Book Review: The Italian Wars, 1494-1559: War, State, and Society in Early Modern Europe


by Christine Shaw & Michael Mallett

New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. xvi, 410. Maps., notes, biblio., index. $51.95 paper. ISBN: 1138739049

The Great the Habsburg–Valois War for Italy

This revised edition of the 2012 collaboration between Dr. Shaw (Oxford) and the late Prof. Mallett (Warwick) is a masterful overview of the Italian Wars, a series of nine conflicts between France and Spain for control of Italy that consumed some 40 of the 65 years between 1494 and 1559, and marking the beginnings of modern times.

Arguably part of a protracted dynastic conflict that began in the mid-13th century, and dragged on into the early nineteenth, this phase of the struggle was touched off in 1494 with the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII of France, intent on asserting a dubious claim to the throne of Naples, and ended in 1559 with a Spanish victory. At times the war involved virtually every major European power, including the Ottoman Empire, England, and the Holy Roman Empire, with everyone demonstrating a remarkable flexibility in their loyalties and alliances, and played a role in the Reformation as well.

This is a clear, highly readable account, and the authors manage to integrate in an almost seamless fashion complex matters of dynastic ambition, personalities, diplomatic interactions, strategic maneuvering, war finance, and military operations, including some good battle pieces. Along the way, we get a look at the evolution of military institutions, weapons, and tactics at the dawn of the modern age, seasoned with enough skullduggery and treachery to please even Machiavelli, who makes several appearances.

A volume in the Routledge series “Modern Wars In Perspective”, The Italian Wars can be read with profit by anyone interested in early modern Europe, Italian, French, or Spanish history, the evolution of warfare, or the rise of the nation state.


Note: The Italian Wars is also available in hardback and e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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