As new year 1500 approached there were many dark signs and portents reported across Italy; a two headed calf in Apulia, demonic armies seen in the skies above Brindisi, a statue of the Virgin Mary wept blood in the sacristy of Monte Cassino and a child was born in Capua with a full head of hair and able to quote scripture in latin. All this was reported to the Papal Curia.
However, the princes of Italy care little for their superstitious subjects. As men of the Renaissance they seek power and influence over their peers and they will use all the resources of the modern age to impose their dominion on Italy.
As spring approaches the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, imposes a heavy war tax on his subjects purchasing mercenaries from Germany for his planned attack on the independent city state of Modena. The Duke of Modena rallies his citizens and is able to withstand an intense assault by the German troops. The Duke of Milan attempts to bribe the garrison commander but the plot is discovered by the angry citizens who hang the commander from the ramparts. News of this set back has caused consternation in Milan and the subject provinces Cremona and Novarra rise up in rebellion.
Meanwhile, the Borgia Pope, Alexander, has ordered the Papal army under his illegitimate son Cesare Borgia to take Ancona. The Papacy has invested in an artillery foundry at Ostia and Cesare is confident that he has the latest technology to take fortified cities. The Borgia's are hoping to create their own principality in eastern Italy which will ensure their dominant position within the Papal states. With the backing of Spain they are in a powerful position already. Unfortunately, Ancona withstands the bombardment and is able to maintain supplies from the sea. The papal army settles down for a long siege and Cesare is forced to write excuses to his father whilst also seeking ammunition for his heavy artillery.
Venice is watchful of the ambitions of the Duke of Milan and the Doge (with his eminence gris, il Duce Di Oerl) plan to counter his expansion by taking both Mantua and Ferrara and firmly securing their "Terra Firma" against any attacks from the south. Mantua is riven by internal factions and a party sympathetic to the Venetians opens the main gates to the invading army. However, the citizens if Ferrara have long hated Venice and they all but destroy the besieging army.
The Florentine senate is conscious of the threat faced by its powerful neighbours and seeks to expand its territory to maintain its influence. Grumbling, the subject states of Florence suffer a heavy increase in taxation in order to fund these ambitions. Light cavalry are recruited to increase its ability to scout enemy armies and its citizen army marches east to subdue the Romagna and Urbino. Urbino is taken by bloody assault but the Romagna withstands the onslaught of the Florentine militia.
Meanwhile, the king of France is closely watching the situation in Northern Italy. He has a claim on his mother's side to the Duchy of Milan as she was related to the dispossessed Visconti family who were usurped by the present Duke's uncle. Aware of the power and prestige of Milan he organises an army to take back what he believes is his birthright. Italian exiles and some Italian states urge on the King's ambitions.
Venice is concerned that Milan will call on the Holy Roman Emperor for aid and northern Italy will become a ravaged battlefield. The Doge agrees treaties of mutual peace with Milan, Florence and the Pope, hoping that this will prevent an escalation into a war that none of the Italian states will be able to control.
As spring turns to summer, Cesare receives fresh supplies from his father and the reinvigorated Papal army subdues Ancona after an intense bombardment. Cesare is feted in Rome and the Pope orders a month of festivities to celebrate the great victory of his son.
In Milan the situation worsens. The citizens of Como rise up in protest against the high taxation and send for aid from the French king. There is talk of intrigue and plots against the Duke. Venice sends some help but the Duke is forced to ask the Emperor for aid. The Emperor has long held the belief that Milan is a fief of the Holy Roman Empire and he would like to replace the Sforza with one of his own family; but he would much prefer the Sforza than the French in control of Milan. As the French march directly on Milan, a German army moves through the Alpine passes of the Tyrol to prevent a Sforza defeat.
The Duke of Milan, gambling on the success of Imperial arms, is resolved to take Modena. He orders Da Vinci to help with the siege, and the maestro constructs engines of war of such ingenuity that the German mercenaries are able once more to assault the city walls and take it by storm; maddened by their ordeal none of the garrison are spared. Inspite of the grim situation, the Duke has restored his reputation and the citizens of Milan begin to hope that they may still be saved.
The Imperial army arrives at nearly the same time as the French army, but supported by the local population it is able to better supply itself and settles down into defences near the city to await a French attack. The French are struggling to maintain their position in hostile territory and with orders to be cautious, the French fall back on to the friendly province of Como. Again, the Duke's reputation is enhanced by the success of his ally.
The Venetians are worried by the involvement of the Emperor. He is no friend of the Doge and claims that Friulli is rightfully part of the Empire. However, they are unwilling to directly oppose the French and are dismayed that the Florentines are unable to better restrain their ally. The battered remnants of their army withdraws from Ferrara as the Venetians draw in their forces in the expectation that they might come under attack in the near future.
The Florentines, and their chief minister Machiavelli, are content with how their plans have progressed. Sitting on a large war chest and suffering no repercussions at home, they renew the attack on the Romagna whilst conducting an active if benign foreign policy. The Romagna continues to defy continued attacks but by late summer it has no strength left and the exhausted Florentine army secures the province. Machiavelli is pleased that his plans have succeeded and aware that the Pope has many enemies, he is the last in Italy to be surprised at the news of the Borgia Pope's death.
Pope Alexander is said to have died from the excesses of the month long celebration of his son's victory. A conclave of cardinals was quickly formed to elect a new pope and Cesare was confident of securing the Pontificate as he had Spanish support and an army at his back. However, powerful interests were ranged against him. Della Roviere had been in exile in France for many years. His lands had been confiscated by the Borgia and many of his kinsmen had been personally murdered by Cesare. He had tried to poison and assassinate Alexander on many occasions but had been thwarted each time by Cesare. Obviously, he was the natural choice to be the next head of Christ's church on earth and the French king was able to secure votes and money to ensure his election as Pope Julius II. Cesare was forced to flee to Naples for his life!
As Autumn arrived in the Po valley, the Imperial army advanced into Como. The Duke sent Da Vinci to help in it's preparations and the defence works he designed and constructed were celebrated as a marvel of the modern age. The French army was also entrenched and reluctant to try its luck against Da Vinci's field works. However, the French court was angry at the lack of aggression by the French commander and many in the army wrote home of lost opportunities and missed chances to take Milan and humiliate the Emperor. Bowing to the pressure at home, the king left Paris to take personal charge of his army, vowing to take Milan before the onset of winter.
Machiavelli's hubris was somewhat shaken by rebellions in Piombino and Camandoli. The harvest had been poor and anger at the level of taxation had been building up during the summer. The senate decided to consolidate its recent gains and ordered detachments to billet themselves in Pisa where there had been rumblings of discontent amongst the nobilty. The army was so weakened by its campaigns in Urbino and the Romagna that it was in no fit state to put down the rebellions. However, as the year came to an end Machiavelli remained content that with an ally as Pope and a French army deployed in Lombardy, Florentine influence and power was strong.
Venetian fears were confirmed that their strategic position was worsening at news that the Swiss Grisons had descended from their mountain strongholds to take the Tyrolean passes and cut off supplies to the Imperial army. The Grisons had long been enemies of the Emperor and had claimed the Tyrol as rightfully theirs. They were known to oppose any Imperial control of Milan but it was a mystery as to how and from where they had secured funds for their attack. The Emperor threatened to retreat from Milan through Venetian territory unless the Doge came to his aid. Fearful that the French would quickly overwhelm Milan he felt he had no choice but to open up Vincenza, Brescia and Treviso as supply routes for the Imperial army.
Buoyed by his election and secure that there was no threat from the north, Pope Julius risked an attack into Neopolitan territory. The papacy had long claimed Abruzzi as a fief of the Vatican and declaring no ill will against the Spanish he hoped to secure the province before winter and before any Spanish army of relief. He would then use diplomacy to hold on to his gains. The French king supports the Popes plans as he is jealous of Spanish control of Naples. Unfortunately, the papal army was weakened by its campaign in Ancona and the Abruzzians put up a spirited defence in spite of the fearsome Papal artillery and generous bribes. A desperate assault takes the city walls but the garrison retreats to the citadel in the hope of a relieving army. The following day swarms of Spanish Jinetes announce the imminent arrival of the main Spanish army. The Spanish Viceroy conducts an effective harrying of the papal army as it barely escapes back to Ancona. Julius's gamble has failed and he now faces the prospect of war with Spain.
At this point shocking news hits all the courts of Europe. The Ottoman Sultan has arrayed an enormous army at Constantinople and his legendary admiral Barborossa is conducting destructive raids against Christian territories across the Mediterranean. No one in Christendom knows where the main attack will fall. The outlying strongholds of the Venetian empire demand help from the Doge and a fleet is despatched to Cyprus in anticipation of an attack. The Imperial Diet demands that the Emperor devotes his power to the defence of the Empire and the Spanish king is concerned at the vulnerability of his extensive coastal provinces. Pope Julius cannot believe his luck and a mass is said in thanks to God! With no army and little means to withstand a Spanish attack he declares a crusade and promises to help Spain in it's hour of need. The Spanish Vice Roy is ordered to make an immediate peace with the Pope which Julius sweetens by ordaining several new Spanish cardinals including the Viceroys son.
The repercussions of the crusade are wide ranging. The French king is forced to call off his attack on Milan in solidarity with the Emperor against the Turk. He is angry that he has made such little gain for all his exertions and takes Como as compensation; he demands that Florence give him either Urbino or the Romagna in payment for his alliance.
Without the support of the Imperial Diet, the Emperor has no resources to enforce his will in Northern Italy. He demands territory from either Venice or Milan in compensation. The Grisons, aware that the Imperial army is returning, relinquish the Tyrol and flee into the mountains.
As 1500 comes to an end taxes are collected and plans made for the coming year.