Siege of Pavia, 27 October 1524-24 February 1525
The siege of Pavia (27 October-24 February 1525) saw the defenders of the city hold long enough for Imperial reinforcements to read Italy before inflicting a crushing defeat on Francis I at the Battle of Pavia (24 February 1525).
In the aftermath of the failure of the Imperial siege of Marseille (July-August/ September 1524) Francis I invaded north-western Italy via the Argentière Pass, at the head of around 40,000 men. The main Imperial army, commanded by the Constable of Bourbon and Ferdinando Francesco d'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara withdrew to the River Adda while a strong garrison was left in Pavia, commanded by Antonio de Leyva. Francis had two main choices - attack the main Imperial army before it could be reinforced or besiege Pavia. He chose to attack Pavia, on the hope that the German garrison wouldn't hold out for long. This would have put pressure on Pope Clement VII, then an Imperial supporter, and also potentially open the road to Naples.
Francis began the siege with around 40,000 men. The siege began on 28 October, and the first artillery bombardment began on 6 November. Soon after this Francis made a crucial mistake, detaching about 15,000 men under John Stuart, Duke of Albany, south to invade Naples as part of a new alliance he had agreed with the Pope. This left Francis with 25,000 men. Albany's men would make no progress in Naples, but they would be badly missed when Imperial reinforcements arrived at Pavia early in 1525.
At first Francis conducted an active siege. He launched one assault on the city, which was repulsed. He then attempted to divert the River Ticino, which protected the southern side of Pavia, but this also failed. The artillery bombardment made extensive use of the new technique of the 'sap trench' (angled trenches designed to get close to the walls without exposing the attackers to fire from the walls), but eventually he settled down to conduct a blockage in the hope of starving the garrison out over the winter of 1524-25.
Instead the defenders gave time for Imperial reinforcements to reach Italy from Germany, under the command of Georg von Frundsberg, while Charles de Lannoy, viceroy of Naples, also arrived with Spanish and Italian troops (despite Albany's move south). At the same time French reinforcements were blocked, and an attack on Chiavenna forced France's Grison allies to pull back.
On 24 January 1525 the reinforced Imperial army left Lodi. The army advanced towards Milan then turned towards Pavia, camping east of the city. Francis was now unable to maintain a strict blockade of Pavia, and the Imperialists were able to get supplies into the city.
Even so the situation in Pavia was still desperate and the Imperial commanders decided to attack. On the night of 23-24 February then outflanked the French by breaking through the walls of the part of Mirabello. The resulting battle of Pavia (24 February 1525) ended as a crushing Imperial victory. Francis himself was captured, and eventually taken to Spain, where he was forced to sign the Treaty of Madrid (1526). Francis continued to fight in Italy for the rest of his reign, but was never really able to regain the ground he lost at Pavia in 1525.
2016-02-24 Battle of Pavia
The Battle of Pavia, fought on the morning of 24 February 1525, was the decisive engagement of the Italian War of 1521–26.
A Spanish-Imperial army under the nominal command of Charles de Lannoy (and working in conjunction with the garrison of Pavia, commanded by Antonio de Leyva) attacked the French army under the personal command of Francis I of France in the great hunting preserve of Mirabello outside the city walls. In the four-hour battle, the French army was split and defeated in detail. The French suffered massive casualties, including many of the chief nobles of France Francis himself, captured by the Spanish troops, was imprisoned by Charles V and forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Madrid, surrendering significant territory to his captor. The outcome of the battle cemented Spanish Habsburg ascendancy in Italy.
On the evening of 23 February, Lannoy’s imperial troops, which had been encamped outside the east wall of the park, began their march north along the walls. At the same time, the Imperial artillery began a bombardment of the French siege lines—which had become routine during the extended siege—in order to conceal Lannoy’s movement. Meanwhile, Imperial engineers quickly worked to create a breach in the park walls, at the Porta Pescarina near the village of San Genesio, through which the Imperial army could enter. By 5:00 am, some 3,000 arquebusiers under the command of Alfonso d’Avalos had entered the park and were rapidly advancing on Mirabello Castle, where they believed the French headquarters to be simultaneously, Imperial light cavalry spread out from the breach into the park, intending to intercept any French movements.
Meanwhile, a detachment of French cavalry under Charles Tiercelin encountered the Imperial cavalry and began a series of skirmishes with them. A mass of Swiss pikemen under Robert de la Marck, Seigneur de la Flourance moved up to assist them, overrunning a battery of Spanish artillery that had been dragged into the park. They missed De Vasto’s arquebusiers—who had, by 6:30 am, emerged from the woods near the castle and swiftly overrun it—and blundered into 6,000 of Georg Frundsberg’s landsknechts. By 7:00 am, a full-scale infantry battle had developed not far from the original breach. By 8:00 am, a mass of Imperial pikemen and arquebusiers descended on the French cavalry from all sides. Lacking room to maneuver by the surrounding woods, the French gendarmes were surrounded and systematically killed. Richard de la Pole and Lorraine, advancing to assist Francis, were met by Frundsberg’s arriving landsknechts the French infantry was broken and routed, and de la Pole and Lorraine were both killed. In a particularly bitter contest between Imperial and renegade landsknechts, the Black Band was surrounded by Frundsberg’s pikemen and exterminated where it stood. The French king fought on as his horse was killed from under him by Cesare Hercolani, an Italian Condottiere surrounded by Spanish arquebusiers, he was taken prisoner and escorted from the field.
Battle [ edit | edit source ]
The Battle of Pavía (Juan de la Corte).
The times given here are taken from Konstam's reconstruction of the battle.
Movements in the dark [ edit | edit source ]
On the evening of 23 February, Lannoy's imperial troops, which had been encamped outside the east wall of the park, began their march north along the walls. At the same time, the Imperial artillery began a bombardment of the French siege lines—which had become routine during the extended siege—in order to conceal Lannoy's movement. ⎚] Meanwhile, Imperial engineers quickly worked to create a breach in the park walls, at the Porta Pescarina near the village of San Genesio, through which the Imperial army could enter. ⎛] By 5:00 in the morning, some 3,000 arquebusiers under the command of Alfonso d'Avalos had entered the park and were rapidly advancing on Mirabello Castle, where they believed the French headquarters to be simultaneously, Imperial light cavalry spread out from the breach into the park, intending to intercept any French movements. ⎜]
Meanwhile, a detachment of French cavalry under Charles Tiercelin encountered the Imperial cavalry and began a series of skirmishes with them. A mass of Swiss pikemen under Robert de la Marck, Seigneur de la Flourance moved up to assist them, overrunning a battery of Spanish artillery that had been dragged into the park. ⎝] They missed De Vasto's arquebusiers—who had, by 6:30, emerged from the woods near the castle and swiftly overrun it—and blundered into 6,000 of Georg Frundsberg's landsknechts. By 7:00, a full-scale infantry battle had developed not far from the original breach. ⎞]
Francis attacks [ edit | edit source ]
Leather Box for the Pennant of Francis I at the Battle of Pavia ⎟] The Walters Art Museum.
A third mass of troops—the Spanish and Imperial heavy cavalry under Lannoy himself, as well as d'Avalos' Spanish infantry—had meanwhile been moving through the woods to the west, closer to where Francis was encamped. The French did not realize the magnitude of the Imperial attack for some time however, by about 7:20, d'Avalos's advance had been spotted by a battery of French artillery, which commenced firing on the Spanish lines. This alerted Francis, who launched a charge against Lannoy's outnumbered cavalry with the entire force of French gendarmes, scattering the Spanish by 7:40. ⎠]
Francis's precipitate advance, however, had not only masked the fire of the French artillery, but also pulled him away from the mass of French infantry, commanded by Richard de la Pole, and by Francois de Lorraine, who led the Black Band of renegade Landsknecht pikemen (not to be confused with the Italian mercenary company of arquebusiers by the same name), which were 4,000 to 5,000 men strong. D'Avalos, left in command of the Spanish forces after Lannoy had followed the retreating cavalry, formed his men up at the edge of the woods and sent messengers to Bourbon, Frundsberg, and De Vasto requesting assistance. ⎡]
Frundsberg meanwhile mauled the heavily outnumbered Swiss infantry opposing him Tiercelin and Flourance were unable to hold their troops together, and the French foot began to flee the field.
Endgame [ edit | edit source ]
Battle of Pavia by Juan de Orea.
By 8:00, a mass of Imperial pikemen and arquebusiers descended on the French cavalry from all sides. Lacking room to maneuver by the surrounding woods, the French gendarmes were surrounded and systematically killed. Richard de la Pole and Lorraine, advancing to assist Francis, were met by Frundsberg's arriving landsknechts the French infantry was broken and routed, and de la Pole and Lorraine were both killed. In a particularly bitter contest between Imperial and renegade Landsknechts, the Black Band was surrounded by Frundsberg's pikemen and exterminated where it stood. The French king fought on as his horse was killed from under him by Cesare Hercolani, an Italian Condottiere. ⎢] ⎣] surrounded by Spanish arquebusiers, he was taken prisoner and escorted from the field. ⎤]
The exact nature of Francis's surrender—in particular, who exactly had taken him prisoner—is uncertain, with a variety of candidates ranging from Alonso Pita da Veiga, Juan de Urbieta and Diego Dávila ⎥] to Lannoy himself being put forward by various historians. The fact of the matter was that, as documented in the article for Alonso Pita da Veiga, at the time, no single individual was given credit for the capture of Francis I. The decree granting a coat of arms to Alonso Pita da Veiga for his deeds at the Battle of Pavia, was archived at the General Archive of Simanca (Archivo general de Simancas, legajo 388, rotulado de "Mercedes y Privilegios.’) and was issued by Emperor Charles V on 24 July 1529. In that decree, Charles V does not credit a single individual but, rather, a group of individuals that included Alonso Pita da Veiga: " . and in the same battle, you (Alonso Pita da Veiga) accomplished so much that you reached the person of said King (Francis I of France) and captured him, jointly with the other persons that captured him.” (" . y en la misma batalla ficistes tanto que allegastes á la misma persona del dicho Rey, y fuistes en prenderle, juntamente con las otras personas que le prendieron . ")
Meanwhile, Antonio de Leyva had sortied with the garrison, overrunning the 3,000 Swiss under Montmorency that had been manning the siege lines. The remnants of the Swiss–both Montmorency's and Flourance's—tried to flee across the river, suffering massive casualties as they did. ⎦] The French rearguard, under the Duke of Alençon, had taken no part in the battle when the Duke realized what had occurred in the park, he quickly began to retreat towards Milan. By 9:00 in the morning, the battle was over.
The French defeat was decisive. Aside from Francis, a number of leading French nobles—including Montmorency and Flourance—had been captured an even greater number—among them Bonnivet, La Tremoille, La Palice, Richard de la Pole, and Lorraine—had been killed in the fighting. Francis was taken to the fortress of Pizzighettone, where he penned his famous letter to Louise of Savoy, his mother:
|“||To inform you of how the rest of my ill-fortune is proceeding, all is lost to me save honour and life, which is safe. ||”|
Soon afterwards, he finally learned that the Duke of Albany had lost the larger part of his army to attrition and desertion, and had returned to France without ever having reached Naples.  The broken remnants of the French forces, aside from a small garrison left to hold the Castel Sforzesco in Milan, retreated across the Alps under the nominal command of Charles IV of Alençon, reaching Lyon by March. 
In Rome Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, who acted as Florentine emissary to Charles V in 1535, expressed support for the Emperor's victory by commissioning a rock crystal low relief in the manner of an Antique cameo, from the gem engraver Giovanni Bernardi. The classicizing treatment of the event lent it a timeless, mythic quality and reflected on the culture and taste of the patron.
An oil-on-panel Battle of Pavia, painted by an anonymous Flemish artist, depicts the military engagement between the armies of Charles V and Francis I. Because of its detail, the painting is considered an accurate visual record, probably based on eyewitness accounts.  A suite of seven Brussels tapestries after cartoons by Bernard van Orley (left) celebrate the Spanish victory.
On this date in 1525, a French marshal was executed during a crucial battle of the France-vs-Habsburg Italian War, beginning a long posthuous journey to a wordplay gag.
The Battle of Pavia, by Ruprecht Heller (1529).
The Battle of Pavia is best remembered for the fate — not lethal, but much more damaging to statecraft — of King Francis I of France, who was captured on the field by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.* Francis spent two years in comfortable but discomfiting imperial custody until he agreed to the humiliating Treaty of Madrid ceding vast tracts of French territory (notably Burgundy) to Charles.**
For all that, Francis kept his head and eventually resumed his station. Jacques de La Palice (English Wikipedia entry | the much longer French) did not exit the Battle of Pavia nearly so well.
The lord of La Palice (or Lapalisse), grandson to a comrade of Joan of Arc, our man had spent a lifetime bearing French arms he’d been personally knighted by King Charles VIII for his prowess at age 15 in his very first engagement.
The great bulk of his time ever since had been spent on various campaigns in Italy, where France remained more or less continuously at war against the Holy Roman Empire until 1559.
Fighting up and down the peninsula, La Palice earned the impressive rank of Grand Master of France, and it had nothing to do with his chess acumen. He’d actually retired to the pleasures of domesticity after being captured in 1513 at the Battle of the Spurs — so named for the panicked spurring a fleeing French cavalry gave to their horses — only to be recalled to his post in 1515.
Late in 1524 he was among the host accompanying King Francis’s march to recover France’s on-again, off-again transalpine beachhead of Milan. This objective the French achieved with scant resistance, but the expedition turned disastrous in a further advance to Pavia. There, 9,000 imperial troops were dug in to defend unable to take the city by storm the French put it to siege, fatally overextending themselves.
Come the following February, the Habsburgs had cut Pavia off from Milan and the French encampment was weakened by defecting mercenaries. On the morning of February 24, the imperial forces mounted an attack on the French that turned into a comprehensive slaughter. La Palice was captured early on by the Habsburgs’ landsknecht mercenaries and executed by them at some point later on during the fight. Although his fate was a bit more premeditated, he was only one of many blue-blooded commanders who lost their lives on the field that dark day for France&dagger — suspending French ambitions in Italy, if only for a few years.
The knight’s alleged feats are celebrated in a ballad known as “La chanson de la Palisse” (“The Song of La Palice”). Rather, there are dozens of versions of that ditty, dating from the 16th to the 18th century, of unknown original authorship but agglomerated by the French poet Bernard de la Monnoye into a humorous caper in the 18th century.
This poem presumably (though not certainly) began as a genuine praise song for the dead marshal, opening with this garment-rending stanza:
Hélas, La Palice est mort,
Il est mort devant Pavie
Hélas, s’il n’était pas mort,
Il ferait encore envie.
Alas, La Palice is dead,
He died before Pavia
Alas, if he were not dead,
He would still be envied.
Somewhere along the way fulsome became winsome — perhaps via deliberate spoof or maybe the well-known phenomenon of old-timey letter s written to look like f, transforming the verse into a comical tautology:
s’il n’etait pas mort, / Il ferait encore envie (“if he was not dead he would still be envied”)
s’il n’etait pas mort, / Il serait encore en vie (“if he was not dead he would still be alive”)
It’s thanks to this amusing misreading that the French tongue today enjoys the term lapalissade, meaning a laughably obvious truism — and in Monnoye’s composition the entirety of the lyrics consist of such jests e.g.
Monsieur d’la Palisse is dead,
He died before Pavia,
A quarter of an hour before his death,
He was still alive.
He was, by a sad fate,
wounded with a cruel hand.
It is believed, since he is dead,
that the wound was mortal.
Regretted by his soldiers,
he died worthy of envy
And the day of his death
was the last day of his life.
He died on Friday,
the last day of his age
If he had died on Saturday,
he would have lived more.
(That’s just an excerpt the much longer full French verse is available at the song’s French Wikipedia page.)
* Ample unverifiable folklore attaches an event so memorable as the capture of a king a site such as this is bound to note the one that reports that Francis might have been killed on the spot by rampaging foes but for the timely intercession of a young Spanish soldier named Pedro de Valdivia … who would go on to become the conquistador of Chile, and eventually an execution victim himself.
** Francis renounced the treaty as soon as he was released, on the accurate grounds that it was made under duress. In this betrayal of honor, he did his kingdom much the better turn than his distant predecessor John II had done when, captured by the English during the Hundred Years’ War, he dutifully set about extracting from his subjects the ruinous ransom and even returned voluntarily to English custody when he could not fulfill the terms of his parole.
&dagger Another corpse at the Battle of Pavia was Richard de la Pole, Plantagenet pretender to the English throne ever since his brother had been executed back in 1513.
The French, in possession of Lombardy at the start of the Italian War of 1521–26, had been forced to abandon it after their defeat at the Battle of Bicocca in 1522. Determined to regain it, Francis ordered an invasion of the region in late 1523, under the command of Guillaume Gouffier, Seigneur de Bonnivet but Bonnivet was defeated by Imperial troops at the Battle of the Sesia and forced to withdraw to France.
Charles de Lannoy now launched an invasion of Provence under the command of Fernando d'Avalos, Marquess of Pescara, and Charles III, Duke of Bourbon (who had recently betrayed Francis and allied himself with the Emperor). While initially successful, the Imperial offensive lost valuable time during the Siege of Marseille and was forced to withdraw back to Italy by the arrival of Francis and the main French army at Avignon.
In mid-October 1524, Francis himself crossed the Alps and advanced on Milan at the head of an army numbering more than 40,000. Bourbon and d'Avalos, their troops not yet recovered from the campaign in Provence, were in no position to offer serious resistance. [ 3 ] The French army moved in several columns, brushing aside Imperial attempts to hold its advance, but failed to bring the main body of Imperial troops to battle. Nevertheless, Charles de Lannoy, who had concentrated some 16,000 men to resist the 33,000 French troops closing on Milan, decided that the city could not be defended and withdrew to Lodi on 26 October. [ 4 ] Having entered Milan and installed Louis II de la Trémoille as the governor, Francis (at the urging of Bonnivet and against the advice of his other senior commanders, who favored a more vigorous pursuit of the retreating Lannoy) advanced on Pavia, where Antonio de Leyva remained with a sizable Imperial garrison of about 9000. [ 5 ]
The main mass of French troops arrived at Pavia in the last days of October. By 2 November, Anne de Montmorency had crossed the Ticino River and invested the city from the south, completing its encirclement. Inside were about 9,000 men, mainly mercenaries whom Antonio de Leyva was able to pay only by melting the church plate. [ 6 ] A period of skirmishing and artillery bombardments followed, and several breaches had been made in the walls by mid-November. On 21 November, Francis attempted an assault on the city through two of the breaches, but was beaten back with heavy casualties hampered by rainy weather and a lack of gunpowder, the French decided to wait for the defenders to starve. [ 7 ]
In early December, a Spanish force commanded by Ugo de Moncada landed near Genoa, intending to interfere in a conflict between pro-Valois and pro-Habsburg factions in the city. Francis dispatched a larger force under the Marquis of Saluzzo to intercept them. Confronted by the more numerous French and left without naval support by the arrival of a pro-Valois fleet commanded by Andrea Doria, the Spanish troops surrendered. [ 8 ] Francis then signed a secret agreement with Pope Clement VII, who pledged not to assist Charles in exchange for Francis's assistance with the conquest of Naples. Against the advice of his senior commanders, Francis detached a portion of his forces under the Duke of Albany and sent them south to aid the Pope. [ 9 ] Lannoy attempted to intercept the expedition near Fiorenzuola, but suffered heavy casualties and was forced to return to Lodi by the intervention of the infamous Black Bands of Giovanni de' Medici, Italian mercenaries which had just entered French service. Medici then returned to Pavia with a supply train of gunpowder and shot gathered by the Duke of Ferrara but the French position was simultaneously weakened by the departure of nearly 5,000 Grisons Swiss mercenaries, who returned to their cantons in order to defend them against marauding landsknechts. [ 10 ]
In January 1525, Lannoy was reinforced by the arrival of Georg Frundsberg with 15,000 fresh landsknechts and renewed the offensive. D'Avalos captured the French outpost at Sant'Angelo Lomellina, cutting the lines of communication between Pavia and Milan, while a separate column of landsknechts advanced on Belgiojoso and, despite being briefly pushed back by a raid led by Medici and Bonnivet, occupied the town. [ 11 ] By 2 February, Lannoy was only a few miles from Pavia. Francis had encamped the majority of his forces in the great walled park of Mirabello outside the city walls, placing them between Leyva's garrison and the approaching relief army. [ 12 ] Skirmishing and sallies by the garrison continued through the month of February. Medici was seriously wounded and withdrew to Piacenza to recuperate, forcing Francis to recall much of the Milan garrison to offset the departure of the Black Band but the fighting had little overall effect. On 21 February, the Imperial commanders, running low on supplies and mistakenly believing that the French forces were more numerous than their own, decided to launch an attack on Mirabello Castle in order to save face and demoralize the French sufficiently to ensure a safe withdrawal. [ 13 ]
1525 in History
Victory in Battle
Feb 24 Battle of Pavia: Holy Roman Emperor Charles V's troops beat the French. French King Francois I captured, 15,000 killed or wounded
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After the battle of Pavia, the fate of the French king and of France itself became the object of sophisticated diplomatic maneuvers. Charles V, who did not have enough money to continue the war, preferred to forget about his promise to marry a representative of the House of Tudors, given to Henry VIII, and instead sought the hand of Isabella Portuguese, who had a richer dowry. Meanwhile, the Duke de Bourbon urged Heinrich to invade France and divide it into a pair, and d’Avalos pushed to seize Naples and proclaim himself king of Italy.
Louise of Savoy , who remained the regent of France during the absence of her son, tried to collect troops and money to prepare for the expected invasion of British troops in Artois. At the same time, she sent the first French embassy to Suleiman the Magnificent, asking for assistance, but the embassy died in Bosnia. In December 1525, a second embassy was sent, which reached Istanbul with secret letters requesting assistance for the liberation of King Francis and a proposal to attack the Hapsburgs. On February 6, 1526, the embassy returned with a response from Suleiman, laying the foundations of the Franco-Turkish alliance. Suleiman wrote a letter to Charles V, demanding the release of Francis, as well as the payment of an annual tribute by the Holy Roman Empire when this did not follow, in the summer of 1526 the Turks invaded Hungary.
De Lannoy and d’Avalos wanted to send Francis to Neapolitan Castel Nuovo, but Francis himself believed that he would be able to secure his release if he personally met with Charles V, and demanded that he be sent to Spain. Fearing conspiracy on the part of the duke de Bourbon, the imperial and Spanish commanders agreed, and on 12 June, Francis was taken to Barcelona.
Originally, Francis was kept in a villa near Benisano (near Valencia ), but then he was transferred to Madrid and placed there in a castle. Nevertheless, Carl refused to meet with him before reaching an agreement. Carl demanded the transfer of not only Lombardy, but also Burgundy and Provence, forcing Francis to declare that the laws of France do not allow him to give lands belonging to the Crown without the consent of Parliament, which obviously would not have followed.
In September, Francis became seriously ill, and his sister, Margherita of Navarre, went to him. The imperial doctors, who examined the patient, came to the conclusion that his illness was caused by grief from the inability to meet with the emperor. Despite the protest of the Chancellor Merkurino Gattinara, who believed that the issues of mercy should not interfere in politics, Carl visited the patient, and he went on the mend. Francis tried to escape, but the attempt was unsuccessful, and Margarita of Navarre had to return to France.
At the beginning of 1526, Carl was faced with demands from Venice and the Pope for the restoration of Francesco Maria Sforza on the throne of the Duchy of Milan, and was worried that an agreement with France could not be achieved before the start of a new war. Francis, realizing that the arguments about the impossibility of the return of Burgundy to Carl did not work, decided to agree to give it for the sake of his own release. On January 14, 1526, Charles V and Francis I signed the Treaty of Madrid, according to which the French king refused claims to Italy, Flanders and Artois, gave Burgundy to Charles V, agreed to send two sons to the Spanish court as hostages, and return to the Duke de Bourbon all the lands taken from him.
March 6, Francis was released, and accompanied by de Lannoy went to Futerrabia. On March 18, he crossed the Bidasoa river to the north, entering the land of France, while his two sons proceeded south, taking hostages to Spain. By this time, Cardinal Wolsey and the French ambassador drew up a preliminary draft of a peace treaty between England and France (which was ratified by the French side in April 1527).
Francis, however, did not feel any desire to fulfill the rest of the Madrid Treaty. On March 22, with the blessing of the Pope, he declared himself unconnected with the terms of the Madrid Treaty, as signed under pressure. Meanwhile, Pope Clement VII , fearing the growing influence of the emperor in Italy, offered Francis I and Henry VIII to conclude an alliance against Charles V. Henry, who did not receive anything under the Madrid Treaty, agreed, as a result of which the War of the Cognac League began.