The Habsburg-Valois wars, 1544-59

Following the Peace of Crepy, there was a period of peace between the Imperial Habsburg dynasty and the French Valois dynasty. Both sides were exhausted financially, but the French had emerged from the last period of hostility with grievences still to be redressed.

In 1547, Henry II came to power in France. He had spent years as a captive of Charles V following the Treaty of Madrid, which naturally didn't make him the most-reliable buddy of the Emperor (it hadn't made him too keen on his dad, either!) However, he proved to be more cautious than his father had been, especially as a new King always has to strengthen his support at home, and foreign adventures are not always the best way to do this.

Henry did not take action against the Habsburgs until the early 1550s. Charles' position in Germany was at this time fading, and he faced a revolt of both Catholic and Protestant Princes. In 1552 Henry sealed a deal with the German Protestants which rewarded him with the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun for his promise to help combat the Habsburgs. Spurred on by the Pope, he tried to seize Naples, but failed. Sporadic warfare continued, as before, seemingly pointless. It peaked in 1552 and 1554, and Charles sunk into a deep depression in 1553 when he failed to take Metz.

Charles was quickly realizing that the wars were dooming him to nothing but financial insolvency, but they had now reached that unenviable stage in a conflict where it merely propagates itself. He realized that such a large Empire was doomed to perpetually be at war with those that felt threatened by it, which contributed to his decision to split his Empire between his son Philip II and Ferdinand. Charles' abdication can be seen as been partly caused by the futility of the Habsburg-Valois wars.

When Charles abdicated in 1556, Philip II came to terms with the French at the Treaty of Vaucelles. Warfare continued sporadically until 1559, spurred on by Charles V's desire for revenge influencing his son from his retirement home. Finally, financially drained and having gained little, the two sides agreed their final peace in the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559. The treaty was seen as a vindication of Charles' claims as the French renounced Flanders, Navarre, Artois and Tournai. The Habsburgs kept Milan and Naples. France retained Metz, Toul and Verdun.

Both sides had spent a lot and gained little. Philip was saddled with so much debt by his father that he had to declare himself bankrupt as early as 1557. The wars were really inevitable, as Charles' ambitions to secure peace and hegemony in Christendom were not compatible with France's territorial ambitions. Every time the French accepted peace they only did so because they had been forced to in the short-term, they soon re-opened hostilities.

Charles' greatest regret on his deathbed was that he had not united Christendom against its opponents in the Muslim and Protestant World. He felt he had failed God, and in fact his wars had led to the French encouraging his (and therefore Christendom's) opponents.

Phase 2 | Overview

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