In September 1494, according to localcollegeexplorer.com, Charles set out for Monginevra towards Italy. And yet Charles VIII’s great lightness in setting in motion a machine that will then take and consume in its gears, for over half a century, the forces of France: it will be a reason for weakness in other fields, it will warm the seeds of civil war. This undertaking of Charles VIII is by no means to be considered as a new fact in French history. Remember the first Merovingian kings, and Charlemagne, and the Angevins for two centuries, and the projects of French states to be cut out on the lands of the Church. But the company had very happy beginnings. In Italy there were all the elements necessary to arm armies: money, industrial equipment, inventive genius in relation to weapons, military engineering, etc. Except that they had never been aimed at the purpose of effective war preparation, except in the seafaring sphere. Even insofar as there was a military force in the various states of the peninsula, it was weakened by the nature of the relations between those states. Thus, Charles’s not-so-large army, made up for a large part of Swiss infantry, passed through the subalpine small states, all loyal to that king, tried without insisting on a diversion on the Milanese, approached Tuscany, sacking the lands and passing through by sword, inhabitants and soldiers, had alongside the Genoese fleet which seconded the land operations. In Venice, people expected to see the king’s banners appear on the lagoon at any moment. In Florence, Savonarola and his followers shouted that the prophecies were being carried out, that Charles was the Lord’s instrument for destroying vices, reforming deformed things. And people followed him. The old ferments of medieval life stirred the city, as always in serious moments, as often in moments in which the old communal spirit resonated against the lordship: this was the case of Florence. And since Piero de ‘Medici, handing over to the French the two fortresses of Sarzana and Pietrasanta and others that barred the coastal access road to Tuscany, provided the Florentines with new material of discontent, so the anti-Medici movement exploded, Piero was driven out; King Charles found the citizens willing to peace but also willing to war if he wanted to be the master; a popular regime was revived based on a major council, open to all citizens, and on a council of the Eighties, elected by the first: in short, something of the Venetian constitution, much admired then. Meanwhile Pisa rebelled against Florence, acclaiming the French as liberators; and shortly afterwards other cities of the dominion rebelled. Anarchy was unleashed in the lands of the Church and the pope did nothing militarily to stop the invasion. Many prelates were waiting for Carlo; and the people hoped that, once the sea routes were reopened, now closed by the Neapolitan galleys, the famine could end. Even Alfonso of Naples remained inactive. He trusted in Spain, he expected people from Albania, he put himself back in the hands of fortune. And the kingdom fell, without a blow.
But here, promoted by Venice, concluded in Venice on March 31, 1495, the Italic league, for 25 years. The Italian rulers realized that the king of France, in whom some had seen a pawn in their game, could become the arbiter of the peninsula by taking away from the hands of the Italian states, that is to say the major ones, the handling of their things. And they ran for cover. Besides Venice, Sforza, the king of Naples and the pope joined the league. Not Florence, however. And vice versa, foreign kings with possessions in Italy joined: then Maximilian of Austria and Ferdinand of Aragon, who sent his Great Captain Consalvo of Cordova to his kingdom. And it was not good company for the Italians: given the rights they boasted in Italy. The following year the King of England also joined. So Carlo, after a few months of happy and carefree Neapolitan life, in which the people were able to change their first enthusiasm into hatred, they had to hasten their return. In Fornovo, in the Parma Apennines, he clashed with the army of the league, commanded by Francesco Gonzaga, sent to block his way. Uncertain outcome he had the battle. But the French wanted to pass and passed. However it was a notable battle, almost to make an era for Italy. “It was the first battle that had been fought with killing and blood in Italy for a very long time”, he wrote to himself even then. Almost all Italian soldiers of the league. And they saw almost as many fighters for Italy. At this time there is much talk of Italy among Italians: “freedom of Italy”, “salvation of Italy”, “honor of Italy”, etc. “Liberty of Italy” had been like a slogan or flag, throughout the fifteenth century: but rather in the sense of freedom of the individual states from any hegemony of another Italian state. Now, however, the word means independence of all states, of all Italians, from the domination of foreigners, and appears as an expression of an Italian patriotism. This or that prince is put on trial, guilty, by calling the French, of having betrayed Italy. Il Moro, who feels suspected, protests “he never forgot that he was Italian”. And “you have to be good Italians” and leave the French in France, Pope Alexander VI warned the Florentines, who were said to have the lily of France engraved on his heart.