Italian War of 1494–1498

The First Italian War, sometimes referred to as the Italian War of 1494 or Charles VIII's Italian War, was the opening phase of the Italian Wars. The war pitted Charles VIII of France, who had initial Milanese aid, against the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and an alliance of Italian powers led by Pope Alexander VI.

First Italian War
Part of the Italian Wars
Italy 1494 AD

Italy in 1494
Result French victory

 Kingdom of France

Duchy of Milan
 Kingdom of Naples
 Kingdom of France

League of Venice:
 Papal States
 Republic of Venice
 Kingdom of Naples
Kingdoms of Spain
Duchy of Milan
 Holy Roman Empire
 Republic of Florence
Duchy of Mantua

 Republic of Genoa
Commanders and leaders

Kingdom of France Charles VIII
Kingdom of France Louis d'Orleans
Kingdom of France Gilbert, Count of Montpensier

Ludovico Sforza (before 1495)

Kingdom of Naples Alfonso II of Naples
Kingdom of Naples Ferdinand II of Naples
Kingdom of Naples Frederick of Naples
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba
Francis II of Mantua
Papal States Alexander VI

Ludovico Sforza (after 1495)

Kingdom of France 25,000 men[1]

  • Old Swiss Confederacy 8,000
Casualties and losses
13,000 men[1] Unknown


Pope Innocent VIII, in conflict with King Ferdinand I of Naples over Ferdinand's refusal to pay feudal dues to the papacy, excommunicated and deposed Ferdinand by a bull of 11 September 1489. Innocent then offered the Kingdom of Naples to Charles VIII of France, who had a remote claim to its throne because his grandfather, Charles VII, King of France, had married Marie of Anjou[2] of the Angevin dynasty, the ruling family of Naples until 1442. Innocent later settled his quarrel with Ferdinand and revoked the bans before dying in 1492, but the offer to Charles remained an apple of discord in Italian politics. Ferdinand died on 25 January 1494 and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II.[3]

French invasion

In October 1494, Ludovico Sforza, who had long controlled the Duchy of Milan, finally procured the ducal title after providing a hitherto unheard-of dowry to his niece, who was marrying the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian. He was immediately challenged by Alfonso II, who also had a claim on Milan. Ludovico decided to remove this threat by inciting Charles to take up Innocent's offer. Charles was also being encouraged by his favorite, Étienne de Vesc, as well as by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II, who hoped to settle a score with the incumbent Pope, Alexander VI.

Charles VIII gathered a large army of 25,000 men, including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries and the first siege train to include artillery, and invaded the Italian peninsula.[1] He was aided by Louis d'Orleans' victory over Neapolitan forces at the Battle of Rapallo which allowed Charles to march his army through the Republic of Genoa.[4] On 19 October, a contingent of Charles' army besieged the fortress of Mordano. After refusing to surrender, the fortress was bombarded, taken by French-Milanese forces, and the surviving inhabitants massacred.[5]

The arrival of Charles's army outside Florence in mid-November 1494[6] created fears of rape and pillage. The Florentines were led to exile Piero de' Medici and to establish a republican government. Bernardo Rucellai and other members of the Florentine oligarchy then acted as ambassadors to negotiate a peaceful accord with Charles.

The French finally reached the city of Naples in February 1495, capturing it without a siege or a pitched battle. Charles stayed in Naples for a number of weeks, but on 20 May 1495, with the newly formed anti-French League of Venice threatening to cut off his return through northern Italy, Charles left Naples to return to France.[7] Charles left Gilbert, Count of Montpensier, in Naples as his viceroy, with a substantial garrison of armed men.[8]

The Italian states, however, quickly realized the danger of foreign monarchy to the autonomy of each of them, and in March 1495 they had agreed to create an alliance known as the League of Venice. After Ferdinand of Aragon had recovered Naples, with the help of his Spanish relatives with whom he had sought asylum in Sicily, the army of the League followed Charles's retreat northwards through Rome, which had been abandoned to the French by Pope Alexander VI on 27 May 1495.[9]

League of Venice

The speed of the French advance, together with the brutality of their sack of Mordano, left the other states of Italy in shock. Ludovico Sforza, realizing that Charles had a claim to Milan as well as Naples, and would probably not be satisfied by the annexation of Naples alone, turned to Pope Alexander VI, who was embroiled in a power game of his own with France and various Italian states over his attempts to secure secular fiefdoms for his children. The Pope formed an alliance of several opponents of French hegemony in Italy: himself; Ferdinand of Aragon, who was also King of Sicily; the Emperor Maximilian I; Ludovico in Milan; and the Republic of Venice. (Venice's ostensible purpose in joining the League was to oppose the Ottoman Empire, while its actual objective was French expulsion from Italy.) This alliance was known as the Holy League of 1495, or as the League of Venice, and was proclaimed on 31 March 1495.[10] England joined the League of Venice in 1496. The League was the first of its kind; there was no medieval precedent for such divergent European states uniting against a common enemy, although many such alliances would be forged in the future.[11]

The League gathered an army under the condottiero Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Including most of the city-states of northern Italy, the League of Venice threatened to shut off King Charles's land route by which to return to France. Charles VIII, not wanting to be trapped in Naples, marched north to Lombardy on 20 May 1495.[7] There he met the League in the Battle of Fornovo, 6 July 1495.[12] When the battle was over both sides claimed victory. Yet, despite their numerical superiority in the battle, the League army took twice as many casualties as the French.[13] However, Charles did successfully march his army across the territories of his enemies on his way to France and the army of the League could not stop him, but he lost nearly all of the spoils from his campaign in Italy.[13] Thus, the battle of Fornovo was a French victory.[14] Charles VIII died in April 1498, before he could regroup his forces and return to Italy.[15]

Syphilis outbreak

During this war an outbreak of syphilis occurred among the French troops. This outbreak was the first widely documented outbreak of the disease in human history, and eventually led to the Columbian theory of the origin of syphilis.[16]


French troops under Charles VIII entering Florence 17 November 1494 by Francesco Granacci

French troops under Charles VIII entering Florence, 17 November 1494, by Francesco Granacci

French troops and artillery entering Naples 1495

French troops and artillery entering Naples in 1495.

Battle of Fornoue 6 July 1495

Battle of Fornovo, 6 July 1495.


  1. ^ a b c Ritchie, R. Historical Atlas of the Renaissance. p. 64.
  2. ^ Mallett, Michael; Shaw, Christine (2012). The Italian Wars: 1494–1559. Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited. p. 8.
  3. ^ Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 14
  4. ^ Mallett and Shaw, p19
  5. ^ Mallet and Shaw, p.19-20
  6. ^ Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 22
  7. ^ a b Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw, The Italian Wars: 1494-1559, p. 28.
  8. ^ Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 28
  9. ^ Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 29
  10. ^ Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 27
  11. ^ Anderson, M. S. (1993). The Rise of Modern Diplomacy 1450–1919. London: Longman. p. 3. ISBN 0-582-21232-4.
  12. ^ Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 30
  13. ^ a b Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 31
  14. ^ Mallett, M. E.; Hale, J. R. (1984). The Military Organisation of a Renaissance State: Venice C. 1400 to 1617. Cambridge University Press. p. 56.
  15. ^ Mallett and Shaw (2012), p. 38
  16. ^ Farhi, David; Dupin, Nicholas (September–October 2010). "Origins of syphilis and management in the immunocompetent patient: facts and controversies". Clinics in Dermatology. 28: 5. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2010.03.011.


  • Pastor, Ludwig von (1902). The History of the Popes, from the close of the Middle Ages, third edition, Volume V Saint Louis: B. Herder 1902.

External links

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For his authorities Cattan names particularly three Geomantic texts of importance to him. One is the text beginning Estimaverunt Indi, which is identified as a treatise translated by Hugo of Santalla from the Arabic. One is the Tractatus Sphaerae of Bartholomew of Parma, written in 1288. The third is a Hebrew text beginning "Ha veenestre".

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Italian Wars

The Italian Wars, often referred to as the Great Wars of Italy and sometimes as the Habsburg–Valois Wars, were a series of Renaissance conflicts from 1494 to 1559 that involved most of the Italian states as well as France, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, England and the Ottoman Empire.

An Italic League that ensured peace in the peninsula for 50 years had collapsed in 1492 with the death of Lorenzo De Medici, key figure of the bloc and ruler of Florence. In 1494, Charles VIII of France invaded the Italian Peninsula and occupied the Kingdom of Naples on the ground of a dynastic claim. However, he was forced to leave the occupied territories after a northern Italian alliance won a tactical victory against him at the Battle of Fornovo. In an attempt to avoid the mistakes of his predecessor, Louis XII annexed the Duchy of Milan in the north of Italy and signed an agreement with Ferdinand of Aragon (already ruler of the two biggest Mediterranean islands, Sicily and Sardinia) to share the Kingdom of Naples. Nevertheless, Ferdinand of Aragon turned on Louis XII and expelled French forces from the South after the battles of Cerignola and Garigliano.

After a series of alliances and betrayals, the Papacy decided to side against French control of Milan and supported Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and heir of Aragon territories in Italy. Following the battles of Bicocca and Pavia, France lost its control of Milan to the Habsburgs. However, mutinous German Protestant troops of Charles V sacked Rome in 1527: this event was a turning point in the development of the European Wars of Religion and caused Charles V to focus on the growth of Protestantism in the Holy Roman Empire.

King Henry II of France took advantage of the situation and tried to establish supremacy in Italy by invading Corsica and Tuscany. However, his conquest of Corsica was reversed by the Genoese admiral Andrea Doria and his troops in Tuscany were defeated at the Battle of Scannagallo by the Florentines and the Imperials. With the abdication of Charles V, Philip II of Spain inherited the Italian possessions. The last significant confrontation, the Battle of St Quentin (1557), was won by Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy for the Spanish and international forces: this led the restoration of the French-occupied Piedmont (predecessor state of Italy) to the House of Savoy.

In 1559, the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis was signed. The political map of Italy was largely affected by the end of the wars: Naples, Sicily and Milan had been confirmed to remain under Spanish control; the House of Savoy settled in Turin and made Italian its official language; Florence absorbed Siena into a Tuscan state; and the Papacy initiated the counter-reformation with the Council of Trent. In a jousting tournament held to celebrate the peace treaty, Henry II of France was killed by a lance: the instability that followed his death led to the French Wars of Religion.

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French military victory

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Indecisive or unclear outcome

List of wars involving England

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Louis XII of France

Louis XII (27 June 1462 – 1 January 1515) was King of France from 1498 to 1515 and King of Naples from 1501 to 1504. The son of Charles, Duke of Orléans, and Maria of Cleves, he succeeded his cousin Charles VIII, who died without a closer heir in 1498. Louis was the eighth French king from the House of Valois, and the first from the Orléans branch of that dynasty.

Before his accession to the throne of France, he was known as Louis of Orléans and was compelled to be married to his disabled and supposedly sterile cousin Joan by his second cousin, King Louis XI. By doing so, Louis XI hoped to extinguish the Orléans cadet branch of the House of Valois.Louis of Orléans was one of the great feudal lords who opposed the French monarchy in the conflict known as the Mad War. At the royal victory in the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier in 1488, Louis was captured, but Charles VIII pardoned him and released him. He subsequently took part in the Italian War of 1494–1498 as one of the French commanders.

When Louis XII became king in 1498, he had his marriage with Joan annulled by Pope Alexander VI and instead married Anne of Brittany, the widow of his cousin Charles VIII. This marriage allowed Louis to reinforce the personal Union of Brittany and France.

Louis persevered in the Italian Wars, initiating a second Italian campaign for the control of the Kingdom of Naples. Louis conquered the Duchy of Milan in 1500 and pushed forward to the Kingdom of Naples, which fell to him in 1501. Proclaimed King of Naples, Louis faced a new coalition gathered by Ferdinand II of Aragon and was forced to cede Naples to Spain in 1504.

Louis XII did not encroach on the power of local governments or the privileges of the nobility, in opposition with the long tradition of the French kings to attempt to impose absolute monarchy in France. A popular king, Louis was proclaimed "Father of the People" (French: Le Père du Peuple) in 1506 by the Estates-General of Tours for his reduction of the tax known as taille, legal reforms, and civil peace within France.

Louis, who remained Duke of Milan after the second Italian War, was interested in further expansion in the Italian Peninsula and launched a third Italian War (1508–1516), which was marked by the military prowess of the Chevalier de Bayard.

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Anglo-French wars

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