1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Francis I. of France

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FRANCIS I. (1494–1547), king of France, son of Charles of Valois, count of Angoulême, and Louise of Savoy, was born at Cognac on the 12th of September 1494. The count of Angoulême, who was the great-grandson of King Charles V., died in 1496, and Louise watched over her son with passionate tenderness. On the accession of Louis XII. in 1498, Francis became heir-presumptive. Louis invested him with the duchy of Valois, and gave him as tutor Marshal de Gié, and, after Gié’s disgrace in 1503, the sieur de Boisy, Artus Gouffier. François de Rochefort, abbot of St Mesmin, instructed Francis and his sister Marguerite in Latin and history; Louise herself taught them Italian and Spanish; and the library of the château at Amboise was well stocked with romances of the Round Table, which exalted the lad’s imagination. Francis showed an even greater love for violent exercises, such as hunting, which was his ruling passion, and tennis, and for tournaments, masquerades and amusements of all kinds. His earliest gallantries are described by his sister in the 25th and 42nd stories of the Heptameron. In 1507 Francis was betrothed to Claude, the daughter of Louis XII., and in 1508 he came to court. In 1512 he gained his first military experience in Guienne, and in the following year he commanded the army of Picardy. He married Claude on the 18th of May 1514, and succeeded Louis XII. on the 1st of January 1515. Of noble bearing, and, in spite of a very long and large nose, extremely handsome, he was a sturdy and valiant knight, affable, courteous, a brilliant talker and a facile poet. He had a sprightly wit, some delicacy of feeling, and some generous impulses which made him amiable. These brilliant qualities, however, were all on the surface. At bottom the man was frivolous, profoundly selfish, unstable, and utterly incapable of consistency or application. The ambassadors remarked his negligence, and his ministers complained of it. Hunting, tennis, jewelry and his gallantry were the chief preoccupations of his life.

His character was at once authoritative and weak. He was determined to be master and to decide everything himself, but he allowed himself to be dominated and easily persuaded. Favourites, too, without governing entirely for him, played an important part in his reign. His capricious humour elevated and deposed them with the same disconcerting suddenness. In the early years of his reign the conduct of affairs was chiefly in the hands of Louise of Savoy, Chancellor Antoine Duprat, Secretary Florimond Robertet, and the two Gouffiers, Boisy and Bonnivet. The royal favour then elevated Anne de Montmorency and Philippe de Chabot, and in the last years of the reign Marshal d’Annebaud and Cardinal de Tournon. Women too had always a great influence over Francis—his sister, Marguerite d’Angoulême, and his mistresses. Whatever the number of these, he had only two titular mistresses—at the beginning of the reign Françoise de Châteaubriant, and from about 1526 to his death Anne de Pisseleu, whom he created duchesse d’Étampes and who entirely dominated him. It has not been proved that he was the lover of Diane de Poitiers, nor does the story of “La belle Ferronnière” appear to rest on any historical foundation.[1]

Circumstances alone gave a homogeneous character to the foreign policy of Francis. The struggle against the emperor Charles V. filled the greater part of the reign. In reality, the policy of Francis, save for some flashes of sagacity, was irresolute and vacillating. Attracted at first by Italy, dreaming of fair feats of prowess, he led the triumphal Marignano expedition, which gained him reputation as a knightly king and as the most powerful prince in Europe. In 1519, in spite of wise counsels, he stood candidate for the imperial crown. The election of Charles V. caused an inevitable rivalry between the two monarchs which accentuated still further the light and chivalrous temper of the king and the cold and politic character of the emperor. Francis’s personal intervention in this struggle was seldom happy. He did not succeed in gaining the support of Henry VIII. of England at the interview of the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520; his want of tact goaded the Constable de Bourbon to extreme measures in 1522–1523; and in the Italian campaign of 1525 he proved himself a mediocre, vacillating and foolhardy leader, and by his blundering led the army to the disaster of Pavia (the 25th of February 1525), where, however, he fought with great bravery. “Of all things,” he wrote to his mother after the defeat, “nothing remains to me but honour and life, which is safe”—the authentic version of the legendary phrase “All is lost save honour.” He strove to play the part of royal captive heroically, but the prison life galled him. He fell ill at Madrid and was on the point of death. For a moment he thought of abdicating rather than of ceding Burgundy. But this was too great a demand upon his fortitude, and he finally yielded and signed the treaty of Madrid, after having drawn up a secret protest. After Madrid he wavered unceasingly between two courses, either that of continuing hostilities, or the policy favoured by Montmorency of peace and understanding with the emperor. At times he had the sagacity to recognize the utility of alliances, as was shown by those he concluded with the Porte and with the Protestant princes of Germany. But he could never pledge himself frankly in one sense or the other, and this vacillation prevented him from attaining any decisive results. At his death, however, France was in possession of Savoy and Piedmont.

In his religious policy Francis showed the same instability. Drawn between various influences, that of Marguerite d’Angoulême, the du Bellays, and the duchesse d’Étampes, who was in favour of the Reformation or at least of toleration, and the contrary influence of the uncompromising Catholics, Duprat, and then Montmorency and de Tournon, he gave pledges successively to both parties. In the first years of the reign, following the counsels of Marguerite, he protected Jacques Lefèvre of Etaples and Louis de Berquin, and showed some favour to the new doctrines. But the violence of the Reformers threw him into the arms of the opposite party. The affair of the Placards in 1534 irritated him beyond measure, and determined him to adopt a policy of severity. From that time, in spite of occasional indulgences shown to the Reformers, due to his desire to conciliate the Protestant powers, Francis gave a free hand to the party of repression, of which the most active and most pitiless member was Cardinal de Tournon; and the end of the reign was sullied by the massacre of the Waldenses (1545).

Francis introduced new methods into government. In his reign the monarchical authority became more imperious and more absolute. His was the government “du bon plaisir.” By the unusual development he gave to the court he converted the nobility into a brilliant household of dependants. The Concordat brought the clergy into subjection, and enabled him to distribute benefices at his pleasure among the most docile of his courtiers. He governed in the midst of a group of favourites, who formed the conseil des affaires. The states-general did not meet, and the remonstrances of the parlement were scarcely tolerated. By centralizing the financial administration by the creation of the Trésor de l’Épargne, and by developing the military establishments, Francis still further strengthened the royal power. His government had the vices of his foreign policy. It was uncertain, irregular and disorderly. The finances were squandered in gratifying the king’s unbridled prodigality, and the treasury was drained by his luxurious habits, by the innumerable gifts and pensions he distributed among his mistresses and courtiers, by his war expenses and by his magnificent buildings. His government, too, weighed heavily upon the people, and the king was less popular than is sometimes imagined.

Francis owes the greater measure of his glory to the artists and men of letters who vied in celebrating his praises. He was pre-eminently the king of the Renaissance. Of a quick and cultivated intelligence, he had a sincere love of letters and art. He holds a high place in the history of humanism by the foundation of the Collège de France; he did not found an actual college, but after much hesitation instituted in 1530, at the instance of Guillaume Budé (Budaeus), Lecteurs royaux, who in spite of the opposition of the Sorbonne were granted full liberty to teach Hebrew, Greek, Latin, mathematics, &c. The humanists Budé, Jacques Colin and Pierre Duchâtel were the king’s intimates, and Clément Marot was his favourite poet. Francis sent to Italy for artists and for works of art, but he protected his own countrymen also. Here, too, he showed his customary indecision, wavering between the two schools. At his court he installed Benvenuto Cellini, Francesco Primaticcio and Rosso del Rosso, but in the buildings at Chambord, St Germain, Villers-Cotterets and Fontainebleau the French tradition triumphed over the Italian.

Francis died on the 31st of March 1547, of a disease of the urinary ducts according to some accounts, of syphilis according to others. By his first wife Claude (d. 1524) he had three sons and four daughters: Louise, who died in infancy; Charlotte, who died at the age of eight; Francis (d. 1536); Henry, who came to the throne as Henry II.; Madeleine, who became queen of Scotland; Charles (d. 1545); and Margaret, duchess of Savoy. In 1530 he married Eleanor, the sister of the emperor Charles V.

Authorities.—For the official acts of the reign, the Catalogue des actes de François Ier, published by the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques (Paris, 1887–1907), is a valuable guide. The Bibliothèque Nationale, the National Archives, &c., contain a mass of unpublished documents. Of the published documents, see N. Camuzat, Meslanges historiques ... (Troyes, 1619); G. Ribier, Lettres et mémoires d’estat (Paris, 1666); Letters de Marguerite d’Angoulême, ed. by F. Genin (Paris, 1841 and 1842); the Correspondence of Castillon and Marillac (ed. by Kaulek, Paris, 1885), of Odet de Selve (ed. by Lefèvre-Pontalis, Paris, 1888), and of Guillaume Pellicier (ed. by Tausserat-Radel, Paris, 1900); Captivité du roi François Ier, and Poésies de François Ier (both ed. by Champollion-Figeac, Paris, 1847, of doubtful authenticity); Relations des ambassadeurs vénitiens, &c. Of the memoirs and chronicles, see the journal of Louise of Savoy in S. Guichenon’s Histoire de la maison de Savoie, vol. iv. (ed. of 1778–1780); Journal de Jean Barillon, ed. by de Vaissière (Paris, 1897–1899); Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris, ed. by Lalanne (Paris, 1854); Cronique du roy François Ier, ed. by Guiffrey (Paris, 1868); and the memoirs of Fleuranges, Montluc, Tavannes, Vieilleville, Brantôme and especially Martin du Bellay (coll. Michaud and Poujoulat). Of the innumerable secondary authorities, see especially Paulin Paris, Études sur le règne de François Ier (Paris, 1885), in which the apologetic tendency is excessive; and H. Lemonnier in vol. v. (Paris, 1903–1904) of E. Lavisse’s Histoire de France, which gives a list of the principal secondary authorities. There is a more complete bibliographical study by V. L. Bourrilly in the Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, vol. iv. (1902–1903). The printed sources have been catalogued by H. Hauser, Les Sources de l’histoire de France, XVIe siècle, tome ii. (Paris, 1907). (J. I.) 

  1. On this point see Paulin Paris, Études sur le règne de François Ier.