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The French Invasion of Italy, 1494

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, writes E.R. Chamberlin, a young French King took advantage of the Italian ‘genius for dissension’.

Before I proceed to give my readers an account of the troubles in Italy from whence so many evils were derived it will not be improper to observe that our calamities affected us with so much the greater terror because the minds of men were perfectly at ease and the country at that time in a state of profound peace and tranquillity. It is certain that for more than a thousand years .. . Italy had at no time enjoyed a state of such complete prosperity and repose as in the year 1490, and some time before and after. The people had taken advantage of this halcyon season and been busied in cultivating their lands, and being under no foreign influence but governed by their own Princes, Italy grew renowned for the grandeur and magnificence of her sovereigns, for the splendour of many beautiful and noble cities, for the seat of majesty of religion, and for a number of great men ... distinguished in every noble art.’

In this manner Francesco Guicciardini opened his great History of Italy. It was, perhaps, inevitable that the first historian of Italy should begin his work on this elegaic note, looking back on an epoch that was scarcely a generation distant as though it were a Golden Age lost in some remote antiquity. He was eight years old in that ‘halcyon season’ of 1490 and so lived to endure the full force of the evils produced by the collapse of delicately balanced structures under pressure of invasion. By contrast, almost any society would have been stable, almost any system of government preferable to the arrogant rule of foreigner invaders of the ancient land.

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