It’s 1503. After the second phase of the Italian Wars,the French following their defeats at Cerignola and Garigliano renounce all their claims tothe Kingdom of Naples, and in return are allowed to keep Milan. They are also in de facto control of all ofnorth western Italy: Genoa, Savoy and Saluzzo. Rome has a new pope, Julius II. Julius was the arch enemy of his predecessor,Alexander VI, the Borgia pope. While Alexander was pope,
he actively pursueda nepotistic policy of giving land and title to his son, Cesare Borgia, carving out a Borgiastate at the expense of the Papal States. Julius will have none of this. His aim is to make the Papal States greatagain. He strips Cesare Borgia of all his lands andtitles and begins to reconquer his realm.
But there is a problem. In the turmoil of the previous years, thecities of the northern Romagna have sought protection against the Borgias from Venice. Venice now occupies these papal lands. Julius summons Venice to immediately vacatethe Romagna and hand it back to the papacy. Venice declines the request. The pope is furious, however his capabilitiesare limited. The Republic of Venice is by far the strongeststate in Italy.
To defeat her, papal armies alone will notsuffice. Julius needs a strong ally… or two. Like previous Italian princes, he decidesto temporarily sacrifice Italian independence to further his personal goals. He plans to exploit Venice’s political isolation. Venice derives its wealth from the highlylucrative spice trade conducted via Mameluk Egypt. To safeguard its interests, the Republic iscurrently allied with non-Christian Egypt in it’s war against Christian Portugal. Public opinion of the day is not favorableto Venice.
Additionally there are several territorialclaims against Venice. After the first French invasion of Italy,Venice grabbed the port cities of Otranto and Brindisi that rightfully belong to Naples. Ferdinand II, King of Spain wants them back. Ferdinand is also indebted to the pope. In 1506 the pope declared all the seas betweenthe Tordesillas line and the Straits of Malacca the sovereign domain of Spain. France, the main power broker in northernItaly also has territorial claims towards Venice. Before the second invasion of Italy,
Franceand the Republic agreed to divide the Duchy of Milan between them. Everything east of the river Adda was givento Venice. Now Louis XII wants the whole of the duchy,including the city of Cremona for himself. The pope has ample political munitions touse against Venice. In 1507 Louis travels to Italy to crush arebellion in Genoa. Ferdinand also travels to Naples to consolidatehis power there. The two monarchs met near Genoa to discussthe issue of Venice. Both agree Venice needed to be cut down tosize. Maximilian I,
Holy Roman Emperor also hasa bone to pick with Venice. Verona, Vicenza and Padua had been part ofthe Holy Roman Empire up to the 15th century. Now Maximilian wants them back. In February, 1508 he declares war on Venice,and crosses into Venetian territory with the aim of capturing Vicenza. The Venetians quickly move to counter him. Under the energetic leadership of Bartolomeod’Alviano they crush the imperial army and force them to turn back to Tyrol. Like the pope before him,
Maximilian realizeshe cannot defeat Venice alone. In December 1508 imperial and French delegates meet at Cambrai and decide to launch a concerted attack on Venice the following year. The Pope, Spain and Ferrara join the Leagueof Cambrai later; Hungary and England are also invited, but decline for now. In 1509 the gears of war begin to turn. By April the French amass a huge army of some25.000,
including 2500 men at arms, 8000 Swiss, and a number of Landsteiner. The Venetians field an equally large army. However they make the same mistake as at the Battle of Forlorn. They split the command between two men. Niccolo di Politician is in overall command;however half of the army is placed under Bartolomeo d’Alviano. The two commanders disagree on how the warshould be pursued. Pitigliano favors a cautious approach; Alvianoinsists the Venetians should attack first. While the Venetians argue about strategy,
the French make an unopposed crossing of the Adda at Cassano. They take the initiative and begin to movesouth along the Adda threatening Crema and Cremona. The Venetians form two columns and start tomove south parallel to the French. Alviano insists they must attack the Frenchbefore they reach Crema; however he is overruled by Pitigliano, who insists they must retreatto higher ground and face the French from a more advantageous position.
On the 14th of May, the French initiate anattack on Alviano’s rearguard. The first to attack is a group of men at armsand a detachment of Swiss pikemen. Innitially they fail to make headway the Venetianinfantry being well entrenched on a small hill. Alviano rushes to the battle with his vanguard,and sends word to Pitigliano to immediately come to his aid. Pitigliano orders him to break off contactand withdraw to his position. However by the time this message reaches Alviano,the French are already pouring in more and more reinforcements.
Soon withdrawal becomes impossible for Alviano. At this point a determined attack by Pitiglianocould have turned the battle in Venice’s favour. His inaction seals the fate of Alviano’s column. The French surround the Venetians on threesides. A brutal massacre ensues. The French only give quarter to high rankingItalians, Including Alviano himself, who is captured and transported to France. Pitigliano’s corps retreats towards Venicebut most of his army deserts when news of the catastrophe at Agnadello reaches them. Left without a field army, Venice has no otherchoice but to vacate most of its territory. Cremona and Brescia surrender to the French.
In the south Brindisi and Otranto are cededto Spain. Verona, Vicenza and Padua are occupied by Maximilian. The pope retakes his lands in the Romagna. What took Venice 150 years to acquire evaporatesin a fortnight. Luckily for the Venetians, the French haltat Brescia. They are content with their gains and failto pursue their enemy. The pope is also content. His original goal of getting back the few cities Venice had occupied had been achieved. In fact the most important ramification ofthe Battle of Agnadello was that it proved once again that no Italian power could standin France’s way. Like Ludovico Sforza after the first invasion,the pope now realizes that France’s power and ambition is the greatest threat to a desired balance of power in Italy. Julius resolved one problem, but got another,far bigger problem in return. Solving it will require much effort and much intrigue.