VI. WAR AND PEACE: 1526–47

When the terms of the Treaty of Madrid became generally known they aroused almost universal hostility to Charles. The German Protestants trembled at the prospect of facing so strengthened an enemy. Italy resented his claim to suzerainty in Lombardy. Clement VII absolved Francis from the oath he had sworn at Madrid, and joined France, Milan, Genoa, Florence, and Venice in forming the League of Cognac for common defense (May 22, 1526). Charles called Francis “no gentleman,” bade him return to his Spanish prison, ordered a harsher confinement for the King’s sons, and gave free rein to his generals to discipline the Pope.

An Imperial army collected in Germany and Spain poured down through Italy, scaled the walls of Rome (the Duke of Bourbon dying in the process), sacked the city more thoroughly than any Goths or Vandals had ever done, killed 4,000 Romans, and imprisoned Clement in Sant’ Angelo. The Emperor, who had remained in Spain, assured a scandalized Europe that his starving army had exceeded his instructions; nevertheless his representatives in Rome kept the Pope shut up in Sant’ Angelo from May 6 to December 7, 1527, and exacted from an almost bankrupt papacy an indemnity of 368,000 crowns. Clement appealed to Francis and Henry for aid. Francis dispatched

Lautrec to Italy with an army that sacked Pavia in reckless revenge for its resistance two years before, and Italy wondered whether French friends were any better than German enemies. Lautrec by-passed Rome and besieged Naples, and the city began to starve. But meanwhile Francis had offended Andrea Doria, head of the Genoese navy. Doria called his fleet from the siege of Naples, went over to the side of the Emperor, and provisioned the besieged. Lautrec’s army starved in turn; Lautrec himself died, and his army melted away (1528).

The comedy of the rulers hardly relieved the tragedy of the people. When the emissaries of Francis and Henry appeared at Burgos to make a formal declaration of war, Charles retorted to the French envoy: “The King of France is not in a position to address to me such a declaration; he is my prisoner.... Your master acted like a dastard and a scoundrel in not keeping his word that he gave me touching the Treaty of Madrid; if he likes to say the contrary I will maintain my words against him with my body to his.”59 This challenge to a duel was readily accepted by Francis, who sent a herald to tell Charles, “You have lied in your throat.” Charles responded grandly, naming a place for the encounter and asking Francis to name the time; but French nobles intercepted the messenger, and judicious delays put off the match to the Greek kalends. Nations had grown so large that their differences of economic or political interest could not be settled by private combat, or by the small mercenary armies that had been playing the game of war in Renaissance Italy. The modern method of decision by competitive destruction took form in this Hapsburg-Valois debate.*

It took two women to teach the potentates the art and wisdom of peace. Louise of Savoy communicated with Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, and suggested that Francis, anxious for the return of his sons, would abandon all claim to Flanders, Artois, and Italy, and would pay a ransom of 2,000,000 gold crowns for his children, but would never cede Burgundy. Margaret persuaded her nephew to defer his claim to Burgundy, and to forget the claims of the Duke of Bourbon, now conveniently dead. On August 3, 1529, the two women and their diplomatic aides signed La Paix des Dames—the “Ladies Peace” of Cambrai. The ransom was raised out of the commerce, industry, and blood of France, and the royal princes, after four years of captivity, returned to freedom with stories of cruel treatment that enraged Francis and France. While the two able women found lasting peace—Margaret in 1530, Louise in 1531—the kings prepared to renew their war.

Francis turned everywhere for help. To Henry VIII he sent a money appeasement for having almost ignored him in the Cambrai settlement; and Henry, furious at Charles for opposing his “divorce,” pledged his support to France. Within a year or so Francis negotiated alliances with the Protestant princes of Germany, with the Turks, and with the Pope. The vacillating Pontiff, however, soon made peace with Charles, and crowned him emperor (1530)—the last coronation of a Holy Roman Emperor by a pope. Then, frightened by a monarch who had in effect made Italy a province of his realm, Clement sought a new bond with France by offering his niece Catherine de Médicis in marriage to Francis’ son Henry, Duke of Orléans. King and Pope met at Marseille (October 28, 1533), and the marriage, pregnant with history, was performed by the Pope himself. A year later Clement died, not yet having made up his mind about anything.

The Emperor, already old at thirty-five, shouldered his self-imposed burdens with weary fortitude. He was shocked to learn—on the word of the Sultan’s vizier to Ferdinand of Austria—that the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1529 had been undertaken in response to an appeal from Francis, Louise, and Clement VII for help against the encompassing Empire.60 Moreover, Francis had allied himself with the Tunisian chieftain Khair ed-Din Barbarossa, who was harassing Christian commerce in the western Mediterranean, raiding coastal towns, and carrying captive Christians into slavery. Charles collected another army and navy, crossed to Tunis (1535), captured it, freed 10,000 Christian slaves, and rewarded his unpaid troops by letting them loot the city and massacre the Moslem population. Leaving garrisons in Bona and La Goleta, Charles returned to Rome (April 5, 1536) as the triumphant defender of Christendom against Islam and the King of France. Francis had meanwhile renewed his claim to Milan, and in March 1536, he had conquered the duchy of Savoy to clear his road into Italy. Charles was furious. In a passionate address before the new pope, Paul III, and the full consistory of cardinals, he recounted his efforts for peace, the French King’s violations of the treaties of Madrid and Cambrai, and the alliances of his “Most Christian Majesty” (as Francis was called) with the enemies of the Church in Germany, and of Christianity in Turkey and Africa; and he ended by again challenging Francis to a duel: “Let us not continue wantonly to shed the blood of our innocent subjects; let us decide the quarrel man to man, with what arms he pleases to choose... and after that let the united forces of Germany, Spain, and France be employed to humble the power of the Turk, and to exterminate heresy out of Christendom.”

It was a subtle speech, for it compelled the Pope to align himself with the Emperor; but no one took seriously its proposal for a duel; fighting by proxy was much safer. Charles invaded Provence (July 25, 1536) with 50,000 men, hoping to flank or divert the French in Savoy by moving up the Rhone. But Constable Anne de Montmorency ordered the weak French forces to burn in their retreat everything that could supply the Imperial troops; soon Charles, always lacking money, and unable to feed his men, abandoned the campaign. Paul III, anxious to free Charles for an attack on the Turks or the Lutherans, persuaded the crippled Titans to meet with him—in jealously separate rooms—at Nice, and to sign a ten-year truce (June 17, 1538). A month later Eleonora, wife to one, sister to the other, brought King and Emperor together in a personal meeting at Aiguesmortes. There they ceased to be royal, and became human; Charles knelt to embrace the King’s youngest children; Francis gave him a costly diamond set in a ring which was inscribed Dilectionis testis et exemplum—“ witness and token of love”; and Charles transferred from his own neck to the King’s the collar of the Golden Fleece. They went together to hear Mass, and the townspeople, rejoicing in peace, cried, “The Emperor! The King!”

When Ghent rebelled against Charles (1539) and joined Bruges and Ypres in offering themselves to Francis, the King resisted the temptation; and when Charles, in Spain, found the seaways closed by rebel vessels or mal de mer, Francis granted his request for passage through France. His councilors advised the King to force the Emperor, en route, to sign the cession of Milan to the Duke of Orléans, but Francis refused. “When you do a generous thing,” he said, “you must do it completely and boldly.” He found his court fool writing in a “Fool’s Diary” the name of Charles V; for, said Tribouillet, “he’s a bigger fool than I am if he comes through France.” “And what will you say if I let him pass?” asked the King. “I will rub out his name and put yours in his place.” 61 Francis let Charles pass unhindered, and ordered every town on the way to receive the Emperor with royal honors and feasts.

This precarious friendship was ended when Spanish soldiers near Pavia captured French emissaries bearing new offers of alliance from Francis to Suleiman (July 1541). At this time Barbarossa was again raiding the coastal towns of Italy. Charles sailed from Mallorca with another armada to destroy him, but storms so buffeted the fleet that it was compelled to return empty handed to Spain. The Emperor’s fortunes were ebbing. His young wife, whom he had learned to love, had died 0539), and his own health was worsening. In 1542 Francis declared war on him over Milan; the King’s allies now included Sweden, Denmark, Gelderland, Cleves, Scotland, the Turks, and the Pope; only Henry VIII supported Charles, for a price; and the Spanish Cortes refused additional subsidies for the war. A Turkish fleet combined with a French fleet to besiege Nice, which was now Imperial territory (1543); the siege failed, but Barbarossa and his Moslem troops were allowed to winter at Toulon, where they openly sold Christian slaves.62The Emperor patiently retrieved the situation. He found means of pacifying the Pope; he won Philip of Hesse to his side by winking at his bigamy; he attacked and vanquished the Duke of Cleves; he effected a junction with his English allies, and faced France with so strong a force that Francis retreated and yielded him the honors of the campaign (October 1543). Again too poor to further provision his army, Charles welcomed an offer of peace, and signed with Francis the Treaty of Crépy (September 18, 1544). The King withdrew his claims to Flanders, Artois, and Naples; Charles no longer demanded Burgundy; a Hapsburg princess would marry a French prince, and bring him Milan as her dowry. (Most of this could have been peaceably arranged in 1525.) Charles was now free to overwhelm the Protestants at Mühlberg; Titian pictured him there without the arthritis, proud and triumphant, worn and weary after a thousand vicissitudes, a hundred turns of fortune’s ironic wheel.

As for Francis, he was finished, and France nearly so. In one sense he had lost nothing but honor; he had preserved his country by scuttling the ideals of chivalry. Yet the Turks would have come without his call, and their coming helped Francis to check an Emperor who, unresisted, might have spread the Spanish Inquisition into Flanders, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. Francis had found France peaceful and prosperous; he left it bankrupt and on the brink of another war. A month before his death, while swearing friendship with Charles, he sent 200,000 crowns to the Protestants of Germany to support them against the Emperor.63 He—and in slightly less degree Charles—agreed with Machiavelli that statesmen, whose task is to preserve their countries, may violate the moral code which they require from their citizens, whose task is only to preserve their lives. The French people might have forgiven him his wars, but they lost relish for the splendor of his ways and his court when they perceived the cost. He was already unpopular in 1535.

He consoled himself with beauty living and dead. In his later years he made Fontainebleau his favorite residence, rebuilt it, and rejoiced in the graceful feminine art with which the Italians were adorning it. He surrounded himself with a Petite Bande of young women who pleased him with their good looks and gaiety. In 1538 a disease injured his uvula, and thereafter he stammered shamefully. He tried to cure what was probably his syphilis with mercury pills recommended by Barbarossa, but they had no success.64 A persistent and ill-smelling abscess broke his spirit, gave a dull and plaintive look to his once keen eyes, and moved him to an uncongenial piety. He had to watch his food, for he suspected that some courtiers who expected to rise under his successor were seeking to poison him. He noted sadly that the court now pivoted around his son, who was already distributing offices and impatiently awaiting his turn at the resources of France. To his deathbed at Rambouillet he called his sole heir and warned him not to be dominated by a woman—for Henry was already devoted to Diane de Poitiers. The King confessed his sins in hurried summary, and, breathing painfully, welcomed death. Francis, Duke of Guise, at the door, whispered to those in the next room, Le vieux gallant s’en va—”The old gallant is going.” 65 He went, whispering the name of Jesus. He was fifty-three, and had reigned thirty-two years. France felt that it was too much; but when it had recovered from him it forgave him everything, because he had sinned gracefully, he had loved beauty, he had been incarnate France.

In that same year Henry VIII died, and two years later, Marguerite. She had been too long away from Francis, and too far, to realize that death was stalking him. When word came to her, in a convent at Angoulême, that he was seriously ill, she almost lost her reason. “Whosoever shall come to my door,” she said, “and announce to me the recovery of the King my brother, such a courier, should he be tired and worn out, muddy and dirty, I will go and kiss and embrace as if he were the sprucest prince and gentleman in France; and should he be in want of a bed... I would give him mine, and I would gladly lie on the ground for the good news he brought me.” 66 She sent couriers to Paris; they returned and lied to her; the King, they assured her, was quite well; but the furtive tears of a nun betrayed the truth. Marguerite stayed in the convent for forty days, acting as abbess, and singing the old sacred chants with the nuns.

Back in Pau or Nérac she resigned herself to austerities, to her husband’s infidelities, and to her daughter’s wandering willfulness. She found comfort, after all her brave, half-Protestant years, in the color and incense and hypnotic music of Catholic ritual; the Calvinism that was capturing southern France chilled her, and frightened her back to her childhood piety. In December 1549, while watching a comet in the skies, she caught a fever that proved strong enough to break a frame and spirit already weakened by life’s inclemencies. Years before she had written lines as if half in love with the anesthesia of death:

Seigneur, quand viendra le jour,

Lord, when will come the day,

Tant désirée,

Wished ardently,

Que je serai par amour

That I shall be by love

A vous tiré?....

Drawn close to Thee? ....

Essuyez les tristes yeux

Still then my parting sighs,

Le long gemir,

Let me not weep;

Et me donnez pour le mieux

Give the best gift of all,

Un doux dormir.

Sweet boon of sleep.

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