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Book Review of The Italian Wars, 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe

Posted by William Young on July 26, 2012

Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw. The Italian Wars, 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe. Modern Wars in Perspective series. Harlow: Pearson, 2012. ISBN 978-0-582-05758-6. Maps. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxi, 367. $49.60.

The Italian Wars (1494-1559) changed the political landscape of the Italian Peninsula in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  The Italian states, including Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples, that had dominated Renaissance Italy were invaded and controlled by the foreign leaders and armies of France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire during a series of eight wars.  These conflicts began with a French invasion of Italy in 1494 and ended with Spanish dominance in Italy in 1559.  During this sixty-five year period the Italian Wars brought major shifts in the balance of power in Italy and Europe, military organization, and diplomatic practice.  Despite the importance of these conflicts, the Italian Wars have surprisingly lacked a comprehensive study in the English language that examines these political, diplomatic and military issues.

Dr Michael Mallett, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Warwick and a distinguished historian of fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, began this much needed study of the Italian Wars in the outstanding Modern Wars in Perspective series.  He is the author of The Borgias: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Dynasty (1969), Mercenaries and Their Masters: Warfare in Renaissance Italy (1974), and co-author (along with John R. Hale) of The Military Organization of a Renaissance State: Venice, c.1400 to 1617 (1984).  Unfortunately, Mallett became ill and died before he could turn his extensive research on the Italian Wars into a complete study.  After his death, Dr Christine Shaw, a Research Fellow at Swansea University, used Mallett’s notes, along with her own research to complete the work.  Shaw is known for her work that includes Julius II: The Warrior Pope (1993) and (as editor) Italy and the European Powers: The Impact of War, 1500-1530 (2006).

This study depicts the politics, diplomacy, and conduct of war during the Italian Wars.  It is well-written and organized.  The book is based on primary and secondary works.  Mallett and Shaw depict Italian politics and combinations of alliances of the numerous Italian states in the complex series of Italian wars involving the great powers of France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, along with involvement by England, Scotland, and even the Ottoman Empire.  The authors explore the Italian conflicts from the opening dispute between Charles VIII of France and Ferdinand of Aragon over hereditary control of the Duchy of Milan and Kingdom of Naples in the late fifteenth century; to the creation of various alliances between the great powers and Italian states to prevent one power’s domination over the Italian Peninsula; to the various wars between Francis I of France and the Emperor Charles V, including the dramatic battle of Pavia (1525) and sack of Rome (1527); to the various temporary peace settlements, and finally Philip II of Spain’s defeat of France and control of most of Italy, including Milan and Naples, in the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559.

Mallett wrote the two chapters that might interest students and scholars of military history the most.  In “The Transformation of War” the author discusses military weapons and the balance of arms, the impact of gunpowder weapons, fortifications and siegecraft, the rise of professional standing armies, military training and skills, tactics and strategy, leadership, the war at sea, and the experience of war.  In this chapter he stresses the rising value of infantry over cavalry in the Italian Wars, noting the effectiveness of Swiss and German pike infantry as well as massed Spanish arquebusiers.  He points out the creation of small, professional standing armies that were supplemented by militias and mercenary forces.  The author describes infantry tactics and weapons, along with the employment of artillery.  Contrary to what many believe, Mallett argues that “the French artillery did not make a great contribution to Charles VIII’s successful march through Italy in 1494-95” (p.182).  He goes further to say that: “In the last resort, guns [artillery] contributed more to a shift towards defence than to one towards blitzkrieg.  The majority of guns manufactured and employed by the European powers were sited in defensive works, on the walls of towns and castles, guarding routes, all encouraging the development of bastions and earthwork emplacements” (p.183). He stresses that the construction of the new style of fortifications, the so-called trace italienne, were being built before the French invasion in 1494.  In the second chapter, “The Resources of War,” Mallett explores the resources and logistics of the armies involved in the Italian Wars.  He discusses the recruitment and mobilization of infantry and cavalry units, military ordinances involving the muster and control of armies, billeting and supply of the armies, pay, naval resources, and the cost of war.

The Italian Wars consist of a complex, at times confusing, puzzle of political issues, alliances, and military actions by numerous actors and states.  Shaw expertly handles these issues.  However, a novice to the Italian Wars may find it difficult to follow her narrative at times.  She frequently fails to cite dates (the year) of particular events, which if included, would make it easier for readers to follow her narrative and arguments.  A chronology of major events would have been extremely beneficial.

The Italian Wars, 1494-1559 is highly recommended to students and scholars interested in the politics, diplomacy, and warfare of Early Modern Europe.  The study fills a void for a comprehensive study of the Italian Wars in the historiography of warfare, and will be an important study for years to come.  For those individuals interested in reading more about the Italian Wars, there are many scholarly journal articles, essays, and monographs on different aspects of the politics and diplomacy of the era.  But, there are few military studies.  These studies include the influential Frederick L. Taylor, The Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529 (1921), Charles Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (1937), Simon Pepper and Nicholas Adams, Firearms and Fortifications: Military Architecture and Siege Warfare in Sixteenth-Century Sienna (1986), David Abulafia (editor), The French Descent into Renaissance Italy, 1494-1495 (1995), David Nicolle, Fornovo, 1495: France’s Bloody Fighting Retreat (1996), Angus Konstam, Pavia, 1525: The Climax of the Italian Wars (1996), as well as Maurizio Arfaioli, The Black Bands of Giovanni: Infantry and Diplomacy during the Italian Wars (1526-1528) (2005).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Posted in Book Reviews, Early Modern European (1494-1648) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review of Henry VIII and Francis I: The Final Conflict, 1540-1547

Posted by William Young on January 18, 2012

David Potter. Henry VIII and Francis I: The Final Conflict, 1540-1547. History in Warfare series. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011. ISBN 978-90-04-20431-7. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxix, 562. $243.00.

Dr David Potter, a Reader in History at the University of Kent, addresses the final war between Henry VIII of England (ruled 1509-1547) and Francis I of France (ruled 1515-1547) during the 1540s. The conflict was part of the later stages of the Italian Wars (1494-1559) or Habsburg-Valois Wars between the rulers of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire and Spain against Valois France.

In the earlier conflicts, Henry VIII joined the Holy League alliance against Louis XII of France in 1511 in the War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1516). In 1513, Henry VIII personally led an invasion force into northeastern France in pursuit of glory and to expand English territory beyond the Pale of Calais. English and Imperial forces besieged Thérouanne, defeated a French relief force at the Battle of the Spurs (Guinegate), and then captured the town. The English king next besieged and took the city of Tournai in September 1513. England negotiated a separate peace with France in 1514, but kept Tournai for four more years. Then, in 1520, Henry VIII and Francis I met at the so-called Field of Cloth of Gold near Calais to increase their bond of friendship. This, however, did not last and French aggression led to England joining Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor (ruled 1519-1556) and King of Spain (1516-1556), against France in the Italian War of 1521-1526. English forces marched out of Calais and attacked the French in Picardy, burning and looting the countryside along the way, in 1522. In 1523, a massive English army under the Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, marched against France. Suffolk crossed the Somme River, but was unwilling to attack Paris, and therefore retired to Calais. England and France agreed to a peace settlement in 1526.

In the ensuing conflict, the War of the League of Cognac (1526-1530), Henry VIII allied with France, the Papacy, Venice, Milan, and Florence against Charles V in April 1527. But, in the following month, the Imperial army under the command of the Duke of Bourbon sacked the city of Rome. Henry VIII was now in no position to oppose Charles V. His foreign policy was tied to obtaining an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (Charles V’s aunt) from the Imperial prisoner Pope Clement VII. Despite agreeing to a French alliance in 1532, the English monarch refused to provide aid to Francis I and sought to stay out of the short-lived Franco-Imperial War of 1536-1538. The conflict did not resolve the long-standing issues between the Habsburgs and Valois. But, the peace settlement left Henry VIII out in the cold, and he realized that England would have to take a side in the next conflict.

Potter calls the subject of his study, the final conflict, “the most serious and destructive war between England and France in the reigns of Henry VIII and Francis I (p.1).” In July 1542, Francis I, allied with Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire, declared war (the Italian War of 1542-1546) on the Holy Roman Empire. Henry VIII had tried to keep some diplomatic leverage with both Charles V and Francis I in the late 1530s and early 1540s. He prepared for the eventuality of war, using the significant boost in finances provided by the dissolution and sale of monasteries in England, by embarking on a serious program of refortification and shipbuilding. By 1542 relations between England and France were collapsing over French aid to Scotland. Henry VIII and Charles V overcame diplomatic issues and created an alliance in February 1543, with England expected to fight the auld alliance of France and Scotland. England declared war against France four months later. In December, Henry VIII and Charles V agreed to lead their armies in person in an offensive against France.

Henry VIII assembled an army of about 40,000 men at Calais, and the English forces moved slowly into France in June 1544. The English army was divided into two parts. The first part, commanded by Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, besieged Montreuil on the Canche River. Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, leading the other part of the English army began the siege of the port city of Boulogne. Charles V insisted that the English forget these sieges and march on Paris. Henry VIII refused to consider such operations until the fall of Montreuil and Boulogne. Then, in September 1544, the English, with Henry VIII in command, captured Boulogne. However, at this point, the Emperor, who was running short on finances and needing to deal with religious unrest in the Empire, signed a separate peace with France in the Treaty of Crépy. The war between England and France continued, but the English monarch left for England. Norfolk soon abandoned the siege of Montreuil and retreated to Boulogne as a large French army advanced into the region. Suffolk and Norfolk then withdrew the majority of English forces to Calais, leaving about 4,000 men to defend Boulogne against a French siege.

Peace negotiations began and quickly broke down. As a result, the French king opted for an invasion of England. Francis I assembled a large number of troops and ships in Normandy. In May 1545, a small expeditionary force sailed and landed in Scotland to aid the Scots in the Anglo-Scottish War of the Rough Wooing (1543-1550). Then, in July, the French fleet sailed and conducted small-scale raids on the Isle of Wight, and later at Seaford in Sussex. These operations failed to achieve success, so the French fleet redeployed and set up a blockade of Boulogne. By September 1545 the conflict was at a stalemate, both sides running low on men and money. Henry VIII and Francis I continued their peace talks, but the English monarch refused to give up Boulogne. The war finally ended with the Admirals’ Peace (Treaty of Ardres-Guînes) in June 1546. Boulogne would remain in English hands until the Treaty of Boulogne (1550). Both Henry VIII and Francis I would die in 1547, leaving new participants to fight with or against Charles V in the last of the Habsburg-Valois Wars, the Italian War of 1551-1559.

Potter has previously provided us important works in French politics and warfare including War and Government in the French Provinces: Picardy, 1470-1560 (1993), A History of France, 1460-1560: The Emergence of a Nation State (1995), and Renaissance France at War: Armies, Culture and Society, c.1480-1560 (2008). In the present study, the author discusses the international situation and diplomacy that resulted in a rapprochement and alliance between Henry VIII and Charles V in the late 1530s and early 1540s. He focuses on diplomacy and military operations throughout the conflict, providing a thorough discussion of Henry VIII’s military campaigns in northeastern France, the Anglo-French search for mercenaries, war at sea, the significant cost of the war, and peace negotiations. This outstanding study, based on archival research, is the first of three volumes that our author plans to write on Anglo-French conflicts from the last years of Henry VIII to the early reign of Elizabeth I. It is very expensive at $243, and hopefully the next two studies will not cost an arm and a leg.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota

Siege of Boulogne by Henry VIII in 1544

Posted in Book Reviews, Early Modern European (1494-1648) | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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