Italy: Political Disintegration and Rebirth

Political Disintegration and Rebirth

The Renaissance reached its peak in the late 15th cent. Meanwhile, Italy's political independence was threatened by the growing nations of France, Spain, and Austria. Quarrels among Italian states invited foreign intervention. The invasion (1494) of Italy by Charles VIII of France marked the beginning of the Italian Wars, which ended in 1559 with most of Italy subjected to Spanish rule or influence. Early in the wars, in which France and Spain were the main contenders for supremacy in Italy, several Italian statesmen, notably Machiavelli, came to the belief that only unity could save Italy from foreign domination. Pope Julius II consolidated the Papal States, but his Holy League, devised (1510) to drive out the French, failed to create a wider Italian unity.

After 1519 the Italian Wars became part of the European struggle between Francis I of France and Emperor Charles V. By the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), Spain gained the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples and the duchy of Milan. Foreign domination continued with the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14; see also Utrecht, Peace of) and the War of the Polish Succession (1733–35). By 1748, Naples, Sicily, and the duchies of Parma and Piacenza had passed to branches of the Spanish Bourbons, and the duchies of Milan, Mantua, Tuscany, and Modena to Austria. Remaining independent were the Papal States, the declining republics of Venice, Genoa, and Lucca, and the kingdom of Sardinia (see Sardinia, kingdom of), created in 1720 by the union of Piedmont, Savoy, and Sardinia under the house of Savoy.

These centuries of political weakness were also a period of economic decline. The center of European trade shifted away from the Mediterranean, and commerce and industry suffered from the mercantilist policies of the European states. Taxes rose under Spanish rule, the amount of land under cultivation declined, the population decreased, and brigandage increased. Nevertheless, Italy continued to have considerable influence on European culture, especially in architecture and music. Yet to subsequent generations in Italy (especially in the 19th cent.), preoccupied with the concepts of national independence and political power, the political condition of 18th-century Italy represented national degradation. The French Revolution rekindled Italian national aspirations, and the French Revolutionary Wars swept away the political institutions of 18th-century Italy.

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