Treaty of Blois Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Treaty of Blois divided much of Italy between France and Spain. Spain gained control of Naples and Sicily, while France temporarily obtained Milan and Genoa. The treaty represented a significant step in the process whereby Italy’s city-states were reduced to mere pawns in the power struggles of the larger Renaissance empires.

Summary of Event

Incessant quarrels between Renaissance Italian city-states often involved mercenary forces from Germany, Switzerland, or smaller city-states in Italy. However, by the sixteenth century, city-state conflicts began to attract powerful kings of newly centralized nation-states. Spain and France, in particular, took advantage of opportunities for dominating and exploiting the wealthy Italian states. Conflicts were waged on a much larger scale than before and had dire consequences for the continued development of Italy. Louis XII Ferdinand II (1452-1516) Charles VIII (1470-1498) Maximilian I Fernández de Córdoba, Gonzalo Alexander VI Charles Charles VIII (king of France) Maximilian I (Holy Roman Emperor) Alexander VI Ferdinand II (king of Spain) Louis XII (king of France) Fernández de Córdoba, Gonzalo Claude of France Charles I (king of Spain) Philip II (king of Spain)

In September, 1494, King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy Italy;French invasions of , setting off a cataclysmic series of wars that ravaged Italy over the next forty years. After taking Florence, Charles advanced on Rome and then, meeting little resistance, entered Naples on February 22, 1495. Three months later, Charles returned to France, leaving behind forces to garrison Naples. Keeping control of Naples, however, was not as easy as seizing it. Moreover, Charles’s claim of Angevin rights to Naples by inheritance through René of Anjou (following the death of his nephew Charles of Maine in 1486), was regarded as of dubious legitimacy. French actions forged a rapid alliance of Milan, Venice, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, Pope Alexander VI, and Ferdinand II of Aragon. By 1497, the Spanish fleet cut off French supply routes to Naples, and Charles was forced to negotiate an armistice.

During the armistice, Charles died and was succeeded by his son Louis XII. Supported by Venice, which was promised possession of Cremona, Louis invaded Italy in 1499. He quickly occupied both Milan and Genoa. As for Naples, Ferdinand and Louis were able to reach an agreement (the Treaty of Granada Granada, Treaty of (1500) ) in 1500, sanctioned by Pope Alexander VI, for the partition of Naples between France and Spain. France was to control the north of Naples (Abruzzi and Compania), while Spain was to receive the south (Calabria and Puglia). However, disagreement over the terms of the partition led to a resumption of war between France and Spain in 1502.

In this war, France was supported by the northern Italian states of Florence, Bologna, Mantua, and Ferrara. In 1503, French forces faced armies commanded by Spain’s capable commander, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, and suffered serious defeats at the Battle of Cerignola Cerignola, Battle of (1503) (April 16) and at the Garigliano River Garigliano River, Battle of the (1503) (December 29). Poorly provisioned and badly demoralized French forces fled to the fortified city of Gaeta, where they intended to make a stand. They found, however, that Gaeta had insufficient supplies to support them all through an extended siege or conflict. On New Year’s Day, 1504, French forces in Italy surrendered at Gaeta. While not fatal for his cause, because France still had significant forces massed in Milan, these defeats increased Louis’s receptivity to a compromise settlement with Spain. Negotiations resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Blois on September 22, 1504.

By signing the treaty, Louis renounced his claim to Naples in favor of his niece, Germaine de Foix, who was betrothed to the newly widowed Ferdinand II. Thus the Spanish gained control of Naples and Sicily without openly humiliating France. If no heir was produced by the marriage, the treaty provided for Naples to revert back to Louis’s control. In the north of Italy, Emperor Maximilian recognized French control of Milan. However, the treaty specified that after Louis’s death, Milan as well as Burgundy should go to Louis XII’s daughter, Claude of France, who was to marry Maximilian’s grandson (the future Charles V).

While the stipulated marriage of Claude and Charles could be rescinded only if Louis had a son, the French king, under pressure from the Estates General, found another way out of the marriage provision. Claude broke her engagement to Charles, becoming engaged instead to Louis’s intended heir, Francis of AngoulĚme. This action violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the treaty and set the stage for future conflict. Treaty negotiations also led to a promise that no retribution would be taken against the southern Italian barons who had supported France. This promise was kept.

The Treaty of Blois contained a secret provision for France and Spain to launch a future attack on Venice. This attack was ultimately launched in December, 1510, precipitating a long series of wars and Machiavellian alliance changes. The wars involved not only the signatories to the treaty but also the Holy Roman Empire, Swiss and German mercenary forces, the Papal States, and other Italian states. The use of pikes, muskets, cannon, and moving squares (phalanxes) in battle formation resulted in extremely high mortality rates. These wars ravaged Italy, leading to, among other human-made catastrophes, the sack of Rome Rome, sack of (1527-1528) in 1527-1528. By 1550, conditions had so deteriorated in Italy that historians have long designated this date as the end of the Italian Renaissance. Most of Italy was under the rule of Charles V, who, as Holy Roman Emperor, king of Spain, and master of an ever-increasing empire in the New World, was one of the most powerful individuals on the planet.


The takeover of Naples and Sicily facilitated by the Treaty of Blois led to Spanish exploitation of southern Italy for the following two centuries. Heavy taxation, conducted by a series of increasingly corrupt Spanish governors general, impoverished the peasantry. Fernández de Córdoba, called the Great Captain for his ability to command, became the first of these governors general (1504-1507). He used Naples as a base from which to extend Spanish hegemony in Italy. Milan, long considered to be the gateway into Italy, was taken by Spain in 1535. Hence, the gate by which France could again invade Italy remained shut. By the reign of Philip II, king of Spain (r. 1556-1598), most of Italy was supervised from Madrid by the Council of Italy. Control of Italy shifted from Spain to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1715, leading to policies being set in Vienna instead of Madrid. It would take another 150 years before foreign control was ended by a series of wars and nationalist uprisings.

Italians blame Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy in 1494, and the resulting Treaty of Blois ten years later, for starting the process that led to the end of the prosperity of the Italian Renaissance and initiated a four-century-long period of foreign control and exploitation. Perhaps the process of Italian economic decline was already at work during the first half of the sixteenth century as a result of the shift in trade from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Eventual political decline was probably inevitable because of the Italian maintenance of the city-state structure at a time when the nation-state structure was emerging under the “new centralized monarchies.” However, it is clear that the signing of the Treaty of Blois was both a symptom of the continuing decline of Italy and a cause of its rapid further disintegration.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abulafia, David, ed. The French Descent into Renaissance Italy, 1494-5: Antecedents and Effects. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1995. An excellent collection of scholarly articles about the politics and military encounters of the Italian conflict, including Milan’s role in the wars. Several articles end their analyses in mid-sixteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baumgartner, Frederic J. Louis XII. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. A highly readable biography with much attention to the invasion of Italy and diplomatic problems with Milan, which are viewed as a disastrous part of an otherwise productive reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry A. Spain’s Road to Empire: The Making of a World Power, 1492-1763. London: Allen Lane, 2002. Contains solid analyses of Spain’s takeover of Southern Italy. Contains index and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mack Smith, Denis. Medieval Sicily, 800-1713. Vol. 1 in A History of Sicily. New York: Dorset Press, 1988. The best single account of the Spanish takeover of Sicily and its effects on Sicilian development.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pettegree, Andrew. Europe in the Sixteenth Century. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. A good starting point for general background. Chapter 3 is devoted to “The Struggle for Italy.”

Apr. 9, 1454: Peace of Lodi

Sept., 1494-Oct., 1495: Charles VIII of France Invades Italy

Apr. 11, 1512: Battle of Ravenna

Sept. 13-14, 1515: Battle of Marignano

Jan. 23, 1516: Charles I Ascends the Throne of Spain

June 28, 1519: Charles V Is Elected Holy Roman Emperor

1521-1559: Valois-Habsburg Wars

Feb., 1525: Battle of Pavia

May 6, 1527-Feb., 1528: Sack of Rome

Apr. 3, 1559: Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis

Categories: History