League of Cambrai

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CAMBRAI, LEAGUE OF (1508). The League of Cambrai was an alliance of European powers against the Venetian Republic signed on 10 December 1508. Named for the town in the Netherlands where the treaty was signed, the alliance against Venice included France, Spain, England, Germany, and the papacy, as well as the Italian states of Savoy, Ferrara, and Mantua. All swore to avenge the injuries, violations, and damages caused by the state of Venice.

The Venetian Republic offended the other European powers when it began to extend its empire on the Italian mainland. In the fifteenth century, the changing nature of the Venetian economy required such an expansion of territory. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 severely damaged Venice's sea trade in the Mediterranean. In addition, Venetian trade in the Far East was threatened by Portuguese ships sailing around the newly discovered Cape of Good Hope. Thus, the Venetians had begun to transform themselves from a sea to a land power. Recent conquests in the Veneto, including the cities of Padua, Verona, and Friuli, raised alarm among the other European powers.

The League of Cambrai was orchestrated by Pope Julius II (reigned 15031513), who wanted to strengthen and extend the Papal States at the expense of Venice. But all of the members of the league had something to gain from the alliance, for the territories of Venice were to be divided between them. Desperately, Venice tried to pay the emperor Maximilian 200,000 Rhenish florins for his alliance, but to no avail. The onslaught arrived on 10 May 1509 at the battle of Agnadello, where the French army surrounded the Venetian forces with cavalry and Swiss pikemen. The Venetian forces were routed, and the defeat destroyed the morale of the troops, who were mainly mercenary soldiers with little loyalty to Venice. Within two months, Venice lost all of her territory on the mainland and was in fear of losing the islands themselves.

Fortunately for Venice, in the summer of 1509 several cities were beginning to rally to the side of their former lords, including Padua, Vicenza, and Verona. Diplomatically, the Venetians were able to ameliorate their situation as well. They reconciled with the papacy on 24 February 1510, and the League of Cambrai against Venice became the Holy League, an alliance against France. Through the Holy League, Pope Julius II intended to force the "barbarians" out of Italy. The pope's martial behavior was criticized by many pacifist humanists including Erasmus of Rotterdam, who penned the dialogue Julius Excluded from Heaven in 1513.

For Venice, the results of the League of Cambrai were devastating. Although the republic had survived and eventually managed to regain many of its territories on the mainland, it destroyed the dream of an empire on the Italian peninsula, or terra firma. The republic never regained the prestige, wealth, and military importance of earlier times. After the League of Cambrai, Venice relied on diplomatic maneuvering between the European powers rather than on military force for its survival in the early modern era.

See also Julius II (pope) ; Venice .


Gilbert, Felix. The Pope, His Banker, and Venice. Cambridge, Mass., 1980.

Hale, J. R, ed. Renaissance Venice. London, 1973.

Oman, Charles. A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century. London and Mechanicsburg, Pa., 1999.

Rebecca Boone

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League of Cambrai, 1508–10, alliance formed by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, King Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, King Ferdinand V of Aragón, and several Italian city-states against the republic of Venice to check its territorial expansion. The republic was soon on the verge of ruin. Its army was defeated by the French at Agnadello (1509); most of the territories it had occupied were lost; and Maximilian entered Venetia. The republic had to make concessions to the pope and to Ferdinand. In 1510 the pope became reconciled to Venice and began forming the Holy League against France. The republic emerged from the war having suffered serious losses but by no means crushed.