Story of Europe - H. E. Marshall

The Struggle Between France and Spain for Supremacy in Italy

The same year in which Savonarola was put to death Louis XII succeeded Charles VIII upon the throne of France. Under him the history of France is little more than the history of Italian campaigns. For Louis XII laid claim not only to Naples but to the Duchy of Milan. Warned, however, by the fate of Charles VIII, before entering upon his campaign he arranged for the concurrence of the other chief rulers in Europe.

Louis was supported by the pope, who was not unwilling to increase the papal states at the expense of the rest of Italy, and with little trouble he conquered Milan, and made it a province of France. Then he turned his thoughts to Naples. Here he feared the opposition of Spain, so he made an alliance with Ferdinand, King of Spain, who promised him aid in return for a share of the spoils.

The conquest of Naples was an easy matter, but when it was accomplished the royal robbers quarrelled over the division of the spoil. Louis found that he had been merely Ferdinand's cat's-paw and was obliged to resign to him the whole of Naples, and content himself with Milan, which he had conquered without his aid.

While Louis and Ferdinand were quarrelling, the pope, Alexander VI, used them in turn for his own ends. He cared not at all for Italy but desired to increase the papal states in the hope of bequeathing them to his cruel and unscrupulous son, Csar Borgia. So while the north and the south of the peninsula were given over to foreigners, he tried to make a solid kingdom in the centre.

Alexander seemed to be succeeding admirably when he suddenly died. Then all the states which he had gathered with such guile and wile reverted to the Church, and not to Borgia, who soon fell from power and shortly left Italy.

Julius II and the Papal States

The next pope, Julius II, set himself also to strengthen the papal states. He did this, however, to increase the power of the Church rather than that of his own family.

He was a statesman and a soldier more than a pastor, and was eager to drive the barbarians out of Italy. But he wanted to be sure that when they were gone the papal states would be stronger than any other state in Italy.

To secure this he desired to crush Venice first. So in 1508 he persuaded the Emperor Maximilian, Louis XII of France, and Ferdinand of Spain to join him in the League of Cambray against Venice. In the ensuing war Louis was again merely a cat's-paw, and when with his help Venice was sufficiently crushed, the pope made peace with the republic. He then formed a new League called the Holy League. This was much the same as the League of Cambray, only now the place of France was taken by Venice, and King Henry VIII of England was also included. The armies of this League were soon turned against Louis, and the French were driven beyond the Alps.

Julius would now willingly have turned the Spaniards out of Italy also. But with this he was not so successful, and in 1513 he died, leaving them still strongly entrenched in the south. Louis also did not lightly give up his ambitions; and shortly after the death of Julius he became reconciled to the Venetians, and with their aid once more made an effort to conquer Milan. But the campaign ended in disaster, and the French were once more driven from Italy.

Under these repeated defeats France seemed crushed, and it appeared to her many enemies the moment to attack her. The Swiss invaded the east, Spaniards threatened the south, while Henry VIII landed with twenty thousand men at Calais. He was soon joined by the Emperor Maximilian, and the French were defeated at the battle of Guinegate.

Louis was now utterly weary of the wars which had filled his reign. He longed for peace, and made overtures to the pope. Fortunately for France Leo X had none of the war-like ambitions of Julius or Alexander, and he became reconciled. By degrees the League was dissolved, and peace made with its various members.

In 1515 Louis XII died. In spite of the many foreign wars during his reign, and that of Charles VIII, France had progressed. For the wars for the most part had been carried on without her borders, and the nobles had no longer the right of private war wherewith to disturb the public peace. Feudalism had disappeared, and the feudal lords had been transformed into courtiers. The king's authority was greater than it had ever been, and he was more able to enforce obedience to his will. And in the short periods when he was not absorbed in his wars of aggression, Louis had used his power well. He had protected the people, encouraged agriculture and commerce, so that the general wealth of the nation was increased.

Francis I and Charles V

Francis I succeeded Louis XII, and he, too, was bitten with desire of conquest in Italy, and almost at once began to make preparations for an invasion. By the victory of Marignano he regained Milan. It was, however, now no longer a question of conquering the Italians, but of fighting the Spaniards. It was, in fact, a Franco-Spanish war fought in Italy, and in 1525 at Pavia Francis was utterly defeated. He lost everything which France claimed in Italy, and was himself taken prisoner, and Italy became the prey of Spain.

Before this a great change had taken place in the balance of power in Europe. For in 1516 Ferdinand of Spain died. He was succeeded by his grandson Charles, the son of his daughter Joanna. Through her Charles inherited all Spain, and all the Spanish conquests in Italy, as well as the vast Empire which Spain now claimed in the New World.

In 1519 the Emperor Maximilian died. Charles was also his grandson, his father being Philip, the son of Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy. From his grandfather Maximilian he inherited all the Austrian possessions of the Hapsburgs; from his grandmother Mary he inherited the Netherlands, comprising roughly the present kingdoms of Holland and Belgium.

Added to this Charles was elected emperor with the title of Charles V. So apart from his actual possessions he was suzerain of the German states and claimed with the title of emperor a vague lordship over the whole of Italy. He held Europe, it was said, by the four corners; and in days when wars of aggression were the right of the strong, the accumulation of so much power in the hands of one man threatened the freedom and peace of the continent.

To France especially his power seemed a menace. For France was enclosed by his possessions save where the sea laid her open to attack by her ancient enemy England. It was hardly wonderful then that France should endeavour to lessen his power and dispute his possession of Italy. But besides this real menace there was personal enmity between Francis I and Charles. For Francis I had hoped to be chosen emperor; that he was not was a bitter disappointment to him, and throughout the rest of his life he kept a jealous wrath against Charles. He was constantly at war with him, and Italy was the battle-field upon which these wars were fought.

But the defeat of the French at Pavia and the captivity of their king brought no peace to Italy. As emperor, Charles claimed a vague suzerainty over the whole of Italy, but it was rather by right of conquest and as king of Spain that he enforced his claim. In resisting it the country was filled with confusion, every petty prince struggling for his own advantage. Thirty thousand marauding imperial troops, half German, half Spanish, seized and sacked Rome. Turkish pirates harried the coasts, carrying off both men and women to be sold into slavery, while their French allies devasted the land.

But in the end Spain triumphed. Italy was carved into states and parcelled out as Spain desired, her princes obeyed Spain's will. Then for more than two hundred and fifty years Italy could hardly be said to have a history of her own. She was tossed about from one ruler to another, and her fair plains were the battle-fields for quarrels not her own.