Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Campaign of Charles VIII. (1493)

From grasping at province after province on their own border, however, the French kings were now to turn to wider dreams of conquest abroad. Together with the county of Provence, Louis XI. had bought from King René all the claims of the house of Anjou. Among these was included a claim to the kingdom of Naples. Louis's son, Charles VIII., a vain and shallow lad, was tempted by the possession of large treasures and a fine army to listen to the persuasions of an Italian intriguer, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and put forward these pretensions, thus beginning a war which lasted nearly as long as the Hundred Years' War with England.

But it was a war of aggression instead of a war of self-defence. Charles crossed the Alps in 1493, marched the whole length of Italy without opposition, and was crowned at Naples; while its royal family, an illegitimate offshoot from the Kings of Aragon, fled into Sicily, and called on Spain for help. But the insolent exactions of the French soldiery caused the people to rise against them; and when Charles returned, he was beset at Fornovo by a great league of Italians, over whom he gained a complete victory. Small and puny though he was, he fought like a lion, and seemed quite inspired by the ardour of combat. The "French fury," la furia Francese, became a proverb among the Italians.

Charles neglected, however, to send any supplies or reinforcements to the garrisons he had left behind him in Naples, and they all perished under want, sickness, and the sword of the Spaniards. He was meditating another expedition, when he struck his head against the top of a doorway, and died in 1498.

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