The League of Cambrai

The Grand Alliance against the Republic of Venice, 1508


Beginning shortly after 1500, the Republic of Venice began taking a series of decisions so wrong-headed that she provoked a military alliance against her by virtually every major power of Southern Europe -- an improbable consensus among rulers who seldom agreed on anything.

The Venetians' actions were founded on a unique set of erroneous perceptions about the world around them, namely:

-that the quasi-independent cities south of the Veneto in Romagna and the Marches -- part of the Papal States -- represented a ripe area for territorial expansion on the Italian mainland.

-that the Papacy could be placated by expressions of allegiance and by the payment of tribute.

-that if Venice supported her longtime ally Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere to succeed Pius III as Pope, then he would be receptive to their territorial expansion at the expense of his Papal States.

In fact, Cardinal della Rovere, now Pope Julius II, swiftly and effectively forged an alliance among all of Venice's neighbors, offering them an opportunity to avenge their grievances of the past and carve up all of Venice's territory among themselves.

Location mapThe bargain was sealed in a December 1508 convocation in the French city of Cambrai; by the following spring Spain, France, the Holy Roman Empire, the Papal States, Hungary, Savoy, Mantua and Ferrara had all agreed to send their armies into the field against the mercenary forces of Venice in a decisive campaign. The League stated its intention without room for doubt:

". . . [W]e have found it not only well-advised and honorable, but even necessary, to summon all people to take their just revenge and so to extinguish, like a great fire, the insatiable rapacity of the Venetians and their thirst for power."

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1998 C. I. Gable