Book Review: The First and Second Italian Wars 1494–1504: Fearless Knights, Ruthless Princes and the Coming of Gunpowder Armies


by Julian Romane

Barnsley, Eng. / Philadelphia: Pen & Sword, 2020. Pp. xvi, 255+. Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio., index. $42.95. ISBN: 1526750511

War and Peace in Machiavelli’s Italy

In 1494, asserting a tenuous claim to the throne of Naples, held by a cadet branch of the House of Aragon, Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, then at the height of the Renaissance, initiating the “Italian Wars”. For more than a half-century France and Spain, each supported by an ever changing array of allies, fought eight wars for control of the peninsula. Ultimately won by Spain, the wars determined the future of Italy for centuries to come, while setting in motion what’s been called the “Military Revolution”, a period characterized by the emergence of gun powder as the decisive factor in warfare.

Romane, author of Byzantium Triumphant and many other works, does an impressive job of covering the first two wars, explaining their origins and the often convoluted politics, alliances, and treachery that characterized them, and the later wars. Romane explains the nature of the armies and warfare at the war’s onset and how they began to change from crossbow and cold steel to arquebus and cold steel. He offers several good battle pieces, notably Foronovo and the Garigliano. Romane also gives a look at what some of the most notably observers of the age thought about the events which they were experiencing, including Machiavelli and Guicciardini.

As his account unfolds, Romane gives us a number of profiles of what was a great cast of characters, Charles XII, Ferdinand the Catholic, Pope Alexander VI and his son Cesare Borgia, Gonzalvo de Cordoba, Ludovico “il Moro” and Catherina Sforza, the Colonna brothers, and many others, though he does rather white wash the Chevalier Bayard.

Although some better maps would have been useful, The First and Second Italian Wars is an outstanding look at the onset of one of the most important generational conflicts in history.




Note: The First and Second Italian Wars is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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