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The Italian Wars PT II: The Spanish Conquest of Naples

The road to the Second and Third Italian Wars

After his initial rapid conquest of Naples in late 1494 and early 1495, King Charles VIII of France was forced to abandon his conquest when his neighbours created the League of Venice to curb the increasing power of France. Charles left Naples in May 1495 and returned to France. He left strong garrisons in Naples to maintain French rule, however, with the support of the League, King Ferdinando of Naples was able to reconquer his country. Before Charles could have invaded Italy for a second time, he died in 1498, and he was followed on the throne of France by his equally ambitious cousin, Louis of Orleans.

Louis solidified his rule in France in 1498, and by the beginning of the next year, he was making plans and forging alliances to reestablish French power in Italy, most importantly in Milan and Naples.

Louis had dynastic claims to both thrones, and he was eager to press his claims. As he was the cousin of Charles VIII, he inherited the Angevin claim to the crown of Naples from Charles, while his Visconti ancestry served as the cassus beli for this ambitions in Milan. Through his mother’s lineage, Louis was a descendent of the Visconti family, who ruled Milan until 1450. The Sforzas took power in Milan when the male line of the Visconti family died out, and to solidify his support in the town Francesco Sforza married the bastard daughter of the last Visconti duke. However, Louis’s ancestor was the legitimate daughter of the same duke, so he regarded his claim to Milan as stronger than that of the Sforzas.

Louis wanted to depose Ludovico Sforza, but he was also eager to avoid the diplomatic disaster of 1495, which led to the creation of the League of Venice and left France surrounded by enemies. Louis courted both the Pope and Venice with his offers of alliance, and in the end, he succeeded in convincing both to become his allies.

Louis XII of France continued the campaigns of his predecessor

Louis XII of France continued the campaigns of his predecessor

The Second Italian War

Louis and the Venetians agreed to divide the Duchy of Milan among themselves, with the river Adda serving as the frontier between France and Venice.

Louis wanted the Pope on his side also, and in exchange for the Pope’s support, Louis offered to help Cesare Borgia( the Pope’s son) with soldiers, to assist Cesare’s quest in carving out a Borgia state for himself.

With negotiations out of the way, Louis hired a strong army which included the formidable Swiss pikeman also and invaded Milan in late 1499. Ludovico Sforza was unable to resist the invasion and was forced to flee for his life. By October 1499, French troops were parading through the streets of Milan, and Louis looked like he scored his first victory in Italy.

However, Ludovico was not giving up just yet and with the support of Emperor Maximilian, he raised an army in the Holy Roman Empire and invaded French occupied Milan in February 1500. At first, he made rapid progress, but with time he started to struggle to pay for his army, which led to the rapid dwindling of his 20,000 fighting force. The Swiss and the Germans under his command mutinied, which led to the capture of Sforza after the Battle of Novara. The defeat of Ludovico led to the fall of the independent Milan, and Louis’s grip over Milan was much strengthened by his victory at Novara.

Ferdinand the Catholic, the real winner of the First Three Italian Wars

Ferdinand the Catholic, the real winner of the First Three Italian Wars

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The Third Italian War

With the conquest of Milan, Louis achieved one of his objectives in Italy. He wanted to avoid a large alliance being formed against him when he invaded Naples, so Louis contacted Ferdinand of Aragon about a possible partition of the Kingdom of Naples between France and Aragon. The wily Ferdinand was never one to miss out on such an opportunity and gave his blessing to the scheme. The two kings agreed in 1500, and according to the treaty of Granada, they divided Naples. Louis took control over the northern parts of the kingdom, the city of Naples included here, and he also became the king of Naples, while Ferdinand received the duchies of Calabria and Apulia in the southern part of the kingdom.’

The combined Franco-Spanish invasion began in the summer of 1501. King Frederico of Naples was only preparing to fight against the French and was shocked when he realised that his cousin has betrayed him and was in league with the French. Frederico tried to put up a resistance against the French invaders, but the brutal sack of Capua damaged the morale of the Neapolitans. Soon after the sack, the French were besieging the city of Naples and Frederico had no choice but to surrender and abdicate.

The French and the Spanish quickly overran the assigned territories, however, conflict broke out between them in less than a year. Two regions in Naples (Basilicate and Capitana) were left unassigned to either of the invaders. Not much later armed conflict soon broke out between the French and the Spanish over the control of these regions.

The French initially had the upper hand over the Spanish thanks to their superior numbers, however, they failed to destroy the Spanish commanded by Gonzalo de Cordoba( the Great Captain), who retreated towards Barletta. He was besieged, but thanks to the Spanish naval superiority he received supplies through the sea and not much later his army was reinforced with troops sent by Emperor Maximilian.

Gonzalo de Cordoba, the man who conquered Naples for Ferdinand

Gonzalo de Cordoba, the man who conquered Naples for Ferdinand

Spanish counterattack

The French failed to destroy the Spanish, and with his reinforced army, de Cordoba left Barletta and head north. The French followed him in hot pursuit, and de Cordoba decided to give battle near Cerignola. The Spanish arrived first on the field and prepared field fortifications to strengthen their positions. When the French arrived, they decided to attack without conducting a proper reconnaissance, which was to be a costly mistake for them. The French attacks came to a halt in the ditches that defended the Spanish positions, and the Spanish counterattack led to the rout of the French army.

The French suffered crippling losses and were forced to retreat to the fortress of Gaeta and wait for reinforcements. De Cordoba took Naples in May and then followed the French to Gaeta. De Cordoba besieged Gaeta, but a relief army sent by Louis forced him to lift the siege and retreat south.

The Spanish took up a position south of the river Garigliano, where the French were soon facing their Spanish enemies. Initially, the French had the better of the Spanish in November, as they took a bridgehead on the Spanish side of the river. As the weather turned for the worse, both sides remained on the defensive for a while, with the French building strong fortifications in front of their positions.

The Spanish received further reinforcements in November, and Cordoba took the offensive in late December. The Spanish and their allies built a bridge north of the French positions and crossed the river in numbers. The Spanish soon overwhelmed the scattered defenders of the area, and the French commanders decided to retreat, the Spanish harassed them during their retreat, but the part of the French managed to retreat towards Gaeta, however, they were soon forced to surrender.

The Spanish victory at Garigliano brought an end to the Third Italian War and left Castille& Aragon in control of Naples.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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