While the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily was ruled over by Spain or by
Spanish collateral family branches into the 18th century, local ruling
dynasties of varying origins reigned in
the north and center of the Italian peninsula. The Milanese Sforza
family, descended from a mercenary soldier (condottiere), was ousted in
1515 when Francis I of France occupied Lombardy after his victory at
Following success over the French at
1 Pavia in 1525, the Habsburg
emperor Charles V then seized Milan as an imperial fief.
The Battle of Pavia. Tapestry in the Galleria Nazionale di
Battle of Pavia
(Feb. 24, 1525), the decisive military engagement of the war
in Italy between Francis I of France and the Habsburg
emperor Charles V, in which the French army of 28,000 was
virtually annihilated and Francis himself, commanding the
French army, was taken prisoner. Francis was sent to Madrid,
where, the following year, he concluded peace and
surrendered French claims to Italy.
The French army had been besieging the city of Pavia, 20
miles (30 kilometres) south of Milan, when the 23,000-man
Habsburg army under Fernando Francisco de Avalos, marchese
di Pescara, arrived to aid the 6,000-man garrison and lift
the siege. The battle began as a night surprise attack by
the Habsburg army with limited objectives and developed
unexpectedly into a decisive battle. A hasty French attack
was on the point of encircling Pescara when 1,500 Spanish
arquebusiers opened fire on the rear of the French cavalry
and riddled the ranks of the French and their allied Swiss
infantry. The French attacks thereafter, made by German and
Swiss mercenary infantry, were routed. The Spanish
counterattack, supported by the Pavia garrison, which joined
in the battle, completely swept the French from the field,
destroying Francis’ army as a fighting force in the process.
Spanish hegemony in Italy dates from this battle. The Battle
of Pavia also marks the ascendancy of the arquebus, at least
in Spanish hands, over mounted shock action (that is,
The history of the
3 Medici family in Florence was eventful.
3 The Cathedral of Florence with the bell tower by Giotto di
Bondone and the dome by Brunelleschi
They rose to become the unofficial rulers of the city and particularly
distinguished themselves as patrons of the arts. Cosimo the Elder (Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici),
summoned the sculptor
Donatello to his court in the 15th century.
worked for his grandson
Lorenzo de Medici in Florence.
After Lorenzo's death, however, the family was driven out by the monk
Savonarola, who established a form of theocratic republic in
4 Savonarola's execution in Florence, painting, ca. 1500
The Medici returned in 1513. After the murder of Alessandro de'
Medici—who, as son-in-law of Charles V gained the title of duke of
Florence for his family in 1532—Cosimo I, a distant cousin, took over
the dukedom in 1537 and became a leading power in northern Italy. Cosimo
established himself as absolute ruler, founded the famous collection of
paintings in the Pitti Palace, and conquered Siena, which he absorbed
into Tuscany in 1555. In 1569 he was elevated to grand duke of Tuscany.
When the Medici line died out in 1737, the grand duchy was given to
Francis Stephen (later Emperor Francis I) in exchange for Lorraine. His
son Peter Leopold, the later Emperor Leopold II, transformed Tuscany
into a model state of enlightened absolutism and a center of independent
sciences through extensive social reforms.
The ancient royal house of Este was granted
the imperial fiefs of Modena and Reggio by the emperor in 1452 and in
1471 was awarded 5
Ferrara as a dukedom by the pope.
5 Castello Estense in Ferrara
Ercole I laid out Ferrara as a modern city with wide, straight streets.
His son Alfonso I was married to the pope's daughter Lucrezia Borgia.
When the direct line died out with Alfonso II in 1597, the pope took
back Ferrara as a papal fief in 1598, but Este relatives still ruled in
Modena until the French occupation in 1796.
The main branch of the Gonzaga family reigned in Mantua.
Margrave Giovanni Francesco III was married to
Isabella d'Este, who made Mantua into an
important cultural center.
Their son Federigo II gained the title of duke in 1530. The extinction
of the direct line in 1627 led to the War of Mantuan Succession
The emperor seized Mantua as an imperial fief in 1708.
Pope 7 Paul III of the House
of Farnese made his illegitimate son Pier Luigi the duke of Parma and
Piacenza in 1545.
6 Isabella d' Este, Duchesse of Mantua,
7 Pope Paul III and his nephews,
see also collection:
However, the duke was murdered and the land was then occupied by
imperial troops. His son Ottavio was able to regain the estates in 1538
through his marriage to Margaret, the illegitimate daughter of Emperor
Charles V. Their son Alexander became governor of the Netherlands in
1578. The Farnese line died out in 1731, and Parma was initially seized
by the emperor as an imperial fief, but eventually in 1748 through
marriage came into the hands of the Spanish Bourbons, who also ruled
Naples and Sicily.
Another papal family, the della Rovere, gained possession of Urbino.
Here, the governor and condottiere Federigo da Montefeltro received the
ducal title in 1474 and founded a dynasty, into which the nephew of Pope
Julius II and great-nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Maria della
Rovere, married in 1508. Urbino was independent until 1631 when it
reverted to the Papal States.
8 Andrea Doria, who fought against the Ottomans as an
admiral for Emperor Charles V, put an end to the French rule of Genoa in
1528 and reintroduced the old constitution of the aristocratic republic
with the election of a doge as head of state every two years.
8 Andrea Dona depicted as sea god Neptune,
Bronzino, ca. 1530
In compensation for having lost the Mediterranean trade to the Venetians
and the Turks, the Genoese rose to become the most important bankers of
the Spanish crown.
In contrast to 10 Venice, Genoa was
able to maintain a leading position in commerce.
The Venetian republic had lost almost all of its territories in the
Eastern Mediterranean to the Ottomans by the 18th century. The shifting
of world trade to the Atlantic led to the gradual decline of the city.
In 1797, the French occupied both Venice and Genoa, abolished the rule
of the doges, and made both cities satellite states of the French
The most significant dynasty in Northern Italy was the house of Savoy.
From 9 Turin it ruled the Duchy of
Savoy and Piedmont.
9 The Basilica of Supergra containing the House of Savoy
It alternatively allied with the French and the Habsburgs in order to
maintain its independence and expand its territories.
After the Spanish wars of succession it gained the island of Sardinia
and 11 its crown.
11 Coronation of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy,
As in the other Italian states, branches of the Bourbons or respectively
the Habsburgs ruled, it was able to lead the Italian independence
movement in the 19th century as it was the only authentically "Italian"