Marguerite of Austria: Life Story

Chapter 8 : League of Cambrai

The most worrying problem Marguerite faced in this period of her governership, was the on-going war in Guelders, a territory to the north-east of the Low Countries, owing allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire. This war, like most of the quasi-dynastic struggles of the sixteenth century, a long-drawn-out affair, lasting from 1502 to 1542. The problem stemmed from the 1470s, when Marguerite’s grandfather, Charles the Bold, lent Arnolf of Egmont, Duke of Guelders, money. As surety, Charles the Bold took the title of Duke of Guelders himself. When Arnolf had not repaid the loan by the time of his death in 1473, Charles the Bold claimed, not just the title, but the duchy.

Unsurprisingly, Arnolf’s son, Adolf of Egmont, was unimpressed by this tactic, and claimed the duchy himself, confirmed by the States-General of Guelders, but not Maximilian as overlord.  Adolf did not live long enough to impose control, and the Guelderians accepted Maximilian (as regent for his son, Philip of Burgundy) until 1492, when they recognised Adolf’s son, Charles of Egmont, as duke.  Always keen to keep the pot boiling, Charles VIII of France and Anne of Beaujeu supported Egmont’s claims – they had captured him in one of the skirmishes with Maximilian leading up to the previously mentioned Treaty of Senlis. 

In 1505, the year before he died, Philip of Burgundy captured Guelders and forced Charles of Egmont to accompany him to Spain for the 1506 journey mentioned above – the journey from which Philip never returned.  Over the following years, Charles of Egmont sought to regain his duchy, whilst Maximilian and Marguerite were determined to hold it for young Charles.

The other provinces of the Low Countries, who continued to think of themselves as connected entities, rather than a single state, had no interest in funding what they perceived to be a land-grab by their ruling house, and refused to vote funds for troops. Marguerite paid for part of the war from her own income, but Maximilian was always short of funds, and the French were financially far more secure.

Maximilian was also pre-occupied with his desire to enter Italy to be crowned as Holy Roman Emperor – in theory, until crowned, he was merely the King of the Romans. The Venetian state had refused him passage, and his campaign to punish Venice had ended with the loss of some of his own territories in Austria. Consequently, when Marguerite suggested that she approach Louis XII with proposals for a peace in Guelders, he was willing to let her try – and perhaps something could be done about the Venetians, too?

In October 1508 a cessation of hostilities was agreed with Charles of Egmont, and in November Marguerite journeyed to Cambrai for a congress, the ostensible purpose of which was a treaty settling Guelders, but had the unannounced objective of forming a league against Venice – the city-state had not just offended Maximilian, but also Pope Julius II. (NOTE: This is a vast simplification of the complexities of this stage of the long-running Italian Wars.)

The participants in an attack on the wealthy republic were to be Maximilian, Julius, Louis XII, Ferdinand of Aragon and Charles of Burgundy. Marguerite represented Maximilian, Charles and Ferdinand at the congress, supported in her role by the Lord of Chièvres, Gattinara, and Matthieu, Lord of Gürk, whilst the Cardinal of Amboise spoke for France and the Pope.  The treaty envisaged a complete break up of Venice, with its various provinces to be doled out to the members of the league. 

A description of Marguerite at this congress gives an idea of how successful she was as a diplomat: ‘This princess received the Cardinal with great honour, captivated him by her courteous, insinuating and caressing manners and was so successful in charming him, that he could refuse her nothing.’

The negotiations with the Cardinal d’Amboise were tough, despite the honied letters that Louis sent her, reminiscing about their childhoods in France – probably not the best route to pleasing Marguerite as it reminded her of her humiliation at the hands of Louis’ predecessor. The two sides argued long and hard about the rights of the French crown versus the prerogatives granted to previous dukes of Burgundy. Marguerite wrote that the negotiations gave her a headache and that she and the cardinal ‘got into each other’s hair’, but eventually, an agreement was reached,

The formal treaty instigating the League of Cambrai was signed on 10th December 1508. The Duke of Ferrara and the Marquis of Mantua, who also had designs on Venice, were invited to join. England was not, although an English ambassador (Edward Wingfield) was present. Henry was displeased at the reconciliation between Maximilian and Ferdinand of Aragon (who were in dispute over the regency of Castile for their mutual grandson, Charles.) As Henry was now, in theory, an interested party through the agreement for Charles and Princess Mary to marry, he hoped to use his influence to keep Maximilian and Ferdinand at odds. In this he failed, at least for the short term. In the spring of 1509, the War of the League of Cambrai began, with attacks on Venice. 

Marguerite of Austria

Marguerite of Austria

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