In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Italian Wars, 1494–1559

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Overviews
  • Renaissance Warfare
  • Soldiers and Civilians
  • Collections of Papers

Renaissance and Reformation Italian Wars, 1494–1559
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0463


According to the Florentine historian Francesco Guicciardini, Italy enjoyed peace and plenty in the years around 1490. From 1494 it was plunged into what he and others regarded as a series of “calamities,” triggered by the French kings Charles VIII (r. 1483–1498) and Louis XII (r. 1498–1515), who claimed to rule the kingdom of Naples and the duchy of Milan, respectively. Francis I (r. 1515–1547) retained the claim to Milan, and the wars themselves continued through the reign of Henry II (r. 1547–1559). Rule over Naples was contested and secured by Ferdinand II of Aragon (r. 1479–1516) and maintained by his Iberian successors. Milan was an imperial fief, so was contested by Ferdinand’s grandson Charles V in his capacity as Holy Roman emperor (r. 1519–1556). The conflicts waged in Italy in the names of these various princes between 1494 and 1559 are collectively known as the Italian Wars. They include the War of the League of Cambrai (1508–1516), that of the League of Cognac (1526–1530), and the War of Siena (1552–1559). This article approaches the wars by means of Reference Works and Overviews specifically devoted to the Italian Wars, though it is also worth teasing information from histories of Renaissance Warfare. Contemporary Sources provide innumerable angles on a subject that can be difficult to define beyond events on the battlefield or the besieged city and are therefore subdivided into four types: Memoirs and Chronicles, Histories, Official Records, and cultural evidence, the last of which appears under the heading Art of War, Art and War. Some publications deal with individual episodes or short spans of time and therefore feature in a Chronology of War, itself subdivided at the death of Louis XII/accession of Francis I, 1494–1515 and 1515–1559. The biographical genre—Lives and Times—is the most obvious way of dealing with the leading protagonists, who tended to be Princes, but group studies are also relevant when one turns to Subjects and Citizens who contributed to the conflicts in some form or other. Some authors have confined their research to military history, including the recruitment of soldiers, their pay, and provisions, as well as their activities on the battlefield, but the Italian Wars witnessed so much overlap between the lives of Soldiers and Civilians that they are brought together in the penultimate section of the article, which then concludes with the miscellanies that are Collections of Papers.

Reference Works

If Holmes 2001 is typical, the Italian Wars are not well served by standard reference works and alternative guides are necessary. The website Condottieri di ventura contains a wealth of material on the mercenary commanders who entered into contracts with states to provide a set number of infantry or cavalry—initially from their own estates—for a specific length of time. That model still existed in the first half of the sixteenth century, even if larger European states had begun the process of developing standing armies under a permanent central command. Condottieri di ventura lacks the flexibility of some websites launched in more recent years, but the scale of the project nevertheless impressed Michael Mallett (d. 2008), an authority on Italian mercenaries. For more detailed information about individual commanders who operated in Italy and the political leaders who employed them, see Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI), which should also be the first port of call for further reading.

  • Condottieri di ventura.

    The bulk of this website consists of alphabetically arranged biographical entries on condottieri who operated in Italy between 1330 and 1550. A separate section lists battles chronologically. In these entries the commanders on each side are featured and notes are provided on numbers of combatants, casualties, and other salient features. Other sections include a glossary of military terms and a bibliography. The raw data makes this website a useful teaching resource.

  • Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–.

    Combatants from the various European states can be traced through the biographical dictionaries of their home states, but the DBI is the most relevant of such publications. It contains not only detailed accounts and thorough bibliographies for many of the Italian-born participants, but also includes entries for non-Italian individuals who made a significant impact in the peninsula.

  • Holmes, Richard, ed. The Oxford Companion to Military History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    A standard reference work covering all periods but favoring the modern. There are entries on “Italian Wars, French (1494–1559),” Charles V, and François I, but Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, Gaston de Foix, and Francesco Gonzaga are the only commanders to receive such treatment, and Cerignola (1503) the only battle. Non-biographical entries such as “Armour, Body,” “Fortification and Siegecraft,” “Landsknecht,” and “Swiss” are nevertheless relevant.

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