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|War of the Mantuan Succession|
|Part of the Thirty Years' War|
The successful candidate, Charles I Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua
Supporting the Duke of Nevers:|
|Commanders and leaders|
Charles, Duke of Nevers|
Louis XIII of France
Henri II de Montmorency
Ferrante II Gonzaga|
Ambrogio Spinola †
24,500 Venetian troops
10,000+ Franco-Mantuan troops in garrisons
3,000 Mantuan troops in the field
Large French field force of unknown size
34,000 Spanish Empire troops
36,000 Imperial Army troops
25,000 Savoyard troops (not counting militia)
4,000 Tuscan troops
2,000 Parman troops
The War of the Mantuan Succession (1628–31) was a related conflict of the Thirty Years' War. The starting point was the death in December 1627 of Vincenzo II, last male heir in the direct line of the House of Gonzaga. The succession involved two claimants, the French-born Duke of Nevers, and his distant cousin the Duke of Guastalla, a Spanish official.
Northern Italy had been contested by France and the Habsburgs for centuries, since it provided access to Southern France, an area with a long history of opposition to the central authorities. It also controlled the Spanish Road, an overland route which allowed Spain to move recruits and supplies from the Kingdom of Naples through Lombardy to their army in Flanders. The strategic importance of Mantua and its subsidiary the Duchy of Montferrat to this area resulted in a proxy war, with France supporting Nevers and Habsburg Spain backing Guastalla.
Since 1308, the Duchy of Mantua had been ruled by the House of Gonzaga, who also acquired the Duchy of Montferrat in 1574. Both territories were part of the Holy Roman Empire but were of particular importance to the area known as Lombardy, dominated by the Spanish-governed Duchy of Milan. Control of this region allowed the Habsburgs to threaten France's restive southern provinces of Languedoc and the Dauphiné, as well as protecting the overland supply route known as the Spanish Road.
Italy formed the basis of "Spanish power in Europe throughout the 17th century" and any perceived threat to their position was taken very seriously. In recent decades the Spanish had strengthened their control by occupying Finale, Piombino and Monaco, as well as fortresses in Modena and Mirandola. This expansion led to increasing hostility from their regional rivals, the Republic of Venice and Pope Urban VIII, ruler of the Papal States.
In February 1627, Vincenzo II, last Gonzaga male in the direct line, became Duke of Mantua and Montferrat and conscious of his poor health tried to resolve the succession internally. While the situation was complicated by different inheritance laws in the two duchies and their status as Imperial territories, the strongest contender was the French peer, Charles, Duke of Nevers. However, legalities were less important than the perceived threat to Spanish interests if the duchies fell under French influence and de Córdoba, governor of Spanish Lombardy, began discussions with Madrid on potential military action to prevent this.
Alternatives included Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, whose claim extended primarily to Montferrat, and Ferrante II, Duke of Guastalla, a distant Gonzaga cousin and Imperial General Commissar in Italy. To cement his position, Nevers arranged for his son Charles II Gonzaga to marry Vincenzo's niece Maria; the ceremony was performed on 23 December 1627, three days before Vincenzo died. Nevers arrived in Mantua on 17 January and sent an envoy to Emperor Ferdinand II requesting Imperial recognition.
Historian Peter H. Wilson argues "none of the major powers...was looking for a fight in Italy" and that conflict over the succession was precipitated by a combination of events, including miscommunication between Córdoba and Madrid, as well as Nevers' refusal to compromise.
Despite being part of the same family, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs did not necessarily share the same objectives, especially in Northern Italy. Rather than increasing Spanish influence in an area they already dominated, Ferdinand wanted to assert Imperial authority by deciding the succession question himself. His proposal was to confirm Nevers as duke in return for acknowledging Imperial control over the fortress of Casale Monferrato in Montferrat, a decision influenced by his wife Eleonora, sister of the recently deceased Vincenzo II. Although Nevers was French-born, Cardinal Richelieu viewed him as a Habsburg client and was then fully occupied with the Siege of La Rochelle.
However, Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy had a prior claim to Montferrat and from 1613 to 1617 fought a war for its possession. Shortly before Vincenzo's death, he and Córdoba agreed to partition the duchy, most of it going to Savoy while Spain took Casale, a deal approved by Philip IV of Spain and his chief minister Olivares. Hearing of this, on 26 January Ferdinand ordered Córdoba not to send troops into Mantua or Montferrat and on 1 April confiscated both territories pending a final decision on the succession. Unfortunately, a peaceful resolution was overtaken by events.
Phase I; 1628 to 1629
In giving their approval, both Olivares and Philip had assumed Casale would be quickly taken but it took Córdoba several months to mobilise 12,000 troops for operations in Montferrat, with an additional 8,000 supplied by Savoy. The siege did not begin until March and since Casale was one of the largest and most modern fortifications in Europe, taking it would be a lengthy operation, giving Nevers time to assemble an army of 12,000, partially funded by France. In addition to support from Empress Eleonora, Venice and the Pope, he was also backed by Ferdinand's military commander Albrecht von Wallenstein, whose resources were focused on the Siege of Stralsund in Northern Germany. These factors ultimately delayed any Imperial intervention until September 1629.
Led by Charles Emmanuel, Savoyard forces captured Trino in April, then Nizza Monferrato in June, but the siege of Casale dragged on. The diversion of money and men from the war against the Dutch Republic weakened the Spanish position in Flanders and forced them onto the defensive. Philip later admitted the decision to attack Casale was the one political act that he regretted but by now Spanish prestige made it impossible to withdraw. Although Olivares accepted that 'the duke of Nevers is the legitimate heir to all the Mantuan territories', Spain now recognised Guastalla as the Duke of Mantua.
Nevers raised another 10,000 men by mortgaging his French estates, but they were ambushed and destroyed by Charles Emmanuel while crossing the Alps. The surrender of La Rochelle in October 1628 allowed France to intervene directly and in March 1629, an army led by Louis XIII of France stormed barricades blocking the Pas de Suse. By the end of the month, they had lifted the siege of Casale and taken the strategic Savoyard fortress of Pinerolo.
In April, France, England and Savoy signed the Treaty of Susa, facilitated by Cardinal Mazarin, the papal Nuncio. It consisted of two separate agreements, the first of which ended the Anglo-French War (1627–1629), the second making peace between France and Savoy. In return for Trino, Charles Emmanuel allowed French troops to garrison Casale and Pinerolo, as well as allowing them passage across his territory to reinforce Mantua. Louis XIII then returned to Languedoc, where another in a series of Huguenot rebellions had broken out.
Phase II; 1630 to 1631
Emperor Ferdinand II's forces under Ramboldo, Count of Collalto invaded the Grisons and Valtelline. The governor was recalled from Milan, followed by the insults of the citizens, for bread had been scarce for months. The following winter, Milan was devastated by the bubonic plague introduced by the armies, which has been vividly described by Manzoni.
The Spanish Habsburgs immediately got to raising another army, with Spinola taking the lead in his capacity as governor of Milan. He activated treaties with the Tuscans and Parmans and recruited more men from Spanish Italy, hoping to add 12,000 German Landsknechts, 6,000 fresh Neapolitans, 4,000 Tuscans, and 2,000 Parmans to his already mobilized force of 16,000. The Grand Duke of Tuscany dragged his feet on his commitment, initially only readying 1,600 men, but eventually complied, agreeing to send 6,000 troops over the course of two years and to place his navy under Spanish command. Tuscany also agreed to send funds to pay for 4,000 Swiss mercenaries. In the summer of 1629, the Habsburg forces again besieged Casale, this time held by the French; lack of pay incited many of the Spanish-led troops to desert.
While the garrison was reduced, the siege dragged into the next year. After considering joining the French, the Savoyards decided to commit to the Habsburg side, and sent 6,500 troops to join the siege. Charles left without the promised support from Louis XIII of France. Louis XIII decided to intervene yet again in 1630, forcing Spinola to divert 14,000 troops to buttress the 12,500 Savoyard troops on the French invasion path; these troops were replaced as reinforcements flowed in from Tuscany, Naples, Parma, and now even Modena and Lucca, in acknowledgement of the Spanish hegemony over Italy. Louis declined to face the large Habsburg-Savoyard forces head-on, instead diverting his army to conquer Piedmont, held only by 6,000 troops and an unenthusiastic peasant militia.
Meanwhile, another Habsburg force - this one from the Austrian branch of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor - invaded the duchy and besieged Mantua itself with a predominantly German army (though ten colonels in the service were Italians). By August 1629 there were 36,000 Imperial troops in northern Italy (30,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry). They were opposed by 7,000 Venetian and 3,000 Mantuan troops in the field, plus the city garrison and militias, with another Venetian field army behind the Oglio river. By October the Germans had captured several towns almost without a fight, and had put the Venetians to flight in every encounter while taking thousands of Mantuan and Venetian prisoners (some of whom switched sides), but were still invested in Mantua itself. Their first attack on the city was easily repulsed by the Mantuans, forcing them to commit to a long siege. The Emperor demanded his Italian subjects in Modena, Parma, and Tuscany pay for the army's upkeep; the former two agreed but the latter declined, the grand duke reasoning that they had already committed significant resources to the Imperial cause in the form of their cooperation with the Spanish. The forces of all armies imposed themselves on the civilian population, often committing lootings and massacres, and spread an epidemic in the process. The Franco-Mantuan garrison continued to be depleted by hunger and disease until it was down to 3,400 (evenly divided between French and Italians) by May. By mid-July, only 700 able-bodied soldiers were left. July proved to be the decisive month of the conflict. Early in the month Ferdinand's army launched an attack on the main Venetian field army by crossing the Oglio, driving off the 17,500 Venetians (15,000 infantry and 2,500 cavalry) and inflicting 2,000 casualties with an inferior number of Germans. Their rear secured, the Imperials then assaulted the city from multiple sides by crossing the lake in boats, the garrison now being too small to defend it. The city, already struck by a plague, was brutally put to the sack for three days and three nights by troops led by Count Aldringen and Gallas. The sack was carried out methodically, and yielded great riches; 18 million ducats were gathered from the palace alone, equivalent to three years of tax revenue for the entire Kingdom of Naples (the largest Italian state). The siege and sack had effectively destroyed the once-rich city; of the original population of 30,000 (plus the garrison), only 6,000 plague-ridden survivors remained, living in complete destitution. Northern Italy had been subject to the same brutality that had already been occurring for years in Germany. Mantua never recovered.
Upon hearing about the sack, Spinola abandoned his own ongoing siege of Casale, figuring the conflict had ended. But the Emperor did not stay in Mantua. Due to developments in Germany, where the Swedes were warring, he was forced to return his attention to the principal theatre of the big war.
Peace of Regensburg (1630)
The French first agreed to the Peace of Regensburg (or the Treaty of Ratisbonne), which was negotiated by French representatives Father Joseph and Nicolas Brûlart de Sillery. The accord was signed on 13 October 1630, which provided favorable terms to French interests in Italy despite their military setbacks. Specifically, the French were allowed to maintain their garrison in Grisons. The accord also confirmed Charles Gonzaga-Nevers as Duke of Mantua and Marquess of Montferrat in exchange for minor concessions to Charles Emmanuel of Savoy and Ferrante of Guastalla. The Habsburgs would on their side reduce their number of troops in the region. The treaty was seen as so unfavorable to the Spanish that the Spanish prime minister, Olivares, considered it no different than a surrender.
The treaty, moreover, contained a troublesome clause. It included an agreement whereby the French were not permitted to establish alliances in Germany against a reigning Holy Roman Emperor. This should have sidelined France in the ongoing conflict. Louis XIII of France refused to accept this, and the Austrians found themselves still at war, yet with diminished forces in the area. The new forces sent south of the Alps were to be sorely missed when Swedish forces under Gustavus II Adolphus invaded from the north.
Treaty of Cherasco (1631)
The Italian peace was eventually made with the Treaty of Cherasco, signed in a city in Piedmont on 19 June 1631. France, which in 1629 had taken Savoy, then captured Pinerolo in Piedmont the following year, renounced its conquests in Italy. Charles Gonzaga-Nevers was confirmed as ruler in Mantua and Montferrat, with concessions to the other claimants: Vittorio Amedeo I, who succeeded in Savoy after the sudden death of his father, Duke Charles Emmanuel, gained Trino and Alba in Montferrat; while Cesare II of Guastalla, Ferrante's son, was given Luzzara and Reggiolo. Later it was discovered that by a secret treaty with Vittorio Amedeo, Pinerolo was surrendered to France.
In the long run, the war proved a strategic disaster for the Habsburgs, who had been forced to divert precious military resources from Germany, thereby facilitating Swedish intervention in the Empire. It divided the Catholic church by creating a rift between Pope Urban VIII and Ferdinand, and made it acceptable for France to employ Protestant allies against him.
- Battle of Veillane (or the Battle of Avigliana), fought on 10 July 1630, a French victory
- Counts and dukes of Nevers
- House of Gonzaga
- List of rulers of Mantua
- List of rulers of Montferrat
- List of treaties
- The Flashing Blade
- Peace of Treaty of Cherasco (1631).
- Thion 2013, p. 18.
- Rizzo 2005, pp. 24-25.
- Kamen 2002, p. 382.
- Wedgwood 1938, p. 247. sfn error: no target: CITEREFWedgwood1938 (help)
- Stradling 1990, p. 771.
- Wilson 2009, p.��438.
- Wilson 2009, p. 439.
- Wilson 2009, p. 440.
- Stradling 1990, p. 772.
- Stradling 1990, p. 773.
- Hanlon 2016, p. 110.
- Hanlon 1998, p. 111.
- Arnold 1993, pp. 124-125. sfn error: no target: CITEREFArnold1993 (help)
- Parker 1997, pp. 95-96. sfn error: no target: CITEREFParker1997 (help)
- Kamen 2002, p. 383.
- Thion 2013, p. 62.
- Parker 1997, p. 97. sfn error: no target: CITEREFParker1997 (help)
- His replacement was Ambrogio, marques di Spinola.
- Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed (1842) Chapter XXVII contains a lightly ironic capsule account of the War of the Mantuan Succession, as background to his narration, continued, as a further digression, in Chapter XXVIII and culminating in his famous description of the bubonic plague which the German army brought to Milan, in Chapter XXXI.
- Hanlon 1998, pp. 112-113.
- Hanlon 1998, pp. 113-115.
- Hanlon 1998, pp. 115-116.
- Hanlon 2016, p. 19.
- Arnold, Thomas F. (1994). "Gonzaga Fortifications and the Mantuan Succession Crisis of 1613–1631". Mediterranean Studies. 4: 113–30.
- Hanlon, Gregory (2016). The Twilight Of A Military Tradition: Italian Aristocrats And European Conflicts, 1560-1800. Routledge. ISBN 978-1138158276.
- Hanlon, Gregory (1998). Italy 1636: Cemetery of Armies. OUP. ISBN 978-0198738244.
- Kamen, Henry (2002). Spain's Road to Empire (2003 ed.). Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0140285284.
- Parker, Geoffrey, ed. (1984). The Thirty Years' War (1997 ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-12883-4.
- Parrott, David (1997). "The Mantuan Succession, 1627–31: A Sovereignty Dispute in Early Modern Europe". English Historical Review. 112 (445): 20–65.
- Rizzo, Mario (2005). "Sticks, Carrots and all the Rest: Lombardy and the Spanish strategy in Northern Italy between Europe and the Mediterranean (part. 1)". Cahiers de la Méditerranée. doi:10.4000/cdlm.991.
- Stradling, R. A. (1990). "Prelude to Disaster; the Precipitation of the War of the Mantuan Succession, 1627–29". Historical Journal. 33 (4): 769–85.
- Thion, Stephane (2013). French Armies of the Thirty Years' War. Histoire et Collections. ISBN 978-2917747018.
- Wilson, Peter H. (2009). Europe's Tragedy: A History of the Thirty Years War. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9592-3.