western seaboard of Italy. Through the Genoese his influence extended over the chief part of Corsica, whence on occasion good foot-soldiers could be drawn. But the military strength of Milan, like that of the other Italian States, left much to be desired. While good infantry was scarce, the inferior infantry was very bad; and the brilliant troops of mercenary horse, on which principal reliance was put, were untrustworthy and unused to serious war. Moreover the old party animosities still survived in Milan; and, if policy prompted, Guelf could still be roused against Ghibelline. Again, the Sforza rule had not yet received imperial confirmation, and the claims of the Duke of Orleans were a permanent and a serious menace.
With full consciousness of their own weakness, and sincere mutual distrust, the Italian powers had watched the growth of France. French intervention in Italy was no new thing. While her strength was yet immature, France had given one race of kings to Naples, and had endeavoured to give another. Charles VII had driven the English from France, and before his death Genoa had asked and received French protection and a French governor. Louis XI found that Genoa had revolted, but was too wise to waste his resources on distant enterprises, and gave no material aid to the ill-fated quest of John of Calabria as a pretender to the kingdom of Naples. Louis devoted his whole energy to the union of France under his absolute rule; but he never lost sight of the affairs of Italy. The powers of Italy abased themselves before him in rivalry to win his favour. He answered them impartially with good words and maintained them in slavish expectation of good services. Thus the French King came to be more and more regarded as the arbiter of Italian fortunes. The presents made to his ambassadors and courtiers and their reception when they visited Italy assisted to foster the belief that Italy was rich, disunited, and helpless, an easy prey to a militant monarchy. There was no reason to believe that the successor of Louis would be hampered by his difficulties or inclined to his reserve.
The leagues formed among themselves by the Italian States served to prevent the undue aggrandisement of any one State at the expense of the others. But no such partial alliance could stand up against the French King, in view of the suspicion,—almost the certainty,—that the other powers would join the invaders, and that the members of the alliance itself could not be trusted. The union of Italy against a foreign foe was almost unthinkable. Charles VIII had hardly come to the throne when the Signoria of Venice approached his government with the proposal that the conquest of Milan and of Naples should be at once undertaken. This treacherous act, if treachery can be imputed where there is no mutual assurance of good faith, is explained by the position of Venice, then engaged in a single-handed struggle with almost the whole of Italy. But it proved, if proof was needed, that a French invasion, whatever its pretext, would find allies in the peninsula.