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Useful Notes / Italian Wars

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King of France Francis I at the battle of Marignano, 13 September 1515.

The Italian Wars were a series of conflicts, lasting from 1494 to 1559 (with a few peacetime gaps in between) that involved Italian city-states, The Papal States, and most of the major Western European states (including France, the kingdom of Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, England, and Scotland), and even the Ottoman Empire.

All these wars were 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. They ended for good with the peace treaties of Cateau-Cambrésis on April 3, 1559.

These conflicts also had the effect of increasing the exportations of discoveries and artistic styles of The Renaissance outside of the Italian peninsula, in France with King Francis I most famously, who invited Leonardo da Vinci to reside in the country.

Here's a review of them.

  • First Italian War (1494-1495): It started with the death of King Ferdinand I of Naples, who had been excommunicated by Pope Innocent VIII due to money issues, causing a Succession Crisis where both his heir and King Charles VIII of France tried to get the throne. The French army swept Italy over with the pretext of wanting to turn Naples into the headquarters of a new Crusade against the Ottomans, but the invasion and its brutal treatment of the population caused the formation of an alliance of anti-French countries, the League of Venice. Charles fled back to France, and although his army seemed well entrenched, it was eventually defeated by the League, who was helped by Spanish wunderchild Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba.
  • Second Italian War (1499-1501): Charles VII died before he could return, so his son Louis XII inherited the mantle. Louis' first measure was turning on the Duchy of Milan, whose untrustworthy politics had originally convinced Charles to invade Naples, and taking over with the help of Venice and Pope Alexander VI. Afterwards, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, two members of the old League of Venice, looked like they might take action against France, so Louis signed a truce with them.
  • Third Italian War or Naples War (1501-1504): Still in the truce, Louis XII and King Ferdinand of Spain took over Naples together, but they started arguing about the booty and eventually turned on each other. The more numerous French initially pushed the Spanish towards the south, but reinforcements from Spain and its allies turned the tide, and Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba eventually smashed the French into capitulation after victories in Cerignola and the Garigliano river. Spain fully assimilated Naples and Sicily as viceroyalties, partially thanks to Ferdinand's blood ties to its monarchy.
  • War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1516): Worried about Venice's influence, new Pope Julius II assembled the eponymous League with France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, to complete success. Then, worried about France's influence, he assembled the Holy League with Venice, Spain, the Holy Romans and England. With Fernández de Córdoba forcefully retired by political infighting, France had now the best general of the war, Gaston of Foix, who readily destroyed the Spanish army at Ravenna, but he was himself killed in the battle and took with him the entire French campaign. However, while the League members argued about the booty, France allied with Venice and, now under King Francis I, crushed and captured Milan.
  • Four Years' War (1521-1526): The death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I vacated his throne, which Francis I, Charles I of Spain, and Henry VIII of England all wanted. Eventually Charles, the strongest candidate, became the new emperor Charles V, which angered Francis to no end. Francis went to war against all the others, but a series of defeats in Bicocca, Genoa, and the Sesia, as well as inner desertions, caused a French meltdown. Francis invaded Italy as a last resource, but he was eventually destroyed and captured in Pavia. Charles forced Francis to sign an unfavourable treaty in exchange for his freedom, which of course Francis broke as soon as he could. Meanwhile, Francis' mother Louise of Savoy signed a shocking alliance with the Ottoman Empire led by Suleiman the Magnificent.
  • War of the League of Cognac (1526-1530): Worried about Charles V' growing power, Pope Clement VII assembled the League of Cognac with more of less everybody else. Charles answered by capturing Rome, although things got out of hand and his army (which included many Protestant mercenaries) mutinied and ended up sacking the city. The League besieged Naples, but its main admiral, Genoese leader Andrea Doria, deserted to Charles, bringing down the entire campaign. After a defeat in Landriano, Francis sued for peace, which was signed by Louise and Charles' aunt Margaret, and things returned to the previous state.
  • Italian War of 1536–1538 (from this point, the Italian Wars have no name). When Charles' son Philip inherited the Duchy of Milan after the death of previous ruler Francesco Sforza, Francis declared war and attacked with the help of Suleyman. Although the war was bitter and bloody, it was also uneventful. The subsequent peace, in which Charles and Francis refused to sit in the same room and forced Pope Paul III to go from one to another, did allow France to reap the city of Turin.
  • Italian War of 1542-1546: Charles had attempted to patch things up again by marrying off his daughter to Francis' son, but to no avail. Francis and Suleyman returned for another round against Charles, who had Henry with him. Battles raged everywhere, with France achieving a bizarre if notable victory in Ceresole, but they could not follow through and were beaten back in Serravalle. In turn, the Imperials and the English invaded France, threatening Paris. Eventually, both Francis and Charles saw themselves weary and signed a peace treaty, with the French king breaking his alliance with the Ottomans, although Henry continued waging war on France and it took a mighty effort to sign total peace (even so, later Francis promised to help a German rebellion against Charles, but failed to do so).
  • Italian War of 1551–1559: Francis was succeeded by his son Henry II, who promptly returned to war by impulse of his cousin Count Francis of Guise and with the support of Pope Paul IV. At that point, a German faction shockingly turned on Charles and almost got him captured in his castle in Innsbruck, and a terrible imperial failure to recapture Metz followed. After Charles abdicated in favor of his son Philip, however, the Imperials bounced back, with their famous Duke of Alba arresting the Papal States while Philip's allies beat down the French in St. Quentin and Gravelines. Increasingly troubled, Henry eventually accepted a peace treaty restoring status quo and marrying off his daughter to Philip, which put an end to the Italian Wars.

Depictions in fiction

Film — Live-Action

  • Soldier of Fortune (Il soldato di ventura, 1976) is a comedy that follows the adventures of condottiero Ettore Fieramosca (played by Bud Spencer), who is given the task of leading a mob of bungling warriors against the French army
  • Flesh+Blood follows two warring groups of mercenaries and their longstanding quarrel in Italy in 1501.

Live-Action Television

  • A small part of it is portrayed in some episodes of The Borgias.

Video Games

  • The Forgotten expansion to Age of Empires II features the Italians, which have the Condottieri as one of their unique units. To signify their status as mercenaries, the Italian team bonus makes Condottieri available to all players who are allied with them.
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is set during the early Italian Wars (from 1499 to 1503), namely at the time of the War over Naples and Cesare Borgia's conquests in Emilia-Romagna and Marche. The antagonists of the game are Cesare Borgia's Papal forces and the French army sent to buttress him. Note, however, that multiple historical issues are present. For example, Cesare Borgia (Pope Alexander VI's son) 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.
  • 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 Steampunk 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.