First Italian War

Charles V

At the beginning of the 16th century Europe was in a period of relative stability. In fact Spain, France, England and the Sacred Roman Empire had signed the Treaty of London, in which all countries agreed that if one of the broke the peace, the rest would be allied to defeat it.

On the other hand Roman Emperor Maximilian I wanted a Hapsburg to succeed him, and he favoured Charles I of Spain. Francis I of France proposed himself as a candidate. At the same time Martin Luther's reformist theological ideas threatened the Papacy and the Sacred Roman Empire's power over the German Prince-Electors, who were the ones that had to choose amongst the candidate kings for Roman Empire's throne

When Maximilian I died the Pope Leon X supported Francis' candidacies. Both candidates and Maximilian himself before his death had tried to bribe the electors with enormous sums of money. But the choice was not decided by payoffs, but rather by the outrage at the idea of having a Frenchman as head of the Germanic Empire. On October 23, 1520, Charles I of Spain was crowned Emperor of the Sacred Empire, as Charles V and his new title was unified with his Spanish ones.

Francis I did not dare to openly attack Charles, instead deciding to do it more covertly. An undercover military incursion was organized in the Low Countries (near the river Meuse) and he financed a Navarre army that rose up against Castile (which had conquered Navarre in 1512). The objective was to restore the deposed King Henry II of Navarre and obtain an alliance. However this didn't work as planned. Castile sent an army of some 30,000 men that crushed the Navarre forces. The French always denied their involvement in either, however this actions were the seeds of what would become the First Italian War.

Martin Lutero

In the meanwhile Charles V was concerned with Martin Luther. For the emperor, Catholicism was away to tie all his states to him and the pope Leon X wasn't about to allow his authority challenged, so both supported each other mutually. Charles offered Leon X to return Parma and Piacenza to the Medici family and Milan to the Sforza, and in turn the pope promised to expel the French from Lombardy.

Invasion of France

The first campaign took place in June, 1521. The imperial forces, commanded by Henry III of Nassau-Breda, invaded the northeast of France, where they took some cities such as Ardres and Mouzon. The French resisted ferociously, fronted by Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard and Anne de Montmorency. While the imperial troops besieged Mézières, Francis I was able to gather an army and come in time for the confrontation with Charles' troops, commanded by Charles himself.

However Francis I hesitated and Charles retreated and the weather prevented the French from giving chase to the invading troops. Some time later they took the city of Fuenterrabía, a strategic position in the Franco-Spanish border, giving the French an advantageous position in the North of Spain.

Adding to the French's already weakened position, Henry VIII, Charles and Leon X signed an alliance against France in November, 1521. The French governor in Milan, Odet Of Foix, Viscount Of Lautrec, was given the mission to resist the imperial and papal troops, but he was defeated and expelled from Milan and took refuge in one of the towns surrounding the Adda river, near the frontier between Italy and Switzerland. Unfortunately for Charles, Leon X died that year.

There Lautrec increased his ranks with Swiss soldiers and in 1522 attacked the combined imperial and papal troops, however the Swiss were defeated by the Spaniards. Lautrec, whose army had been decimated, left Lombardy. The Spanish course of action was to besiege Genoa and they took the city on the thirtieth of May that year.

England gets involved

At Lautrec's defeat England decides to partake in the war. A British ambassador gave Francis I an ultimatum presenting a number of accusations, all of which the French king denied, provoking Charles V and Henry VIII to sign the Treaty of Windsor on June 16, 1522, in which both countries agreed to attack France with an army of 40,0000 men each.