Italian Wars

The Italian Wars were a series of conflicts, lasting from 1494 to 1559 (with a few peacetime gaps in between) that involved the Italian city-states, the Papal States, and most of the major Western European states (including France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, England, and Scotland), and even the Ottoman Empire; all fought over, as the name would suggest, the Italian peninsula. Originally fought over dynastic conflicts in the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples, the wars quickly became an attempt for all sides involved to increase power and territory, and gave way to many alliances and betrayals.

Tropes found within this period include:

  • The Alliance: In every war; expect it to fall apart sooner or later.
  • Badass Army: Everyone gets their share of moments, but the French gendarmerie, Swiss mercenaries, and Spanish tercios take the cake.
  • Badass Beard: Charles V (and arguably, very arguably) Henry VIII. On the other hand...
  • Badass Mustache: Francis I and his ally Suleiman the Magnificent had magnificent mustaches.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Pope Julius II wore one upon the Papal loss of Bologna (as priests were forbidden from wearing facial hair, this speaks volumes).
  • Blade on a Stick: The pike reached its heyday in this time, though it was used increasingly as a supporting weapon to the musket.
  • Butt Monkey: The Italian states. Ending the 15th century on a high note by being the center for the Renaissance, it came out of the Italian wars as a rather devastated place under Habsburg influence, with Milan and Naples under direct control.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Very endemic; for instance the Duke of Milan, who had invited France to interfere against Venice, betrayed it, and paid the price by turning over his lands to the French crown. And then there's Venice, starting out as the target of the Pope's ire, and then allying with it against France, and then allying with France to beat the Papal alliance.
    • SF and fantasy author L. Sprague de Camp once mentioned a conversation with an Italian friend who commented that, "Italian history, she's some hot stuff. Everybody stabs everybody!"
  • Church Militant: The Papal States, under Pope Julius II's leadership. He was not called the Warrior Pope for no reason.
  • Cultured Badass: Francis I, known for being Leonardo da Vinci's patron - and for being a capable military leader in his own right.
    • There are many contemporary accounts relative to the previous wars because of the many literate soldiers who fought in the wars.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Battle of Flodden Field, where a numerically inferior English army beat the Scots, with an estimate casualty ratio of 5:1 or as high as 17:1. Bonus points for James IV's Scottish army being beaten by a girl (Catherine of Aragon).
    • And the Battle of Pavia, where Spanish-Imperial forces inflicted as much as 15000 casualties on the French at the loss of only 500 dead or wounded; among the captured was King Francis of France himself.
  • Downer Ending: To the Italian Renaissance.
  • The Empire: In theory, the Holy Roman Empire; in practice, the Habsburg possessions of Charles V, which counted the Netherlands, Spain, and Southern Italy, not to mention the Spanish colonies which helped to pay for the Emperor's war through its shipments of silver.
  • The Emperor: Charles V. Francis I of France tried to be this, but lost, due in no small part to the "financial aid" of the Fugger banking family, and the Imperial election thus ended up unanimously in favor of Charles (though with some remarks by the Elector of Brandenburg).
  • Enemy Mine: The Franco-Ottoman alliance was considered novel; it would be one of the first times a Christian state allied itself with a Muslim state.
  • Gambit Pileup: Yeah. It's rather confusing to figure out which sides were with which sides, since there were so many players in the wars and they all changed sides and alliances all the time.
  • Gauls with Gendarmerie
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Inevitably. The wars spanned a (discontinuous) period of sixty-five years and most of the countries of Early Modern Europe.
  • The Magnificent: Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire became known for this.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Cesare Borgia is one of History's most famous and talented magnificent bastards. He almost out-played every opponent in the Italian War and only lost because his father, The Pope, died.
  • The Musketeer: As bayonets were yet to be invented, Musketeers of the time preferred the use of swords as a sidearm.
  • Plunder: Milan was a very valuable prize, and the many times it changed hands is testament to it (started the wars as an Imperial fief held by the Sforzas, then taken by France, then taken again for the Sforzas, and then taken in the name of the Holy Roman Empire as a fief for Charles V's son Philip).
  • The Pope: Alexander VI and Julius II were the most famous popes at the time.
  • Private Military Contractors: The Condottieri who were private armies sold by their owners to various city-states. The complex arrangements of the market in these gives the Condottieri a good claim to have been the most intricate mercenary system in history.
    • This system worked great when it was Italian versus Italian. However, when the more serious about winning French, Swiss, and Spanish troops got involved, the Condottieri were cut to pieces by them. Notably Lampshaded by Niccolò Machiavelli, who blamed Italy's dominance by foreign powers on the fact that the various Italian states all relied on hired mercenaries in war, rather than developing a homegrown army with more of an attachment to the prince or state they were fighting for.
  • The Renaissance
  • The Republic: Common in early modern Italy, but most prominently Venice.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Most prominently, Emperor Charles V. Not only being allied to an influential banking family, he also has the precious metal-rich New World under his rule.

Depictions in fiction

  • Assassins Creed II is probably the most prominent example. Note, however, that multiple historical issues are present. For example, Cesare Borgia is portrayed as a mildly psychotic incestuous bastard, whereas actual history is slightly more sympathetic.
  • One of the starting scenarios available for Europa Universalis is the War of the League of Cambrai.
  • A small part of it is portrayed in some episodes of The Borgias.
  • Can happen in Medieval II Total War though the game mechanics make it unlikely it will be half as enduring or powerful. In addition, several mods are set to showcase it. In addition, the vanilla "Historical" Scenario battle of Pavia is based on the Imperial Curb Stomp of that name, though any relations to history are rather strained.
  • The first campaign of Rise of Legends is probably the closest you'll get to a tactical game of this, or at least the Italian-on-Italian side of it. If you look past the Steam Punk and Clock Punk, the first campaign basically puts you in the role of Fantasy Milan fighting against Fantasy Venice, and wheeling/dealing/killing your way through the other city states in order to take down your enemy.