T HE treaty of Étaples was a turning-point in the political history of western Europe. Along with the companion treaties of Narbonne and Senlis it marked the reorientation of French policy. France was clearing her feet for the stride into Italy which she took in 1494, and for the next half-century 1 the interest of Europe centred upon 'the Italian wars'. Italy invited invasion; her wealth, her beauty, and her helplessness made her the natural victim of aggression. In her population were numbered some of the cleverest merchants and financiers in the world, and in her great cities -- notably Florence -- large- scale industry was already organized on a 'capitalistic' basis. She excelled in the arts, and during the fifteenth century her excellence was revivified by the stimulating breath of the Renaissance. But she lacked political cohesion; at this time, as at others, Italy was only a geographical term. Of the city- states some had become princedoms -- in Mantua the house of Gonzaga held sway, in Ferrara the house of Este; others such as Genoa (which fell under the control first of France and later of Milan), Lucca, and Siena had become considerable republics; but many cities remained independent under their own princes, though they stood in constant danger of being annexed by some acquisitive neighbour. The politics of Italy, however, were dominated by five great states -- the papacy, the republic of Venice, the kingdom of Naples, the republic of Florence, the duchy of Milan.
None of these states was very stable. The Papacy had lost much of its European authority and, though its political weight was still considerable, its energy was largely directed towards the creation of a temporal principality, which Pope Alexander VI ( 1492-1503) and his son Caesar hoped to make hereditary in the house of Borgia. To the south the kingdom of Naples had been held since 1435 by the Aragonese who had gained it after a long struggle with the house of Anjou. Since 1458, how-____________________