agreed to leave Calais in French hands for eight years, and it would never return to English control. The Treaty of Edinburgh of 1560 ended the Franco-English part of the war.


The negotiations finally produced a treaty that would end the Italian Wars. On 2 April the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was signed. The French gave up all of their claims in Italy apart from in the border region of Saluzzo. They also surrendered all of Guise's conquests from the last year of the war. In return they keep Metz, Toul and Verdun. Emmanual Philibert of Savoy was restored to most of Savoy and Piedmont (regaining the rest of the area over the next few years).

The main loser was Italy. At the start of the long period of Italian Wars most of the peninsula had been in the hands of Italian rulers, or dynasties mainly based in Italy. By the end of the wars Milan and Naples had been taken over by the Spanish. Florence was an independent duchy, but firmly within the Spanish sphere of influence. Only Venice, Genoa, Lucca and San Marino remained independent republics. Italy would remain under Spanish and then Austrian domination until the French Revolutionary Wars.

Although the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis ended the Italian Wars and the long series of Hapsburg-Valois Wars, it didn't usher in a period of peace. Instead the religious divisions that had grown up while Charles V and the Papacy were distracted by wars came to the fore. In France they led to the equally long series of French Wars of Religion, with the First War of Religion breaking out in 1562, after only three years of peace. Many of the major commanders of the Hapsburg-Valois Wars, including Montmorency, Coligny and Guise, would find themselves on opposite sides in these wars.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 September 2014), Fifth Hapsburg-Valois War (1547-59) ,

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