During the time of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, Italy was not one whole country as it is today. Italy was divided into many smaller states, such as Venice, Florence, Naples, Milan, and the Papal States.
Milan was Italy’s greatest land power during the time of the Renaissance. It was a wealthy city and was strong in manufacturing and trade. Milan was so wealthy that France and the Holy Roman Empire fought over Milan throughout the Middle Ages. Milan was originally under a system of republicanism, but eventually moved to despotism under the Visconti family.
A man named Gian Galeazzo Visconti imprisoned his uncle, the ruler of Milan, and took control of Milan. He expanded Milan’s power in Italy, moving into the region of Tuscany. When he died in 1402, he was threatening Florence.
The fighting between Milan and Florence was just one example of the fighting between the Italian States. However, in 1454, the Italian states came together and negotiated the peace of Lodi, and peace was maintained for four decades in Italy.
In 1494, King Charles VIII of France tried to take Naples from the Aragonese (Spaniards), who had taken Naples in the 1440s. Charles said that the throne should belong to him, basing his argument on an ancient claim that he had to the throne of Naples. The despot of Milan, Ludivico Sforza, had encouraged Charles to come into Italy and take Naples, which was a rival kingdom of Milan. Charles entered Italy with his army, and enjoyed enormous success. He marched through Pisa, Florence, and even Rome. He had absolutely no problem capturing Naples in 1495.
Charles was so successful that Sforza became worried that Charles might turn on him. So, he turned on Charles and cooperated with the other Italian states and the Holy Roman Empire to kick him out of Italy. Charles’ troops were overcome by disease and were severely outnumbered. The alliance pushed Charles out of Italy, and he died soon after by hitting his head against a door frame in the year 1498.
Charles had no living children, so the crown passed to his nephew, Louis XII. Louis claimed that he had a right to the throne of Milan, and French armies invaded Milan. The other Italian states had a grudge against Ludovico Sforza for inviting Charles into Italy, and refused to help him against the French. The French conquered Milan, and Ludovico Sforza was captured by the French. Ludovico eventually died in French hands. The Italian states were thrown into a state of chaos by this war, and they would be fought over one great power after another for a long time.