An introduction to the Habsburg-Valois conflict

Fought between the years 1515-59, the Hapsburg-Valois wars dominated European politics during the early 1500s, and was effectively fought by Francis I, King of France and Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (Charles I of Spain). It was in some ways the continuation of an old conflict - Spain and the Empire had been warring with France since the late 1400s regarding dynastic claims in Italy. However, a number of factors contributed to making the conflict bloom again.

Charles was a young and proud (but by no means foolish) monarch, who believed that his mighty Empire conferred upon him political dominance of Christian Europe. This view was supported by his early advisors, who impressed upon him the importance of the Hapsburg dynasty. When Francis I became French King in 1515, he was keen to find fame and continue the expansionistic foreign policy of the French Kings before him. He was resentful of Charles' claim to dominance in Europe, and this feeling was magnified a hundred-fold when Charles became Holy Roman Emperor - a position which Francis had hoped to achieve for himself.

Strategic reasons also existed for the continuation of the wars - when Charles acquired the Empire, France found herself effectively circled by Hapsburg lands - Spain in the south, Germany and the Netherlands in the east and north. Anglo-Hapsburg alliances in 1520 and 1522 further strengthened the French feeling of vulnerability. The French aimed to break out of this encirclement by challenging the Hapsburg claims in Italy, especially Milan.

The wars cannot fully be explained by strategic issues or bad blood between the young Kings, however - after all, they had commenced long before the encirclement of France or crowning of these monarchs. It is arguable that the wars were, above all, dynastic - one historian compared the bitterness in the wars to 'the virulence of family quarells'. Italy, and in particular Milan, was the most active point of dynastic conflict - as King of Aragon, Charles inherited Naples - but the House of Valois also laid claim to the kingdom, and had used military force in recent decades to try and make good this claim. Milan was a point of contention for both dynastic and strategic reasons - although technically it fell under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, the House of Valois had a claim to the duchy. In 1515 France seized Milan, and in 1516 Charles recognised French rule in Milan in the Treaty of Noyons.

For both Charles and his advisors, the loss of Milan in the long term was unthinkable. His family had a long standing claim to make Milan part of the Empire - and when Charles became Emperor in 1519, Milan was an important gateway connecting the rest of his lands to Italy. It was also a vital center of communications linking together Spain, the Netherlands and Austria.

So, the scene is set: the Houses of Hapsburg and Valois had many reasons to war with one another, and conflict was inevitable for both to feed the ego and pride of their young members, and to attempt to secure dynastic dominance in the long run.

Phase one of the wars

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