Massimo Predonzani and Vincenzo Alberici, The Italian Wars volume 2 (Helion, 2021)
Writing about the Italian Wars of the early 16th Century must be the historical equivalent of spinning plates; there are so many players in motion at any given time and they all play an important role at some point in the narrative. That complexity can be a turn-off for even the most enthusiastic of history readers. But this was a period of fluctuation and fluidity as early modern Europe slowly emerged from the mediaeval world, and it is worth studying on many levels. In this second volume of The Italian Wars, Massimo Predonzani and Vincenzo Alberici guide their readers through the major campaigns and battles between 1509 and 1515.
The authors begin with the situation in Italy after 1495. We find Louis XII using diplomacy to prepare for his intended invasion of Lombardy in 1499. That went well for the French, but the aftermath turned into a complex mess as the power players once more fought over the various Italian States with cities as pawns in the game. After some jockeying, the War of the League of Cambrai broke out after the invasion of Cadore by the Emperor Maximilian in 1508 that did not end well. He aligned with France and Spain in the League of Cambrai against Venice. Our authors narrate the campaign leading to the Battle of Agnadello in 1509, then the battle itself, which did not go well for the Venetians. Here the action pauses while the authors discuss the order of battle and casualties. The campaign continued; the Venetians retired to defend the city’s defences, the French had their spoils of war with the capture of Milan, and Emperor Maximillian took up the task of fighting the Venetians, though not successfully. The campaign petered out in 1510. But peace would not last long.
With the French as the major regional power, the rest, led by the Papacy, ganged up on them in the Holy League and the wars kicked off again. In February 1512, the French attacked, advancing steadily on Ravenna where another major battle took place on 10 April. The French won a hard fought affair but lost their captain. Again, the authors pause to discuss casualties and the longer term aftermath, which was another period of shifting alliances and tit-for-tat warfare, leading to a period the authors call the ‘armed peace’. A new French King, a new Pope, and shifting alliances set off another round of fighting with French ambitions in Northern Italy at the heart of affairs. That led to the third major battle covered by our authors at Marignano in September 1515. This was essentially a headlong charge by the Swiss against a well-defended French position with the subsequent fighting lasting into the night. Battle resumed the next morning, but reinforcements for the French swung the battle against the Swiss who retired to Milan. More fighting followed, but peace broke out temporarily when the main combatants signed a treaty in August 1516. With their narrative complete, our authors turn to an analysis the major armies involved – the French, Venetians, Spanish, Swiss, the Neapolitans, and, of course, the German Landsknechts, and a lesson in 15th century military heraldry.
Massimo Predonzani and Vincenzo Alberici have pulled off a significant achievement with this book, and the others in the series. They have produced an authoritative account of events and their context, much of which is backed by a solid set of footnotes. The structure of their book is well-handled, reflecting the ebb and flow of these wars and the diplomatic chicanery behind them. The authors include vivid battle descriptions supported by colour plates of various troops and their flags involved in the wars and many contemporary monochrome illustrations. This is highly recommended for students of Renaissance warfare, but also any history reader that enjoys a gripping and dramatic narrative.