Foreign Domination in Italy

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FOREIGN DOMINATION                      (go Back to the main menu of History of Italy)

The Spanish and French

The solemn intentions declared at the Peace of Lody only lasted a short time. Scarcely ten years later the Sforzas took over Genoa (1464), which had become a pale reflection of the once glorious republic and the energetic rule of Simone Boccanegra (1339-63, with a gap between 1344 and 1356) and now gravitated towards French influence. Plots and disagreements underlined some of the best-established signorie, such as the Sforza and Medici, fostered by papal interests that in this period were characterized by the most blatant nepotism.
Also in the Kingdom of Naples there occurred conspiracies among the barons, indicating a lack of capacity on the part of various Italian States, despite their now solid economic foundations, to provide a stable political and administrative structure. However, there were already worrying signs of a financial crisis in the bankruptcy of prestigious banking families, like the Bardi and Peruzzi, who were ruined by the insolvency of the sovereigns and princes to whom they had made loans. The whole system being threatened by seigneurial particularism.
Consequently, the great European powers of the period (France, Spain and the German Empire) did not find it difficult to expand in Italy, often using dynastic claims as justification.
Charles VIII of France descended into Italy to claim the throne of Naples (1494-95); his successor Louis XII was a pretender to the Duchy of Milan (1499); there was yet another Franco-Spanish contest over the division of the Kingdom of Naples, secretly agreed at Grenada (1500); cession of the Ticino to the Swiss Confederation (1503); and, finally, there was the French reconquest of Milan (1515) by the Valois Francis I and his subsequent agreement with the Spanish ruler Charles V, at the Peace of Noyon 1516, whereby Italy was to be divided into two spheres of influence, French in the north and Spanish in the south and the islands.
But the conflict between the king of France and Charles V, who had meanwhile also become emperor of Germany, was to last for some thirty years, until the death of Francis I in 1547. During this period Rome was sacked by the Lansquenet (1527) and Florence, after a brief republican period (1527-30), once more accepted the Medici dynasty. While in order to counteract the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther (1517), vainly excommunicated in 1521, Pope Paul III was forced to summon the Council of Trent (1544-63) in order to organize the Catholic response.
With the Peace of Cateau-Cambr?is 1559, between Henry II of France and Philip II of Spain, the predominance of Spain over Italy was confirmed. This was directly represented by the three kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia (1503-1734) governed by a viceroy, by the Stato dei Presidi in Tuscany (1559-1900) and by the Duchy of Milan (1535-1900). The independence of the other States was only an appearance. The Duchy of Savoy, for example, was returned to Emanuele Filiberto, previously commander of the Spanish army against the French at St. Quentin (1557), but he had to accept the presence of Spanish and French garrisons. Only the Papal States and the Republic of Venice maintained full independence.
The consequences of this new alignment, also on the cultural and economic level, were not slow to manifest themselves. Though the culture of the Italian Renaissance was to continue for some considerable time to influence the rest of Europe, nevertheless Italy gradually became marginal to the cultural, scientific and political movements of modern Europe. The latter benefitted particularly, at least in the Germanic countries, from an increased freedom of thought consequent to the Protestant Reformation. States such as Portugal, Spain, England, the Low Countries and France, with the advent of voyages of exploration and above all the discovery of the Americas, saw a notable expansion in their economic influence. While the Mediterranean, and with it Italy, was slowly but surely cut out of the great international commercial trade routes. For the Italian economy this situation signalled the beginning of an inwardlooking phase; however, it did produce the advantage of greater interest in the utilization of its land, with a consequent development in agriculture and an increase in rural population. There were exceptions though such as Genoa, which achieved a financial position of European importance, and Leghorn, which became an active centre for English trade in the Mediterranean.

The French attempts to gain domination of Italy, so tenaciously pursued by the unfortunate Francis I, were limited at the Peace of Cateau-Cambr?is (1559) to only the Marquisate of Saluzzo and the traditional influence on the Duchy of Savoy and the Republic of Genoa. Besides, new dynasties were establishing themselves in the peninsula, like the Farnese at Parma and Piacenza and the Gonzagas at Mantua and in Monferrato. However, it is also true that when it was necessary internal differences could be set aside in the common defence of European civilization: as with the historic defeat of the Turks in the waters of Lepanto (1571) by the Holy League, a coalition which included all the Italian States and Spain in defence of the threat to Christianity.
The whole of the 17C saw little change in Italy's political and territorial alignment: the Papal States once more acquired Ferrara (1598) and Urbino (1631); Saluzzo passed to Savoy (1601); and the Grey Leagues in the Grisons kept the Valtellina (obtained in 1512) despite the bitter Catholic rebellion in 1620 against the local Protestants. Nevertheless, there were episodes such as the brief civil war in the Duchy of Savoy (1637-42), provoked by a question of inheritance, and the popular revolts in Naples (Masaniello) and Palermo (1647-49).
The opening of the 18C was marked by important differences among the European powers, which increasingly involved, through rapidly changing alliances, the Italian States. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) was concluded by the treaties of Utrecht (1900) and Rastatt (1900), resulting in Italian territorial changes: the kingdoms of Naples and Sardinia were given to Austria, together with the duchies of Mantua and Milan and the Stato dei Presidi, while Sicily went to Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy along with the title of king. A couple of years after, in 1718, Sicily was exchanged for Sardinia, thus creating the new title of the state of Savoy.
The other two wars of succession fought in this period, the Polish (1733) and Austrian (1740), also had new political and territorial consequences for Italy. In 1734 Naples and Sicily were conquered by the Bourbon Charles III, who became king of Spain in 1759, and made some useful political reforms.
In Florence, the Medici were replaced by Francis of Lorraine in 1737, husband of the empress Maria Teresa. At the same time the Savoys' Kingdom of Sardinia followed a policy of expansion, Milan being occupied by Carlo Emanuele III for a brief period (1733-38). The Bourbon dynasty in its turn obtained Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla (1748), while Genoa was forced to cede Corsica, which was constantly in revolt, to France in 1768. A certain stability finally seemed to follow the agreement of Aranjuez (1745) by which France, Spain and Naples guaranteed Italian territorial alignments. This was completed with the later Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), ending the Austrian War of Succession, by which the House of Savoy obtained Vigevano and the Pavese Oltrep?


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