The Renaissance


The word "renaissance" means "to be born again." The transition period between the Middle Ages and the modern era, during which there was a cultural and intellectual rebirth in European civilization, is therefore spoken of as the Renaissance.

The Renaissance began in Italy in the 14th century, and reached its height in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. Great developments were made in the arts (by such notables as Leonardo Di Vinci, Michelangelo, Cervantes, and Shakespeare). Machiavelli was the political thinker of the age.

The Protestant Reformation (1517) began as a reform movement within the Catholic Church, but ended as a revolution which brought religious pluralism to Europe. Both commercial interests and intellectual curiosity led to the great voyages of discovery, which in turn led to a fierce competition among European nations to establish colonies in farflung lands. Both religious strife and political rivalries were important causes of the wars of this period.

The warfare of this period was affected by developing technologies:

In military terms, the period is perhaps best described as pike and shot, describing the principal arms of the foot soldiers of the time. Tactics developed from the medieval mass to linear deployments, due partly to the influence of Greek and Roman texts rediscovered and translated during the period. The inability of the shot of the time to repel cavalry led to interesting battlefield tactics. This era also covers the rise and fall of the popularity of the pike block.

The Wars

The Hundred Years' War (1337–1453)

Conflict between the kings of France and England for control of France.

Underlying Causes. The English and French kings came into conflict because:

  1. The English held lands (the duchy of Guienne) within France, and the French kings wished to dispossess the English and centralize power.
  2. The French supported Scottish independence, opposing English interests.
  3. The growing French domination of Flanders (hub of the cloth industry) threatened the English wool trade.

Edward III of England provokes the war by laying claim to the French crown. The Capetian dynastry of France had died out with the passing of Charles IV in 1328. Edward made a claim to the French throne by right of his mother's inheritance. However, the French courts reject inheritance through the female line.

Battle of Sluis (1340). The English fleet engages and destroys the French fleet. Afterwards, Edward assumes the title of King of France.

Battle of Crecy (1346). An outnumbered English army destroys the French cavalry through superior tactics and use of the longbow. This victory leads to a long but successful siege of the port of Calais, followed by an 8-year truce.

The Black Plague ravages Europe (1348-9), carried by black rats and fleas. In some areas, nearly two thirds of the population will die.

The English ravage Languedoc (1354-5), meeting little opposition.

Battle of Poitiers [Maupertuis] (1356). Edward's eldest son, the Black Prince, leads the army which crushes the French army near Poitiers. The French king and a thousand of his knights are taken prisoner. Civil war erupts in France.

The Treaty of Bretigny (1360) brings this phase of the war to an end. Edward renounces his claim to the French throne, but receives Guienne, Ponthieu, and Calais. The French pay a ransom for the return of King John.

The Black Death returns to England and France in 1861.

French king John II dies in English captivity (1364). He had been ransomed in return for the captivity of three sons, but when one of his sons escaped, John was honorbound to return.

Harsh English taxes in Aquitaine lead to a revolt in 1369, prompting Charles V of France to renew the war.

Battle of La Rochelle (1372). The French defeat the English, aided by a Castilian fleet which blocks English shipping.

In 1371, the Black Death strikes England for the third time.

The French general Bertrand Du Guesclin wins back all but a few seaports. The senility of King Edward hobbles English resistance. An English raid by John of Gaunt (1373) accomplishes little.

The Treaty of Bruges (1375) brings a temporary halt to the war.

A peace is concluded in 1396, as King Richard II of England marries the daughter of Charles VI of France.

Louis, duc d'Orleans, attacks England's French possessions (1406). This leads to his assassination, precipitating a French civil war between the Burgundians (pro-English) and Orleanists (anti-English).

The Black Death strikes London again (1407).

War resumes in 1415, as Henry V of England lands in France. The French king is insane, and France is split between rival factions. Henry allies with the Burgundians, with the objective of unifying England and France under a single crown.

Battle of Agincourt (1415). An English army (6,000 archers, 1,000 men-at-arms, plus a few thousand footmen) defeats a French army five times its size. Again, the longbow prevails over French cavalry. Among the French dead are 3 dukes, 5 counts, 90 barons, and 5,000 knights.

In a three-year campaign, Henry conquers Normandy.

The Treaty of Troyes (1420) recognizes Henry V as heir to the French throne, and arranges his marriage to the French princess.

In 1422, King Henry V dies of dysentery. French king Charles VI also dies. Young Henry VI is proclaimed king of England and France. The king's uncle, John of Lancaster, resumes the war against the dauphin (eldest son of the former French king).

Battle of Verneuil (1424). The English defeat a French-Scottish army.

The Siege of Orleans (1828-9). English forces besiege Orleans, the last stronghold of the dauphin. However, a shepherd girl comes to Charles VII with the news that heavenly powers have ordered her to deliver the city. He gives her a small army, and Joan of Arc (Jeanne D'Arc) liberates Orleans.

Battle of Patay (1429). Joan of Arc defeats the English at Patay, but is unsuccessful in her siege of Paris.

Joan of Arc persuades the dauphin to reject the Treaty of Troyes. He is crowned Charles VII, King of France.

In 1430, Joan of Arc is captured by the Burgundians, and given to their allies the English. Charles VII makes no effort to save her. She is tried by an ecclesiastical court, then burned at the stake in Rouen (1431).

John of Lancaster dies (1435), depriving England of its best field commander. The Burgundians switch sides, allying with Charles VII.

The French retake Paris (1436).

The English take Harfleur (1440).

The French conquer the English possessions in southwest France (1442), with the exception of Bayonne and Bordeaux.

Charles VII renews the war in 1448, taking Maine.

Battle of Formigny (1450). A French triumph, completing the reconquest of Normandy.

Battle of Castillon (1453). John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, lands with 3,000 men. The Bordelais rise to his support, but John is killed and his army defeated at Castillon. The Bordelais surrender to the French. This is the last battle of the Hundred Years War.

Consequences of the War:

The Wars of the Roses (1455-1485)

Civil war between two rival noble houses of England. The two sides are the Lancastrians (whose badge was a red rose) and the Yorkists (whose political descendants, the Tudors, will use the white rose as emblem). Thus the conflict is known as the Wars of the Roses.

Underlying Causes. England is governed by a weak king. Henry VI suffers from bouts of insanity, is blamed for major defeats in France (see The Hundred Years War), the economy is ailing, and his wife and advisors are unpopular.

The House of Lords appoints Richard, duke of York, as Lord Protector while the king is incapacitated. When Henry recovers, however, Queen Margaret has Richard removed from office. Richard, who has a claim to the English throne as a descendant of Edward III, takes up arms and the wars begin.

Battle of St. Albans (1455). A Yorkist victory is followed by Henry's renewed insanity, and Richard is again appointed Lord Protector.

Battle of Northampton (1460). When Henry recovers, the queen again takes power from the Yorkists, who flee into exile. The Yorkists invade from Ireland and France, capturing Henry at Northampton. The two sides negotiate a compromise, allowing Henry to rule as king, but Richard to succeed him.

Battle of Wakefield (1460). Queen Margaret, whose son would have been disinherited by the negotiated compromise, raises an army and meets the Yorkists at Wakefield. The Lancastrians are victorious, and Richard of York is killed.

Battle of Mortimer's Cross (1461). Edward, 19-year-old son of Richard, defeats the Lancastrians.

Second Battle of St. Albans (1461). Margaret of Anjou's army defeats the Yorkists, and rescues King Henry.

Battle of Towton (1461). On Palm Sunday, Edward defeats the Lancastrians in "the bloodiest battle on English soil." Following this victory, King Henry flees to France, and Edward is crowned.

Edward IV secretly marries Elizabeth Woodville (1464). When the marriage becomes public knowledge, the powerful Earl of Warwick (known as "the kingmaker") is angered. He also disagrees with the king's foreign policy.

In 1465, the Yorkists capture Henry and imprison him.

Battle of Stamford (1470). Warwick changes sides, takes London, and releases Henry from prison. Edward battles Warwick at Stamford, winning with the aid of artillery. Warwick flees to France, but Edward too is forced to flee (to Burgundy).

Battle of Barnet (1471). Edward returns to England and defeats the Lancastrians at Barnet. Warwick is killed in battle.

Battle of Tewkesbury (1471). Edward defeats Margaret of Anjou's army, and her only son is slain. She is taken prisoner and ransomed to France. Shortly afterwards, her husband Henry is found dead in prison, murdered. The direct Lancastrian line is extinct.

In 1483, King Edward IV dies suddenly. His brother, Richard, is named Lord Protector on behalf of two young princes. However, Richard then claims the princes are illegitimate, and has himself crowned as Richard III. Soon afterward, the young princes are murdered.

Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). The Henry Tudor (head of the remaining Lancastrian house) gathers an army (with French support) and lands in Wales. He and his Welsh allies defeat Richard III, who is found slain on the field of battle. Henry VII founds the Tudor dynasty, bringing the wars to an end.

The Italian Wars (1494-1553)

Series of wars (chiefly between France and Spain) for control of the small Italian states.

Underlying Causes. The small independant states of Italy were militarily weak, and had the misfortune to be located near several powerful nations.

Charles of France Invades Italy. Charles VIII allies with Milan and invades Italy (1494), taking Naples (1495). He is opposed by a coalition (the Pope, Holy Roman Emperor, Spain, Venice, and -- changing sides -- Milan). Ferrandino of Naples retakes the city following the Battle of Fornovo. Charles' fleet is captured at Rapallo, his army surrenders at Novaro, and he flees to France. The soldiers suffer from Europe's first known outbreak of syphilis.

In 1498, Charles VIII dies while preparing a new invasion force. He is succeeded by his cousin, who rules as Louis XII.

Louis of France Invades Italy. Louis XII allies with Venice, invades Italy (1499), and accepts the surrender of his former ally, Milan. Ludovico of Milan attempts to liberate his city, but is defeated at the Battle of Novara (1500) and imprisoned. Ferdinand of Spain aids Louis, who conquers the Kingdom of Naples (1501). Rome is occupied, and the Pope acknowledges Louis as King of Naples. German king Maximilian signs the Peace of Trent, recognizing French conquests. In 1502, Ferdinand of Spain sends a fleet to seize Taranto, supporting Louis.

France and Spain Split Italy. The alliance between Ferdinand and Louis is broken (1503). Ferdinand’s general Gonzalvo de Cordoba defeats the French, and Louis gives up all claims to Naples. The French army surrenders at Gaeta (1504). The Treaty of Lyons (1504) divides Italy between France (north) and Spain (south). Louis and Maximilian sign the Treaty of Blois (1504), which gives France control of Milan.

Germans Spar With The Venetians. Maximilian sets out for Rome, but the Venetians refuse to let him pass. The Germans attack (1508), but the fighting is called off when Maximilian receives protests.

The Pope's League Against Venice. Pope Julius II forms the Holy League of Cambrai (1508), uniting with France and Spain to regain papal territory on the Adriatic lost to Venice. He excommunicates Venice (1509), and the French defeat the Venetians at the Battle of Agnadello (1509). Maximilian joins the League, but fails in his siege of Padua.

The Pope Turns On France. The Pope forms a new Holy League (1510) with England, Spain, and the Swiss to expel the French from Italy. In 1511, the French gain Bologna, but lose Modena and Mirandola. Venice, no longer excommunicate, allies with the Pope. In the Battle of Ravenna (1512) the French are triumphant, as is their commander Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, at Brescia. However, Swiss, papal, and imperial forces drive the French and their mercenaries out of Milan. As compensation for their aid, the Swiss take Locarno, Lugano and Ossola. In an hour-long battle, the Swiss rout a combined French and Venetian army at the Battle of Novara (1513). The English and Germans defeat the French at Guinegate, also known as the Battle of the Spurs (1513) because of the manner in which the French depart the field of battle. Thus ends Louis' Italian adventures.

In 1513 Pope Julius II dies, and the Holy League is disbanded. In 1515, Louis XII dies and is succeeded by Frances I (Francois I).

Frances of France Invades Italy. The Battle of Marignano (1515) is a French triumph versus the Swiss and Venetians. The Pope and the Swiss make peace with Frances. France conquer Milan.

War With the Empire. In 1519, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I dies. His successor is Charles V, who by virtue of his inheritances now unites a vast Hapsburg empire (including Spain, Austria, Naples, Sicily, the Low Countries, and Spanish America). In 1520, a league of Spanish cities (the communeros) rebels against Charles and receive French support. Charles puts down the uprising. In 1522, Charles and his allies (the Pope, Mantua, and Florence) expel France from Milan. The French retake Milan in 1524, but at the Battle of Pavia (1525) the king's horse is shot out from under him and he is captured. While a prisoner, Frances signs the Treaty of Madrid (1526), renouncing his claims in Italy (and elsewhere).

France Forms A League. Once freed, Frances claims that the treaty was extorted from him. He forms an alliance (the League of Cognac) with the Pope, England, Venice and Florence. In retaliation, Charles V sacks Rome (1527) and takes the Pope prisoner. The French lay siege to Naples (1528), but a severe typhus epidemic forces the besiegers to retreat. The wars ends with the Peace of Cambrai (1529), in which Frances once again gives up all claims to Italy.

Frances' Third Italian War. Francesco of Milan dies (1535), ending the Sforza dynasty. Frances again claims Milan, allying with Suleiman the Magnificent (ruler of the Ottoman Empire). The French take Turin (1536), aided by Turkish fleets ravaging the Italian coast. The allies besiege Corfu (1537), which is successfully defended by the Venetians. The war ends inconclusively with the Truce of Nice (1538), followed by the Treaty of Toledo (1539).

The Sacking of Nice. In 1543, Frances sacks the imperial city of Nice with the aid of a Berber pirate, Kheir ad-Din Barbarossa. After two years of war, the Treaty of Crespy-en-Valois (1544) is signed in which Frances gives up claims to Italian territory. This is followed by the Peace of Andres (1546). Frances dies in 1547.

Henry of France Invades Italy. Henry II's army attacks Florence, but is defeated at the Battle of Marciano (1553). The French besiege Siena, but are forced to surrender by an imperial army (1555). The Spanish are victorious at the Battle of St. Quentin, driving the French from Italy. The war ends with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis (1559). While celebrating the treaty at a tournament, Henry II receives a mortal head wound (as foretold by Nostradamus).

Consequences of the Wars: Italy loses its independence, and is dominated by Spain for nearly two centuries.

The Wars of Religion [Huguenot Wars] (1562-1598)

Series of French civil wars, pitting Catholics against Huguenots (Protestant nobles and merchants).

Underlying Causes: Religious intolerance, starting with a massacre of Huguenots (French Protestants) by the orders of the Duke of Guise in 1562.

The wars are fought in 1562-63, 1567-8, 1568-70 (including the Battle of Jarnac), 1572-3 (beginning with the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre), 1574-6 (including the Battle of Dormans), 1577, and 1580.

In 1585, another civil war (the War of the Three Henri's) involves Henri of Guise and the revived Catholic League, King Henri III of France, and Protestant Henry of Navarre (heir to the throne). Henri III attempts to suppress Protestantism, but the Battle of Coutras (1587) is a victory for Henri of Navarre. Henri of Guise revolts against the king, but is assassinated. The two Henris march on Paris, but the king is assassinated by a vengeful monk. Henri of Navarre becomes king (1589), and defeats the Catholic League at the Battle of Arques (1589) and the Battle of Ivry (1590). The first siege of Paris (1590) is a failure, as is the siege of Rouen (1591-2), but Henry IV then renounces Protestantism and finally enters Paris in 1594.

Spain continues to support the Catholic faction, but following the Battle of Fontaine-Francaise (1595), the Spanish are driven from Burgundy. The Treaty of Vervins and Edict of Nantes (1598) grant political rights to the French Protestants, bringing the war to a close.

Naturally, this list is not exhaustive, and covers a large range of conflicts. For example, the Eighty Years War covers the revolt of the Netherlands, the Armada, the battles of Nieuport and Rocroi and innumerable sieges, not to mention the Dutch in the Americas and Far East. A truly world-wide conflict!

Last Updates
24 May 1996reformatted
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