A new history of how one of the Renaissance’s preeminent cities lost its independence in the Italian Wars.
In 1499, the duchy of Milan had known independence for one hundred years. But the turn of the sixteenth century saw the city battered by the Italian Wars. As the major powers of Europe battled for supremacy, Milan, viewed by contemporaries as the “key to Italy,” found itself wracked by a tug-of-war between French claimants and its ruling Sforza family. In just thirty years, the city endured nine changes of government before falling under three centuries of Habsburg dominion.
John Gagné offers a new history of Milan’s demise as a sovereign state. His focus is not on the successive wars themselves but on the social disruption that resulted. Amid the political whiplash, the structures of not only government but also daily life broke down. The very meanings of time, space, and dynasty—and their importance to political authority—were rewritten. While the feudal relationships that formed the basis of property rights and the rule of law were shattered, refugees spread across the region. Exiles plotted to claw back what they had lost.
Milan Undone is a rich and detailed story of harrowing events, but it is more than that. Gagné asks us to rethink the political legacy of the Renaissance: the cradle of the modern nation-state was also the deathbed of one of its most sophisticated precursors. In its wake came a kind of reversion—not self-rule but chaos and empire.
A compelling, important, and masterly executed scholarly work on a tumultuous period in the history of a central Italian and European polity during the first phase of the Italian Wars…Gagné’s Milan Undone is certainly an admirable scholarly addition to this still modest corpus of studies.
A magisterial story that combines a rigorous theoretical underpinning with the voices of those who lived through these challenging times. The book is compellingly written in wonderful prose. It is impossible to remain unmoved by the accounts of sordid power struggles and the economic hardships suffered by the beleaguered civilian population…Milan Undone is a formidable achievement by a scholar who has already made his mark in the field of Italian Renaissance studies. This new book will amplify his standing as a major expert on sixteenth-century Milan and on the early modern state more generally.
One might think that the study of state formation would offer nothing new, but Gagné brings something fresh to the perspective by homing in on [the] collapses and what he terms as the ‘surfeit of sovereignty’ in the first three decades of the sixteenth century…Using an impressive collection of sources, Milan Undone presents a tangled thread of a half-finished, unrealized state.
Gagné has written a wonderful book: a cultural history of war or a political history in the round, it is pithy, witty, and extremely well researched, managing to be engaging, lively, and relentlessly downbeat all at the same time. Milan at the time of the French invasion and occupation and the Italian wars is ultimately consolidated (legally), but is ‘utterly undone’ through warfare and through the weakness, rapaciousness, forgetfulness, and ineptitude of public actors.
Every now and then there comes along a contribution that transforms an entire field of research, opening up long vistas and making us see everything in a new light. Milan Undone is destined to become a landmark book of this kind. Gagné convincingly argues that the instability that accompanied the Italian Wars led to a state of ‘flickering sovereignty’ in Milan, where the key underpinnings of society, including the notion of political authority itself, were thrown into confusion.
- 464 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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