The descent of the French was successful at least in this, that it aroused the cupidity and ambition of the king of Spain and of the emperor. Italy was proved to be any one’s prize at Fornovo, and when Louis XII. succeeded Charles VIII. in 1498 and combined in his own person the claim of the French crown to Naples and to Genoa and the Orleans claim to Milan, Venice, instead of being doubly on guard, thought she saw a chance of extending her Lombard dominions. She refused the alliance Sforza offered and promised to assist Louis in return for Cremona and its contado. In other words, she committed treason to Italy and thus justified, if anything could justify, the League of Cambray.
Sforza’s first act was to urge the Turk, who needed no invitation, to attack the republic, whose fleet in 1499 was utterly defeated at sea by the Orientals, who presently raided into Friuli. Venice was forced to accept a humiliating peace. It was in these circumstances that, with all Italy alienated from her, the papacy began to act against her.
Its first and most splendid effort to create a reality out of the fiction of the States of the Church was the attempt of Cesare Borgia, who actually made himself master of the whole of the Romagna. Venice watched him with the greatest alarm, but chance saved her, for with the death of Alexander VI., Cesare and his dream came to nothing. Venice acted at once, for indeed even in her decline she was the most splendid force in Italy. She induced by a most swift and masterly stroke the leading cities of the Romagna to place themselves under her protection. It was a great stroke, the last blow of a great and desperate man; that it failed does not make it less to be admired.
The rock which broke the stroke as it fell and shattered the sword which dealt it was Pope Julius II.
Louis and the emperor had come together, and when in June 1508 a truce was made they would have been content to leave Venice alone; it was the pope who refused, and by the end of the year had formed the European League for the purpose of “putting a stop to losses, injuries, rapine, and damage which Venice had inflicted not merely on the Holy See, but also on the Holy Roman Empire, the House of Austria, the Duchy of Milan, the King of Naples and other princes, seizing and tyrannically occupying their territories, cities, and castles as though she were conspiring to the common ill....” So ran the preamble of the League of Cambray. It contemplated among other things the return of Ravenna, Faenza, Rimini, and the rest of the Romagna to the Holy See; Istria, Fruili, Treviso, Padua, Vicenza, and Verona being handed to the emperor; Brescia, Bergamo, Crema, and Cremona passing to France, and the sea-coast towns in Apulia to the king of Spain; Dalmatia was to go to the king of Hungary and Cyprus to the duke of Savoy.
[Illustration: ROCCA VENIZIANA]
In the spring of 1507, Julius launched his bull of excommunication against Venice; Ravenna, which was held by the podesta Marcello and by Zeno, was attacked by the pope’s general, the duke of Urbino, and after the disastrous defeat of the Venetians by the French and Milanese, at Aguadello, on the Adda, the republic ordered the restoration of Ravenna to the Holy See, together with the other cities of the Romagna.