Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis ended decades of war between France and Spain and made Spain the preeminent power in the much-contested Italian peninsula. The treaty was sealed by a dynastic marriage between Spain’s King Philip II and Elizabeth of Valois, the daughter of King Henry II of France.

Summary of Event

France and Spain were at war for much of the sixteenth century, a turbulent era that also saw the split of the universal Roman Church as a result of the Protestant Reformation. Europe’s two great states—led by the Habsburg dynasty in Spain and the Valois of France—were confessionally united in their adherence to the Catholic faith, but they were divided in a power struggle over the Italian peninsula, which served as their unfortunate battleground. The Valois-Habsburg wars Valois-Habsburg Wars (1521-1559)[Valois Habsburg Wars (1521-1559)] began with French king Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy in 1494, and they continued, despite several temporary or abortive truces, for sixty-five years. The wars were disastrous for the Italian states, especially for Rome, which was sacked by the marauding troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain) in 1527. A lasting peace between the two powers finally came with the signing of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559. Cateau-Cambrésis, Treaty of (1559)[Cateau Cambrésis, Treaty of (1559)] Philip II (1527-1598) Henry II (1519-1559) Elizabeth I Álvarez de Toledo, Fernando Egmond, Lamoraal van William the Silent Elizabeth of Valois Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) Henry II (king of France) Philip II (king of Spain) Mary Tudor (queen of England) Philip II (king of Spain) Elizabeth I (queen of England) Alva, duke of William the Silent Egmond, Lamoraal van Carlo III Emmanuel Filibert Elizabeth of Valois Francis II (king of France)

French king Henry II is wounded in a joust the year of the treaty between France and Spain, which ended decades of war between the two countries.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

By the late 1550’, both the French and the Spanish sides were exhausted, almost bankrupt, and ready to negotiate a peace. Spain held the upper hand, and France was prepared to give up its claims in Italy. French king Henry II, however, stubbornly refused to cede Calais Calais , a town in northern France that was also claimed by England. The situation was complicated by Spain’s relationship to England through the marriage between the Spanish king, Philip II, and Queen Mary I of England. This relationship made it difficult if not impossible for Spain to cede Calais to England’s sworn enemy. However, Mary’s death in November of 1558 opened the possibility of negotiation.

Peace talks began in February of 1559. Representatives of Henry II, Philip II, and Elizabeth I, the new queen of England, met at the Château of Le Cateau-Cambrésis in the north of France. Philip was represented by the Spanish general Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, duke of Alva, and by two noblemen from the Netherlands, the prince of Orange, William the Silent, and Count Lamoraal van Egmond. These three men would later find themselves at bloody odds in the bitter struggle over Spanish possession of the Netherlands, with the duke of Alva responsible for the execution of Egmond in 1568—events immortalized in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Egmont (pb. 1788, pr. 1789; English translation, 1837).





After several difficult months of negotiations, which often seemed destined to fail, the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was officially signed on April 3, 1559. In actuality, there were two treaties: one between England and France, signed on April 2, and one between France and Spain, signed on April 3. The difficult issue of Calais was resolved in favor of the French, who won control of the town for eight years. (Eight years later, France would refuse to give it up.) France also won permanent possession of three bishoprics in northeastern France—Metz, Toul, and Verdun—which played a key role in the border area between France and the Holy Roman Empire.

The Spanish gains were even more significant. Without surrendering any territory himself, Philip II won formal recognition of Spanish possessions in the Low Countries and in Italy, including Naples and Milan. With a few minor exceptions, France agreed to withdraw entirely from the Piedmont region (the rich northwestern area of Italy that shares a border with France). The treaty in effect gave Spain control of Italy, with holdings in Sicily and Sardinia, Naples, and Milan. Florence and Sienna were also beholden to Spain, leaving the Republic of Venice alone as an independent Italian state.

The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis also resolved the fate of Savoy, the contested Alpine region of eastern France. The duchy of Savoy had been taken over by the French and its duke, Carlo III, desposed in 1544. The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis restored to power the expelled duke’s son, Emmanuel Filibert, and it also made provision for the restored duke of Savoy to marry Margaret, the sister of the French king.

A marriage between Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of Valois, the daughter of Henry II of France, sealed the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis. The wedding took place shortly after the negotiations had been concluded, in a ceremony at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Philip’s representative, the duke of Alva, stood in for the Spanish king, who was in Flanders at the time. This marriage made Elizabeth of Valois the queen of Spain; she would die in childbirth in 1568.

Celebrating the peace and the dynastic marriage with a jousting tournament, King Henry II of France suffered a fatal lance wound to the eye and died on July 10, 1559. He was succeeded by his son Francis II, fifteen years old at the time, whose short reign (1559-1560) would leave France embroiled in civil wars for the next four decades. Philip II lived on to the end of the century, and on May 2, 1598, he ratified the terms of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis with the Treaty of Vervins Vervins, Treaty of (1598) . Philip II died later that year, passing the throne to his son, Philip III, whose ineffectual rule through his favorite, the duke of Lerma, would leave Spain in tatters.


The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, which brought peace to the continent by resolving hostilities between the great clashing dynasties of the Habsburgs and Valois, was one of the most important treaties in European history. Its great success was in leaving both parties satisfied, and its territorial settlements remained in place until the even more decisive Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.

In addition to ending the wars in Italy and solidifying the Spanish presence there, the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis marked a shift in the Spanish Empire away from the continental focus of Philip II’s father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and toward a more Atlantic-focused empire based on Spain’s holdings in the Americas. France, on the other hand, turned inward, as it was embroiled in the terrible Wars of Religion that ravaged the country until the Edict of Nantes was signed by Henry IV in 1598.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baumgartner, Frederic J. Henry II: King of France, 1547-1559. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988. A political biography of Henry II and his brief reign. Maps; some illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry. Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Survey of Spain’s rise and fall as a global imperial power.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Koenigsberger, H. G., George L. Mosse, and G. Q. Bowler. Europe in the Sixteenth Century. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1989. A general introduction to Europe in the sixteenth century. With recommended readings on various topics. Maps, genealogical charts, chronology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levin, Carole.“The Heart and Stomach of a King”: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. Prizewinning study of Elizabeth I, focusing on the special problems and issues that confronted a woman in power. Some illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. New York: Dover, 1988. Classic study of diplomatic history from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Chapters on sixteenth century diplomacy focus on Franco-Spanish relations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey. The Grand Strategy of Philip II. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. Biography of the Spanish king that seeks to discover whether or not Philip II had a grand strategy with which he governed his global empire. Illustrations; extensive chronology of events.

July 16, 1465-Apr., 1559: French-Burgundian and French-Austrian Wars

Aug. 17, 1477: Foundation of the Habsburg Dynasty

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

September 22, 1504: Treaty of Blois

1508: Formation of the League of Cambrai

Aug. 18, 1516: Concordat of Bologna

1521-1559: Valois-Habsburg Wars

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

July, 1553: Coronation of Mary Tudor

Jan. 1-8, 1558: France Regains Calais from England

Mar., 1562-May 2, 1598: French Wars of Religion

Apr. 13, 1598: Edict of Nantes

May 2, 1598: Treaty of Vervins

Categories: History