War of the League of Cognac

gigatos | June 5, 2022


War of the League of Cognac – the name of the armed conflict fought from 1526 to 1530, included in the so-called Italian Wars. The fighting was between the armies of Charles V, emperor and ruler of the Habsburg Empire, and his opponents – France, the Church State, the Republic of Venice, the Duchy of Milan, England and the Florentine Republic.


The War of the League of Cognac was actually a continuation of previous conflicts between France and the Habsburgs, fighting for hegemony in Italy, and the Italian states, which sought to expand their territories and preserve their independence. After Spanish forces defeated the French in 1521, Spanish ruler Charles V gained a dominant position in Italy, inheriting his possessions and the imperial title upon the death of Maximilian I. Francis I, King of France, was taken prisoner after the Battle of Pavia and signed a peace treaty in Madrid that renounced his rights to Italian lands and gave all of Burgundy to Charles V. However, the Emperor”s success also carried negative consequences – many Italian states turned against him, who now considered him a major threat to their independence. The monarchs of other European countries were also concerned about the growing power of the Habsburgs, making them potential allies of anyone who wished to wrest Italy from the Emperor. One of the primary instigators of the League was Pope Clement VII, who saw the Habsburgs as a threat to his position on the Italian peninsula. In order to remove Charles V”s forces from Italy, he began looking for allies, which, for the reasons mentioned above, was not difficult to find. The French ruler, Francis I, captured after the Battle of Pavia, signed the Treaty of Madrid, in which he renounced his claims to Italian lands, but in reality he was still interested in them. After his release, he proclaimed that his consent was coerced, which gave him the right to declare the provisions null and void. Venice, Lombardy, and Florence also joined the League. England did not take part in the anti-Habsburg alliance for the time being, citing as an official reason that the League was not established in the Isles, which Henry VIII insisted on. The alliance was finally signed at Cognac on May 22, 1526.

Course of the conflict

War broke out that same year when League forces attacked Lodi. However, through their tardiness and ineptitude, they gave Charles V time to prepare. He gained allies among some Italian princes, such as Ferrara, which was very important for the success of the military operations. With the help of the Tyrolean nobleman George Frundsberg, the Imperials led an enlistment of 12,000 German Lancknecht. They penetrated the undefended Alpine passes and, at Borgoforte near Mantua, smashed the League forces. Charles V”s army also entered Milan, forcing the Sforza princes to abandon their capital. The Imperial army consisted of Frundsberg”s German Lancknechts and Spanish troops led by Charles III de Bourbon-Montpensier. While the League”s forces clashed with the Imperial forces, the Colonna family”s troops attacked and occupied Rome, forcing Pope Clement to pay tribute to abandon the city. The forces of Frundsberg and Charles III united at Pavia and advanced on the capital of the Church State.

The troops of the papacy commanded by Francis Guicciardini were unable to put up a firm resistance to the attackers and the Eternal City fell into the hands of the enemies in 1527. Meanwhile, Frundsberg died of apoplexy, and Charles III was killed during the assault. Undisciplined, left to their own devices, and additionally unpaid for some time, the imperial troops began to loot Rome, plundering not only money but also valuable works of art that had been accumulated there for years. The citizens were also murdered, including those from the upper classes. Pope Clement VII, fearing for his life, took refuge in the Castle of Saint Angelo. These events went down in history as the Sacco di Roma.

The defeat of the Ecclesiastical State made clear the impermanence of the League – the Venetians seized the opportunity to take Cervia and Ravenna. In Florence, Medici rule collapsed, and the people opposed to it saw the events in Rome as the fulfillment of Savonarola”s prophecies. They again rose up against their rulers, forcing them to leave the city and replacing Medici rule with the establishment of a republic.

Events in Italy, particularly the Sacco di Roma, reverberated throughout Europe, arousing resentment against Charles V, who was accused of barbarism and disrespect for the sacred. Francis I took advantage of this situation and allied himself with Henry VIII by signing the Treaty of Westminster on April 30, 1527, in which the monarchs promised to join forces against the Habsburgs. With security from England, French troops led by Odet de Foix, Viscount Lautrec, and Pedro Navarro, Count of Oliveto, proceeded to Italy via Genoa. The Genoese admiral Andrea Doria joined the French, and his fleet forced the Spanish ships to retreat from Naples. The French army, prudently avoiding Lancknecht-controlled Rome, reached Naples in the summer of 1528 and laid siege to the city.

Doria, however, quickly switched to the side of Charles V, who pledged to respect the freedom and regime of Genoa. Deprived of naval support, the French were further affected by a plague, decimating Navarro and Lautrec”s troops. Doria broke the blockade of Genoa and forced the French troops there to surrender. The decisive battle of the French campaign was fought at Landriano, where the French led by Prince St. Pol suffered defeat. Francis I”s efforts to subjugate Italy failed.


Charles V could not fully exploit his military successes because of financial problems and growing religious tensions in his empire. The defeated Francis I was also unable to send new forces to Italy for the time being. In view of this, the two sides began negotiations for peace. They began in July 1529 in the border town of Cambrai. From the French side, the negotiations were led primarily by Francis I”s mother, Louise of Savoy, and the imperial side was represented by Margaret of Habsburg, who was related to Louise and was an aunt of Charles V. For this reason the peace of Cambrai is called the Paix des Dames – the Ladies” Peace. Its provisions confirmed the Treaties of Madrid – Francis I gave up his claims to the lands of Italy, Artois, Tournai and Flanders and was to pay 2 million gold écus for the release of his sons. The Peace of Cambrai marked France”s withdrawal from the war, leaving Venice, Florence, and the Papacy at the mercy of the Emperor.

Charles V met with the pope at Bologna, obtaining from him, in return for the withdrawal of troops and the recovery of the territories seized by Venice, the promise of coronation as emperor and the granting of an investiture to the Kingdom of Naples. After the peace, Charles, now the hegemon of Italy, called a convention in Bologna at which almost all the rulers of the Italian states appeared. The new order on the Italian peninsula was established by the dictate of the emperor, who decided about everything. The House of Savoy was gaining Asti for its losses caused by the violation of its neutrality. The Sforzas, by paying a huge sum of money, obtained permission from the emperor to return to Milan. Venice ceded the disputed territories to the Church State, and gave the rest of her possessions in Apulia to the Kingdom of Naples, whose ruler, moreover, was the emperor. In Genoa the signoria remained in the hands of the Doria. On December 23, 1529, a “perpetual league” was concluded to permanently bind the Italian states to the House of Habsburg. On February 22, Charles V was crowned king of Italy and on February 24 he was crowned emperor. Charles triumphed, succeeding in gaining hegemony in Italy and forcing all Italian states to obey him. All except Florence, where a rebellion by anti-Medici rebels was still smoldering.

The Florentine Republic continued to fight against the imperial forces by attacking the army of Filibert de Châlon, Duke of Orange. The battle took place at Gavinana on August 3, 1530. Although de Châlon was killed, his army defeated the rebels, forcing the city to surrender 10 days later. The Medici family returned to the throne, at the will of the emperor. This was the last campaign of the War of the League of Cambrai.

The emperor succeeded in subjugating the Italian states and forcing obedience from the papacy. Charles V saw himself as the ruler of the entire west, and the traditional imperial coronation was intended as a symbol of a return to universalism, which in the reality of the time was a pipe dream due in part to the religious wars that would soon ensue. The growing power of Charles V”s empire brought him numerous enemies who feared his hegemony in Europe. An anti-Habsburg attitude became the guiding idea of French foreign policy for several centuries. Among other things, his enemies stoked tensions in Germany, hoping that internal struggles would weaken the Habsburgs.

The wars also diminished the already low authority of the popes, who looked more like secular rulers than religious leaders. The Italian states suffered the greatest losses. They lost numerous political freedoms and were economically and demographically devastated. Testimony to the devastation is given by an envoy of Henry VIII: “between Vercelli and Padua for 50 miles… sheer emptiness. We saw neither man nor woman working in the fields, no animals…. the vineyards feral”. The Habsburg hegemony had its advantages for the Italian states as well – it provided them with a defense against the expansive Turks who were advancing into Western Europe. Another result of the League”s war with Cognac was the end of the traditional Italian municipalities. The Republic of Florence was the last such creation.


  1. Wojna Ligi z Cognac
  2. War of the League of Cognac
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