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Habsburg-Valois conflict: phase one

Between the years of 1521 and 1529, Charles V of Spain found himself in almost constant conflict with Francis I of France. In the Treaty of Noyons, Charles had sacrified his ownership of Navarre to France as well as Milan. However, Charles continued to postpone restoration of Navarre, knowing what damage it would do to his standing among Spanish subjects. By 1520 rumours of a French attack on Navarre were rife. In 1521, it happened.

At this time, Spain was in turmoil because of the Communeros revolt. It is unlikely that Francis I wanted the attack to be the opening shots of a full scale war with the Emperor, but merely to draw his attention away from Italy for the time being. The French enjoyed some initial success, but once the Communeros revolt had been put down, the rebels joined Charles' army in driving the French from Navarre. They would not re-enter for the rest of Charles' reign.

In 1521, Charles' closest advisor, Chievres de Croy died. The new advisor, Count Gattinara (an Italian), advocated an aggressive Imperial policy and thought that the key to Europe was Italy. Chievres had been quite pro-French, but Gattinara did not suffer this affliction(!).

Gattinara was quick to suggest a removal of French influence from the Italian peninsula. Charles came to an agreement with Pope Leo X, and a joint Hapsburg-Imperial army drove the French from Milan. At the same time, Charles seized Tournai from the French and incorporated it into the Netherlands. French attempts to attack Hapsburg forces in Italy were repulsed in 1522, and were defeated. French troops in the north began to surrender. Charles now held Milan securely, and such was his confidence that he decided to carry the conflict to France itself.

The prospect of a successful invasion of France was assissted by the defection of the powerful French Duke of Bourbon, who was in a dispute with Francis over his family lands. Henry VIII also promised to march his troops from Calais towards Paris. In the summer of 1523, the alliance launched its triple assault - however, poor co-ordination and bad luck contributed to making the invasion a failure. Henry VIII seemed to lack the will needed to carry the campaign through, and seemed all too keen to withdraw his troops from the north when he heard the campaign in the south was not going to plan.

French morale was greatly bolstered, and Francis decided the time was ripe to launch a counter-offensive against Habsburg rule in Milan. A new Pope, Clement VII, was also concerned with Hapsburg domination in Italy and its threat to papal independency. He brought Venice and Florence into alliance with France, and Milan fell to France once again.

Charles was distraught about this reversal of fate. He wrote in his journal of the folly of war, and how he felt Henry VIII had deserted him in an hour of need.

His fortunes were soon revived. In 1525, his forces in Pavia put up a brave resistance against a French siege, and the French were crushingly defeated when a relievement force arrived from Germany. Francis I was captured and France's best troops slaughtered - and Italy was returned to Hapsburg control, including Milan.

Charles now had to decide what to do with the French King. Henry VIII and Charles' brother advocated a harsh settlement - nothing less than the carving up of French lands between the Emperor and his allies. Charles was suspicious of Henry's intentions, and only wanted to assert his family's legal rights, not take such draconian measures. After negotiation, the French claims to Tournai, Artois and Flanders were renounced. Burgundy was also signed over to Charles - and it is hard to over-estimate the effect this would have on Francis' international reputation.

As security for the deal, Charles kept two of Francis' sons as hostages until the terms of the deal were carried out. Apart from this, all he had was Francis' word as a christian knight. It was perhaps somewhat niave of Charles to think this was enough - and not soon after the Treaty of Madrid had been signed, Francis declared it null.

Charles now faced the worse of both worlds - he had gained little from his victory at Pavia, and now faced an even more bitter and resentful French King, who vowed to take revenge. As if this wasn't enough, he was soon to face a formidable alliance against him - the papacy, Henry VIII, and even the Ottoman Empire all became wary of Hapsburg strength and resentful of Charles' recent victories. The anti-Imperial League of Cognac was formed in 1526, its members being: Florence, France, Venice, and the Duke of Milan. The alliance's stated aim was to relieve Italy from Hapsburg influence.

The conflict which followed lasted until the end of the first phase of the Hapsburg-Valois wars in 1529, with the Peace of Cambrai. At first it was something of a phoney war, with Francis reluctant to supply French troops so soon after the defeat at Pavia. The first major drama of the war was the sack of Rome in 1527. Hapsburg troops, under the Duke of Bourbon, and lacking pay, stormed the city of Rome. A week of rape, pillage and destruction ensued, horrifying Christian Europe. Charles was deeply dismayed, and launched a propoganda campaign to attempt to shift blame for the event to his enemies. He confessed to Henry VIII in private that 'we have felt great pain and shame for the offence given to the Holy See, indeed we would have preferred not to win than to be left with such a victory'.

Afterwards, Henry VIII aligned himself more openly with the anti-Imperial alliance. He wished to divorce Charles' aunt, Catherine of Aragon, and feared that a revival of Hapsburg influence in Rome would check his plans. France and England declared war on Charles, and English money was sent to help the French campaigns in Italy. Although efforts to take Milan failed, French troops besieged Naples and blockaded it at sea with a Genoese fleet led by the Genoese admiral and statesmen, Andrea Doria.

Doria would save the day. He was growing uneasy of his French masters, and Charles' agents persuaded him to defect to the Emperor's interests. This gave Charles access to the substational Genoese fleet and loans from Genoese bankers. The siege of Naples was lifted as the troops were afflicted with plague and the navy defected.

The final defeat for the French came in 1529 when they once again attempted to take Milan. The Battle of Landriano marked a decisive defeat for the French forces. Charles was master of Italy once again, and remained only to attempt another treaty with the French.

The Peace of Cambrai followed. In many respects it duplicated the Treaty of Milan - negotiated by the royal wives, it denounced French claims to Naples, Flanders, Artois and Tournai. They even surrended their claim to Milan. 300,000 ducats were payed to the Spanish for the release of the two royal sons, and both sides agreed to have a campaign against Francis' erstwhile allies, the Ottoman Turks. The treaty marked the end of the most bloody period of the Hapsburg-Valois wars.

Overview | Phase 2

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