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Francis I

Francis I

Francis I (1494-1547) was king of France from 1515 to 1547. He continued the consolidation of monarchical authority and the expansionist foreign policy of his predecessors. He supported humanist learning and was a patron of the arts.

Born on Sept. 12, 1494, at the château of Cognac, Francis I was the son of Charles, Comte d'Angoulême, a member of the house of Orléans. Francis' mother was Louise of Savoy, who descended from a younger branch of the ruling house of Savoy and from the French noble house of Bourbon.

Francis was less than 2 years old when his father died and only 4 years old when he became heir apparent to the throne. He grew up as a ward of Louis XII. His education, which was primarily a training in arms, was supervised by Cardinal Georges d'Amboise, the most important councilor of Louis XII. The marriage of Francis to Claudia, daughter of Louis XII, was also arranged by the King. Francis' closest personal associations during his youth were with his mother and his sister Marguerite, the future queen of Navarre. Francis never outgrew his close relationship with the two women, and even after his accession to the throne he was influenced by them.

Rivalry with Charles V

The first major project undertaken by Francis I after he came to the throne in 1515 was the reconquest of the duchy of Milan. After defeating the Swiss at Marignano (1515) and taking Milan, Francis set out to assure the permanency of the French preponderance in northern Italy by signing treaties with the Pope, the Swiss Confederation, the Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I, and Maximilian's grandson Archduke Charles, ruler of the Netherlands and heir apparent to the kingdom of Aragon.

The treaties which Francis made with these individuals had barely been signed when the emperor Maximilian died. Francis I presented himself as a candidate for the imperial throne (it was an elective monarchy). But Archduke Charles, now king of Aragon and Castile, was elected Emperor Charles V in 1519. This election destroyed the settlement reached after Marignano and reopened the old rivalry of France and Aragon. Francis was now virtually encircled by territories belonging to his chief rival for influence in Italy (Charles V ruled Spain, the Low Countries, the Holy Roman Empire, and Franche-Comté). He was forced to embark upon new diplomatic initiatives. The cornerstones of his anti-imperial policy were alliances with the Lutheran princes of the Holy Roman Empire and with the sultan of Turkey. Francis' policies of keeping Germany disunited and of allying with powers on the eastern flank of Germany would remain basic elements of French policy in Europe for centuries.

Four times (1522, 1527, 1536, and 1542) Francis went to war against Charles V, but at the end of their last encounter Francis had proved himself no better at keeping his Italian conquests than his predecessors had been. Milan was lost in 1522, and his attempt to regain it in 1525 ended in the disastrous defeat at Pavia. The French army was slaughtered, and Francis was taken prisoner by the Emperor. France itself was periodically invaded by the imperial armies during the wars. The two territorial acquisitions that Francis retained when the wars ceased following the Peace of Crépy (1544) were Savoy and Piedmont.

Cultural Activities

The rivalry of Francis I with his contemporary sovereigns also extended into the realm of learning and the arts. He retained the leading humanist scholars Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples and Guillaume Budé and the poet Clément Marot in his service. Lefèvre, who acted as a spiritual councilor to the King's sister Marguerite, supervised the education of two of the King's sons, and Budé was instrumental in founding the Collège de France (1529-1530). The King also took steps to improve the royal library. The library was essentially a manuscript collection, but in 1536 and 1537 Francis ordered that henceforth a copy of all books printed in his realm be sent to it.

Francis derived more pleasure from, and certainly spent more money on, the arts than on the new learning. He commissioned and collected paintings by the great masters of Italy, but he was devoted most of all to architecture. He added a new wing to the château of Blois and created a wholly new château at Chambord. He carried out extensive remodeling at the château of Fontainebleau and at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and built a completely new château at Villers-Cotterets and another, now destroyed, just west of Paris in the Bois de Boulogne (the château of Madrid). He also commissioned the rebuilding of the Paris city hall.

Francis employed several Italian artists on these and other artistic projects. While the contributions of several, like Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, and Benvenuto Cellini, were few and their influence ephemeral, some, like Il Rosso and Francesco Primaticcio, who created the distinctive decoration at Fontainebleau, and Sebastiano Serlio, an architect and architectural writer, made lasting contributions to Renaissance art in France.

Reformation in France

Francis' attitude toward the growth of Protestantism was determined in part by his concern to play the role of protector of the new learning and in part by his foreign policy, both of which made him less anxious to persecute religious reformers and innovators than his theologians and judges would have liked. Because the educational and moral reform programs of the humanists made them appear to be religious innovators, Francis' support of the new learning made it seem that he favored some degree of religious innovation. Moreover, his sister Marguerite was very interested in the program of Christian renewal put forth by humanists such as Lefèvre d'Étaples, and she supported a number of them at her court.

But, although he was willing to allow the humanists to publicize their program, Francis I had no intention of actually supporting the establishment of Lutheranism in France. The French Church was already institutionally very much under his control as a result of the Concordat of Bologna, a bilateral accord he reached with the Pope in 1515. In return for disavowing formally the theory that an ecumenical council of the Church was superior to the Pope and for allowing the Pope a nominal role in the administration of the French Church, Francis obtained a formal statement guaranteeing his right to nominate the holders of the most important benefices in France (archbishops, bishops, and abbots), to tax the clergy, and to limit drastically the jurisdiction of Roman courts over French subjects.

The threat that Lutheranism posed to civil society and to traditional religious practice was clear in the 1520s, but Francis refrained from actively persecuting Protestants until the late 1530s. This course was in large measure imposed by his policy toward Charles V. Through most of the 1530s Francis was allied with the German Protestant princes, and he therefore could not persecute Protestants in France. Only once in this period did he turn sharply against the Protestants. On the night of Oct. 17-18, 1534, placards attacking the Mass were put up all over France, even upon the door to the King's bedchamber. This provocation led to a brief persecution of suspected Lutherans.

But when Francis changed his foreign policy and tried in 1538 to reach an accord with Charles V, persecution of Protestantism in France began more earnestly. The Edict of Fontainebleau (1540) brought the full machinery of royal government into action against suspected heretics. A second reversal in his foreign policy that reopened the alliance with the German Protestant princes in the early 1540s slowed the persecutions, but they began again after the accord with the Emperor reached in the Peace of Crépy (1544).

Internal Administration

The machinery of royal government was strengthened and extended in a number of different ways by this absolutist ruler, ably assisted by his equally tough-minded chancellor, Antoine du Prat. The Concordat of Bologna was one of the most important of their measures directed to this end. In this reign the last of the great semi-independent princely appanages, the duchy of Bourbon, was extinguished by a virtual act of confiscation that disinherited Charles de Bourbon (1523). The duchy of Brittany, administered separately by the first wife of Francis I, Queen Claudia, was brought under the direct administrative control of the King in 1535. Following a policy employed by his predecessors, Francis I also extended French administrative institutions into the territories he added to the realm.

The extent of the intrusion of the central administration into local society during this reign is best exemplified by the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterets (1539), in which the King commanded each parish priest to keep a record of all births, deaths, dowries, wills, and other significant exchanges of property. The clergy was taxed more regularly and more heavily than ever before, and the sale of government offices, once a private affair, was now conducted under the auspices of royal officials for the profit of the royal treasury. The first experiment in public credit, interest-bearing loans to the King, called rentes, which were guaranteed by the properties and revenues of the towns of France, was introduced in this reign. But the attempt to centralize the administration of all royal revenue, carried out with ruthlessness in 1522 and 1523, proved unsuccessful, and the collection and disbursement of the King's income remained a local operation.

As might be expected, there was resistance to some of the King's authoritarian policies and the procedures used to implement them. Constable Bourbon tried unsuccessfully to organize a revolt of the nobility, but throughout Francis' reign the nobility remained surprisingly quiet. In the early part of his reign, Francis faced opposition from within his administration. The Parlement of Paris resisted stoutly his new financial measures (especially the sale of offices), his protection of the religious innovators, and, above all, the Concordat of Bologna. The captivity of the King after the defeat at Pavia gave the Parlement an opportunity to demand reforms, but the judges had no real power behind them and Francis silenced them with his characteristic firmness when he returned from captivity. After that, with the exception of a tax rebellion in the west (1542), the internal politics of the reign consisted of little more than the rise and disgrace of different personages at the royal court.

Further Reading

The best introduction to the reign of Francis I is the short pamphlet of R. J. Knecht, Francis I and Absolute Monarchy (1969). Andrew C. P. Haggard, Two Great Rivals (François I and Charles V) and the Women Who Influenced Them (1910), and Francis Hackett, Francis the First (1935), are the only biographies, neither of which is scholarly. Dorothy M. Mayer, The Great Regent: Louise of Savoy, 1476-1531 (1966), is a study of the King's mother and covers the early part of his life and reign. Other biographies of persons close to the King are Martha W. Freer, The Life of Marguerite of Angoulême (2 vols., 1854), and Christopher Hare (pseud. for Mrs. Marion Andrews), Charles de Bourbon: High Constable of France, "The Great Condottiere" (1911).

Information concerning the military and diplomatic activities of Francis I is in Karl Brandi, The Emperor Charles V: The Growth and Destiny of a Man and of a World Empire (1937; trans. 1939); Charles W. C. Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (1937); Jean Giono, The Battle of Pavia (1963; trans. 1965); and Joycelyne G. Russell, The Field of Cloth of Gold: Men and Manners in 1520 (1969).

Henry M. Baird, History of the Rise of the Huguenots of France (2 vols., 1879), traces the beginnings of French Protestantism. On the Renaissance in France during Francis' reign see Arthur Tilley, The Literature of the French Renaissance (1885; 2 vols., 1904); Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1953); and Anne Denieul-Cormier, The Renaissance in France, 1488-1559 (1969). William L. Wiley, The Gentleman of Renaissance France (1954), illustrates several aspects of the life of the court of Francis I.

Additional Sources

Knecht, R. J. (Robert Jean), Francis I, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. □

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Francis I (Francois) (1494–1547)

Francis I (Francois) (14941547)

Valois dynasty king of France from 1515 until his death in 1547. Francis (Francois in French) was born in the chateau of Cognac. He was the son of Charles, Count of Angouleme and Louise of Savoy. He became the heir and favorite of King Louis XII, who had failed to produce male heirs of his own and arranged Francois's marriage to his own daughter Claudia. In the first year of his reign, Francois scored an important victory against an army of Swiss mercenaries at the Battle of Marignano, after which France took control of the northern Italian city of Milan. To secure his authority in northern Italy, Francois signed pacts with the pope, the Swiss Confederation, Emperor Maximilian I, and Archduke Charles, the heir to the Holy Roman Empire.

After Maximilian died, Francois declared his candidacy for the title of emperor. He was thwarted when the electors chose instead Archduke Charles, now Emperor Charles V. This defeat resulted in France being surrounded by a string of territories, including the Low Countries, Spain, and Burgundy, which were ruled by the emperor, his rival. To achieve a balance of power in Europe, Francois allied himself with German Protestant princes who opposed the rule of the Catholic emperor in their domains. At a famous meeting known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Francois also tried to create an alliance with King Henry VIII of England.

Francois declared war against Charles in 1521. At the battle of Pavia, in 1525, he suffered a crushing defeat and was taken prisoner. In exchange for his freedom he agreed to the Treaty of Madrid in 1526, in which France gave up its claims to Italy as well as Burgundy, which became a territory of the Holy Roman Empire. After returning to France, the king renounced the treaty and formed the League of Cognac, which included France, England, Venice, Florence, and the pope. A second war against Charles V ended in the Treaty of Cambrai, which returned Burgundy to France. In the meantime, Francois supported several expeditions to the New World, including that of Jacques Cartier, which established French claims to Canada.

In 1535, when Duke Francesco Sforza of Milan died without an heir, Francois invaded Italy again. Charles responded by attacking Provence, the southeastern region of France. A truce was made in 1538 and then broken in 1542 when Francois allied with Sultan Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire. Charles then allied with Henry VIII of England and attacked France, a war that, in the Treaty of Crepy, ended French claims to Naples as well as Flanders and Artois, but allowed France to keep mountains in Savoy and the Piedmont region of northern Italy.

Francois presided over military setbacks but one of the most brilliant Renaissance courts of Europe. Leading scholars, authors, and poets were given the king's patronage and protection. Francois invited to his courts Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sartro, and Benvenuto Cellini, who brought with them the ideas and artistic styles of the Italian Renaissance. Under the king's patronage, a library of all French and Italian books was gathered and the College de France was founded. The king also decorated his realm with splendid royal chateaus at Chambord, Amboise, and Fontainebleau, hiring Italian architects to renovate and decorate many medieval chateaus that had fallen into disrepair. An avid buyer of art, he began gathering the Italian Renaissance paintings, including the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci, that would form the heart of the collections of the Louvre, a medieval fortress that he transformed into a Renaissance palace and the national museum of France. The over-burdening expenses of this patronage and other building projects, as well as the costs of the many wars he had declared, however, emptied the royal treasury and nearly bankrupted the kingdom.

See Also: Charles V; France; Henry VIII; Leonardo da Vinci

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Francis I (king of France)

Francis I, 1494–1547, king of France (1515–47), known as Francis of Angoulême before he succeeded his cousin and father-in-law, King Louis XII.

Wars with the Holy Roman Emperor

Francis resumed the Italian Wars, beginning his reign with the recovery of Milan through the brilliant victory at Marignano (1515). A candidate for the Holy Roman emperor's crown (1519), he was defeated by Charles V, king of Spain, whose supremacy in Europe Francis was to contest in four wars. In 1520 Francis tried to secure the support of King Henry VIII of England against the emperor in the interview on the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

Although no agreement was reached with the English king, Francis began his first war against the emperor (1521–25). He was defeated at La Bicocca (1522) and at Pavia (1525), where he was captured. Francis regained his freedom by consenting to the Treaty of Madrid (1526); he renounced his claims in Italy, agreed to surrender Burgundy to Charles, and abandoned his suzerainty over Flanders and Artois. Resolved to violate a treaty signed under duress, Francis created the League of Cognac (1526) with Pope Clement VII, Henry VIII, Venice, and Florence, and commenced his second war (1527–29) against Charles. It ended, unfavorably for Francis, with the Treaty of Cambrai (see Cambrai, Treaty of), which left Burgundy to France but otherwise duplicated the Treaty of Madrid.

Francis fulfilled the treaty's terms until 1535, when the death of the duke of Milan, Francisco Sforza, opened the question of the Milanese succession. In a third attempt to regain Milan, Francis invaded (1536) Italy. Charles retaliated by invading Provence, and in 1538 a 10-year truce was arranged at Nice. In 1542 with the support of the Ottoman sultan Sulayman I, Francis for the fourth time attacked the emperor, who allied himself (1543) with Henry VIII. Their invasion of France resulted (1544) in the Treaty of Crépy, in which Francis relinquished his claims to Naples, Flanders, and Artois. Peace with England (1546) confirmed the loss of Boulogne.

The French Renaissance

Despite Francis's military failures, his reign saw domestic glory in the fullest development of the French Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci, Benvenuto Cellini, and Andrea del Sarto worked at his court. Francis and his sister, Margaret of Navarre, were the patrons of François Rabelais, Clément Marot, and Guillaume Budé; Francis also founded the Collège de France. The most permanent monuments of Francis's reign are the châteaus of the Loire, notably Chambord, and the royal residence at Fontainebleau.

Other Aspects of Francis's Reign

The king also had some notable political achievements, including a concordat with the papacy and an alliance with Switzerland (both in 1516). Jacques Cartier, exploring the coast of North America for Francis, established French interest in Canada. In domestic affairs, Francis expanded the absolutism of the monarchy. Government affairs were dominated by successive personal favorites, including Anne, duc de Montmorency, and Francis's mistresses. Louise of Savoy, the king's mother, was also influential. Francis's persecution of the Waldenses (1545), his ruinous expenditures for foreign wars, and the prodigality of his court foreshadowed some aspects of the reign of King Louis XIV. Francis I was succeeded by his son, Henry II.


See biographies by F. Hackett (1935, repr. 1968) and D. Seward (1973).

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Francis I

Francis I (1494–1547) King of France (1515–47). A leader of the Renaissance, he is best remembered for his patronage of the arts and his palace at Fontainebleau. Persecution of the Waldenses, centralization of monarchical power and foolish financial policies earned the dissatisfaction of his people. A costly struggle with the Emperor Charles V over the imperial crown led to a defeat at Pavia in 1525. Francis was imprisoned and forced to give up Burgundy as a condition of the Treaty of Madrid (1526). Two more wars (1527–29, 1536–38) ended ingloriously. In 1542, Francis concluded a treaty with Suleiman I and attacked Italy for a fourth time. He lost further territory. His son succeeded him as Henry II.

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