Francis I (1401-1476) and the Sforza domination

At Filippo Maria Visconti's death, the Duchy of Milan went to Filippo V d'Aragona. The so-called Golden Ambrosian Republic was set up in Milan in 1447. Military leader Francesco Sforza, who had already been commanding the Milanese troops in the service of the last duke, was called in to defend the city against the attacks of the Venetian. He defeated the Venice Republic, made himself master of the Ambrosian Republic and was proclaimed Duke in 1450 through his marriage to Bianca Maria Visconti, daughter of the last Visconti duke of Milan. A skilled diplomat, Francesco Sforza was supported by the Medici of Florence. The signing of the peace of Lodi in 1455 secured peace among the most powerful Italian states until 1494. Francesco I Sforza consolidated the power of Milan and in 1464 seized Genoa. An able prince, he patronized arts and letters and beautified Milan. The prosperous period ended on Francesco's death. Francesco was succeeded by his eldest son, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a highly educated but dissolute and cruel man. He was assassinated in 1476 by a group of republican conspirators. Galeazzo's widow, Bona of Savoy, acted as regent for their 6-year-old son, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, who succeeded to the duchy as a minor on his father's assassination. However, in 1480, Galeazzo's brother Ludovico Maria, known as 'Il Moro', deprived his nephew of the duchy and assumed its control.
Ludovico Sforza was one of the wealthiest and most powerful princes of Renaissance Italy. He was a subtle diplomat and an unscrupulous intriguer. With his wife, Beatrice d'Este, he held a brilliant court and spent immense sums of money to further the arts and sciences. He is remembered especially for his patronage of the greatest artists and men of letters of that time (Leonardo Da Vinci, the architect Bramante, Foppa, Bergognone, Solari, Amadeo). Leonardo was also a consulting engineer at the Court of Ludovico Sforza. In this time, he designed war materials and worked on the improving of the Navigli (the city waterways). Also agriculture prospered, in particular rice growing and mulberry growing, which Ludovico had imported in order to allow silk production. Ludovico Sforza married Beatrice d'Este, sister of the Duke of Ferrara. Then, he allied his family with the ruling house of Naples by arranging the marriage of his nephew Gian Galeazzo Maria to the daughter of the King of Naples, Isabella d'Aragona. But the rivalry between Beatrice and Isabella caused damage to the Duchy. Partly in order to divert French ambitions from Milan, partly in order to protect himself from the hostility of the king of Naples, Ludovico concluded an offensive alliance with Charles VIII of France, who invaded Italy in 1494. In 1495, however, Ludovico reached an understanding with Charles's enemies and turned against the French, who were expelled from Italy. In 1499, Louis XII of France, who had a hereditary claim to the duchy of Milan (he was a great-grandson of Gian Galeazzo Visconti), invaded Italy and expelled Ludovico from his duchy. Ludovico's attempt, with the aid of Swiss mercenaries, to recover his lands was defeated at Novara (1500); he was captured and died a prisoner in France in 1508. The alliance formed by Pope Julius II for the purpose of expelling Louis XII of France from Italy, thereby consolidating papal power, was named the Holy League. Venice, the Swiss cantons, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Henry VIII of England, and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I were the chief members of the league. The Swiss, who did most of the fighting, routed the French at Novara (1513), but in the same year Julius II died and the league fell apart. The French victory in 1515 reestablished the French in Lombardy with Francis I. In 1525, Charles V of Spain defeated the French in Pavia and the duchy went back to Ludovico il Moro's second son Francesco II, who reorganized the State and helped the economic and cultural recovery. He died in 1535 without male heir. The Milanese territories were annexed to the reign of Charles V, who became Emperor in 1519. One of the most powerful and magnificent Italian States had come to an end. 1519 marked the beginning of the Spanish domination.