Italian War of 1551–1559

The Italian War of 1551–1559, sometimes known as the Habsburg–Valois War and the Last Italian War, began in 1551 when Henry II of France declared war against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V with the intent of recapturing Italy and ensuring French, rather than Habsburg, domination of European affairs. The war ended following the signing of the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis treaties between the monarchs of Great Britain and France in 1559. Historians have emphasized the importance of gunpowder technology, new styles of fortification to resist cannon fire, and the increased professionalization of the soldiers.[1]

Italian War of 1551–1559
Part of the Italian Wars
Scannagallo Vasari.jpg
The Battle of Scannagallo in 1554 by Giorgio Vasari, in the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence

Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559)

  • Spanish and Imperial victory
  • Mixed results for France
  • English defeat
See § Territorial changes
Commanders and leaders


This is an overview of notable events including battles during the war.

Prelude (1547–1551)
  • 10 September 1547: Pier Luigi Farnese, Duke of Parma, was assassinated, after which troops of Emperor Charles V occupied the Duchy of Parma.
  • ? 1547: Ottavio Farnese, Pier Luigi's son, attacked but failed to regain Parma from the Imperial garrison commanded by Ferrante Gonzaga.
  • 7 February 1550: The 1549–1550 papal conclave after Pope Paul III's death elected Pope Julius III, who immediately confirmed Ottavio Farnese's ownership of the Duchy of Parma. This angered Emperor Charles V, whose troops still occupied the duchy.
  • June – 8 September 1550: Andrea Doria's Capture of Mahdia (1550) on behalf of Emperor Charles V.
  • Late 1550: Henry II of France renewed the Franco-Ottoman alliance in response to the fall of Mahdia.
  • 27 May 1551: Henry II of France and Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma signed a defensive alliance, placing Parma under French protection.
First phase (June 1551 – February 1556)
  • June 1551: The War of Parma broke out between Emperor Charles V and Pope Julius III against Henry II of France and Ottavio Farnese.
  • July 1551: Invasion of Gozo (1551). Ottoman victory over the Maltese Knights Hospitaller.
  • 15 August 1551: Siege of Tripoli (1551). Ottomans captured Tripoli from Maltese Knights Hospitaller.
  • July 1551 – March 1552: Siege of Mirandola (1551). Franco–Farnese victory over Imperial-Spanish-Papal army.
  • 15 January 1552: Treaty of Chambord. Henry II of France allied himself with German Protestant princes against Charles V.
  • 29 April 1552: A two-year truce ended the War of Parma.
  • March–August 1552: Second Schmalkaldic War (or Princes' Revolt). The French-allied German Protestant princes defeated Charles V (Peace of Passau, 2 August), while Henry II annexed the Three Bishoprics to France.
  • July 1552: Franco-Ottoman raid on Reggio and Calabria. Franco-Ottoman victory over Spain.
  • 5 August 1552: Battle of Ponza (1552). Franco-Ottoman victory over Genoa (allied with Charles V).
  • July 1552: Anti-Spanish revolt in Siena.
  • 17 July 1552: which welcomed a French garrison to defend it against Spanish recapture attempts.
  • 19 October 1552 – 2 January 1553: Siege of Metz (1552). French victory over Imperial army.
  • January–February 1553: Spanish viceroy for Naples, Pedro de Toledo y Zúñiga, made a failed attempt to recapture Siena with Florentine assistance.
  • 11 April – 20 June 1553: Siege of Thérouanne. Spanish-Imperial victory over France. The Imperials razed Thérouanne to the ground on the orders of Charles V in revenge for the defeat at Metz.
  • 25 November 1553: Cosimo de' Medici, Duke of Florence, signed a secret treaty with Charles V to reconquer Siena for the Emperor.
  • 1553–1559: Invasion of Corsica (1553). Ottomans & French temporarily occupied most of Corsica.
  • 2 August 1554: Battle of Marciano or Scannagallo. Decisive Florentine-Spanish victory over Siena and France.
  • 12 August 1554: Battle of Renty. French victory over Imperial army.
  • January 1554 – 21 April 1555: Siege of Siena. Spanish victory over Siena and France. End of the Republic of Siena, which was annexed by the Duchy of Florence in 1559.
Truce (February–September 1556)
  • 5 February 1556: Truce of Vaucelles signed between Charles V and Henry II of France.
Second phase (September 1556 – April 1559)


Mediterranean campaignsEdit

Henry II remitting the Order of Saint-Michel to Marshall de Tavannes after the Battle of Renty, on 13 August 1554

Henry II sealed a treaty with Suleiman the Magnificent in order to cooperate against the Habsburgs in the Mediterranean.[2] This was triggered by the conquest of Mahdiya by the Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria on 8 September 1550, for the account of Charles V. The alliance allowed Henry II to push for French conquests towards the Rhine, while a Franco-Ottoman fleet defended southern France.[3]

The 1551 Ottoman Siege of Tripoli was the first step of the all-out Italian War of 1551–59 in the European theater, and in the Mediterranean the French galleys of Marseille were ordered to join the Ottoman fleet.[4] In 1552, when Henry II attacked Charles V, the Ottomans sent 100 galleys to the Western Mediterranean,[5] which were accompanied by three French galleys under Gabriel de Luetz d'Aramon in their raids along the coast of Calabria in Southern Italy, capturing the city of Reggio.[6] In the Battle of Ponza in front of the island of Ponza, the fleet met with 40 galleys of Andrea Doria, and managed to vanquish the Genoese and capture seven galleys. This alliance would also lead to the combined Invasion of Corsica in 1553. The Ottomans continued harassing the Habsburg possessions with various operations in the Mediterranean, such as the Ottoman invasion of the Balearic islands in 1558, following a request by Henry II.[7]

Land campaignsEdit

War of ParmaEdit

On the continental front, the opening phase of the war was marked by the Parmesan succession crisis: the newly elected Pope Julius III had confirmed Ottavio Farnese as the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, while Charles V's Imperial troops had occuppied the city in 1547 after Ottavio's father's assassination. Seeing France as his best choice against the Emperor, Ottavio Farnese signed a defensive alliance with Henry II of France on 27 May 1551, placing Parma under French protection. Charles could not accept this, and pressured the Pope into an alliance against France and Parma, causing the War of Parma in June 1551. The main combat of this phase was the Siege of Mirandola (1551), during which the Franco-Farnese defenders repulsed attacks by the Papal-Imperial-Spanish forces. The belligerents agreed to a two-year truce on 29 April 1552, ratified by Charles V on 10 May, which ended the War of Parma.

Schmalkaldic War and Sienese siegeEdit

Meanwhile, Henry II allied with German Protestant princes against Charles V with the Treaty of Chambord on 15 January 1552. An early offensive into Lorraine, in the Second Schmalkaldic War, was successful, with Henry capturing the Three Bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and securing them by defeating the invading Habsburg army at the Battle of Renty (12 August 1554). In 1552, an anti-Spanish revolt in the Republic of Siena gave Henry another ally; on 17 July 1552, a Franco-Sienese army managed to expel the Spanish garrison. The Sienese welcomed a French garrison to defend the Republic against Spanish recapture attempts. A French army invaded Tuscany in 1553 in support of the Sienese Republic. In January 1554, the Spanish started besieging the city of Siena. The French troops were attacked by an Imperial‐Florentine army and defeated at the Battle of Marciano by Gian Giacomo Medici (2 August 1554). After an 18-month-long siege, Siena fell to Spanish forces on 15 April 1555. Although a Republic of Siena reconstituted in Montalcino [it] run by exiled Sienese loyalists continued to exist until 3 April 1559, the territory of the Republic of Siena was fully annexed to the Duchy of Florence under Cosimo I de' Medici with the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (3 April 1559), and eventually became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (1569).[8][page needed]

Papal front and St. QuentinEdit

A treaty in Vaucelles was signed on 5 February 1556 between Charles V and Henry II of France.[9] After Emperor Charles' abdication in 1556 split the Habsburg empire between Philip II of Spain and Ferdinand I, the focus of the war shifted to Flanders. However, the truce was broken shortly afterwards. Pope Paul IV was displeased and urged Henry II to join the Papal States in an invasion of Spanish Naples. On 1 September 1556, Philip II responded by pre-emptively invading the Papal States with 12,000 men under the Duke of Alba. French forces approaching from the north were defeated and forced to withdraw at the Siege of Civitella in August 1557.[10] Philip, in conjunction with Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, defeated the French in the Battle of St. Quentin (1557) (10–27 August). The Spanish attempted to blockade Rome by occupying the port of Ostia, but were driven back by the Papal armies in a surprise attack.[when?] However, when French troops were unable to come to their aid, the Papal armies were left exposed and were defeated,[when?] with Spanish troops under the Duke of Alba arriving at the edge of Rome. Out of fear of another sack of Rome, Paul IV agreed to the Duke of Alba's demand for the Papal States to declare neutrality by signing the Peace of Cave-Palestrina (12 September 1557). Emperor Charles V criticized the peace agreement as being overly generous to the Pope.[11]

English entry and GravelinesEdit

A brief French-backed revolt led by Thomas Stafford against queen Mary I of England resulted in a three-day siege of Scarborough Castle in April 1557. Mary declared war on France in June 1557 and made a minor contribution to the Hispano-Savoyard victory at St. Quentin in August. But England's entry into the war provoked the French Siege of Calais in January 1558, which the English lost. French armies plundered Spanish possessions in the Low Countries[clarification needed] and emerged victorious in the Siege of Thionville (April–June 1558). Nonetheless, Henry lost gravely at the Battle of Gravelines (13 July 1558) and was forced to accept a peace agreement in which he renounced any further claims to Italy.[8][page needed]

The wars ended for other reasons, including "the Double Default of 1557", when the Spanish Empire, followed quickly by the French, defaulted on its debts. In addition, Henry II had to confront a growing Protestant movement at home, which he hoped to crush.[12]

Military technologyEdit

Oman (1937) argues that the inconclusive campaigns which generally lack a decisive engagement were largely due to ineffective leadership and lack of offensive spirit. He notes that mercenary troops were used too often and proved unreliable. Hale emphasizes the defensive strength of bastion forts newly designed at angles to dissipate cannon fire. Cavalry, which had traditionally used shock tactics to overawe the infantry, largely abandoned them and relied on pistol attacks by successive ranks of attackers. Hale notes the use of old-fashioned mass formations, which he attributes to lingering conservatism. Overall, Hale emphasizes new levels of tactical proficiency.[13]


In 1552 Charles V had borrowed over 4 million ducats, with the Metz campaign alone costing 2.5 million ducats. Shipments of treasure from the Indies totalled over two million ducats between 1552 and 1553. By 1554, the cash deficit for the year was calculated to be over 4.3 million ducats, even after all tax receipts for the six ensuing years had been pledged and the proceeds spent in advance. Credit at this point began costing the crown 43 percent interest (largely financed by the Fugger and Welser banking families). By 1557 the crown was refusing payment from the Indies since even this was required for payment of the war effort (used in the offensive and Spanish victory at the battle of St. Quentin in August 1557).[14]

French finances during the war were mainly financed by the increase in the taille tax, as well as indirect taxes like the gabelle and customs fees. The French monarchy also resorted to heavy borrowings during the war from financiers at rates of 10–16 percent interest.[15] The taille was estimated in collection for 1551 at around six million livres.[citation needed]

During the 1550s, Spain had an estimated military manpower of around 150,000 soldiers, whereas France had an estimated manpower of 50,000.[15]

Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559)Edit


The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) consisted of two treaties: the first one was signed between Elizabeth I of England and Henry II of France on April 2; the second one was signed between Henry II of France and Philip II of Spain on April 3.[16] The two treaties also defined the conclusion of the Imperial-French wars and therefore the end of the Habsburg-Valois conflict as a whole, with the approval of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor.[a][b] The four monarchs did not meet in person but were represented by ambassadors and delegations.[20] Some Italian states also attended the conference.[21]

The peace was facilitated by the abdication of Charles V in 1556 and the division of the Habsburg empire between Spain and Austria: Philip II of Spain received the kingdoms of Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia, as well as the territories in the Americas; and Ferdinand of Austria became ruler of the Holy Roman Empire extending from Germany to northern Italy, with suo jure control of the Danube monarchy. The Duchy of Milan and the Habsburg Netherlands were left in personal union to the King of Spain but continued to be part of the Holy Roman Empire. With the end of the personal union of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain ("Habsburg encirclement"), France was open to peace talks. A truce was reached in Vaucelles around 1556 but was broken shortly after. The condition of economic and religious turmoil in which the war resumed forced the parties to make peace in 1559.[22]

By the terms of the treaties, France ended military operations in the Spanish Netherlands and the Imperial fiefs of northern Italy and brought an end to most of the French occupation in Corsica, Tuscany and Piedmont. England and the Habsburgs, in exchange, ended their opposition to French occupation of the Pale of Calais, the Three Bishoprics and a number of fortresses. For Spain, despite no new gains and the restoration of some occupied territories to France, the peace was a positive result by confirming its control of the Habsburg Netherlands, the Duchy of Milan, and the Kingdoms of Sardinia, Naples, and Sicily. Ferdinand I left the Three Bishoprics under French occupation, but the Netherlands and most of northern Italy remained part of the Holy Roman Empire in the form of imperial fiefs. Furthermore, his position of Holy Roman Emperor was recognized by the Pope, who had refused to do so as long as the war between France and the Habsburgs continued. England fared poorly during the war, and the loss of its last stronghold on the Continent damaged its reputation.[23]

At the end of the conflict, Italy was therefore divided between viceroyalties of the Spanish Habsburgs in the south and the formal fiefs of the Austrian Habsburgs in the north. The imperial states were ruled by the Medici in Tuscany, the Spanish Habsburgs in Milan, the Estensi in Modena, and the House of Savoy in Piedmont.[24] The Kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia were under direct rule of the Spanish Habsburgs.

The situation continued until the European wars of succession of the 18th century, when northern Italy passed to the Austrian house of Habsburg-Lorraine, and southern Italy passed to the Spanish Bourbons.[25] The Papacy, in central Italy, maintained major cultural and political influence during the Catholic Reformation that was initiated by the conclusion of the Tridentine Council, which was resumed by the treaty's terms.[26]


Map of Italy in 1559 after the Treaties of Cateau-Cambrésis

According to the treaties signed in Le Cateau-Cambrésis:


Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy married Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry, the sister of Henry II of France. Philip II of Spain married Elisabeth, the daughter of Henry II of France.[33] Henry died during a tournament when a sliver from the shattered lance of Gabriel Montgomery, captain of the Scottish Guard at the French Court, pierced his eye and entered his brain. The death of Henry II caused his 15-year-old son Francis II to take the throne, beginning a period of political instability that ultimately led to the French Wars of Religion.

See alsoEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ The Holy Roman Empire was not an actual signatory of the treaties of Cateau-Cambresis but ended Imperial conflict with France in Italy, which effectively allowed Emperor Ferdinand to change his foreign policy.[17]
  2. ^ The Peace of Cateau-Cambresis was also presented at a Diet of German princes in Augsburg, with Imperial-French talks occurring on March 21,[18] April 12,[19] and April 26.[19]
  3. ^ Paolo Sarpi, Istoria del Concilio Tridentino, Book 5. Ferdinand became Emperor in 1556 after the abdication of Charles V, ratified in 1558, but the Pope refused to recognize him until the Peace of 1559.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Messenger, Charles, ed. (31 October 2013). Reader's Guide to Military History. Routledge. pp. 635–636. ISBN 978-1-135-95970-8.
  2. ^ Miller, p.2
  3. ^ Lambton, Ann Katherine Swynford; Lewis, Bernard, eds. (1977). The Cambridge History of Islam: The central Islamic lands since 1918. Vol. 1B. Cambridge University Press. p. 328. ISBN 978-0-521-29135-4.
  4. ^ Braudel, Fernand (1995). The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Vol. 2. University of California Press. p. 920. ISBN 978-0-520-20330-3.
  5. ^ Black, Jeremy (2002). European Warfare, 1494–1660. Psychology Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-415-27532-3.
  6. ^ Turner, Sharon (1839). The history of England: from the earliest period to the death of Elizabeth. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans. pp. 311.
  7. ^ Setton, pp. 698ff.
  8. ^ a b Oman, Charles (3 April 2018) [1937]. A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century. Pickle Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78912-137-7.
  9. ^ Robertson, William; Stewart, Dugald (1840). The history of the reign of emperor Charles V, book 8–12. T. Cadell. p. 279.
  10. ^ Woodward, Geoffrey (2013). "8". Philip II. London, New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-1317897736.
  11. ^ Pattenden, Miles (2013). Pius IV and the Fall of The Carafa: Nepotism and Papal Authority in Counter-Reformation Rome. OUP Oxford. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-0191649615.
  12. ^ Elliott, J.H. (1968). Europe Divided: 1559–1598. HarperCollins. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-06-131414-8.
  13. ^ Hale, J. R. (2 August 1990). "Armies, navies and the art of war". In Elton, G. R. (ed.). The New Cambridge Modern History: Volume 2, The Reformation, 1520–1559. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 481–509. ISBN 978-0-521-34536-1.
  14. ^ Lynch, John (1984). Spain Under the Habsburgs (2nd ed.). New York: New York University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0-8147-5010-9.
  15. ^ a b Kennedy, Paul (1989). The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-679-72019-7.
  16. ^ Treccani encyclopedia
  17. ^ DeVries, Kelly (28 January 2010). "Warfare and the International State System". In Tallett, Frank; Trim, D. J. B. (eds.). European Warfare, 1350–1750. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-521-88628-4.
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ a b Office, Great Britain Public Record (1863). Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth: Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty's Public Record Office. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green. p. 212.
  20. ^ Ruble, Alphonse de (1889). Le traité de Cateau-Cambrésis.[page needed]
  21. ^ Roio, Anna Maria Razzoli (2008). Cavalieri ed eroi alla corte di Mantova: il Fido amante di Curzio Gonzaga (in Italian). Verso l'Arte Edizioni. p. 20. ISBN 978-88-95894-01-0.
  22. ^ Knecht, Robert Jean (1998). Catherine De' Medici. Longman. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-582-08242-7.
  23. ^ Ridgway, Claire (3 April 2017). "An Overview of the Results of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis 1559". The Tudor Society. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
  24. ^ "Italy – The duchy of Milan". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  25. ^ "War of the Austrian Succession | Europe [1740–1748]". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  26. ^ Mallett, Michael; Shaw, Christine (11 June 2014). The Italian Wars 1494–1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe. Routledge. p. 298. ISBN 978-1-317-89939-6.
  27. ^ a b c d e f Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (27 March 2019). "Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  28. ^ a b c Setton, 709.
  29. ^ Sarti, Roland (2004). Italy: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 189. ISBN 9780816074747. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  30. ^ a b Visconti, Joseph (2003). The Waldensian Way to God. Xulon Press. pp. 299–300. ISBN 9781591607922. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  31. ^ a b c Setton, 708.
  32. ^ Thalheimer, Mary Elsie (1874). A Manual of Mediæval and Modern History. Wilson Hinkle & Company. p. 208.
  33. ^ Konnert, Mark (2008-08-23). Early Modern Europe: The Age of Religious War, 1559–1715. University of Toronto Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-4426-0004-1.

General sourcesEdit

  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. Henry II, King of France 1547–1559 (Duke Univ Press, 1988).
  • Oman, Charles W. C. A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (1937).
  • Pepper, Simon, and Nicholas Adams. Firearms & Fortifications: Military Architecture and Siege Warfare in Sixteenth-century Siena (University of Chicago Press, 1986).
  • Setton, Kenneth M. The Papacy and the Levant (1204–1571) (American Philosophical Society, 1984).

External linksEdit