Francis I of France

Francis I of France
Francis I
King of France
Reign 1 January 1515 – 31 March 1547
(&1000000000000003200000032 years, &1000000000000008900000089 days)
Coronation 25 January 1515
Predecessor Louis XII
Successor Henry II
Consort Claude, Duchess of Brittany
Eleanor of Austria
Francis III, Duke of Brittany
Henry II of France
Madeleine, Queen of Scots
Charles, Duke of Orléans
Margaret, Duchess of Savoy
House House of Valois
Father Charles, Count of Angoulême
Mother Louise of Savoy
Born 12 September 1494(1494-09-12)
Château de Cognac, France
Died 31 March 1547(1547-03-31) (aged 52)
Château de Rambouillet, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica, France
Religion Roman Catholicism

Francis I (French: François Ier) (12 September 1494 – 31 March 1547) was King of France from 1515 until his death. During his reign, huge cultural changes took place in France and he has been called France's original Renaissance monarch.[1] His permanent rivalry with the Emperor Charles V for hegemony in Europe was the origin of a long and ruinous military conflict that gave rise to the Protestant revolution.

Francis was an ally of Suleiman the Magnificent, with whom he formed the Franco-Ottoman alliance. His great rivals were King Henry VIII of England and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.


Early life and accession

Francis was born at the Château de Cognac in the town of Cognac 400 km southwest of Paris, which at that time lay in the province of Saintonge, a part of the Duchy of Aquitaine. The town lies today in the French department of Charente.

Francis was the only son of Charles, Count of Angoulême and Louise of Savoy and a great-great-grandson of King Charles V. His family was not expected to inherit the throne, as his third cousin King Charles VIII was still young, as was his father's cousin the Duke of Orléans. However, Charles VIII died childless in 1498 and left the throne to the Duke of Orléans, who became Louis XII. The Salic Law prevailed in France, and women were ineligible to inherit the throne. Therefore, four-year-old Francis (who was already Count of Angoulême after the death of his own father two years prior) became the heir presumptive to the throne of France and was vested with the title of Duke of Valois.

In 1506, Louis XII, who had married three times but had no son, betrothed his daughter Claude of France to Francis. Claude was heiress to the Duchy of Brittany through her mother, Anne of Brittany. The marriage took place on 18 May 1514. Louis died shortly afterwards and Francis inherited the throne. He was crowned King of France in the Cathedral of Reims on New Years Day 1515, with Claude as his queen consort.


As Francis was receiving his education, ideas emerging from the Italian renaissance were influential in France. Some of his tutors, such as Desmoulins (his Latin instructor) and Christophe de Longueil (a Belgian humanist), were attracted by these new ways of thinking and attempted to influence Francis. Francis' mother was fascinated by renaissance art, and passed this interest on to her son. Although Francis did not receive a humanist education, he was more influenced by humanism than any previous French king.

Patron of the arts

Francis I receiving the last breath of Leonardo da Vinci in 1519, by Ingres, painted in 1818.

By the time he ascended the throne in 1515, the Renaissance had arrived in France, and Francis became a major patron of the arts. At the time of his accession, the royal palaces of France were ornamented with only a scattering of great paintings, and not a single piece of sculpture, either ancient or modern. During Francis' reign the magnificent art collection of the French kings, which can still be seen at the Louvre, was begun.

Francis patronized many great artists of his time, including Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo da Vinci; the latter was persuaded to make France his home during his last years. While Leonardo painted very little during his years in France, he brought with him many of his greatest works, including the Mona Lisa (known in France as La Joconde), and these remained in France after his death. Other major artists to receive Francis' patronage include the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini and the painters Rosso, Romano and Primaticcio, all of whom were employed in decorating Francis' various palaces and were exceedingly loyal. Francis also commissioned a number of agents in Italy to procure notable works of art and ship them to France.

Man of letters

Francis I painted in 1515.
French Monarchy-
Capetian Dynasty, House of Valois
(Valois-Angoulême branch)
Arms of the Kingdom of France (Moderne).svg

Francis I
   Francis, Dauphin of Viennois
   Henry II
   Magdalene, Queen of Scots
   Charles of Valois
   Margaret, Duchess of Savoy
Henry II
   Francis II
   Elizabeth, Queen of Spain
   Claude, Duchess of Lorraine
   Charles IX
   Henry III
   Margaret, Queen of Navarre
   Francis, Duke of Anjou
   Joan of Valois
   Victoria of Valois
Francis II
Charles IX
Henry III

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.

He also corresponded with the abbess and philosopher Claude de Bectoz, of whose letters he was so fond that he would carry them around and show them to the ladies of his court.[2] Together with his sister, he visited her in Tarascon.[3]


Francis I by Joos van Cleve, circa 1530.

Francis poured vast amounts of money into new structures. He continued the work of his predecessors on the Château d'Amboise and also started renovations on the Château de Blois. Early in his reign, he also began construction of the magnificent Château de Chambord, inspired by the styles of the Italian renaissance, and perhaps even designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Francis rebuilt the Louvre, transforming it from a medieval fortress into a building of Renaissance splendour. He financed the building of a new City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) for Paris in order to have control over the building's design. He constructed the Château de Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne, and rebuilt the Château de St-Germain-en-Laye. The largest of Francis' building projects was the reconstruction and expansion of the royal château of Fontainebleau, which quickly became his favourite place of residence, as well as the residence of his official mistress – Anne, duchess of Étampes. 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

Coin of Francis I. Cabinet des Médailles.
Medal of Francis I after the battle of Marignano in 1515.

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 Milan.

Grand culverin of Francis I, with royal salamander emblem and with the Latin motto Nutrisco et extinguo ("I nourish [the good] and extinguish [the bad]"). Caliber: 140mm, length: 307 cm, recovered in Algiers in 1830. Musée de l'Armée.

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 mutual hatred which they inherited from their predecessors' wars in Burgundy and Orleans; Charles, in fact, brashly challenged Francis to single combat, multiple times. In addition to the Holy Roman Empire, Charles personally ruled Spain, Austria 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 with negotiations taking place at the famous Field of Cloth of Gold on 7 June 1520 but, despite a lavish fortnight of diplomacy, they ultimately failed to reach agreement.

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 Dávila 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.[4][unreliable source?]

Grand culverin of Francis I with salamander emblem and inscription in Arabic language, captured by the Ottomans in the Siege of Rhodes (1522). Musée de l'Armée.

Francis was held captive in Madrid and in a letter to his mother he wrote, "Of all things, nothing remains to me but honour and life, which is safe." This line has come down in history famously as "All is lost save honour."[5] 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 more wars in Italy. On January 27, 1534 he concluded a secret alliance treaty with the Landgrave of Hesse, directed against Charles V on the pretext of assisting the Duke of Wurttemberg (removed from power by Charles V since 1519) to regain his traditional seat. 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 1536–1538 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 Francis' final attempt on Italy in the Italian War of 1542–1546. This time, Francis managed to hold off the forces of Charles V and England's Henry VIII; Charles V was forced to sign the Treaty of Crepy because of financial problems and problems with the Schmalkaldic League.

Relations with the New World and Asia

Giovanni da Verrazzano's voyage in 1524.
A symbol of French explorations under Francis I: the French ambassador to England Jean de Dinteville in "The Ambassadors", by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533.

In order to counter-balance the power of the Habsburg Empire under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and especially its control of large parts of the New World through the Crown of Spain, Francis I endeavoured to develop contacts with the New World and Asia. Fleets were sent to the Americas and the Far East, and close contacts were developed with the Ottoman Empire, that would permit the development of French Mediterranean trade as well as the establishment of a strategic military alliance.

The port city now known as Le Havre 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 Honfleur and Harfleur 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.


In 1524, Francis assisted the citizens of Lyon in financing the expedition of Giovanni da Verrazzano to North America; on this expedition, Verrazzano claimed Newfoundland for the French crown and founded New Angoulême on the actual site of New York City.

In 1531, Bertrand d'Ornesan, Baron de Saint-Blancard tried to establish a French trading post at Pernambuco, Brazil.[6]

In 1534, Francis sent Jacques Cartier to explore the St. Lawrence River in Quebec to find certaines îles et pays où l'on dit qu'il se doit trouver grande quantité 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-François de la Roque de Roberval to settle Canada and to provide for the spread of "the Holy Catholic faith."

Far East Asia

An example of the Dieppe maps showing Sumatra. Nicholas Vallard, 1547.

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 Rouen is recorded by the Portuguese João de Barros to have arrived in the Indian city of Diu.[7] In 1529, Jean Parmentier of Dieppe, onboard the Sacre and the Pensée, reached Sumatra.[7][8] Upon its return, the expedition triggered the development of the Dieppe maps, influencing the work of Dieppe cartographers, such as Tom Brown.Jean Rotz.[9]

Ottoman Empire

Francis I (left) and Suleiman the Magnificent (right) initiated a Franco-Ottoman alliance. Both were separately painted by Titian circa 1530.

Under the reign of Francis I, France became the first country in Europe to establish formal relations with the Ottoman Empire, and to set up instruction in the Arabic language, through the instruction of Guillaume Postel at the Collège de France.[10]

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".[11] It did however cause quite a scandal in the Christian world,[12] 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.[13] The two powers colluded against Charles V, and, in 1543, they even combined for a joint naval assault in the Siege of Nice.

In 1533, Francis I sent as ambassador to Morocco, colonel Pierre de Piton, initiating official France-Morocco relations.[14] In a letter to Francis I dated 13 August 1533, the Wattassid ruler of Fez, Ahmed ben Mohammed, welcomed French overtures and granted freedom of shipping and protection of French traders.

Implementation of bureaucratic reform

The Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in August 1539, prescribed the use of French in official documents.

Francis I took several steps to eradicate the monopoly of Latin as the language of knowledge. In 1530, he declared French the national language of the kingdom, and that same year opened the Collège des trois langues, or Collège Royal, following the recommendation of humanist Guillaume Budé, in which were taught Greek, Hebrew and Chaldean, and from 1539 Arabic under Guillaume Postel.[15]

In 1539, in his castle in Villers-Cotterêts,[16] 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.
Meeting of Francis I with Pope Clement VII in Marseilles, 13 October 1533.

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. In 1533 he even dared to suggest to Pope Clement VII the convening of a church council where Catholic and Protestant rulers will have equal vote in order to settle their differences - an offer rejected by both the Pope and 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 were forced into exile. The persecutions soon numbered tens of thousands of homeless people.[citation needed]

These persecutions against Protestants were codified in the Edict of Fontainebleau (1540) issued by Francis. Major persecutions continued, as when Francis I ordered the massacre of the Waldensians at the Massacre of Mérindol in 1545.


Francis I and Charles V entering Paris in January 1540.

Francis died at the château de Rambouillet 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"[citation needed].

Francis I was interred with his first wife, Claude de France, Duchess of Bretagne, in Saint Denis Basilica. 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.

Francis I in films, stage, and literature

Royal styles of
King Francis I
Par la grâce de Dieu, Roi de France
France moderne.svg
Reference style His Most Christian Majesty
Spoken style Your Most Christian Majesty
Alternative style Monsieur Le Roi

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 (1813–1901), 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).

Allegory showing Charles Quint (center) enthroned over his defeated enemies (from left to right): Suleiman, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the Duke of Cleves, the Duke of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse.

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.

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

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.

He and his court set the scene for Friedrich Schiller's ballad Der Handschuh (The Glove).

Marriage and issue

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

On 18 May 1514, Francis married his second cousin, Claude of France, Duchess of Brittany, who was the daughter of Louis XII, King of France, and Anne, Duchess of Brittany. The couple had seven children:

Name Picture Birth Death Notes
Louise, Dauphine of France Louise1515.jpg 19 August 1515 21 September 1517 Died aged two, of convulsions. No issue.
Charlotte, Dauphine of France Charlotte1516.jpg 23 October 1516 18 September 1524 Died aged seven of measles, no issue.
Francis, Duke of Brittany Francis Dauphin Bretagne.jpg 28 February 1518 10 August 1536 Poisoned at the age of eighteen, no issue.
Henry II, King of France Henri1519.jpg 31 March 1519 10 July 1559 Married Catherine de'Medici, had issue.
Madeleine, Queen Consort of Scotland Madeleine1520.jpg 10 August 1520 7 July 1537 Married James V of Scotland, but died of tuberculosis at age sixteen. No issue.
Charles, Duke of Orléans CharlesOrleans.jpg 22 January 1522 9 September 1545 Died of the plague aged twenty-three, no issue.
Margaret, Duchess of Berry (since 1550) Margaret1523.jpg 5 June 1523 15 September 1574 Married Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy and had one son.

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 Françoise de Foix, comtesse de Chateaubriand. In 1526, she was replaced by the blonde-haired, cultured Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly, duchesse d'Étampes 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.[17]



  1. ^ "Francis I (1494 - 1597)". Encyclopedia Project. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Plats. p. 301. 
  3. ^ Cholokian and Cholokian. p. 49. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Francis I of France", Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition
  6. ^ Renaissance Warrior and Patron: The Reign of Francis I by R. J. Knecht p.375 [1]
  7. ^ a b The English history of the British Empire p.61
  8. ^ European travellers in India Edward Farley Oaten p.123
  9. ^ Explorers and colonies: America, 1500–1625 David B. Quinn p.57
  10. ^ Eastern wisdom and learning: the study of Arabic in seventeenth-century ... by G. J. Toomer p.26
  11. ^ Kann, p.62
  12. ^ Miller, p.2
  13. ^ Merriman, p.133
  14. ^ "Francois I, hoping that Morocco would open up to France as easily as Mexico had to Spain, sent a commission, half commercial and half diplomatic, which he confided to one Pierre de Piton. The story of his mission is not without interest" in The conquest of Morocco by Cecil Vivian Usborne, S. Paul & co. ltd., 1936, p.33
  15. ^ Orientalism in early modern France, by Ina Baghdianitz McCabe, ISBN 978-1-84520-374-0, p.25ff
  16. ^ The rise and fall of Renaissance France, 1483–1610 by Robert Jean Knecht p.158
  17. ^ Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, X, no.450

Further reading

  • Cholakian, Patricia Francis and Cholakian,Rouben Charles (1826). Marguerite de Navarre: mother of the Renaissance. Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper. 
  • Clough, C.H., "Francis I and the Courtiers of Castiglione’s 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.
  • Plats, John (1826). A New Universal Biography: Forming the first volume of series III. Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper. 
  • Major, J. Russell. From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
  • Seward, Desmond. François I: Prince of the Renaissance. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1973.
Francis I of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 12 September 1494 Died: 31 March 1547
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Louis XII
King of France
1 January 1515 – 31 March 1547
Succeeded by
Henry II
Preceded by
Maximilian Sforza
Duke of Milan
Succeeded by
Francis Maria Sforza
French nobility
Preceded by
Duke of Brittany
18 May 1514 – 20 July 1524
with Claude
Succeeded by
Francis III / IV
Preceded by
Louis XII of France
Dauphin of Viennois
Count of Valentinois and Diois

1 January 1515 – 28 September 1518
Count of Provence and Forcalquier
1 January 1515 – 31 March 1547
Succeeded by
Henry II of France
Merged in the crown
Title last held by
Duke of Valois
1498 – 1 January 1515
Merged in the crown
Title next held by
Preceded by
Count of Angoulême
1 January 1496 – 1 January 1515
Merged in the crown
Title next held by

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