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Francis I (French: Fran√ßois Ier; 12 September 1494 ‚Äď 31 March 1547), was king of France from 1515 until his death.

Francis I is considered to be Francemarker's first Renaissance monarch. His reign saw France make immense cultural advances. He was a contemporary of Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire, with whom he was allied in a Franco-Ottoman alliance, as well as of Henry VIII of England and of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, his great rivals.

Early life

Francis I, the only son of Charles d'Angoul√™me, and of Louise of Savoy, was born at the ch√Ęteau de Cognac , Cognacmarker (c. 400 km southwest of Paris), in the modern French department of Charentemarker, in the province of Saintonge which was part of the former Duch√© d'Aquitainemarker. His father was the first cousin of King Louis XII. In 1498, the four-year-old Francis, already Count of Angoul√™me, was created Duke of Valois. He was the heir presumptive of Louis XII who did not succeed in siring sons with any of his three wives. In 1506, and by instigation of Louis XII, young Francis was betrothed to Claude de France, the daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany, and heiress of Duch√© of Brittany. The marriage took place on 18 May 1514. Because of the Salic Law that excluded women from succeeding to the throne of France, the throne passed to Francis I at the death of Louis XII, as he was a male-line great-great-grandson of Charles V of France and the descendant of the eldest surviving male line of the Capetian Dynasty. Claude de France became queen consort.

In 1515 Francis was crowned King of France in the Cathedral of Reimsmarker. Despite being only twenty-years old, he already had unprecedented humanist credentials. While his two predecessors, Charles VIII and Louis XII, had spent much of their reigns concerned with Italy they did not much embrace the new intellectual movements coming out of it. Both monarchs continued in the same patterns of behavior that had dominated the French monarchy for centuries. They are considered the last of the medieval French monarchs, but they did lay the groundwork for the Renaissance to come into full swing in France.

Contact between the French and Italians in the long running series of wars under Charles VIII and Louis XII had brought new ideas to France by the time the young Francis was receiving his education. Thus a number of his tutors, such as Desmoulins, his Latin instructor, and Christophe de Longueil were schooled in the new ways of thinking and they attempted to imbue Francis with it. Francis' mother also had a great interest in Renaissance art, which she passed down to her son. One certainly cannot say that Francis received a humanist education; most of his teachers had not yet been affected by the Renaissance. One can, however, state that he clearly received an education more oriented towards humanism than any previous French king.


Patron of the arts

By the time Francis I ascended the throne in 1515, the Renaissance had clearly arrived in France, and Francis was an important supporter of the change. He became a major patron of the arts and lent his support to many of the greatest artists of his time and encouraged them to come to France. Some did work for him, including such greats as Andrea del Sarto, and Leonardo da Vinci, whom Francis convinced to leave Italy in the last part of his life. While Leonardo did little painting in his years in France, he brought with him many of his great works, such as the Mona Lisa, known in France as La Joconde, and these stayed in France upon his death.

Other major artists whom Francis employed include the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, and the painters Rosso, Romano and Primaticcio, all of whom were heavily employed in decorating Francis' various palaces and exceedingly loyal. Francis employed a number of agents in Italy who endeavoured to procure artworks by Italian masters such as Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael and ship them to France. These agents had some notable successes, even if plans to try to move Leonardo's Last Supper to France proved impractical. When Francis ascended the throne, the royal palaces were decorated with only a scattering of great paintings, and not a single piece of sculpture either ancient or modern. It is during Francis' reign that the magnificent art collection of the French kings that can still be seen in the Louvremarker was truly begun.

Man of letters

Francis I painted in 1515.
Francis was also renowned as a man of letters. When Francis comes up in a conversation among characters in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, it is as the great hope to bring culture to the war-obsessed French nation. Not only did Francis support a number of major writers of the period, he was a poet himself, if not one of immense quality. Francis worked hard at improving the royal library. He appointed the great French humanist Guillaume Budé as chief librarian, and began to expand the collection. Francis employed agents in Italy looking for rare books and manuscripts, just as he had looking for art works. During his reign, the size of the library increased greatly. Not only did Francis expand the library, there is also, according to Knecht, evidence that he read the books he bought for it, a much rarer feat in the royal annals. Francis set an important precedent by opening his library to scholars from around the world in order to facilitate the diffusion of knowledge.

In 1537, Francis signed the Ordonnance de Montpellier, decreeing that his library be given a copy of every book to be sold in France.

Francis's older sister, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, was also an accomplished writer, producing the classic, Heptameron.


Francis poured vast amounts of money into new structures. He continued the work of his predecessors on the Ch√Ęteau d'Amboisemarker and also started renovations on the Ch√Ęteau de Bloismarker. Early in his reign, he also began construction of the magnificent Ch√Ęteau de Chambordmarker, inspired by the styles of the Italian renaissance, and perhaps even designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Francis rebuilt the Louvremarker, transforming it from a medieval fortress into a building of Renaissance splendour. He financed the building of a new City Hall (H√ītel de Villemarker) for Paris in order to have control over the building's design. He constructed the Ch√Ęteau de Madrid in the Bois de Boulognemarker, and rebuilt the Ch√Ęteau de St-Germain-en-Laye. The largest of Francis' building projects was the reconstruction and expansion of the royal ch√Ęteau of Fontainebleaumarker, which quickly became his favourite place of residence, as well as the residence of his official mistress - Anne, duchess of √Čtampes. Each of Francis' projects was luxuriously decorated both inside and outside. Fontainebleau, for instance, had a gushing fountain in its courtyard where quantities of wine were mixed with the water.

Military action

Militarily and politically, Francis's reign was less successful; he tried and failed to become Holy Roman Emperor, and pursued a series of wars in Italy. Francis managed to defeat the Swiss at Marignano in 1515, which enabled him to capture the Italian city-state of Milanmarker.

Much of the military activity of Francis's reign was focused on his sworn enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Francis and Charles had an intense personal rivalry and a bitter hatred for one another, which they inherited from their predecessors' wars in Burgundy and Navarre; Charles, in fact, brashly challenged Francis himself to single combat, multiple times. In addition to the Holy Roman Empire, Charles personally ruled Spainmarker, Austriamarker and a number of smaller possessions neighboring France, and was thus a threat to Francis's kingdom. Francis attempted to arrange an alliance with Henry VIII of England. The negotiations took place at the famous Field of Cloth of Gold of 1520, but ultimately failed. Francis' most devastating defeat occurred at the Battle of Pavia (24 February 1525), where he was captured by Charles: Cesare Hercolani hurt his horse and Francis was captured by Spaniards Juan de Urbieta, Diego D√°vila and Alonso Pita. For this reason, Hercolani was named "victor of the battle of Pavia". The famous Zuppa alla Pavese,, now a renowned recipe, was said to have been invented on the spot to feed the captive king right after the battle.

Francis was held captive in Madridmarker. In the Treaty of Madrid signed on 14 January 1526, Francis I was forced to make major concessions to Charles V before he was freed on 17 March 1526. Francis was allowed to return to France in exchange for his two sons, Francis and Henry, but once he was free he argued that his agreement with Charles was made under duress, and also claimed that the agreement was void, as his sons had been taken hostage suggesting his word alone was not trusted, and he repudiated it.

Francis continued to persevere in his hatred of Charles V and desire to control Italy via with more wars in Italy. The repudiation of the Treaty of Madrid led to the War of the League of Cognac. After the failure of the league, he obtained the help of the Ottoman Empire and went to war again in Italy in the Italian War of 1536‚Äď1538 after the death of Francesco II Sforza, the ruler of Milan. He was defeated once again by Charles V and forced to sign the Treaty of Nice. However, the Treaty of Nice collapsed and led to the Francis' final attempt on Italy via in the Italian War of 1542‚Äď1546. This time, Francis managed to hold off the forces of Charles V and England's Henry VIII and Charles V was forced to sign the Treaty of Crepy because of financial problems and problems with the Schmalkaldic League.

Franco-Ottoman alliance

In a watershed moment in European diplomacy, Francis came to an understanding with the Ottoman Empire, which transformed into a Franco-Ottoman alliance. The alliance has been called "the first nonideological diplomatic alliance of its kind between a Christian and non-Christian empire". It did however cause quite a scandal in the Christian world, and was designated as "the impious alliance", or "the sacrilegious union of the Lily and the Crescent"; nevertheless, it endured since it served the objective interests of both parties. The two powers colluded against Charles V, and, in 1543, they even combined for a joint naval assault in the Siege of Nice.

Foundation of Le Havre

The port city now known as Le Havremarker was founded in 1517, in Francis I's early years on the throne. Founding a new port was urgently needed in order to replace the ancient harbours of Honfleurmarker and Harfleurmarker whose utility had decreased due to silting. Le Havre was originally named Franciscopolis after the King who founded it, but this name did not survive later reigns.

The New World and Asia

In 1524, Francis assisted the citizens of Lyonmarker in financing the expedition of Giovanni da Verrazzano to North America; on this expedition, Verrazzano claimed Newfoundlandmarker for the French crown.

French trade with East Asia was initiated during the reign of Francis I with the help of shipowner Jean Ango. In July 1527, a French Norman trading ship from the city of Rouenmarker is recorded by the Portuguese João de Barros to have arrived in the Indian city of Diumarker. In 1529, Jean Parmentier of Dieppe, onboard the Sacre and the Pensée, reached Sumatramarker. Upon its return, the expedition triggered the development of the Dieppe maps, influencing the work of Dieppe cartographers, such as Jean Rotz.

In 1531, Bertrand d'Ornesan, Baron de Saint-Blancard tried to establish a French trading post at Pernambuco, Brazilmarker.

In 1534, Francis sent Jacques Cartier to explore the St. Lawrence Rivermarker in Quebecmarker to find certaines √ģles et pays o√Ļ l'on dit qu'il se doit trouver grande quantit√© d'or et autres riches choses ("certain islands and lands where it is said there must be great quantities of gold and other riches"). In 1541, Francis sent Jean-Fran√ßois de la Roque de Roberval to settle Canada and to provide for the spread of "the Holy Catholic faith."

Bureaucratic reform

In 1539, in his castle in Villers-Cotterêtsmarker, Francis signed the important edict known as Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, which, among other reforms, made French the administrative language of the kingdom, replacing Latin. This same edict required priests to register births, marriages and deaths and to establish a registry office in every parish. This established the first records of vital statistics with filiations available in Europe.


Coin of Francis I, 1529.
It was during Francis' reign that divisions in the Christian religion in Western Europe erupted. Martin Luther's preaching and writing led to the formation of the Protestant movement which spread through much of Europe, including France.

Initially, under the influence of his beloved sister Marguerite de Navarre, Francis was relatively tolerant of the new movement, and even considered it politically useful, as it caused many German princes to turn against his enemy, Charles V. However, Francis' attitude toward Protestantism changed following the "Affair of the Placards", on the night of 17 October 1534, in which notices appeared on the streets of Paris and other major cities denouncing Mass. A notice was even posted on the door to the king's room, and, it is said, the box in which he kept his handkerchief. Antoine Marcourt, a Protestant pastor, was responsible for the notices.

The most fervent Catholics were outraged by the notice's allegations. Francis himself came to view the movement as a plot against him, and began to persecute its followers. Protestants were jailed and executed. In some areas whole villages were destroyed. Printing was censored and leading Protestants like John Calvin forced into exile. The persecutions soon numbered tens of thousands of homeless people.

These persecutions against Protestants were codified in the Edict of Fontainebleau issued by Francis.


Francis died at the ch√Ęteau de Rambouilletmarker on 31 March 1547, on his son and heir's 28th birthday. It is said that "he died complaining about the weight of a crown that he had first perceived as a gift from God" .

Francis I was interred with his first wife, Claude de France, Duchess of Bretagne, in Saint Denis Basilicamarker. He was succeeded by his son, Henry II.

Francis' tomb, that of his wife and of his mother, along with the tombs of other French kings and members of the royal family, were desecrated on 20 October 1793, during the Reign of Terror, at the height of the French Revolution.


Francis' legacy is generally considered a mixed one. He achieved great cultural feats, but they came at the expense of France's economic well-being.

The persecution of the Protestants was to lead France into decades of civil war, which did not end until 1598 with the Edict of Nantes.

Marriage and issue

One alleged out-of-wedlock issue, Henri de la Rue.

On 18 May 1514, Francis married his second cousin Claude, Princess of France, who was the daughter of Louis XII, King of France and Anne, Duchess of Brittany. The couple had seven children:
Name Birth Death Notes
Louise, Princess of France 19 August 1515 21 September 1517 Died young. Had no issue.
Charlotte de Valois, Princess of France 23 October 1516 8 September 1524 Died young. Had no issue.
Francis, Dauphin of France 28 February 1518 10 August 1536 Died young. Had no issue.
Henry II, King of France 31 March 1519 10 July 1559 Married Catherine de' Medici (1519 - 1589) in 1533. Had issue.
Madeleine de Valois, Princess of France 10 August 1520 2 July 1537 Married James V, King of Scotland (1512 - 1542) in 1537. Had no issue.
Charles de Valois, Duke of Orléans 22 January 1522 9 September 1545 Died young. Had no issue.
Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry 5 June 1523 14 September 1574 Married Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy (1528 - 1580) in 1559. Had issue.

On 7 August 1530, Francis I married his second wife Eleanor of Austria, a sister of the Emperor Charles V. The couple had no children. During his reign, Francis kept two official mistresses at court. The first was Fran√ßoise de Foix, comtesse de Chateaubriand. In 1526, she was replaced by the blonde-haired, cultured Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly, duchesse d'√Čtampes who, with the death of Queen Claude two years earlier, wielded far more political power at court than her predecessor had done. Another of his earlier mistresses, was allegedly Mary Boleyn, mistress of King Henry VIII and sister of Henry's future wife, Anne Boleyn.



Further reading

  • Clough, C.H., "Francis I and the Courtiers of Castiglione‚Äôs Courtier." European Studies Review. vol viii, 1978.
  • Denieul-Cormier, Anne. The Renaissance in France. trans. Anne and Christopher Fremantle. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1969.
  • Grant, A.J. The French Monarchy, Volume I. New York: Howard Fertig, 1970.
  • Guy, John. Tudor England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Jensen, De Lamar. Renaissance Europe. Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992.
  • Knecht, R.J. Renaissance Warrior and Patron: The Reign of Francis I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Major, J. Russell. From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
  • Seward, Desmond. Fran√ßois I: Prince of the Renaissance. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1973.

Francis I in fiction

The amorous exploits of Francis inspired the 1832 play by Fanny Kemble (1809-1893) Francis the First and the 1832 play by Victor Hugo (1802-1885), Le Roi s'amuse ("The King's Amusement") featuring the jester Triboulet, which later inspired the opera of Giuseppe Verdi (1813 ‚Äď 1901), Rigoletto.

Francis was first played in a George Méliès movie by an unknown actor in 1907, and has also been played by Claude Garry (1910), Aimé Simon-Girard (1937), Sacha Guitry (1937), Gérard Oury (1953), Jean Marais (1955), Pedro Armendáriz (1956), Claude Titre (1962), Bernard Pierre Donnadieu (1990), Timothy West (1998).

Francis was portrayed by Peter Gilmore in the comedy film "Carry on Henry" charting the fictitious two extra wives of Henry VIII (including Marie cousin of King Francis).

Francis receives a mention in a minor story in Laurence Sterne's novel Tristram Shandy. The narrator claims that the king, wishing to win the favour of Switzerland, offers to make the country the godmother of his son. When, however, their choice of name conflicts, he declares war. He is also mentioned in Jean de la Brète's novel Reine - Mon oncle et mon curé, where the main character Reine de Lavalle idolises him after reading his biography, much to the dismay of the local priest. He often receives mentions in novels on the lives of either of the Boleyn sisters - Mary Boleyn (d. 1543) and her sister, Queen Anne Boleyn (executed 1536), both of whom were for a time educated at his court. Mary had, according to several accounts, been Francis' one-time mistress and Anne had been a favourite of his sister: the novels The Lady in the Tower, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Last Boleyn, Dear Heart, How Like You This? and Mademoiselle Boleyn feature Francis in their story. Francis is also in Diane Haeger's novel "Courtesan" about Diane de Poitiers and Henri II. He has also featured as a recurring character in the Showtime series The Tudors, opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII and Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn. Francis is played by French actor, Emmanuel Leconte.

Samuel Shellabarger's novel The King's Cavalier describes Francis the man, and the cultural and political circumstances of his reign, in some detail.

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