Mercenaries and the Sack of Rome

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  • 0:05 Bourbon and Francois
  • 0:41 The Battle Begins
  • 1:35 Politics and the Holy…
  • 2:29 Bourbon Attacks Rome
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Politics led Charles de Bourbon, a rich French Duke, to flee his country to fight for his cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor. This lesson explains how financing and the use of mercenaries by Bourbon led to the sack of Rome in 1527.

Bourbon and Francois

Bourbon and Francois funded their military actions with borrowed money.
Bourbon Francois Borrowed Money

When Charles de Bourbon was 15, he became a French duke. He became very wealthy and enjoyed spending his money. He also enjoyed serving in the French army.

When Francois I (or Francis I in English) became king in 1515, he appointed Bourbon as the Constable of France, meaning he was the general of the national army.

Francois and Bourbon wanted to expand French borders, but neither of them had enough money to fund the expedition. They began borrowing money, assuming they would be able to pay it back after conquering a rich Italian province called Lombardy.

The Battle Begins

Bourbon also used some of his money to hire mercenaries from Germany to fight against the Swiss mercenaries currently fighting for Lombardy. Mercenaries are soldiers that are hired to fight rather than being part of a national defense system. Mercenaries didn't fight for their nation of origin, but instead went where the money was. Mercenaries could fight against one country and then fight for them in the future, depending on who hired them. The French troops, along with the German mercenaries, led a successful campaign into the Italian province.

When the forces returned, Bourbon asked the King for funds to pay off his debtors. The King, however, didn't have enough money to pay off his own debts. Bourbon waited two years and asked for money again. Although the King was agreeable, he was in no hurry to comply with Bourbon's request. Bourbon finally obtained financial help through his cousin, also named Charles, who was the prince of Austria.

Politics and the Holy Roman Empire

Charles of Austria was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. Francois was unhappy with this decision and wanted the title for himself. Francois wasn't sure he could trust Bourbon's loyalty, so he asked Bourbon to marry his mother. Bourbon refused, and Francois claimed ownership of all of Bourbon's property. Bourbon had to go to court to fight for his estate, but meanwhile, Francois continued to petition Bourbon with marriages to women in his family.

Bourbon became irritated with Francois' behavior and fled to Spain, where his cousin, Charles V, was preparing to invade France. Bourbon joined the fight with his German mercenaries. Francois was captured, and Bourbon demanded that Francois return his land and his money. Francois agreed, but when he was set free, he sold all of Bourbon's land to French aristocracy. Bourbon had to ask his cousin for more money, but Charles V was busy with rebellions against his empire.

Bourbon Attacks Rome

Charles V made Bourbon the Duke of Milan and provided him with an army of French and German troops. However, the mercenaries became angry when they didn't get paid for their service. Bourbon began selling his own possessions to pay them. He eventually allowed the troops to attack neighboring cities to loot the cities and churches to help pay their salaries.

Bourbon and his troops decided to attack the city of Rome. Rome was considered sacred by Catholics. Because of Rome's holy status, it had little in the area of defense. The city was thought to be safe, as few would dare attack a place held in such high regard. However, a movement had begun among Christians to rebel against the authority of the Church. This movement is known as the Protestant Reformation. Those who favored authority for laypeople based on their own reading of the Bible were known as Protestants. Many of Bourbon's troops were Protestants and had no problem attacking the city.

Protestants were recruited to attack Rome because of their dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church.
Protestants Rebelled Against Church

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