War of the Mantuan Succession

The War of the Mantuan Succession (1628–31) was a peripheral part of the Thirty Years' War. Its casus belli was the extinction of the direct male line of the House of Gonzaga in December 1627. Brothers Francesco IV (1612), Ferdinando (1612–26) and Vincenzo II (1626–27), the last three dukes of Mantua from the direct line, had all died leaving no legitimate heirs. The war, fought among the backers of rival claimants, pitted France against the Habsburgs in a contest for control of northern Italy.

War of the Mantuan Succession
Part of the Thirty Years' War
Result The Duke of Nevers is recognized as ruler of Mantua[1]
Supporting the Duke of Nevers:
Supporting the Duke of Guastalla:
 Holy Roman Empire
 Duchy of Savoy
Commanders and leaders
Charles, Duke of Nevers
Louis XIII of France
Cardinal Richelieu
Henri II de Montmorency
Ferrante II Gonzaga
Raimbaut XIII of Collalto
Ambrogio Spinola  
Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba
Charles Emmanuel I


Mantua is the ancestral city where the male line of the Gonzaga dynasty ruled, first as marquesses, then after 1540 as dukes, in vassalage to the Holy Roman Empire.

Monferrato was a duchy since 1574 on the eastern side of Piedmont, and an Imperial fief since the eleventh or twelfth century. The Gonzagas had enlarged their realm with Monferrato after receiving it in dowry from the wife of duke Frederick II Gonzaga.

On 22 September 1612, Francis IV, Duke of Mantua and Monferrato died at the age of 26. His death occurred only a couple of months after the death of his father Vincent I, Duke of Mantua. He left only a three-year-old daughter, Maria of Mantua. Francis IV also had two younger brothers who, both being cardinals, could not marry and were thus ineligible to succeed to Mantua's throne. Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, the father of Francis' wife Margaret of Savoy, claimed Montferrat for his house, triggering the War of the Montferrat Succession (1613–1617), which eventually confirmed Ferdinando I (1587–1626) as the rightful successor.

When Ferdinando died in 1626, his brother Vincenzo II (1594–1627) succeeded him as Duke of Mantua and Montferrato. Despite marrying, following the resignation of Ferdinando and the expulsion of Vincenzo from the Sacred College of Cardinals, neither produced any legitimate children. A crisis erupted when Vincenzo II died on 26 December 1627 at the age of 33, the same day that his niece Maria Gonzaga's marriage with Charles de Nevers was celebrated. Nevers was the eldest son and heir of Charles, Duke of Nevers, Rethel and Mayenne. Moreover, he was the head of the cadet branch of the House of Gonzaga, and after Vincenzo II, heir male[2] of the Duchy of Mantua.

Northern Italy was a strategic battlefield for France and the Habsburgs for centuries, ending only when Austria was expelled from Lombardy after the 1859 Second Italian War of Independence. Control of this area allowed the Habsburgs to threaten France's restive southern provinces of Languedoc and the Dauphiné, as well as protecting the supply route known as the Spanish Road; this meant a succession dispute in Mantua inevitably involved outside parties.[3]

Claimants and their supporters

The Duke of Nevers was a son of Louis, younger brother of Vincenzo II's grandfather (see family tree). Louis had been naturalized French about 1550, and married the heiress of the duchies of Nevers and Rethel in 1566. For the French Crown Nevers, a French peer, would naturally be preferable as ruler in Mantua. Nevers arrived there in January 1628 and was proclaimed its sovereign.

There were two rival claimants. One was Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, whose daughter Margaret was the widow of Francis IV. Although their son had died an infant in 1612, it was their elder daughter Maria (1612–1660) who had married Charles de Nevers in 1627. Charles Emmanuel based his right to Mantua on his daughter's claim to a substantial portion of the Gonzaga realm, the duchy of Montferrat, which was demonstrably heritable by females since the Gonzagas had acquired it through marriage to Margherita Paleologa in 1540.

The other claimant was Ferrante II, Duke of Guastalla, a distant Gonzaga cousin who voiced his claim but did not immediately place troops in the field. He was, however, supported by Emperor Ferdinand II, whose wife at the time, Eleanor of Mantua the elder (1598–1655), had been the sister of the last three Dukes of Mantua. He sought to re-attach the Duchy of Mantua to the Holy Roman Empire; Ferrante being in the Imperial-Spanish camp, was a useful tool to that purpose.

But as the Thirty Years' War wore on, it affected dynastic alliances. Charles Emmanuel obtained support from the Habsburgs, who controlled Milan. The resulting French-Habsburg war over the succession was just one of the many theatres of the Thirty Years' War, fought all over Europe.


The initial attempt of Don Gonzalo Fernandez de Córdoba, Spanish governor of Milan, and Charles-Emmanuel was to partition the Mantuan-Montferrat patrimony, which lay to east and to west of Milan. The Spanish minister supported the Guastalla claimant in Mantua, as the weaker of two neighbors, and the Savoy claimant in Montferrat, the lesser of the territories. Friction between the confederates ensued, when Charles-Emmanuel moved his troops into more territory than had been agreed upon, laying siege to the town of Casale, capital of Montferrat.

While Louis XIII of France and Cardinal Richelieu were concerned by new Huguenot uprisings in Languedoc, the capture of La Rochelle in 1628 allowed them to send forces to the relief of Casale, then besieged by a Habsburg army from Milan.[4] In March 1629, the French stormed barricades blocking the Pas de Suse and by the end of the month they had lifted the siege of Casale and taken the strategic fortress of Pinerolo.[5]

In April, France and Savoy agreed the Treaty of Susa and the French army returned to France, leaving a garrison at Pinerolo. The papal envoy in negotiations at Casale was Jules Mazarin. Emperor Ferdinand II's forces under Ramboldo, Count of Collalto invaded the Grisons and Valtelline. The governor was recalled from Milan,[6] followed by the insults of the citizens, for bread had been scarce for months. The following winter, Milan was devastated by the bubonic plague introduced by the armies, which has been vividly described by Manzoni.[7]

Later in 1629, Emperor Ferdinand II sent a Landsknecht army to besiege Mantua. Charles left without the promised support from Louis XIII of France. The siege lasted until July 1630, when the city, already struck by a plague, was brutally put to the sack for three days and three nights by troops led by Count Aldringen and Gallas. But the Emperor did not succeed in Mantua. Due to developments in Germany, where the Swedes were warring, he was forced to return his attention to the principal theatre of the big war.

Peace of Regensburg (1630)

The French first agreed to the Peace of Regensburg (or the Treaty of Ratisbonne), which was negotiated by French representatives Father Joseph and Nicolas Brûlart de Sillery. The accord was signed on 13 October 1630, which provided favorable terms to French interests in Italy despite their military setbacks. Specifically, the French were allowed to maintain their garrison in Grisons. The accord also confirmed Charles Gonzaga-Nevers as Duke of Mantua and Marquess of Montferrat in exchange for minor concessions to Charles Emmanuel of Savoy and Ferrante of Guastalla. The Habsburgs would on their side reduce their number of troops in the region. The treaty was seen as so unfavorable to the Spanish that the Spanish prime minister, Olivares, considered it no different than a surrender.

The treaty, moreover, contained a troublesome clause. It included an agreement whereby the French were not permitted to establish alliances in Germany against a reigning Holy Roman Emperor. This should have sidelined France in the ongoing conflict. Louis XIII of France refused to accept this, and the Austrians found themselves still at war, yet with diminished forces in the area. The new forces sent south of the Alps were to be sorely missed when Swedish forces under Gustavus II Adolphus invaded from the north.

Treaty of Cherasco (1631)

The Italian peace was eventually made with the Treaty of Cherasco, signed in a city in Piedmont on 19 June 1631. France, which in 1629 had taken Savoy, then captured Pinerolo in Piedmont the following year, renounced its conquests in Italy. Charles Gonzaga-Nevers was confirmed as ruler in Mantua and Montferrat, with concessions to the other claimants: Vittorio Amedeo I, who succeeded in Savoy after the sudden death of his father, Duke Charles Emmanuel, gained Trino and Alba in Montferrat; while Cesare II of Guastalla, Ferrante's son, was given Luzzara and Reggiolo. Later it was discovered that by a secret treaty with Vittorio Amedeo, Pinerolo was surrendered to France.

See also


  1. Peace of Treaty of Cherasco (1631).
  2. Whether the inheritance could pass through a female was in debate.
  3. Thion, Stephane (2013). French Armies of the Thirty Years' War. Histoire et Collections. p. 18. ISBN 978-2917747018.
  4. Richelieu's address to the King, December 1628.
  5. Thion, Stéphane (2013). French Armies of the Thirty Years' War. Histoire et Collections. p. 62. ISBN 978-2917747018.
  6. His replacement was Ambrogio, marques di Spinola.
  7. Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed (1842) Chapter XXVII contains a lightly ironic capsule account of the War of the Mantuan Succession, as background to his narration, continued, as a further digression, in Chapter XXVIII and culminating in his famous description of the bubonic plague which the German army brought to Milan, in Chapter XXXI.


  • Arnold, Thomas F. (1994). "Gonzaga Fortifications and the Mantuan Succession Crisis of 1613–1631". Mediterranean Studies. 4: 113–30.
  • Parrott, David (1997). "The Mantuan Succession, 1627–31: A Sovereignty Dispute in Early Modern Europe". English Historical Review. 112 (445): 20–65.
  • Stradling, R. A. (1990). "Prelude to Disaster; the Precipitation of the War of the Mantuan Succession, 1627–29". Historical Journal. 33 (4): 769–85.
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