Marguerite of Austria: Life Story

Chapter 9 : The Holy League

The War of the League of Cambrai resulted in territorial gains for the Papacy and France, with a significant victory for Louis at the Battle of Agnadello and the ceding of various disputed territories to the Papacy and Ferdinand. Marguerite benefited to the tune of 60,000 crowns voted by the States-General in thanks for her contribution to the negotiations.

In April 1509, Henry VII of England died, to be succeeded by his son, now Henry VIII. Within weeks Henry VIII had married Marguerite’s former sister-in-law, Katharine of Aragon, and it was soon apparent that the new king would overturn his father’s policy of avoidance of war. The proxy marriage between Marguerite’s nephew, Charles, and Henry’s sister, Mary, had been solemnised, and both sides were keen to continue the Anglo-Burgundian alliance.

Ferdinand, who had been at odds with Henry VII over Katharine’s dowry, now sought to use her influence with her new husband to his advantage. Fearful of being left out of the Anglo-Burgundian friendship, he ratified the marriage of Charles and Mary, which he had previously refused to do. He and Maximilian finally resolved their dispute over regency for Charles in Castile – Ferdinand would act until the boy was 20, whilst Marguerite would continue in her role in the Netherlands until Charles was old enough to rule himself – usually reckoned to be about fifteen.

France’s victory at Agnadello woke Julius and Ferdinand to the possibility that they had blundered – the Venetians were nowhere near as vexatious to them in the peninsula of Italy as Louis was. The vista of a French-dominated Italy opened before their horrified eyes, and they quickly reneged on the Treaty of Cambrai, to form a new league – the Holy League - in which Venice was also included. Maximilian was not included – he was still striving, with minimal success, to regain the parts of the Veneto he had originally hoped to take.

The ostensible excuse for the Holy League was Louis’ attempt to undermine papal authority by calling a General Council of the Church – something mediaeval popes avoided, as a General Council could over-rule them. (Note: again, this is a simplification of this phase of the Italian Wars). Marguerite forbade the bishops of the Low Countries to attend Louis’ Council of Pisa.

Ferdinand hoped to involve Maximilian against the French, and he wrote to Katharine that he had received envoys from Marguerite. He gave advice on the character of the man who should be sent to Marguerite as England’s envoy – he should be ‘able to speak and express himself well’ and he should go alone. Presumably, Henry VIII found these skills in Sir Thomas Boleyn, who was posted to Marguerite’s court and who gained enough favour with the regent to have his daughter, Anne, appointed to join her maids-of-honour in 1512.  

Marguerite’s secretary received a letter from Ferdinand’s minister Don Pedro de Almazan, requesting him to use his influence with Marguerite. She was to be informed that England had asked to ally with Ferdinand and the Pope and the secretary was to ‘induce her to forward the alliance between the emperor, Spain and England’: something she would find easy to do, and which would give her lasting credit.

The battles of 1510 were largely won by France, but the death of the French commander, Gaston de Foix (whose sister, Germaine was married to Ferdinand as his second wife), meant that Louis was unable to consolidate his position, and was obliged to retreat back beyond the Alps.

A key factor in the Italian Wars was the claim of Louis to be Duke of Milan as a descendant of the Visconti dukes, in place of the Sforzas who held the duchy. Louis had captured and imprisoned Duke Ludovico in 1505. Milan was an imperial duchy, and Maximilian had refused to recognise Louis claim, instead recognising Massimiliano Sforza, son of Ludovico. Massimiliano had still been a minor, at the time of his father’s capture, and had be taken to Marguerite to be brought up by her, along with Charles and his siblings. By 1512, he was old enough to claim the duchy and this gave fuel to another round of fighting.

Pope Julius died in February 1513, to be replaced by Giovanni de’ Medici, who ruled as Pope Leo X. Nowhere near as war-like as his predecessor, Leo was reluctant to immediately join the Treaty of Malines/Mechelen which was agreed in April 1513, between Maximilian, Charles (represented by Marguerite), Ferdinand and Henry, with the purpose of attacking France.

The English were to attack France in the north, moving out from their base at Calais, not far from the border with Marguerite’s territories and combining with Maximilian, whilst the Spanish were to invade from the south. Henry VIII did his part, capturing the towns of Tournai and Thérouanne, not appearing to recognise that Maximilian was letting the younger man do most of the work, as well as foot the bills.

Marguerite of Austria

Marguerite of Austria

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