France History – The Wars of Italy and the Struggle for Hegemony in Europe Part III
But Italian politics was now about to become only a part of a larger intertwining of events and struggles. The death of Ferdinand the Catholic and the accession to the Spanish throne of Charles I, already master of the Burgundian inheritance, aggravated France’s international situation. In fact, sooner or later, two political orientations, both contrary to France, would have converged in the person of Charles: the Burgundian and the Spanish, the legacy of Charles the Bold and that of Ferdinand the Catholic. Three equally threatened borders to the north and east of France. And in fact, despite the fact that in the treaty of Noyon (13 August 1516) Charles and Francis had temporarily agreed, the first getting engaged to the daughter – Luisa – of the second, the clash did not take long to break out, when the death of Maximilian raised the question of the succession to the empire. According to Franciscogardening.com, Francis I tried by all means to prevent the election of the Habsburg citizen; but on June 28, 1519, Charles was elected Massimiliano’s successor. This meant the complete encirclement of France, and war. In 1520 the struggle began, destined to last until 1559. There were essentially two theaters of operations: Flanders and Artois in the north; to the south, and was the most important center of operations, at least in the first period, Italy. The dominion of Milan in the hands of Charles V would have united the possessions of the north with Spain, closing the circle around France. Thus it was that from 1521 to 1525 the struggle took place above all in the Po valley, until the battle of Pavia (February 24, 1525), in which Francis I himself was taken prisoner, he put an end to it, for the moment. The king of France, led to Madrid, had to sign the peace treaty of 13 January 1526, for which he renounced the duchy of Milan, Asti and Genoa, promised Charles V Burgundy, renounced sovereignty over Flanders and Artois, yielded Tournai. But the king, just free, refused to respect the pacts, signed, according to him, under duress.
And the fight began again. But this time there was a noticeable change in French politics in Italy. Instead of conducting the struggle alone, with clear aims of dominance, the French monarchy, taking advantage of the fear that the power of Charles V instilled in the Italian princes, became champion of the freedom of the states of the peninsula against the emperor. It was not difficult for the regent Luisa of Savoy first, then for Francis I, to succeed: on May 22, 1526, the League of Cognac sanctioned the union of the Italian princes, headed by Pope Clement VII, against Charles V. on the other hand, Henry VIII of England, who also broke away from Charles V, was approaching the King of France. The appeal to “balance”, the protests against the imperial designs of a “universal monarchy”, they therefore served well the policy of the king of France. Who, at the same time, began negotiations even further away, with the Turks themselves: here too the aim was to weaken the emperor, keeping Austria under the nightmare of the Turkish invasion. Finally, to capture public opinion, a war against Charles V based on pamphlets, specially prepared by the Du Bellays. Not all hopes were fulfilled: the league of Italian princes turned out to be little suited to face the imperial army; Rome was taken, sacked, and Clement VII reduced to ask Charles V for peace; the French expeditions themselves against Milan and Naples ended in failure. But the complication of the internal situation in Germany, due to religious disputes; the severity of the Turkish danger in the east; the financial difficulties in which the emperor stood, all this was in favor of France. And if the new peace of Cambrai (August 1529) generally sanctioned the Treaty of Madrid, it actually contained the renunciation of Margaret of Austria and Charles V of Burgundy, definitively united to the crown of France.
Then began the period of the so-called balance policy, a period of very fervent diplomatic activity on the part of the French, always ready to make Europe flash the specter of a universal empire of Charles V; indefatigable in trying to weave intrigues with the German Lutheran princes, in order to create as many hindrances as possible for the emperor; also careful to keep in close contact with the Italian states. In 1932 the marriage of Caterina de’Medici, nephew of Pope Clement VII, with the second son of Francis I, Henry, was negotiated. Intrigues also with Henry VIII, now irreparably divided by Charles V by the question of his divorce with Catherine of Aragon, the emperor’s aunt; intrigues with the Turks.