Italian War of 1551–1559

gigatos | February 2, 2022


The Italian War of 1551-1559, also known as the Habsburg-Valois War, was the last chapter in the series of Italian wars. It began when Henry II of France declared war against the Emperor Charles V in order to regain territory on the Italian peninsula and ensure French domination over the Habsburgs on the European stage.

These were two conflicts also referred to as the Tenth (1552-1556) and Eleventh Italian Wars (1557-1559).

At the end of the conflicts of 1551-1559, France relinquished its claims in Italy but won the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun in Lorraine and the port of Calais. Siena was conquered by the duchy of Florence and Spain annexed France-Conte and became the dominant power in most of the Italian peninsula.

From a military point of view, the importance of technological progress and its impact on warfare has been underlined, such as castle sieges using big guns and artillery, the use of small arms, gunpowder, and the increase in the number of professional soldiers.

In the Italian War of 1551-59, France acted in alliance with Siena and the Ottoman Empire. It was opposed by an alliance consisting of the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Mantua, the Kingdom of England, the Duchy of Florence, and the Duchy of Savoy.

In the Mediterranean Sea

On 31 March 1547, Francis I died and was succeeded by his son, Henry II. Following in his father”s footsteps, King Henry II of France renewed his alliance with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, agreeing to cooperate against the Habsburgs in the Mediterranean.

In 1551, remaining faithful to his alliance with the Ottomans, Henry sent a fleet from Marseilles to assist the Ottomans in the recovery of Tripoli from the Knights of St John. In 1552, Henry declared war against Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, and the Ottomans sent 100 ships to attack the coast of Calabria in southern Italy. At Ponça in 1552, the Ottoman fleet under Turghout Reis destroyed Andrea Doria”s Genoese fleet and the Ottomans captured Reggio. The Ottomans continued to harass the anti-French alliance in the Mediterranean, with the invasion of Corsica in 1553, where the Corsicans, aided by the French and Ottoman fleets, revolted against Genoese rule, and the invasion of the Balearic Islands in 1558.

In continental Europe

At the same time, Henry II launched an attack against the Habsburgs from the land. Having allied themselves with the German Lutheran princes of the Union of Smalkalden in the 1552 Treaty of Chambord, in April 1552 the French invaded Lorraine, where, in return for the support they had received from the French king, the Lutheran princes ceded the three bishop”s towns to him: Metz, Toul and Verdun, which belonged to the Holy Roman Empire but were inhabited mainly by French-speaking populations. In October of the same year, Charles V tried to regain the Three Bishoprics and besieged Metz, but the city, defended by Francis of Guise, resisted and the Imperials lifted the siege in January 1553.

Meanwhile, in 1553, France invaded Tuscany to support Siena, where there had been a rebellion led by Piero Strocchi and the Spanish garrison was driven out. The Duke of Florence Cosimo I of Medici, supported by the Emperor, defeated the Sienese rebels and their French allies at the Battle of Marciano in 1554. In 1555, the Duchy of Florence conquered Siena, which eventually became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The war ended with the Treaty of Voselle on 15 February 1556, favourable to the French, which left Henry II sovereign over the Duchy of Savoy, Piedmont, the cities of Metz, Toul and Verdun and Corsica.

In 1556, during the war, and after resolving his long conflict with the Smalcal League by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, Charles V, weak and exhausted, abdicated the imperial throne as well as the throne of Spain and retired to the monastery of Eustace in Extremadura, where he died two years later. He was succeeded as emperor by his brother, Ferdinand I, who now held the imperial crown, the possessions of the House of Habsburg and the crowns of Bohemia and Hungary. The throne of Spain passed to Charles” son Philip II, together with the duchy of Milan and the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia, the Netherlands and the colonies in America.

Thus, the abdication of Charles V divided the Habsburg empire that surrounded France. Henceforth, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire no longer acted in perfect coordination as they had under the personal union of Charles V.

Despite the division of the lands of the House of Habsburg, Spain, with its extensive possessions, was a source of concern to the French. Thus, in 1557, a new war broke out between Henry II and Philip II, who was allied with England.

The new Pope Paul IV, a native of Naples and very hostile to the Spanish occupation, approached the King of France, who responded positively to a proposal of alliance. Thus, at the beginning of 1557, Duke Francis of Guise arrived in Italy, bound for Naples, but this expedition proved futile, militarily and diplomatically. From the autumn of 1557, the Pope made peace with Spain, whose presence in Italy was now undisputed.

From this point, the focus of the war shifted from Italy to Flanders, where Philip II, together with the Duke of Savoy, Emmanuel Fillibert of Savoy, decisively defeated the French at the Battle of Saint-Quentin on 10 August 1557. After the defeat at Saint-Quentin, the French recovered and took new initiatives in the war. England”s entry into the war in 1557 led to a favourable development for the French in January 1558, with the siege and capture of Calais, ending the English occupation of the city.

In 1559, the French and Habsburgs, under the pressure of economic collapse and internal problems – widespread Protestantism – decided to end their conflicts with the Treaty of Cato-Cambresie, signed on 3 April 1559. The Treaty of Cato-Cabrégie (1559) definitively recognised Spanish sovereignty over the Italian peninsula, where it retained control over Milan, the Kingdom of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia. France retained Calais and the Three Bishoprics. The Duchy of Savoy and Piedmont were returned to Emmanuel Filbert.

In addition to ending the war, Henry II of France and Philip II of Spain agreed in the treaty to ask the Pope to reconvene the Council of Trent.

Thus, after 65 years of almost constant warfare between the kingdoms of France and Spain, control of most of the Italian peninsula passed firmly to Spanish rule, which lasted until the movement for the national unification of Italy in the 19th century.


  1. Ιταλικός Πόλεμος (1551–1559)
  2. Italian War of 1551–1559
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