1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Italian History - Age of Invasions

(Part 36)


Italian History - Age of Invasions

The year 1492 opened a new age for Italy. In this year Lorenzo died, and was succeeded by his son, the vain and weak Piero; France passed beneath the personal control of the inexperienced Charles VIII.; the fall of Granada freed Spain from her embarrassments; Columbus discovered America, destroying the commercial supremacy of Venice; last, but not least, Roderigo Borgia assumed the tiara with the famous title of Alexander VI. In this year the short-lived federation of the five powers was shaken, and Italy was once more drawn into the vortex of European affairs. The events which led to this disaster may be briefly told. After Galeazzo Maria's assassination, his crown passed to a boy, Gian Galeazzo, who was in due course married to a grand-daughter of Ferdinand I. of Naples. But the government of Milan remained in the hands of this youth's uncle, Lodovico, surnamed II Moro. Lodovico resolved to become duke of Milan. The king of Naples was his natural enemy, and he had cause to suspect that Piero de' Medici might abandon his alliance. Feeling himself alone, with no right to the title he was bent on seizing, he had recourse to Charles VIII. of France, whom he urged to make good his claim to the kingdom of Naples. This claim, it may be said in passing, rested on the will of King Rene1 of Anjou. After some hesitation, Charles agreed to invade Italy. He crossed the Alps in 1494, passed through Lombardy, entered Tuscany, freed Pisa from the yoke of Florence, witnessed the expulsion of the Medici, marched to Naples, and was crowned there;—all this without striking a blow. Meanwhile Lodovico procured his nephew's death, and raised a league against the French in Lombardy. Charles hurried back from Naples, and narrowly escaped destruction at Fornovo in the passes of the Apennines. He made good his retreat, however, and returned to France in 1495. Little remained to him of his light acquisitions ; but he had convulsed Italy by this invasion, destroyed her equilibrium, exposed her military weakness and political disunion, and revealed her wealth to greedy and more powerful nations.

The princes of the house of Aragon, now represented by Frederick, a son of Ferdinand I., returned to Naples. Florence made herself a republic, adopting a form of constitution analogous to that of Venice. At this crisis she was ruled by the monk Girolamo Savonarola, who inspired the people with a thirst for freedom, preached the necessity of reformation, and placed himself in direct antagonism to Rome. After a short but eventful career, the influence of which was long effective, he lost his hold upon the citizens. Alexander VI. procured a mock trial, and his enemies burned him upon the Piazza in 1498. In this year Louis XII. succeeded Charles VIII. upon the throne of France. As duke of Orleans he had certain claims to Milan through his grandmother Valentina, daughter of Gian Galeazzo, the first duke. They were not valid, for the investiture of the duchy had been granted only to male heirs. But they served as a sufficient pretext, and in 1499 Louis entered and subdued the Milanese. Lodovico escaped to Germany, returned the next year, was betrayed by his Swiss mercenaries, and sent to die at Loches in France. In 1501 Louis made the blunder of calling Ferdinand the Catholic to help him in the conquest of Naples. By a treaty signed at Granada, the French and Spanish kings were to divide the spoil. The conquest was easy; but, when it came to a partition, Ferdinand played his ally false. He made himself supreme over the Two Sicilies, which he now reunited under a single crown. Three years later, unlessoned by this experience, Louis signed the treaty of Blois (1504), whereby he invited the emperor Maximilian to aid him in the subjugation of Venice. No policy could have been less far-sighted; for Charles V, joint heir to Austria, Burgundy, Castile, and Aragon, the future overwhelming rival of France, was already born.

The stage was now prepared, and all the actors who were destined to accomplish the rain of Italy trod it with their armies. Spain, France, Germany, with their Swiss auxiliaries, had been summoned upon various pretexts to partake her provinces. Then, too late, patriots like Machiavelli perceived the suicidal self-indulgence of the past, which, by substituting mercenary troops for national militias, left the Italians at the absolute discretion of their neighbours. Whatever parts the Italians themselves played in the succeeding quarter of a century, the game was in the hands of French, Spanish, and German invaders. Meanwhile, no scheme for combination against common foes arose in the peninsula. Each petty potentate strove for his own private advantage in the confusion; and at this epoch the chief gains accrued to the papacy. Aided by his terrible son, Cesare Borgia, Alexander VI. chastised the Roman nobles, subdued Romagna and the March, threatened Tuscany, and seemed to be upon the point of creating a Central Italian state in favour of his progeny, when he died suddenly in 1503. His conquests reverted to the Holy See. Julius II., his bitterest enemy and powerful successor, continued Alexander's policy, but no longer in the interest of his own relatives. It became the nobler ambition of Julius to aggrandize the church, and to reassume the protectorate of the Italian people. With this object, he secured Emilia, carried his victorious arms against Ferrara, and curbed the tyranny of the Baglioni in Perugia. Julius II. played a perilous game ; but the stakes were high, and he fancied himself strong enough to guide the tempest he evoked. Quarrelling with the Venetians in 1508, he combined the forces of all Europe by the league of Cambray against them; and, when he had succeeded in his first purpose of humbling them even to the dust, he turned round in 1510, uttered his famous resolve to expel the barbarians from Italy, and pitted the Spaniards against the French. It was with the Swiss that he hoped to effect this revolution; but the Swiss, now interfering for the first time as principals in Italian affairs, were incapable of more than adding to the already maddening distractions of the people. Formed for mercenary warfare, they proved a perilous instrument in the hands of those who used them, and were hardly less injurious to their friends than to their foes. In 1512 the battle of Ravenna between the French troops and the allies of Julius,—Spaniards, Venetians, and Swiss,—was fought. Gaston de Foix bought a doubtful victory dearly with his death; and the allies, though beaten on the banks of the Ronco, immediately afterwards expelled the French from Lombardy. Yet Julius II. had failed, as might have been foreseen. He only exchanged one set of foreign masters for another, and taught a new barbarian race how pleasant were the plains of Italy. As a consequence of the battle of Ravenna, the Medici returned in 1512 to Florence.

When Leo X. was elected in 1513, Rome and Florence rejoiced; but Italy had no repose. Louis XII. had lost the game, and the Spaniards were triumphant. But new actors appeared upon the scene, and the same old struggle was resumed with fiercer energy. By the victory of Marignano in 1515 Francis I., having now succeeded to the throne of France, regained the Milanese, and broke the power of the Swiss, who held it for Massimiliano Sforza, the titular duke. Leo for a while relied on Francis ; for the vast power of Charles V, who succeeded to the empire in 1519, as in 1516 he had succeeded to the crowns of Spain and Lower Italy, threatened the whole of Europe. It was Leo's nature, however, to be inconstant. In 1521 he changed sides, allied himself to Charles, and died after hearing that the imperial troops had again expelled the French from Milan. During the next four years the Franco-Spanish war dragged on in Lombardy until the odecisive battle of Pavia in 1525, when Francis was taken prisoner, and Italy lay open to the Spanish armies. Meanwhile Leo X. had been followed by Adrian VI., and Adrian by Clement VIL, of the house of Medici, who had long ruled Florence. In the reign of this pope Francis was released from his prison in Madrid (1526), and Clement hoped that he might still be used in the Italian interest as a counterpoise to Charles. It is impossible in this place to follow the tangled intrigues of that period. The year 1527 was signalized by the famous sack of Rome. An army of mixed German and Spanish troops, pretending to act for the emperor, but which may rather be regarded as a vast marauding party, entered Italy under their leader Frundsberg. After his death, the Constable de Bourbon took command of them ; they marched slowly down, aided by the marquis of Ferrara, and unopposed by the duke of Urbino, reached Rome, and took it by assault. The constable was killed in the first onslaught; Clement was imprisoned in the castle of St Angelo ; Rome was abandoned to the rage of 30,000 ruffians. As an immediate result of this catastrophe, Florence shook off the Medici, and established a republic. But Clement, having made peace with the emperor, turned the remnants of the army which had sacked Rome against his native city. After a desperate resistance, Florence fell in 1530. Alessandro de' Medici was placed there with the title of duke of Civita di Penna ; and, on his murder in 1537, Cosimo de' Medici, of the younger branch of the ruling house, was made duke. Acting as lieutenant for the Spaniards, he subsequently (1555) subdued Siena, and bequeathed to his descendants the grand-duchy of Tuscany.

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