Tuesday, 10 November 2015
1503 to 1504 AD
The Venetians were quick to accept the Spanish request for help. A Fleet was sent to North Africa, where it helped in the subjugation of Oran and an army disembarked outside the walls of Bari, which soon capitulated. The Spanish King was pleased to have a powerful ally in Italy which could maintain its position in the peninsular whilst he expanded his empire at the expense of the infidel. However, by the summer of 1503 the Sultan had concluded peace terms with the Emperor and troops and ships were now free to counter the Spanish threat. Reluctantly, the Spaniards also agreed to peace, returning Algiers but holding onto Oran. The rebellion in Bari and the quick response of Venice had indicated how weak the Spanish position was in Italy, and an army was shipped to Naples as soon as peace was signed.
The Duke of Milan was determined to recover his position in Northern Italy before the great powers could effectively intervene and raised a large loan on the international market in order to finance its ambitions. Novarra was soon recovered but many were surprised by the retaking of Como. Como was the main aquisition of France in its campaign prior to the crusade and it had taken no precautions for its defence but counted on the continuing weakness of Milan. This mistaken policy was successfully exploited by the Duke as Mont-Ferrat and Turin fell in succession.
France had been intriguing with the Church Party throughout 1503 as it attempted to wrest control of the Genoese government from Milan. Much money was spent but the most influential citizens of the republic continued to see nominal independence under the protection of the Duke preferable to absorption by France.
Meanwhile France had been busy in cooperation with Florence and the Papacy. A French army landed in Pisa and marched north against Lucca. Confident that this small republic would quickly succumb to the might of France there was consternation that it took three assaults before the city fell; this boded ill for the future success of French arms.
In concert with this French attack, Florence and the Pope had combined their armies for an attack on Bologna. Bologna had increased its defences during the winter and it stoutly held out against the initial attacks but the combined artillery train of the Allies had breached the walls by late spring and the combined Florentine Senate and Papal curia organised a joint triumphal march through the breached gates as a sign of their shared ownership of Bologna.
During the spring of 1503 there occurred the curious case of the death of Leonardo DaVinci. Honoured by the Duke and revered as the saviour of his state by the whole of Italy, the Duke had been angered when DaVinci had sought new honours and greater wealth. When the Duke discovered that DaVinci had accepted a lucrative position with the Florentines he ordered the ungrateful DaVinci to be imprisoned. Soon after he was found poisoned and the whole of Christendom blamed the Duke; although he pleaded his innocence.
None of the combatants were in any fit condition to wage further campaigns in 1503 but the diplomacy was intense. Behind the scenes, Spain and France vied for diplomatic supremacy whilst Machiavelli endeavoured to exploit the fluid politics of Italy to Florence's advantage. Again, the French tried to improve their position in Northern Italy by engineering a coup in Genoa, and again, this was only just thwarted by Milan. France now saw that it must bring it's main army from Lucca to Savoy in order to thwart any further attacks by Milan. It's failure to secure Genoa meant that the army had to return by sea. The Genoese had blockaded Savoy and a Venetian fleet sailed nearby. The French were not sure of the Venetians intentions and decided to close with the Genoese and force their way through. As the French galleys pushed into the blockading lines, the Genoese were seen to buckle, and it was at this point that the Venetian admiral showed his hand. Galeasses sailed up to support the Genoese van and used their superior firepower to drive off the French Galleys. The French transports, that were positioned some way off from the battle, decided that Savoy would be too difficult to attain and fled towards Marseille. The uncommitted French Main and Rear thought that the transports could see more Venetian reinforcements over the horizon and fled in the same direction. The French Admiral, who had led the French attack cursed the perfidy of Venice and joined the rest of his fleeing fleet.
Both the Pope and Florence now believed their treaty of non-aggression with Venice had been violated by the Venetian fleet and complained bitterly to the Doge and intrigued with the French.
During the winter of 1503/04 news of the French reverses reached the court in Paris and the army was ordered to cross the Alps into Savoy ready to attack Turin in the Spring. The Duke of Milan rebuilt and reinforced all his conquests in anticipation of this attack. The Duke especially hired German mercenaries to hold Turin and sent extra artillery to ensure its defence was effective. Whilst the French moved against Turin the Duke attacked and took Savoy forcing the French to rely on a precarious supply route over the Alps. The French commander, concerned that time was against him put his whole army into the siege lines determined to batter and assault his way into Turin. The result was bloody, but by the slimmest of margins the German mercenaries were able to withstand each attack and the Duke's fearsome artillery wrought destruction amongst the French contingents. Unable to maintain the siege by the summer, the French were in full retreat over the Alps. The Duke was jubilant at his great victory and all in Italy were aware that the balance of power may have changed.
Meanwhile, the Pope was trying to exploit the French attack by laying siege to Padua, aware that Venice could expect no help from Milan. The Duke of Ferrara was keen to help the Pope achieve his humiliation of Venice and joined him in the siege lines. As part of this grand strategy, Florence advanced against Modena hoping to secure an easy victory against the overstretched Milanese. The Papal armies took Padua but the Florentines were repulsed and news of the French defeat and Florentine reverse led to riots in the streets of Florence as the Medici faction sought to exploit the news. Many were still angry at Machiavelli giving up Urbino to the French and the Spanish were quick to send aid to the Medici, eager to extend their influence at the expense of France. The news of the French defeat sparked a rebellion in the Romagna and the cry went out that the French in Urbino had aided this uprising. Machiavelli fled Florence and during the summer months the Medici with Spanish support consolidated their regime.
The French court was dismayed at the continuous bad news from Italy and decided on a campaign to remove the Sforza Duke once and for all. Its battered army retired to Dauphine were money was sent to rebuild it for a renewed attack in 1505.
The Pope was keen to maintain his campaign against Padua and chose to believe the Medici's promises of continued support. However, aware of French weakness and prompted by Spain, Florence moved against Lucca in the late summer and then turned on the Romagna during the autumn. The Pope was now bereft of support but was determined to protect his position in Ferrara. The Venetians had been surprised by the temerity of the Pope but had assembled their whole force in Mantua and around Venice for the counter attack. During the summer months both armies sought to divide the other without exposing their own armies to risk but by the autumn the Venetians were besieging Padua and on the brink of retaking it. Venetian light troops harassed Ferrara but the Pope sought a decisive battle against the Venetian besiegers and all Italy looked on in anticipation of a clash that may decide the course of the campaign.