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The Sack of Rome

By Robert S. Smith | Published in 1980 
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by E. R. Chamberlin

In this account of the sack of Rome in 1527 by an undisciplined army owing only a loose allegiance to the Emperor Charles V, E. R. Chamberlin, the author, who has published several books about Renaissance Italy, is mainly concerned with the political, especially dynastic, background to the event and with its military aspects shows little interest in the consequences of the disaster, and does not examine its place in European history. Of course the claim that it brought the Renaissance to an end in Italy, or at least in Rome, is both stale and exaggerated, yet it continues to be made. Very recently, an introspective portrait by Bronzino of a young man, loaned to the National Gallery, was described as revealing the condition of 'Italy in the years following the sack of Rome'.

The merit of this book with its conservative, but not invalid, approach, lies in the excellent handling of a narrative which is rich in incident and in personalities. The characters of the main actors are percipiently analysed and there are interesting remarks on the contrasting methods of warfare employed in the sixteenth century by the several parties engaged in Italy. Given this focus, maps are sadly lacking while a regrettable omission in Mr. Chamberlin's reading and his short Bibliography is Michael Mallett's study (1974) of warfare in Renaissance Italy. Thus, despite the compelling nature of its narrative, the book does not provide much solid or stimulating fare for the reader already familiar with the history of Italy in this period. Even the tiredest general reader, moreover, will be irritated by its numerous slips, misspellings, and textual eccentricities. For example, we read throughout of 'Giovanni della Bande Nere' and there seems no justification for the repeated archaism (or error?) 'ransome'.

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