Francis I

views updated Jun 27 2018

Francis I

September 12, 1494
Cognac, France
March 31, 1547
Rambouillet, France


"I feed upon the good and put out the evil one."

Francis I.

King Francis I of France was a true Renaissance monarch. The Renaissance was a cultural revolution that began in Italy in the mid-1300s. It was initiated by scholars called humanists who promoted the human-centered values of ancient Greece and Rome. Humanist ideals were soon influencing the arts, literature, philosophy, science, religion, and politics in Italy. During the early fifteenth century, innovations of the Italian Renaissance began spreading into the rest of Europe and reached a peak in the sixteenth century. Francis was devoted to making France a center of the Renaissance. He actively patronized (gave financial support to) painters, sculptors, architects, scholars, poets, and writers. Francis also practiced shrewd diplomacy (relations with other countries) and strengthened centralized rule in France. He was a man of immense charm and humanity who had a lust for life. He also was daring and courageous in battle. Yet there was a darker side to the gallant French king. Throughout his reign, Francis waged war against Spain for control of Italy, seeking revenge on his great rival, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–1558; see entry), who was also king of Spain. These wars were part of the conflict known as the Italian Wars (1494–1559), which began during the reign of King Louis XII. Francis used deception in foreign policy, frequently breaking his solemn word in order to advance his own interests. Even though he was a Catholic, he formed alliances with Muslims (followers of the Islam religion) and Protestants (members of a religious group that broke away from the Catholic Church) to oppose Catholic Spain. Francis's final downfall was his futile rivalry with Charles V, which became his life-long obsessed.

Achieves first military victory

Francis was born at Cognac on September 12, 1494, the son of Charles de Valois (died 1496), count of Angoulême, and Louise of Savoy (1476–1531). While his parents were fairly obscure nobles, Francis had a strong claim to the French throne. His father was a cousin of the king of France, Louis XII (1462–1515; ruled 1498–1515). Francis and his sister Margaret (Margaret of Navarre ; see entry) were brought up in Cognac by their mother, who supervised their education. The young Francis learned the Spanish and Italian languages, and he spent his time admiring art and reading mythology, history, and literature. Surrounded by young playmates, he also learned the art of warfare and showed signs of unusual talent at the craft. When Francis was thirteen, he and Margaret left their mother's household to live at the French court, where courtiers (noblemen of the court) referred to Francis as the dauphin (elder son of the king). Louis XII granted him the duchy of Valois, created from the vast estates of the house of Orléans. In 1514 Francis married Louis's daughter, Claude de France (1499–1524).

Francis had his first experience as a military leader at an early age. In 1512 France went to war with Spain in the second phase of the Italian Wars (see accompanying box). Louis gave eighteen-year-old Francis command of an army. The Spanish king, Ferdinand II (1452–1516; ruled 1479–1516) of Aragon, had conquered and annexed the small kingdom of Navarre, situated between France and Spain on the Bay of Biscay. The French were now trying to recapture Navarre. Although Francis had able military advisers, he failed to score a victory. Then in 1513 Swiss troops inflicted a humiliating defeat on the French at Novara, a province in northwest Italy. On December 31, 1514, Louis died, and on the first day of 1515 Francis took the throne as the king of France.

Challenges Charles I

As king, Francis was primarily a man of action. He excelled in various outdoor sports and spent much of his time hunting. He and his court were constantly traveling. Whenever the king visited a town for the first time he was given an entrée joyeuse (joyful entry). Festivities included street theatricals and the erection of temporary monuments in his honor, adorned with inscriptions of praise and appropriate symbols of his royalty. Francis's personal emblem was the salamander and his motto was " Nutrisco et extinguo. " Roughly translated, this means "I feed upon the good and put out the evil one." Popularly known as le roi chevalier (the knight king), Francis spent much of his reign fighting. He had an impressive beginning as a military leader. Determined to avenge the defeat at Novara by taking Spanish-held Naples, the young king personally led an army into Italy. In 1515, at Marignano (now Melegnano) near Milan, Francis won the greatest triumph in what was to be a long military career. His troops annihilated Swiss mercenaries (hired soldiers) under the command of Massimiliano Sforza (1493–1530), duke of Milan. In the aftermath of Marignano, Francis took the duchy of Milan, and Pope Leo X (1475–1521; reigned 1513–21) gave him neighboring Parma and Piacenza. The pope also entered into the famous Concordat of Bologna with Francis in 1516. According to the terms of the agreement, the Catholic Church in France came under direct control of the French crown.

Field of the Cloth of Gold

In 1520, Francis I met Henry VIII outside Guînes, France, at the Val Doré (Gold Valley). From June 7 until June 24, the kings and their courts engaged in "feats of arms" that were considered extravagant even by the standards of the Renaissance. Observers came up with the name "Field of Cloth of Gold" to describe the sight of so many luxuriously dressed nobles and servants. The occasion was the celebration of a treaty signed by France and England in March 1520. The agreement promised a new era of harmony among the major European powers: France, England, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. According to some accounts, however, Francis wanted to use the grand event to persuade Henry to join France in a war against Spain.

Henry and his entire court set sail for France, while thousands of French laborers completed work on magnificent tents, pavilions, and stands for the spectators. The French nobility set up elaborate tents of velvet and cloth made of gold. Francis's grand tent, also made of gold cloth, was supported by two masts (poles that support sails) from a ship tied together and surmounted by a life-size statue of Saint Michael (angel of the sword). Henry outdid Francis by building a temporary palace outside Guînes with a brick foundation, an edifice (house) of timber and canvas made to look like brick, and large windows. On June 7 the kings and their courts of equal number, mounted on horseback, proceeded to the Val Doré and halted at opposite ends, as if arrayed for battle. Then, at the sound of a trumpet, Henry and Francis left their attendants behind. They galloped their horses toward each other, as if to engage in combat. Halting at a spot marked by a spear, the two kings embraced. After withdrawing to a nearby tent, they emerged two hours later and ordered their nobles to embrace one another.

The next stage was "feats of arms," which were meant to strengthen the embrace of reconciliation. They commenced on June 9 and consisted of jousting (combat with spears on horseback), open-field tournaments, and combat on foot. The only contest between the two kings appears to have been an impromptu wrestling match, in which Francis beat Henry. The celebration was solemnized in a mass on June 23. The next day, at the conclusion of the tournaments, the kings bade farewell and vowed to build at Val Doré a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Friendship and a palace where they could meet each year. In 1521 England refused to acknowledge the treaty with France. In the aftermath the Field of the Cloth of Gold appeared as an act of frivolous diplomacy.

Inspired by these victories, Francis openly challenged Charles I and Henry VIII (1491–1547; see entry), king of England, for election to the vacant throne of the Holy Roman Empire. The three young monarchs bitterly competed for the title of emperor, but the rivalry was especially intense between Francis and Charles. Charles's advisers bribed the German princes who served as electors, however, and in 1519 Charles took office as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. As both the king of Spain and head of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles was now the most powerful ruler in Europe. In order to avenge this slight, Francis initiated the first of five wars with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire (Charles headed forces for both Spain and the empire). In 1520 Francis met with Henry VIII in Calais, France, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold (see accompanying box). Francis was hoping to win Henry's support in the war against Spain, but Henry declined to join the French effort. Meanwhile, Charles V had formed an alliance with Pope Clement VII (1342–1394; reigned 1378–94). In late 1520 Francis secretly backed a successful assault on the imperial city of Luxembourg (now in Belgium) and occupied Navarre.

During the next four years, however, the war in Spain went poorly for Francis. His men won a few battles, but they were finally driven out of Navarre. The Spanish then invaded France, taking Toulon and other parts of southeast France. Spanish forces also won victories against the French in northern Italy. In 1522 the French suffered a major defeat and lost the duchy of Milan. Complete disaster awaited Francis at Pavia, a city near Milan, in February 1525. He led an army of thirty-seven thousand men against a Spanish army of equal numbers. The Spanish lost one thousand men. Between ten thousand and fourteen thousand Frenchmen died, and many others were taken prisoner, including Francis himself.

Violates treaty

Charles ordered that Francis be taken to Spain and placed under house arrest in Madrid. Although he was held for more than a year, the French king was not confined like most prisoners. He hunted regularly, enjoyed the companionship of his nobleman comrades, and attended numerous dinners given in his honor. He gained his release in 1526 by agreeing to sign the Treaty of Madrid, which required him to relinquish all claims to Italy and give up the duchies of Burgundy, Flanders (now part of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands), and Artois (a region in northern France). When Francis swore as a gentleman to return to captivity if he failed to live up to his end of the bargain, Charles agreed to set him free. Once he had returned to France, however, Francis declared the treaty to be null and void. His excuse was that he was forced to sign the document at a time when he could not think clearly.

Francis's violation of the treaty made another war with Spain inevitable. Francis quickly organized the League of Cognac (1526), which allied France, England, Milan, Venice, the Papal States (territories under the direct rule of the pope), and the republic of Florence against Charles. But in this second war, which began in 1527, Charles was destined to win an even greater victory. By 1529, Francis had signed the Treaty of Cambrai, which repeated the humiliating terms of the earlier Treaty of Madrid. It also called for Francis's two sons to be held in Madrid for a ransom (money paid for releasing a hostage) of two million gold crowns (a sum of Spanish money). In 1530 Francis married Eleanor of Portugal, a sister of Charles V.

Seeks further revenge

For six years, Francis remained in France, where he devoted his time to the arts. By 1536, however, he was determined to seek revenge against Charles. Francis formed an alliance with the Ottoman leader Khayr ad-Din (pronounced kigh-ruh-DEEN; died 1546), who was called Barbarossa by Europeans. This move shocked and offended most Christians in Europe, even many of Francis's longtime supporters. Though they appreciated his will to resist the mighty Spanish kingdom, they felt that he was committing heresy (violation of church laws) by allying with "infidel," or non-Christian, Turks to slaughter fellow Christians. Charles launched a successful assault against Francis's Turkish ally in the Mediterranean Sea. Spanish forces led personally by Charles took La Goletta (now Halq al-Wadi), a seaport town in northeast Tunisia. Charles liberated thousands of Christian prisoners, and soon thereafter captured the port of Tunis. Barbarossa fled to Algiers (now Algeria), in North Africa, with the remnant of his fleet. Charles then turned toward Italy, landed in Sicily in August, and advanced with ease toward the Alps. He also invaded Provence, a region in southeast France, and areas of northern France. By 1538, when a peace agreement was signed at Nice, France, both sides were financially exhausted. In one year alone, Francis had spent 5.5 million livres (an amount of French money) on the war and had neither won nor regained any territory.

Francis mounted another war against Charles in 1542. This time he allied his forces with the Schmalkaldic League, a group of German Protestant noblemen who were opposed to Charles's policies. At Mühlberg, Germany, however, Charles won his greatest victory over Francis and the Lutheran princes. In 1545 Francis vented his anger on the Waldensians, a group of religious dissidents, in his own country. The Waldensians were advocates of the views of Peter Waldo (Pierre Valdés; died before 1218), an early French religious reformer who protested corruption in the Catholic Church. A brutal campaign against the Waldensians demolished twenty-two towns and killed four thousand people. Francis issued a list of banned books and established a court to punish heretics. The court burned hundreds of Huguenots (French Protestants) at the stake.

Francis died of gout (inflammation of the joints caused by imbalance in metabolism) and liver disease at Rambouillet, France, in 1547. At the time of his death, the French crown was six million livres in debt. Ten years later, France declared bankruptcy (lack of funds to pay bills). The Italian Wars finally ended after a seventh war, which lasted from 1547 until 1559. It was waged by the successors of Francis and Charles. In these wars, Spanish armies were victorious for the sixth time. As a result of the victory, Spain was given control of Italy in the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559.

Leaves legacy in the arts

Although Francis failed in his military quest against Charles, he was remembered as a great patron of the arts who helped bring the Italian Renaissance to France. One of his pet projects was the renovation of the royal palaces at Blois, Chambord, Fontainebleau, and the Louvre. In 1515, after his conquest of Milan, Francis invited the great sixty-five-yearold Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519; see entry) to settle in France. The king gave Leonardo the manor of Cloux outside Amboise, where the painter spent the last three years of his life. He seems not to have painted anything for the king, but some of his notes and drawings date from his time in France. By 1545 several of Leonardo's major works, including the famous Mona Lisa, were part of Francis's collection. Francis also purchased the works of other Italian painters, including Michelangelo, (1475–1564; see entry) Raphael, (1483–1520; see entry) and Titian. For a brief time Francis employed the artist Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530). The king also collected drawings, sculpture, tapestries (large embroidered wall hangings), and precious objects.

Francis I has been called " père des lettres " ("father of letters"). He had several scholars in his court, including the French humanist Guillaume Budé (1467–1540), who wrote L'institution du prince (The institution of the prince). Francis also corresponded with the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536; see entry) and sponsored a royal lecture series that supported promising scholars. The king liked books, and a chest containing his favorite books—mostly ancient histories and medieval romances—followed him on his travels. He enlarged the library at Blois, which he had inherited. He employed agents in Italy and elsewhere to acquire precious classical manuscripts, many of them in Greek, for his library at Fontainebleau. The two royal libraries were integrated in 1544, eventually forming the nucleus of the present-day Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris. His paintings also were the beginning of the collection that is now in the Louvre, an art museum in Paris. In 1540 Francis ordered many of his books to be bound in tooled (decorated) leather. Printing was another of the king's interests. Three special fonts (style of writing used in printing) of Greek characters were cut by the French type designer Claude Garamond (c. 1480–1561) at Francis's expense.

Like many monarchs of the time, Francis was interested in the occult (supernatural) sciences—astrology (prediction of future events according to the positions of stars and planets), alchemy (science devoted to turning bases metals into gold), and the Kabbalah (Jewish mystical text). At the time these sciences were thought to hold the key to the secret forces of the universe. In 1530 the king created four royal professorships, two in Greek and two in Hebrew, to which others were added later. The Collège de France traces its origin to this foundation. In the sixteenth century Francis was commonly called "le grand roi François" ("the great king Francis"). Later he was known as a playboy (man who devotes his life chiefly to pleasure). Modern historians have reassessed this view, noting his impressive cultural legacy and his reign as a strong monarch.

For More Information


Cox-Rearick, Janet. The Collection of Francis I: Royal Treasures. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996.

Knecht, R. J. Renaissance Warrior and Patron: The Reign of Francis I. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Seward, Desmond. Prince of the Renaissance; the Golden Life of François I. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

Web Sites

"Francis I." [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

"Francis I." [Online] Available, April 5, 2002.

Francis I

views updated May 11 2018

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. □

Francis I

views updated May 17 2018


FRANCIS I (1768–1835), last Holy Roman Emperor as Francis II (1792–1806) and first emperor of Austria (1804–1835).

Francis I was born 12 February 1768 in Florence and died 2 March 1835 in Vienna. As his dual title suggests, Francis was a transitional figure from the eighteenth century to the nineteenth century. Unfortunately for him and his Austrian Empire, he himself failed to keep up with that transition.

Francis was the son of Leopold I, grand duke of Tuscany (1765–1790), and the nephew of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (r. 1765–1790). He was brought to Vienna in 1784 and given the education of an enlightened absolutist. Following Joseph II's premature death in 1790, Francis's father became Emperor Leopold II; his death on 1 March 1792 resulted in Francis's succession to the Habsburg patrimony, and coronation as Emperor Francis II on 14 July 1792.

The declaration of war by revolutionary France on Austria and Prussia on 20 April 1792 had already unleashed the forces of revolution and war that were to consume, among others, Francis's aunt, Marie-Antoinette, and then most of the European ancien régime. Defeat of Austria in the First Coalition War (1792–1797) and the Second Coalition War (1799–1801) resulted in the humiliating Treaty of Lunéville of 1801 and, eventually, the reorganization of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803. After further defeat in the Third Coalition War (1805) and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine in July 1806, Francis abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor on 6 August 1806, declaring the empire dissolved. He had, however, already declared himself first "hereditary Emperor of Austria" on 11 August 1804, in response to Napoleon's becoming emperor of the French earlier that year. Hence Emperor Francis II became Emperor Francis I.

Francis met the minor threat of revolution in Austria with the brutal suppression of domestic opposition, as in the execution of the "Austrian Jacobins" in 1794. The traumatic military losses to the French, however, compelled him to embrace in 1806 the "nationalist" reform program of Count Johann Philipp Stadion-Warthausen. The military was modernized by Francis's brother, Charles (1771–1847). Reform was cut short, however, by the premature declaration of war in February 1809. Coordinated with a rebellion against Bavarian rule in Tyrol, the new war led to even more disaster. Charles handed Napoleon his first defeat in battle at Aspern-Essling, but the war was lost and the Treaty of Schönbrunn of 14 October 1809 reduced Austria to a French satellite. Abandoning reform, Francis appointed Count Clemens Metternich as foreign minister in 1809. Initially Metternich followed a pro-French line, arranging the marriage of Francis's eldest daughter, Marie Louise, to Napoleon and having Austria participate in the invasion of Russia in 1812. Once the tide had turned, however, Metternich adeptly changed sides and returned Austria to the anti-French coalition, which finally conquered the French in 1814. Francis I thus ended the French wars as the victorious host of the Vienna Congress (1814–1815), the nine-month-long conference at which Europe was "restored."

Austria emerged from the French Wars territorially larger and more integrated; Metternich, promoted to state chancellor by Francis in 1821, was regarded as the doyen of diplomacy and the "coachman of Europe." Through the Holy Alliance of 1815 and a series of Congresses (Aix-la-Chapelle, 1818; Troppau, 1821; Laibach, 1821; and Verona, 1822), Metternich imposed his "system," and hence an apparent Austrian hegemony, over Continental European affairs. The appearance of Austrian power was illusory. Austria had been severely damaged economically and financially by decades of war, with a state bankruptcy in 1811, and its economic recovery after 1815 lagged behind that of other European states. Austria, therefore, could never really afford its new responsibilities in Metternich's system.

Francis I himself was so traumatized by the experience of "revolution" and its consequences that his response after 1815 was to stop all political change wherever possible. Hence Austria was involved in suppressing national and liberal movements in Italy, Germany (notably in the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819), and elsewhere, which earned it the reputation of being the chief oppressor of the European peoples. At home as well, Francis backed a policy that valued loyalty and obedience above all else. He even refused to act on cosmetic reform measures that Metternich himself proposed. Although not averse to economic change, as shown by his favorable attitude to entrepreneurs, including Jewish financiers such as the Rothschilds, Francis rigidly opposed all political change and persisted in his bureaucratic but highly inefficient and procrastinating, absolutist practice.

The relative peace and prosperity of the "Biedermeier" period after 1815 meant that Francis I, with his reputed love of middle-class domesticity, enjoyed a quite good relationship with most of his subjects up to his death in 1835. Yet he was hated by the liberal and nationalist intelligentsias of his empire and of Europe, and his reactionary approach is usually seen as being a major cause of Austria's problems at midcentury.

See alsoCongress of Vienna; French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars; Metternich, Clemens von; Napoleonic Empire; Prussia; Restoration.


Rumpler, Helmut, Eine Chance für Mitteleuropa. Vienna, 1997.

Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1918. London and New York, 1989.

Tritsch, Walther. Metternich und sein Monarch. Darmstadt, 1952.

Wheatcroft, Andrew. The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1995.

Ziegler, Walter. "Franz I. von Österreich (1806–1835)." In Die Kaiser der Neuzeit, 1519–1918, edited by Ziegler and Anton Schindling, 309–328. Munich, 1990.

Steven Beller

Francis I

views updated May 23 2018

Francis I


King of France


Francis I was born the cousin of King Louis XII of France. His father Charles was a Count of Angouléme and his mother was a member of the princely house of Savoy in northwestern Italy. When it appeared that he was to succeed his elder cousin as king, the young Francis and his sister Margaret moved to court so they could be trained to assume royal duties. During this time, however, their mother, Louise of Savoy, continued to supervise her children's education, which appears to have been remarkably advanced for the time. Francis' sister, the future Marguerite of Navarre, became an important advocate for reform in the church and an author of unusual distinction. Francis, on the other hand, led a spirited life that seemed to bear more resemblance to that of an itinerant and carefree knight than a man of state affairs. Early on in his reign he challenged the growing power of Spain, opposing its conquests in Italy and waging his own battles to achieve supremacy in the peninsula. On one of these campaigns during 1525, he was captured by Charles V at Pavia, and taken as a hostage to Spain. Later his sister, Marguerite of Navarre, successfully negotiated his release, in exchange for which Francis renounced his claims to his Italian possessions. He was twice married, first to the daughter of his cousin, King Louis XII, Claude de France, and later to Eleanor of Portugal, who was a sister of the emperor Charles V. Never faithful to either wife, Francis kept a long string of mistresses, some of whom played important roles in court politics.


Francis was a competent, if not astute monarch. His foreign policy brought him continually into conflict with Spain and involved him in constant intrigues with Italy, England, and the papacy. Domestically, his policies were often authoritarian, but ineffective. During his reign the Reformation swept through France. At first Francis' policies against the new religious ideas vacillated between toleration and condemnation. Toward the middle part of his reign he began to persecute Protestants, who multiplied despite his prohibitions. Under Francis' rule, corruptions in the system of taxation and royal fiscal system worsened. Francis attempted to deal with these problems by creating a system of public debt that was secured by the taxes levied on the city of Paris. Corruption, nevertheless, persisted.


Francis compensated for his deficiencies in governing with his avid connoisseurship of the arts and architecture. From his earliest youth the king was a great lover of art, and early in his reign he built three stunning châteaux at Blois, Chambord, and Amboise. At this time the royal court moved from palace to palace on an annual progress. The itinerant nature of the court thus made necessary a large number of stately palaces and castles, but the progress was more than just a sign of royal extravagance. Through these annual circuits through the countryside French kings conducted royal business in the various regions of their large kingdom. The progress was often attended by elaborate royal entries, in which particular towns welcomed the king with elaborate processions and musical and theatrical performances. During the sixteenth century these entries grew more elaborate, and they often imitated Roman triumphs in keeping with the French taste for Renaissance classicism. The increasingly elaborate scale of court life in France necessitated an almost continual program of palace decoration. To undertake these projects, Francis brought Italian artists to France and he hired native craftsmen, too. He began by attracting Leonardo da Vinci to his court in 1516. Although the artist spent the last three years of his life there, he produced little in France beyond several drawings for a new royal château at Romorantin. The artist suffered a stroke shortly after his arrival, and his slow recovery affected his productivity. Several years after Leonardo's death, Francis also lured the Italian painters Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio to France, where they worked on decorating a series of new rooms at the royal palace of Fontainebleau. As Francis' reign progressed this great palace became the focal point for his most ambitious artistic and architectural programs. Among the architects who left their stamp upon the Fontainebleau were Sebastiano Serlio, Giacomo da Vignola, and the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. Later in his reign Francis focused greater attention on his plans for rebuilding the Louvre, the medieval royal palace within Paris. In 1528, he added a royal chateau that became known as the Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne, the woods just outside the Louvre. And in the 1540s, the native French architect Pierre Lescot began construction on a new central section of the palace, the Square Court, which replaced the old medieval structure that had stood at the spot. Lescot's façade for the new palace has long been judged the first truly Renaissance construction by a French artist. The Louvre rebuilding project was massive and lasted over many generations. While Francis' tastes in art and architecture were generally Italian, he favored portraitists in the Flemish tradition. Among these, Jean Clouet and his son Francis most often painted members of the royal court.


In the sixteenth century Francis was known as one of the country's great kings. Since that time assessments of this larger-than-life figure have changed. Modern judgments have sometimes cast the king in a harsh light, pointing to his extravagance as well as the corruption that reigned in his government. At the same time even the most critical of assessments of Francis have had to take account of the great cultural legacy of his reign. In the construction of palaces, the amassing of a royal collection of art, and the support of humanistic scholarship, Francis outshone almost every other European prince of the time.


R. J. Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

P. Murray, Architecture of the Renaissance (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1971).

J.-M. Pérouse de Montclos, Fontainebleau (London, England: Scala, 1998).

Francis I (Francois) (1494–1547)

views updated May 29 2018

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

Francis I

views updated May 21 2018

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.

Francis I

views updated May 21 2018

Francis I (1708–65) Holy Roman Emperor (1745–65), Duke of Lorraine (1729–35) and Tuscany (1737–65). In 1736, he married the Habsburg heiress Maria Theresa. Her accession (1740) precipitated the War of the Austrian Succession against Frederick II. Francis succeeded Charles VIII as Emperor, but Maria Theresa effectively wielded power.

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Francis I (France)

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