Military Wiki
First Italian War
Part of the Italian Wars
Map of Italy in 1494
Italy in 1494
Result League of Venice victory

 Kingdom of France

  • Early Swiss cross.svg Swiss Mercenaries

League of Venice:
 Papal States
 Republic of Venice
 Kingdom of Naples
Kingdoms of Spain
Duchy of Milan
 Holy Roman Empire
 Republic of Florence
Duchy of Mantua

 Kingdom of England (from 1496)
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France Charles VIII
Kingdom of France Gilbert, Count of Montpensier

Kingdom of Naples Ferdinand II of Naples
Ferdinand II of Aragon

Francesco II, Marquess

Kingdom of France 25,000 men[1]

  • Early Swiss cross.svg 8,000
Casualties and losses
13,000 men[1] Unknown

The First Italian War, sometimes referred to as the Italian War of 1494 or Charles VIII's Italian War, was the opening phase of the Italian Wars. The war pitted Charles VIII of France, who had initial Milanese aid, against the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and an alliance of Italian powers led by Pope Alexander VI.


Pope Innocent VIII, in conflict with King Ferdinand I of Naples over Ferdinand's refusal to pay feudal dues to the papacy, excommunicated and deposed Ferdinand by a bull of 11 September 1489. Innocent then offered the Kingdom of Naples to King Charles VIII of France, who had a remote claim to Naples through the Angevin line. Innocent later settled his quarrel with Ferdinand and revoked the bans before dying in 1492, but the offer remained an apple of discord in Italian politics. Ferdinand died in January 1494, and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II.

French invasion

In October 1494, Ludovico Sforza, who had long controlled the Duchy of Milan, finally procured the ducal title after providing a hitherto unheard-of dowry to his niece, who was marrying the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian. He was immediately challenged by Alfonso II, who also had a claim on Milan. Ludovico decided to remove this threat by inciting Charles to take up Innocent's offer. Charles was also being encouraged by his favorite, Étienne de Vesc as well as Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II, who hoped to settle a score with Pope Alexander VI.

French troops under Charles VIII entering Florence, 17 November 1494, by Francesco Granacci

French troops and artillery entering Naples in 1495.

Charles gathered a large army of 25,000 men (including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries), including the first siege train to include artillery, and invaded Italy.[1] The arrival of his army outside Florence and the fears of rape and pillage incited the Florentines to exile Piero de' Medici and establish a republican government. Bernardo Rucellai and other members of the Florentine oligarchy acted as ambassadors to negotiate a peaceful accord.

The French reached Naples in February 1495 and captured it without a siege or pitched battle. They left Naples on 20 May 1495, leaving Gilbert, Count of Montpensier, as viceroy, with some troops.

The Italian states, however, quickly realized the danger of foreign monarchy to their autonomy and collaborated to create the League of Venice. After Ferdinand of Aragon recovered Naples (with help from his Spanish relatives with whom he sought asylum in Sicily), the Italian army followed Charles VIII's retreat north through Rome, recently abandoned to the army notorious for its plundering by Pope Alexander VI.

League of Venice

Battle of Fornovo, 6 July 1495.

The speed of the French advance, together with the brutality of their attacks on cities, left the other states of Italy in shock. Ludovico, realizing that Charles had a claim to Milan as well, and would likely not be sated with the annexation of Naples alone, turned to the Papacy. Pope Alexander VI was embroiled in a power game with France and various Italian states over his attempts to secure secular fiefdoms for his children. The Pope formed an alliance of several opponents of French hegemony in Italy: himself; Ferdinand of Aragon, who was also King of Sicily; Emperor Maximilian I; Ludovico in Milan; and the Republic of Venice. (Venice's ostensible purpose in joining the League was to oppose the Ottoman Empire, while its actual objective was to expel the French from Italy.) This alliance was known as the Holy League of 1495 or the League of Venice, and was proclaimed on 31 March 1495. England joined in 1496. The League was the first of its kind; there was no medieval precedent for such divergent European states uniting against a common enemy, although many such alliances would be forged in the future.[2]

The League gathered an army under the condottiero Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Charles, not wanting to be trapped in Naples, marched north to Lombardy. There he met the League in the Battle of Fornovo, 6 July 1495. Charles successfully retreated with most of his army, but had to abandon nearly all of the booty from his campaign and return to France. He died before he could regroup his forces and return to Italy.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 R. Ritchie, Historical Atlas of the Renaissance, 64
  2. Anderson, M. S. The Rise of Modern Diplomacy 1450–1919, Longman, London 1993, p 3.
  • Phillips, Charles and Alan Axelrod. Encyclopedia of Wars. New York: Facts on File, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-2851-6.

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