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

Ottoman-French Victory


 Kingdom of France

Republic of Siena

Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders

The Italian War of 1551–1559, sometimes known as the Habsburg–Valois War and the Last Italian War, began when Henry II of France, who had succeeded Francis I to the throne, 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 conflict was the last of a series of wars between the same parties since 1494. The alliance organized by Henri II of France with Lutherans princes and the Ottomans forced Charles V to abdicate in 1556 and divide the Habsburg dominions between Ferdinand of Austria and Philip II of Spain. Three years later, the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis was signed and political marriages arranged. Historians have emphasized the importance of gunpowder technology, new styles of fortification to resist cannon fire, and the increased professionalization of the soldiers.[1]


Mediterranean campaigns

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 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 campaigns

On the Continental front, Henry II allied with German Protestant princes at the Treaty of Chambord in 1552. An early offensive into Lorraine was successful, with Henry capturing the three episcopal cities of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and securing them by defeating the invading Habsburg army at the Battle of Renty in 1554. However, the French invasion of Tuscany in 1553, in support of Siena attacked by an imperial‐Tuscany army, was defeated at the Battle of Marciano by Gian Giacomo Medici in 1554. Siena fell in 1555 and eventually became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany founded by Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.[8]

The Treaty of Vaucelles was signed on 5 February 1556 between Philip II of Spain and Henry II of France. Based on the terms of the treaty, the territory of the Franche-Comté was relinquished to Philip. However, the treaty was broken shortly afterwards.[citation needed]

After Charles' abdication in 1556 split the Habsburg empire between Philip II of Spain and Ferdinand I, the focus of the war shifted to Flanders, where Philip, in conjunction with Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, defeated the French at St. Quentin. England's entry into the war later that year led to the French capture of Calais, and French armies plundered Spanish possessions in the Low Countries. Nonetheless, Henry was forced to accept a peace agreement in which he renounced any further claims to Italy.[9]

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 had to confront a growing Protestant movement at home, which he hoped to crush.[10]

Military technology

Oman (1937) argues[citation needed] that the inconclusive campaigns which generally lack a decisive engagement were largely due to an effective leadership and lack of offensive spirit. He notes that mercenary troops were used too often and proved unreliable. Hale emphasizes the defensive strength of fortifications 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.[11]


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).[12]

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.[13] 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.[13]

Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559)

The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis was signed in April 1559 and involved delegates from France, Spain, England, and the Holy Roman Empire.[14][15] 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, southern Italy (Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia) and the colonies 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 while continuing 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.[16]

According to the treaties signed in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France maintained the Pas-de-Calais (occupied in 1558) and the Three Bishoprics (taken in 1552) but French troops ended their operations in the Habsburg Netherlands and the Imperial fiefs of Northern Italy: Corsica was recognized as part of the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Florence absorbed Siena into what became the Duchy of Tuscany, and Piedmont was restored to Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy due to his victory in the Battle of St. Quentin (1557). The Duke of Savoy declared his neutrality between the Habsburgs and France: in the following years he moved his capital to Turin. Besides ending the war, Henri II of France and Philip II of Spain agreed in the treaty to ask the Pope to recognize Ferdinand of Austria as Holy Roman Emperor and to reconvene the Council of Trent.[17][18]

Despite no new gains, the peace was a positive result for Spain as it confirmed its control of the Habsburg Netherlands, southern Italy (Sardinia, Naples, Sicily), and the Duchy of Milan. Ferdinand I had lost the three Bishoprics, but the Netherlands and most of northern Italy (including the Duchy of Milan) 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.[19]

At the end of the conflict, Italy was therefore divided between viceroyalties of the Spanish Habsburgs in the south and formal fiefs of the Austrian habsburgs in the north. The imperial states were ruled by the Doria in Genoa, the Medici in Tuscany, the Spanish Habsburgs in Milan, the Farnese in Parma, the Estensi in Modena, and an Italianized House of Savoy in Piedmont. The southern Kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia were under direct rule of the Spanish Habsburgs. This situation continued until the European wars of succession of the 18th century, when northern Italy passed to the Austrian house of Habsburg-Lorraine and the south passed to the Spanish Bourbons. The only significant Italian power left after the peace was the Papacy in central Italy, as Venice and Florence were weaker in comparison to the early 1500s while the Pope maintained major cultural and political influence during the Catholic Reformation initiated by the conclusion of the Tridentine council.[20]


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.[21] 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 Henri II led to a status of political instability that ultimately led to the French Wars of Religion, which were to jeopardize the mixed results of the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Charles Messenger, ed., Reader's Guide to Military History (2001) pp. 635–36
  2. ^ Miller, p.2
  3. ^ The Cambridge History of Islam, p.328
  4. ^ The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II by Fernand Braudel p.920- [1]
  5. ^ European warfare, 1494–1660 by Jeremy Black p.177
  6. ^ The History of England Sharon Turner, p.311
  7. ^ The Papacy and the Levant (1204–1571) by Kenneth M. Setton pp. 698ff
  8. ^ Charles W.C. Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (1937).
  9. ^ Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (1937).
  10. ^ Elliott, J.H. (1968). Europe Divided: 1559–1598 (page 11). HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-131414-8.
  11. ^ J. R. Hale, "Armies, navies and the art of war." in Elton ed., The New Cambridge Modern History: The Reformation 1520–1559 (1975) 2: 481–509.
  12. ^ Lynch, John (1984). Spain under the Habsburgs Second Edition. New York: New York University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0-8147-5010-9.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Treccani encyclopedia
  15. ^ Treccani encyclopedia
  16. ^ Robert Jean Knecht, Catherine de Medici, (Longman, 1997), 54.
  17. ^ [2]
  18. ^ Paolo Sarpi, Istoria del Concilio Tridentino, Book 5. Ferdinand became Emperor in 1556 after the abdication of Charles V, but the Pope refused to recognize him until he was requested to do so by Spain and France following the Peace of 1559.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Legacies of the Italian Wars
  21. ^ Mark Konnert, Early Modern Europe: The Age of Religious War, 1559–1715, (University of Toronto Press, 2006), 122.


  • 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).