Front Page Titles (by Subject) 43.: On the War of 1494 - Judgments on History and Historians
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43.: On the War of 1494 - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On the War of 1494
(I) For the great states which have only recently become quite powerful there now start years of indiscretion, of grand politics directed toward the outside.
It was as though France wanted to compensate for the austere prose of Louis XI. Romanticism burgeons on every side. To the realist par préférence it had to happen that his so well guarded son must become a visionary (the daughter, Anne de Beaujeu, was a realist).
The other side of the French mind, the imaginative, comes brilliantly to the fore. It was in this light that the Italians regarded Charles VIII. To Savonarola he is the great, exalted head of the Guelphs; to Pisa he is a liberator; to Naples a sacra corona [sacred crown]; to all a great new chance in that land of chances, Italy.
In his History of France, (4th ed., Vol. VII, p. 282), Henri Martin says in this connection: “La portion remuante et guerrière de la population française garda, depuis la campagne de Naples, une aveugle fureur de conquêtes lointaines, une infatuation funeste de sa supériorité militaire …” [The revolutionary and warlike element in the French population retained, after the campaign of Naples, a blind passion for remote conquests, a deadly infatuation with its military superiority …].
Basically, this campaign was pure folly. It would have been to the real French interest, at any rate, that Naples should belong to an Aragonese bastard line rather than to that Aragonese who already possessed Sicily. The greatest significance of these lands was to be the vanguard against Islam, a very difficult honorary privilege! The real France would not have had to give up Franche-Comté and Artois, but to acquire as much as possible of the rest of the Netherlands. On the other hand, Naples was at best a valueless possession for France, and Charles VIII would not have set out merely for the sake of Naples; could designs on Constantinople and Jerusalem have been the decisive factor?
The fascination of this period lies in the naive expression of egoism and enthusiasm. Out of a need for emotion, Florence goes through its republic and its Savonarola.
In the chronicles Comines and Guicciardini meet; and even Macchiavelli joins in (Decennale, I).
Could this whole swindle with Constantinople and Jerusalem have been only a mask—to lend a campaign of conquest the character of a crusade? Considering the Turkish menace at that time, a mere campaign of conquest against Naples was an enormous scandal; Alexander VI (in February of 1494?) reminds Charles that such a campaign could really not be undertaken importuniori tempore [at a less favorable time]; Ferrante might in utter despair throw himself into the arms of the Turks. Then, too, 30,000 men were quite insufficient for a crusade. But the main consideration is one that is hardly ever brought up: through her invading zeal France incited the Spanish power, which was bent on increasing its might anyway, to apply itself likewise to further occupation of outside areas. The detachment of Roussillon and Cerdagne had not pacified a Ferdinand the Catholic by a long shot!
How safe is the Sicilian theory according to which Filippo Maria Visconti actually bequeathed his state to Alfonso the Great? According to this, not only Lodovico il Moro but the entire house of Sforza would have had to worry constantly about the house of Aragon-Naples. Was perhaps the marriage of young Giovanni Galeazzo intended to eliminate this worry? And the claim of the house of Orleans was cut off entirely.
(II) We are told, above all, that wars are necessary because the peoples stagnate in peacetime and the mightiest forces would no longer achieve representation.
To be sure, the victor does gain a heightened feeling of life. One does not speak about the vanquished and his misery; why was he not the stronger one?
In the case under discussion, Italy, which had been cast to the ground in an era or series of interventions, had no unity and lacked an organ of national resistance, to be sure; but it did have forces of the highest intellectual kind that were capable of creations for all peoples and all times, and the activity of these forces was certainly stunted in large measure through the misery of Italy. What the art of that time was prevented from achieving will probably never be recompensed by any future art of the white race.
For the time being, France comes along with crude enforcement of rights of succession—in the first place, Charles VIII with his Anjou parchments, in the second, Louis of Orleans (actually Rabaudanges) who already stands by with his Milanese claim based on his grandmother.
This arouses the Spanish beast. The scene is set for the Spanish-French struggle for existence which always takes place partly on Italian soil and has as its object parts of Italy, until finally around 1555 the French are completely expelled from Italy.
And over this they have neglected the much closer and more important acquisition, the Low Countries. In 1493 Charles VIII sacrifices Artois and Franche-Comté in order to make sure of being able to start his Italian campaign, and subsequently France does not obtain the important French Flanders up to the mouth of the Scheldt where once French kings had won victories near Bouvines, Roosebeke, etc.
Who will then blame Philip II for promoting and exploiting in every way the disarray of France in the religious wars?
France appeared anew in Italy under Richelieu, under Louis XIV, at the time of the War of the Spanish Succession, then under Louis XV, the Directorate, Napoleon, etc., until finally, substantially through France’s doing, there arise in Germany and Italy great national units with which France would probably not tangle lightly in the future.
It would be interesting to add up the sum total of that exalted feeling felt by the French nation (n.b. rather than its leaders); one would have to subtract from it not only the suffering of Italy, but also the humiliations of the French at their many retreats from Italy.
By all appearances it would be possible to close such an account today, for the invasions of Italy are probably definitely at an end.
But, finally, there would remain the counterquestion: what would the Italians have done to one another if Europe had left them in peace?