Photographic book

Charles VIII and Louis XII


Henri II
Henri II

With Burgundy dismantled and the domestic lords held in a tighter grip, the later Valois looked to expand abroad. Charles VIII set off on a military campaign in 1494 to vindicate dynastic claims in Italy. The campaign was initially successful, but ultimately an anti-French coalition forced Charles to withdraw from Naples. Charles left Italy to organize another expedition but died before he could undertake it.

The reign of Louis XII from 1498 to 1515 was, in some respects, a replay of Charles’s. To secure the Breton succession, Louis married Charles’s widow, Anne of Brittany, after a scandalous divorce from his first wife. He then embarked on another round of Italian wars, during which he, like Charles, had to abandon Naples. In 1513, again like Charles, Louis had to leave Italy altogether in the face of a coalition of anti-French forces led by the pope. A third round of the Italian wars commenced when Francis I ascended the throne in 1515. Francis immediately captured Milan, but at the same time Spain occupied Naples.

Spanish interest in Italy, which stemmed in large part from Aragonese claims on Sicily and Naples, gave the Italian wars another dimension. In 1519 the Spanish king, Charles V, of the Habsburg dynasty, became Holy Roman emperor, thereby extending his territorial claims to include Germany and the Low Countries. The Habsburgs threatened to encircle France, forcing the French to look to other powers as allies, including England and eventually the German Protestants and the Muslim Turks. The Habsburg threat would remain the focus of French foreign policy for the next 200 years. The tide of the Italian wars at first turned against Francis, who in 1525 was captured at the battle of Pavia. Francis was ransomed the following year, after he renounced lands claimed by Charles V. Once set free, Francis rescinded his renunciation, and during the rest of his reign, he gained the advantage.

Henry II


Under Henry II, who ruled from 1547 to 1559, the tide turned once again. The Italian wars ended with the definitive Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis of 1559. Under the treaty, France acquired Calais and the three bishoprics of Toul, Metz, and Verdun in Lorraine. But in return, Henry renounced claim to all his Italian possessions, including parts of Savoy and Tuscany that had been effectively united with other Valois territories. Thus ended 60 years of costly and politically fruitless Italian intervention. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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