Italian Wars of 1499–1504

The Italian Wars of 1499-1504 are divided into two connected, but distinct phases: the Second Italian War (1499–1501), sometimes known as Louis XII's Italian War, and the Third Italian War (1502-1504) or War over Naples. These conflicts were fought primarily by Louis XII of France on one side against a number of Italian states and King Ferdinand II of Aragon over control of the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. In the aftermath of the First Italian War, Louis had been determined to press his claim on the thrones of Milan and Naples; in 1499, Louis XII finally invaded Lombardy and seized Milan, starting off this phase of the Italian Wars. For the next five years, France and Spain would vie for control of Milan and Naples, with France eventually controlling the former and Spain taking the latter.

Second and Third Italian Wars
Part of the Italian Wars
Battaglia di Cerignola.jpg
The Battle of Cerignola, the first battle in history won by gunpowder small arms.[1]
  • Second Italian War
  • Third Italian War
    • Spanish Victory, Spain acquires Naples from France
    • Treaty of Lyon
      Treaty of Blois
      • Division of Northern and Southern Italy between France and Spain

Second Italian War

Second Italian War

Third Italian War: War over Naples

Third Italian War: War over Naples

Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France 23,000-29,000[2]

The Second Italian WarEdit


In response to threats against his legitimacy from the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Naples, Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan invited French King Charles VIII into Italy for protection.[3] King Charles VIII of France, eager to sate his Italian ambitions, came to Sforza's assistance by invading Italy in the First Italian War (1494–1498). In the sole major battle of that war—the battle of Fornovo on 6 July 1495[4]—Ludovico Sforza suddenly and unexpectedly changed sides—thus, joining the League of Venice (Venice, Naples, the Papal States, England, and Spain) in a war against the French.[5] The French were victorious in that battle, but the exhausted army withdrew from Italy after the battle and Charles died in 1498, before a second invasion could take place, ending the First Italian War.

The War for MilanEdit

Charles VIII died on 7 April 1498[6] and was followed to the throne by Louis XII of France who had a claim to the Duchy of Milan by right of his paternal grandmother Valentina Visconti, Duchess of Orléans.[7] In addition to his claim of blood, Louis, like many Frenchmen, naturally viewed Milan as part of their rightful territory; French scholars asserted, that because, as Livy stated in his Decades, because Gallic peoples had founded the city, it is only right for Milan be ruled over by the successors of the Gauls.[8] Quickly, King Louis concluded an alliance with the Republic of Venice, hired Swiss mercenaries, and invaded the Duchy of Milan under the condition that the Lombard territories be split between Venice and France.[6]

There was tension between the two countries even though they agreed to fight Milan together; the Venetians wanted lands on the western side of the Adda river which the French considered too far while the French demanded 100,000 ducats from Venice to pay for its armies even though the Venetians thought France should use its own money. In addition Venice and France disagreed on the issue of Pisa. Louis XII desired Pisa's return to vassalage under Florence but the Venetians wanted an independent Pisa and weak Florence. Finally, with Ercole d'Este's arbitration at Blois on February 9, 1499, it was agreed that Venice would get Cremona, while stopping at the Adda and paying part of France's war expenses. In return, France would strongly support Venice if the Ottoman Empire was to attack them during the war with Milan.[9]

Papal support was also given for the campaign in exchange for Louis XII's military support for Cesare Borgia's Romagna campaigns. The French did not find much resistance and captured Milan easily on October 6, 1499, its duke, Ludovico Sforza, having fled in the previous days.[10] At the Sforza Palace, the family coats of arms were scraped away and replaced with Louis', his quartered Franco-Visconti heraldry and name "LV REX" being painted in the Castello's courtyard and in the library at the nearby city of Pavia the portraits of the Sforza family were painted over with images of French Kings.[11]

In January 1500, Ludovico Sforza returned with vengeance and arms to his former territories to find Milan under the control of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, now the French military governor and freshly minted Marshal of France. His 20,000 man army including many Swiss and Burgundian mercenaries beat the French back at Como before retaking Milan and restoring him as duke on February 5th. After, his army moved north and captured Novara from the French on March 21st.[12] It seemed that the newly established order in Lombardy may after all be temporary.

This rapid success on the battlefield wouldn't last any longer though. On April 10th, Ludovic Sforza's army was annihilated at the Battle of Novara, with many mutinies marring his army's cohesion. Despite disguising himself as a Swiss pikeman to evade imprisonment by the French, Sforza was betrayed by his own men and turned over to the French on April 15th and sent into captivity at Lys-Saint-Georges, remaining in French dungeons until his death in 1508.[13] Following the final overthrow of Sforza, the Duchy of Milan would serve, for the next thirteen years, as a French stronghold and as a springboard for further French military adventures in Itay.[14]

Though he and his army were victorious against Ludovico, Louis XII viewed the brief, violent Sforza restoration as a conspiracy against him and France by the ecclesiastical establishment of Rome; French distrust of the Holy See would grow and end up with France openly hostile and attempting to depose the next pope, Julius II.[15]

Franco-Spanish EffortsEdit

As the summer campaign season of the year 1500 neared, Louis XII became worried about the intentions of newly unified Spain as he moved further into Italy, drawing his forces eastward. The Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella were known to be fearful of a new rapprochement between Louis XII and the Italian powers. They might invade France from the west, while Louis XII had his armies in Italy, and thus involve Louis in a war on two fronts. A secret treaty between Louis and Ferdinand was signed at Chambord on October 10th and at Granada on November 11, 1500 that gave Louis the title King of Naples and giving him control of Naples, Terra di Lavoro, and Abruzzi while Ferdinand was made Duke of Calabria and Apulia; the territories in between were to be shared and so was the region's revenue.[16]

In his claim to Milan, King Louis XII asserted a family inheritance to support his claim to the Duchy of Milan. However, in the case of Naples, Louis had no direct inheritance to claim. Instead, Louis XII's claim to Naples rested entirely on Charles VIII's claim and his temporary occupation of the Naples. This "Angevin inheritance," claimed Charles VIII as early as 1481 was the basis of Charles' military campaign against Naples in 1495. Louis XII claimed the Angevin Inheritance as successor of Charles VIII to the throne of France. The present king of Naples, Frederick IV, had claimed the throne through his brother, Alfonso II of Naples and, as Alfonso II had previously abdicated in favor of Charles VIII in 1495, Frederick was considered by some an illegitimate usurper of the Neapolitan throne that rightly belonged to the king of France, now Louis XII.[citation needed]

Louis XII and Isabella & Ferdinand, monarchs of Spain, had agreed to these terms on 11 November 1500 in the Treaty of Granada, and Pope Alexander VI, nominal overlord of the Kingdom of Naples, approved this deal on 25 June 1501.[17]On 25 July 1501, Frederick IV of Naples, hoping to avoid another military conflict between the two national monarchies on Italian soil, abdicated as ruler of Naples and Campania in favor of the French King.[17] Francesco Guicciardini points out in the Discorso di Logrogno (1512) that the partition of the Mezzogiorno between the houses of Aragon and Orléans neglected to take into account the economic system of a region dominated by sheep-rearing and its concomitant transhumance.[17]

Pursuant to the Treaty of Granada, French and Spanish armies seized Naples on 2 August 1501. Although it was agreed that Louis XII should assume the throne of Naples, Louis and the monarchs of Spain soon quarreled over the division of the rest of the spoils. Unhappy with the outcome of the Second Italian War, the two powers would be at war over their new prizes within two years.[18]

The Third Italian WarEdit

The Conflict for NaplesEdit

When the conflict broke out again in the second half of 1502, Spanish General Gonzalo de Cordoba lacked numeric superiority,[19] but was able to apply the lessons learned in 1495 against the Swiss infantry that France employed; moreover, the Spanish tercios, accustomed to close combat after the Reconquista, redressed some of the imbalance in arms the Spanish had with the French.[20] Cordoba avoided encounter with the enemy at first, hoping to lure the French into complacency.

Later, the conflict became characterized by short skirmishes. During this campaign, a French knight, Charles de la Motte, was captured by Spanish forces and later used as a hostage after declaring his famous Challenge of Barletta on 13 February 1503.[20][21] Chronic in-fighting between the Italian and French knights, as well as a better supply-line guaranteed by the Spanish navy, gave Cordoba and his Spanish knights the upper hand against the French, who suffered defeat at Cerignola on 28 April 1503.[21]At the first battle of Garigliano on November 8th, a superior French force beat back the Spanish but in a second battle on 29 December, the Spanish prevailed.[22]Attacking the French army that was still resting and relaxing after their Christmas festivities from the north at the village of Sujo, the Spanish scored a decisive and war-ending victory.[23] The French army under Italian ally, Francesco de Gonzaga was destroyed, with about 4,000 of just over 15,000 soldiers killed at Garigliano,[24] leaving Louis XII forced to abandon his current ambitions in Naples and, on 2 January 1504, the king withdrew to Lombardy.[22]

Conclusion of this Phase of the Italian WarsEdit

The Treaty of Lyon was signed on 31 January 1504 between Louis XII of France and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Based on the terms of the treaty, France ceded Naples to Spain. Moreover, France and Spain defined their respective control of Italian territories. France controlled northern Italy from Milan and Spain controlled Sicily and southern Italy.[25]

The Treaty of Blois of 22 September 1504 concerned the proposed marriage between Charles of the House of Habsburg, the future Charles V, and Claude of France, daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. If the King Louis XII were to die without producing a male heir, Charles of the House of Habsburg would receive as dowry the Duchy of Milan, Genoa and its dependencies, the Duchy of Brittany, the counties of Asti and Blois, the Duchy of Burgundy, the Viceroyalty of Auxonne, Auxerrois, Mâconnais and Bar-sur-Seine.[25]

Conflict would not leave Italy for long; the next phase of the Italian Wars, the War of the League of Cambrai would erupt in 1508 over grievances between Venice and the many other regional powers.[26]


  1. ^ Clodfelter, Micheal (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492-2015, 4th ed. McFarland. p. 10. ISBN 978-0786474707.
  2. ^ Lynn, John A. "Recalculating French Army Growth during the Grand Siecle, 1610-1715." French Historical Studies 18, no. 4 (1994): 881-906, p. 887.
  3. ^ Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw, The Italian Wars: 1494–1559 (Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2012) p. 10.
  4. ^ Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw, The Italian Wars: 1494–1559, p. 30.
  5. ^ River, Charles (2019). The First Italian War. USA: Independent. p. 38. ISBN 9781072062554.
  6. ^ a b Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw, The Italian Wars: 1494–1559, p. 42-44.
  7. ^ Albert Guérard, France: A Modern History (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, 1959) p. 128.
  8. ^ Gagné, John (2021). Milan Undone. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN 9780674248724.
  9. ^ Romane, Julian (2020). The First and Second Italian Wars 1494-1504. Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books. pp. 116–118. ISBN 9781526750518.
  10. ^ Gagné, John (2021). Milan Undone. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780674248724.
  11. ^ Gagné, John (2021). Milan Undone. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780674248724.
  12. ^ "Second Italian War/ Italian War of Louis XII (1499-1503)". Retrieved 2021-06-05.
  13. ^ Gagné, John (2021). Milan Undone: Contested Sovereignties in the Italian Wars. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 82–88. ISBN 9780674248724.
  14. ^ "The Italian War (1521–1526) - Four Years War - About History". Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  15. ^ Gagné, John (2021). Milan Undone. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 23. ISBN 9780674248724.
  16. ^ Romane, Julian (2020). The First and Second Italian Wars, 1494-1504. Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books. p. 177. ISBN 9781526750518.
  17. ^ a b c Marco Pellegrini, Le guerre d'Italia (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2009), pp. 63–5.
  18. ^ Boone, Rebecca (2007). War, Domination, and the Monarchy of France. Boston: BRILL. p. 107. ISBN 978-90-474-3124-4.
  19. ^ Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw, The Italian Wars: 1494–1559, p. 61.
  20. ^ a b Marco Pellegrini, Le guerre d'Italia, 67-8.
  21. ^ a b Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw, The Italian Wars: 1494–1559, p. 64-5.
  22. ^ a b Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw, The Italian Wars: 1494–1559, pp. 68–69.
  23. ^ Romane, Julian (2020). The First and Second Italian Wars, 1494-1504. Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books. p. 242. ISBN 9781526750518.
  24. ^ "Heritage History - Products". Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  25. ^ a b Romane, Julian (2020). The First and Second Italian Wars, 1494-1504. Yorkshire: Pen and Sword. p. 249. ISBN 9781526750518.
  26. ^ "League of Cambrai | European history". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-06-07.


  • Guérard, Albert, France: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, 1959).
  • Phillips, Charles and Alan Axelrod. Encyclopedia of Wars. New York: Facts on File, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-2851-6
  • Mallett, Michael and Shaw, Christine, The Italian Wars: 1494–1559 (Harlow, England:Pearson Education, Limited, 2012). ISBN 978-0-582-05758-6.
  • Romane, Julian (2020). The First and Second Italian Wars 1494-1504. Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books.
  • Gagné, John (2021). Milan Undone: Contested Sovereignties in the Italian Wars. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Boone, Rebecca Ard (2007). War, domination, and the Monarchy of France: Claude de Seyssel and the language of politics in the Renaissance. Boston: Brill.  
  • "The Italian War (1521–1526) - Four Years War - About History". Retrieved 2021-06-07.  
  • "Second Italian War/ Italian War of Louis XII (1499-1503)". Retrieved 2021-06-05.
  • "League of Cambrai | European history". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  • "Heritage History - Products". Retrieved 2021-06-07

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit