Francis I of France

gigatos | January 19, 2022


François I (born as François d”Angoulême on September 12, 1494 in Cognac and died on March 31, 1547 in Rambouillet) was crowned king of France on January 25, 1515 in the cathedral of Reims. He reigned until his death in 1547. Son of Charles of Orleans and Louise of Savoy, he belongs to the Valois-Angouleme branch of the Capetian dynasty.

Francis I is considered the emblematic king of the French Renaissance period. His reign allowed an important development of arts and letters in France. On the military and political level, the reign of François I was punctuated by wars and important diplomatic events.

He had a powerful rival in Charles V and had to rely on the diplomatic interests of King Henry VIII of England, who was always eager to place himself as an ally of one side or the other. Francis I recorded successes and defeats but forbade his imperial enemy to realize his dreams, the realization of which would affect the integrity of the kingdom. The antagonism of the two Catholic sovereigns had serious consequences for the Christian West: it facilitated the spread of the nascent Reformation and, above all, allowed the Ottoman Empire to establish itself at the gates of Vienna by seizing almost the entire kingdom of Hungary.

On the domestic front, his reign coincided with the acceleration of the spread of Reformation ideas. The constitution of what would become the absolute monarchy under the Bourbons and the financial needs related to war and the development of the arts led to the need to control and optimize the management of the state and the territory. Francis I introduced a series of reforms concerning the administration of power and in particular the improvement of tax yields, reforms that were implemented and continued under the reign of his successor and son, Henry II.

Birth and first name

François I was born on September 12, 1494 at the castle of Cognac in Angoumois. His first name comes from the name of Saint Francis of Paola. He was the son of Charles of Orleans (1459-1496), Count of Angouleme, and Princess Louise of Savoy (1476-1531), the grandson of Jean of Orleans (uncle of the future King Louis XII), count of Angouleme (1399-1467), and of Marguerite de Rohan (-1496), the great-grandson of the duke Louis I of Orleans (younger brother of the king Charles VI), and of the daughter of the duke of Milan Valentine Visconti. He was a direct descendant of King Charles V through the younger branch of Valois, known as the Angouleme branch.

Family and origins

François, belonging to the younger branch of the royal house of Valois, was not destined to reign. In 1496, his father died and his mother, Louise of Savoy, widowed at nineteen, devoted herself to the education of her two children. The will of the deceased entrusted her with the guardianship, but the future king Louis XII considered that she did not have the required majority to assume it alone and decided to share this guardianship. François became Count of Angouleme on the death of his father. He was two years old.

Order of succession

Lacking a male heir (none of the sons he had with his wife Anne of Brittany survived more than a few days), Louis XII brought to court in April 1498, François d”Angoulême, aged 4, his fourth cousin, accompanied by his older sister, aged 6, Marguerite, future Marguerite de Navarre, grandmother of Henri IV, and their mother, Louise of Savoy. François became Count of Angouleme at the death of his father, Louis XII made him Duke of Valois in 1499. He is the presumptive heir of the crown, as the eldest of the house of Valois in the order of primogeniture, under the Salic law.

Family Education

It is in the castle of Amboise and on the banks of the Loire that François grows up. Louise had to deal with the marshal of Gié, governor of the young count of Angouleme and commander of the castle of Amboise, who exercised great power over his children. The “Trinité d”Amboise” was formed, composed of the mother and the two children, with François being adored by both women in this close-knit trio, as recounted in Louise”s Diary. From the age of 4, François was raised to become king of France, which he did when he was 20, having married the king”s daughter, heiress of Brittany and Italy, when he was 19, he also reigned over the king”s personal domain which was initially destined for the Emperor.

Count of Angouleme

The young François d”Angoulême surrounded himself with companions who remained influential in his adult life, such as Anne de Montmorency (1493-1567), Marin de Montchenu (1494-1546), Philippe de Brion (1492-1543) and Robert de La Marck (1491-1536), to whom we owe a description of their games and physical exercises alternating with the learning of humanities. On January 25, 1502, François fell from his horse and found himself in a critical condition. His mother became ill and lived only for the recovery of the one she called her “Caesar”. His tutors were Artus de Gouffier and François Desmoulins de Rochefort, who was later named the king”s great chaplain. On May 31, 1505, Louis XII showed his will to marry his daughter Claude and François d”Angoulême. The engagement ceremony took place on May 21, 1506 in the castle of Plessis-lèz-Tours, closing the session of the Estates General of Tours. From then on, François moved to the castle of Blois.

François governed the county of Angoulême when he came of age in 1512. Before that date, his mother Louise de Savoie had been managing it since the death of her husband Charles d”Orléans in 1496. They made frequent stays there. When François became king in 1515, Louise again governed the county of Angoulême, which became a duchy, until her death in 1531.

Accession to the throne and coronation

In January 1512, Anne of Brittany, very weakened by ten childbirths in twenty years, gave birth to a stillborn son. Louis XII then decided to treat François as the crown prince, made him a member of the King”s Council and appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the Guyenne army on October 12, 1512.

When Francis acceded to the throne in 1515, he was 20 years old and had the reputation of being a humanist. He was crowned in the cathedral of Reims on January 25, 1515, the date chosen because of his miraculous healing that had occurred thirteen years earlier on the same day as the conversion of Paul. He chose to use the salamander, the emblem of his ancestors, as his emblem. His royal entry into Paris on February 15, 1515 (a major political rite during which he grants pardons), sets the tone of his reign. Dressed in a jewel-encrusted silver suit, he reared his horse and threw coins to the crowd. He participates in a pas d”armes (jousting on horseback with spears according to an elaborate scenario) with ardor and splendor. While his two predecessors Charles VIII and Louis XII spent a lot of time in Italy without grasping the artistic and cultural movement that was developing there, they nonetheless set the stage for the later flourishing of the Renaissance in France.

The contact between the Italian and French cultures during the long period of the Italian campaigns introduced new ideas to France at the time François was being educated. Many of his tutors, including François Demoulin, his Latin teacher (a language François would assimilate with great difficulty), the Italian Giovanni Francesco Conti, and Christophe de Longueil, instilled in the young François an education very much inspired by Italian thought. François” mother was also very interested in the art of the Renaissance and passed on this passion to her son who, during his reign, mastered the Italian language to perfection. Around 1519-1520, François Demoulin wrote for him the Commentaries on the Gallic War, an adaptation of the Commentaries on the Gallic War in which he imagines a dialogue between the young king and Julius Caesar recounting his military campaigns. It cannot be said that François received a humanist education; on the other hand, more than any other of his predecessors, he benefited from an education that made him aware of this intellectual movement.

A prince of the Renaissance

At the time when Francis I acceded to the throne, the ideas of the Italian Renaissance, themselves strongly tinged with French influence, particularly in the fields of sculpture and architecture, were spread in France and the king contributed to this diffusion. He commissioned many works from artists he had brought to France. Many of them worked for him, among them the greatest like Andrea del Sarto, Benvenuto Cellini and Leonardo da Vinci.

Francis I showed a real affection for the old man, whom he called “my father” and whom he installed at the Clos Lucé, in Amboise, a few hundred meters from the royal castle of Amboise. Vinci brought with him, in his trunks, his most famous works such as the Mona Lisa, the Virgin, the Child Jesus and Saint Anne, Saint John the Baptist. The king entrusted him with numerous missions such as the organization of the Court”s celebrations, the creation of costumes and the study of various projects. Vinci stayed in France from 1516 until his death in 1519 in the arms of the king, according to a legend that is contradicted by certain historical documents.

We can also mention the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini and the painters Rosso Fiorentino and Le Primatice, who were in charge of many works in the various castles of the crown. Francis I employed many agents, such as Pierre l”Arétin, in charge of bringing to France the works of Italian masters like Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael. It was during the reign of Francis I that the collection of artworks of the kings of France, now on display in the Louvre, really began. In 1530, he created the Crown Jewels collection.

The progress of printing favored the publication of a growing number of books. In 1518, François I decided to create a large “cabinet of books” housed in Blois and entrusted to the court poet Mellin de Saint-Gelais. In 1536, it was forbidden to “sell or send to a foreign country any books or notebooks in any language without having given a copy to the guards of the Royal Library”, a library of which he appointed the humanist Guillaume Budé as steward with the mission of increasing the collection. In 1540, he commissioned Guillaume Pellicier, ambassador to Venice, to buy and reproduce as many Venetian manuscripts as possible.

At the instigation of Guillaume Budé, he founded in 1530 the body of “Royal Readers”, housed in the “Royal College” (future “Collège de France”) in order to make it a pole of modern culture opposed to the conservative and sclerotic Sorbonne. Although decided by François I, the construction of the building did not materialize until the regency of Marie de Médicis, almost a century later. Among the royal readers were Barthélemy Masson, who taught Latin, and the geographer and astronomer Oronce Fine, who was in charge of mathematics. He encouraged the development of printing in France and founded the Imprimerie Royale, where printers such as Josse Bade and Robert Estienne worked. In 1530, he appointed Geoffroy Tory as the king”s printer (for the French language), a position that was passed on in 1533 to Olivier Mallard, and then in 1544 to Denys Janot. Thanks to the engraver and founder Claude Garamond, the royal printing office innovates in a writing with characters of Roman type more readable.

Numerous private libraries were created: Emard Nicolaï, president of the Chamber of Accounts, owned about twenty books, 500 volumes belonged to the president of the parliament, Pierre Lizet, 579 books made up the library of his colleague André Baudry, 775 belonged to the king”s chaplain, Gaston Olivier, 886 belonged to the lawyer Leferon, at least 3,000 belonged to Jean du Tillet, and several thousand to Antoine Duprat.

François I subsidized poets such as Clément Marot and Claude Chappuys and composed a few poems himself – although Mellin de Saint-Gélais was suspected of being the author of some of the poems François I claimed as his own – published as well as some of his “Letters”.

His older sister, Marguerite, married to the king of Navarre, was also a fervent admirer of letters and protected many writers such as Rabelais and Bonaventure Des Périers. She was also on the list of the Court”s literati, being the author of many poems and essays such as La Navire, and Les Prisons. She also published a voluminous collection entitled Les Marguerites des princesses which includes all her writings. But her master work remains the Heptameron, a collection of unfinished tales published after her death.

Francis I was a relentless builder and spent lavishly on the construction of new buildings. He continued the work of his predecessors at the castle of Amboise, but especially at the castle of Blois. Through works that lasted ten years, he added two new wings to the latter, one of which houses the famous staircase, and modernized its interior with woodwork and decorations based on arabesques specific to the new Italian fashion. At the beginning of his reign, he began the construction of the Chambord castle on a hunting estate acquired by Louis XII. Although Leonardo da Vinci probably participated in its plans, as well as the Italian architect Boccador, Chambord remains a Renaissance castle very much rooted in the heritage of French medieval architecture.

François I attempted to rebuild the Louvre castle, having the medieval tower of the dark fortress of Philippe Auguste destroyed. He asked for the construction of a new city hall for Paris in order to influence the architectural choices, which were implemented by Boccador and Pierre Chambiges. In 1528, in the Bois de Boulogne, he had the Château de Madrid built under the direction of Girolamo della Robbia, which evokes the structure of the house that Francis I had occupied during his imprisonment in Spain. He also built, under the direction of Pierre Chambiges, the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye as well as a hunting castle, the castle of La Muette, in the forest of Saint-Germain: the one who was nicknamed the “king of the veneurs” could indulge his passion for hunting with hounds. He also had the construction of the castles of Villers-Cotterêts opened around 1530, Folembray in 1538, and Challuau in 1542. In all, nearly seven castles were built and remodeled in 15 years.

The greatest of Francis I”s projects was the almost complete reconstruction (only the keep of the previous castle was preserved) of the Château de Fontainebleau, which quickly became his favorite place of residence. The work was spread out over fifteen years to create what Francis I wanted to be a showcase for his Italian treasures (tapestries designed by Raphael, the bronze of Hercules by Michelangelo, decoration of the Francis I gallery by Rosso Fiorentino, and other decorations by Giovanni Battista Rosso and Le Primatice, around whom the prestigious Fontainebleau school was formed).

He also entrusted Leonardo da Vinci with the elaboration of the plans for the new castle of Romorantin, in which the artist used the plans of his ideal city of Milan. The project was nevertheless abandoned in 1519, the authors blaming an epidemic of malaria then present in the marshes of Sologne, striking the workers of the site, or the death of the Florentine artist that year.

Each of the ambitious royal projects benefited from sumptuous decorations, both exterior and interior. In 1517, he decided to found a new port, initially called “Franciscopolis”, but which was renamed “Le Havre de Grace” due to the existence of a chapel on the site chosen for its construction.

Under Francis I, life at court was punctuated by a series of festive events consisting of tournaments, dances, and costume balls. Costume balls were most often based on mythological themes. Primaticcio, following Vinci, was one of the Italian artists who contributed to the realization of the costumes.

Foreign policy

The foreign policy of Francis I was a continuation of the Italian wars conducted by his predecessors. Throughout his reign, the king never ceased to claim his rights to the Duchy of Milan inherited from his great-grandmother. His reign was also dominated by his rivalry with Charles of Austria, who had become king of Spain and then emperor under the name of Charles V. Their rivalry took the form of four wars during which Francis I recorded successes and defeats, but prevented his imperial enemy from realizing his dreams of recovering the Duchy of Burgundy.

The first conflict (1521-1526) was marked by the defeat of Pavia, during which the king was taken prisoner, first in Italy, then transferred to Spain. Meanwhile, the mother of the King of France, Louise de Savoie, asked for help from the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, who responded by sending the famous fleet of Khayr ad-Din Barbarossa – which represented a great threat to the Habsburg Empire. This was the beginning of a Franco-Ottoman alliance that would last for the following centuries. After almost a year of captivity, the king was reduced to making important concessions in order to be freed (Treaty of Madrid). Francis was allowed to return to France in exchange for his two sons, but on his return, the king used the pretext of an agreement obtained under duress to reject the treaty. This led to the war of the League of Cognac (1527-1529).

The third war (1535-1538) was characterized by the failure of the armies of Charles V in Provence and the annexation by France of Savoy and Piedmont. The fourth war (1542-1544) saw the alliance of the Emperor and the King of England. François I managed to resist the invasion but lost the city of Boulogne-sur-Mer to the English.

To fight against the Habsburg Empire, Francis I established alliances with countries considered hereditary enemies of France or alliances deemed contrary to the Christian interests of which the king was supposed to be the guarantor: King Henry VIII of England, the Protestant princes of the Empire and the Ottoman Sultan, Soliman.

Through his great-grandmother Valentina Visconti, Francis I had dynastic rights to the Duchy of Milan. In the first year of his reign, he decided to assert his rights and mounted an expedition to take possession of this duchy. For him, it was also an opportunity to avenge the French defeats of the previous Italian war; two years before his accession, all the territories occupied by his predecessors in Italy had been lost. The conquest of Milan by Francis I was completely in line with the Italian wars started twenty years earlier by King Charles VIII.

Through several treaties signed in the spring of 1515, Francis I managed to obtain the neutrality of his powerful neighbors. Opposition to his aims was limited to the Duke of Milan Maximilian Sforza, officially but weakly supported by Pope Leo X and his ally Cardinal Matthew Schiner, architect of the alliance between the Swiss cantons and the Pope, and future adviser to Charles V.

In the spring of 1515, François I ordered the concentration of troops in Grenoble and an army of 30,000 men marched to Italy. However, solidly established in Susa, the Swiss held the usual route to Mont-Cenis. With the technical help of the officer and military engineer Pedro Navarro, the army, including horses and artillery (60 bronze cannons), crossed the Alps by a secondary road further south, through the two passes, Vars 2,090 m (Ubaye) and Larche 1,900 m, and then emerged in the Stura valley. It is at the cost of very important efforts that they widen the corresponding paths to pass the artillery there. These rapid efforts were rewarded, as they caused a great surprise. In the plain of Piedmont, a part of the Swiss army took fright and proposed, on September 8 in Gallarate, to pass to the service of France. Schiner succeeded in winning back the dissidents to his cause and advanced at their head to the village of Melegnano (in French, Marignan), 16 kilometers from Milan. The battle that began remained undecided for a long time, but the French artillery, effective against the Swiss infantrymen, the Venetian auxiliary forces and the furia francese finally tipped the scales in favor of Francis I who won this decisive confrontation.

In 1525, several authors mention the knighting of the king by Bayard on the battlefield of Marignan. This story is now considered a myth: it would have been put together at the request of the king, in order to make people forget that the one who had knighted Francis I at his coronation (i.e. the Constable of Bourbon) had sided with Charles V in 1523. Worse, the Constable would be the architect of the future defeat of Pavia, and therefore of the imprisonment of Francis I. The legend was therefore invented in order to make people forget the “filial” links between the king and his traitorous subject, while it would have strengthened a link (non-existent at the beginning) between the sovereign and the symbol of courage and valour, who died in 1524. This invention could also be linked to the will of the king of France to show himself the perfect example, chivalrous among all, while he was a prisoner.

This victory brought fame to the king of France from the beginning of his reign. The diplomatic consequences are numerous:

Charles of Habsburg was at the head of a real empire:

Once emperor (1519), Charles is animated by two complementary ambitions:

These two ambitions could not but run up against the hostility of Francis I, who had exactly the same type of aspirations. Reformer of the Church in his kingdom with the Concordat of Bologna, the Most Christian had to ally himself with the Lutherans and the Turks to counter the Emperor and delay as much as possible the holding of a universal council. The king of France covets moreover remote rights to the kingdom of Naples, belonging to the emperor as king of Aragon, and to the duchy of Milan, fief of Empire vital to Charles V for geopolitical reasons. Continuing the Italian policy of Charles VIII and Louis XII, Francis I did not stop trying to keep a foothold in Italy at the cost of the undue occupation of the states of his own uncle, the Duke of Savoy, brother-in-law of the emperor, which further exacerbated their rivalry.

On January 12, 1519, the death of Maximilian opened the succession to the imperial crown. This crown, if it does not add any territorial control, brings on the other hand to its holder an additional prestige and a certain diplomatic weight. Charles I of Spain, brought up with this in mind, was the natural candidate to succeed his grandfather and had to face King Henry VIII of England, the Albertan Duke George of Saxony, known as the Bearded One, and Francis I. The candidacy of the latter answers a double ambition:

The competition soon came down to a duel between Francis and Charles. To convince the seven German prince-electors, the rivals took turns using propaganda and sound and feeble arguments. The Austrian party presented the Spanish king as coming from the true “estoc” (lineage), but the key to the election lay essentially in the ability of the candidates to buy the prince-electors. The French ecus were opposed to the German and Spanish florins and ducats, but Charles benefited from the decisive support of Jakob Fugger, a wealthy Augsburg banker, who issued bills of exchange payable after the election and “provided that Charles of Spain was elected. To keep the commitments of his ambassadors who promised millions of ecus, Francis alienated part of the royal domain, increased the size, issued accumulated loans by promising ever higher interest.

Charles, who had massed his troops near the place of election in Frankfurt, was finally elected unanimously at the age of 19 King of the Romans on June 28, 1519 and crowned emperor in Aachen on October 23, 1520. His motto “Toujours plus oultre” (“Always more”) corresponded to his ambition of a universal monarchy of Carolingian inspiration, while he was already at the head of an empire “on which the sun never sets”, but which was nevertheless, for his own misfortune, very diverse.

Of course, the imperial election does not alleviate the continuous tensions between Francis I and Charles V. Important diplomatic efforts are deployed to constitute or consolidate the network of alliance of each one.

In June 1520, Francis I organized the meeting of the camp of the Cloth of Gold with Henry VIII but failed, probably by excess of pomp and lack of diplomatic subtlety, to concretize a treaty of alliance with England. On his side, Charles V, nephew of the queen of England, with the assistance of the cardinal Thomas Wolsey to whom he made dangle the elevation to the pontificate, obtains the signature of a secret agreement against France to the treaty of Bruges; as Henri VIII likes to underline it, “Who I defend is master”.

Always with the objective of conquering Burgundy, the Emperor”s armies led the offensive to the north and south. In 1521, Franz von Sickingen and Count Philippe I of Nassau forced Bayard to lock himself up in Mézières, which he defended without surrendering despite the cannonades and assaults. The fate of the arms was less favorable on the Italian front where the troops of Marshal Odet de Foix were decimated by the army commanded by François II Sforza and Prospero Colonna during the battle of the Bicoque. The whole province then rose up in reaction to the oppressive government of the marshal: France lost Milan in April 1522.

The year 1523 was also the scene of an affair that was initially Franco-French but whose consequences extended beyond the borders of the kingdom. The Constable Charles de Bourbon, who had been under attack since his widowhood (1521) by the maneuvers of François I to satisfy the claims of Louise de Savoie on the Bourbonnais and the viscounty of Châtellerault, and who felt that he had not been well rewarded by François I, reached an agreement with Charles V, into whose service he entered, in order to become lieutenant general of his armies.

This defection delayed the counter-offensive of Francis I on Milan. In 1524, Guillaume Gouffier de Bonnivet took the lead of the army that was to reconquer Milan but found Charles de Bourbon in his way, and had to withdraw to the Sesia. Wounded, he entrusted his rearguard to Bayard, who himself died on April 30, 1524. The way is opened to the imperial armies for an invasion by the road of Lyon, offensive recommended by Charles de Bourbon. Charles V preferred to attack through Provence and, in August and September 1524, laid siege to Marseille, which he failed to take. Francis I took advantage of this to regain the initiative and led his own army across the Alps to arrive on October 28 at the walls of Pavia. The city, defended by Antonio de Leiva, received reinforcements from the viceroy of Naples, Charles de Lannoy. Poorly advised by Bonnivet and despite the advice of Louis de la Trémoille, François I engaged in a hasty battle. The artillery, badly placed, had to stop firing under penalty of firing into the French ranks. The army could not resist the imperial troops; Bonnivet, La Palice and La Trémoille were killed. The defeat of Pavia, on February 24, 1525, proved to be serious for François I who, wounded in the face and leg, gave his sword to Charles de Lannoy and was held prisoner in the fortress of Pizzighettone and then transferred to Genoa and from June 1525 onwards to various Spanish residences, Barcelona, Valencia and finally the Alcázar of Madrid. He remained a prisoner until the Treaty of Madrid was signed on January 14, 1526. Francis I was the third French sovereign to be captured on a battlefield.

In the Alcazar of Madrid, Francis I was held in a large tower with a breathtaking view of the Manzanares. During his imprisonment, his future wife Eleanor of Habsburg, often climbed the steps of the Alcazar to admire the king of France with whom she fell madly in love. She often stayed several hours contemplating François, who tried to soothe his loneliness in the letters he wrote to his mistress, the Countess of Chateaubriant. She even wrote to the king”s mother, Louise of Savoy, to express her admiration for her son, assuring her that if she could deliver him she would. The sister of Charles V was not the only one to fall under the spell of the sovereign, during his many transfers Francis I aroused the sympathy of the people he tells.

Under the terms of this treaty, Francis I had to cede the Duchy of Burgundy and the Charolais, renounce all claims to Italy, Flanders and Artois, reinstate Charles de Bourbon to the kingdom of France, return his lands, and marry Eleanor of Habsburg, sister of Charles V. Francis was freed in exchange for his two eldest sons, the dauphin Francis of France and Henry of France (future Henry II). Francis I, during his captivity in Madrid, vowed a devotional journey to Notre-Dame du Puy-en-Velay and to the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, if he obtained his release. In 1533, he honored his promise and was welcomed with joy in many provincial cities.

Charles V did not benefit much from this treaty, which Francis had seen fit to declare unenforceable the day before it was signed. On June 8, the states of Burgundy solemnly declared that the province intended to remain French. Moreover, Louise de Savoie having not remained inactive during her regency, a league against the empire was sealed in Cognac, in which France, England, the pope and the Italian principalities (Milan, Venice and Florence) participated. On May 6, 1527, Charles de Bourbon was killed in an assault on Rome. His troops avenged his death by sacking the city of Rome.

A series of defeats and victories on both sides in Italy led Charles V and Francis I to let Margaret of Austria, the emperor”s aunt, and Louise of Savoy, the king”s mother, negotiate a treaty that amended the one of Madrid: on August 3, 1529, in Cambrai, the “Peace of the Ladies” was signed, later ratified by both sovereigns. Francis I married Eleanor, widow of the King of Portugal, sister of Charles, recovered his children for a ransom of 2,000,000 ecus and kept Burgundy; however, he gave up Artois, Flanders and his views on Italy.

In 1528, François I appealed to Soliman the Magnificent to restore to the Christians of Jerusalem a church that the Turks had transformed into a mosque. The pasha accepted this request, at the end of this Franco-Ottoman alliance and following the Capitulations of the Ottoman Empire.

In fact, Francis I did not abandon his pretensions and opened himself to new alliances somewhat surprising for a very Christian king.

Francis I intended to take advantage of the internal dissensions of the Empire and signed an alliance treaty with the Schmalkalden League on October 26, 1531 in Saalfeld. France did not join the league, but promised financial aid.

Outside the Empire, Francis I allied himself with the Ottomans of Suleiman the Magnificent to fight Charles V, who himself took on the Turks by making an agreement with the Persians. No alliance treaty as such was signed between France and the Ottomans, but close cooperation allowed the two powers to effectively fight the Spanish fleet in the Mediterranean, to the great scandal of Christian Europe. François I used an intermediary to discuss with the Sultan: it is one of the first known cases of the use of a diplomat to negotiate and not to transmit a simple message. This one, by precaution, remains nevertheless imprisoned during one year in Constantinople.

In 1536, France became the first European power to obtain commercial privileges, known as capitulations, in Turkey. These allowed French ships to sail freely in Ottoman waters under the fleurdelisé flag and every ship belonging to other countries was obliged to fly the French flag and to ask for the protection of French consuls to trade. In addition to this, France obtained the right to possess an embassy chapel in Constantinople in the Galata district. These privileges also ensured a certain protection of France on the catholic populations of the Ottoman Empire.

The emperor and the pope finally settled their dispute: in 1530, in Bologna, Charles V received the imperial crown from Clement VII. On August 7, Francis I married the sister of Charles V, Eleanor of Habsburg, widow of King Manuel I of Portugal.

In 1535, upon the death of the Duke of Milan Francis II Sforza, Francis I claimed the inheritance of the duchy. At the beginning of 1536, 40,000 French soldiers invaded the Duchy of Savoy and stopped at the Lombardy border, waiting for a possible negotiated solution. In June, Charles V retaliated and invaded Provence, but met with the defense of the Constable Anne de Montmorency. Thanks to the intercession of Pope Paul III, elected in 1534 and supporter of a reconciliation between the two sovereigns, the king and the emperor signed the peace of Nice on June 18, 1538 and reconciled at the interview of Aigues-Mortes on July 15, 1538, promising to unite against the Protestant danger. As a sign of goodwill, Francis I even authorized free passage through France so that Charles V could go and quell an insurrection in Ghent.

Charles V having refused, in spite of his commitments, the investiture of the duchy of Milan to one of the king”s sons, a new war broke out in 1542. On April 11, 1544, François de Bourbon-Condé, Count of Enghien, at the head of French troops, defeated Marquis Alfonso de Avalos, Lieutenant General of Charles V”s armies, at the Battle of Cerisoles. However, the imperial troops, with more than 40,000 men and 62 pieces of artillery, crossed Lorraine, the Three Bishoprics and the border. In mid-July, part of the troops besieged the stronghold of Saint-Dizier, while the main part of the army continued its march towards Paris. Serious financial problems prevented the emperor from paying his troops, where desertions multiplied. On his side, François I had to face the lack of financial resources, as well as the pressure of the English who besieged and took Boulogne-sur-Mer. The two sovereigns, relying on the good offices of the young Duke François I of Lorraine, godson of the King of France and nephew by marriage of the Emperor, finally agreed to a final peace in 1544. The treaty of Crépy-en-Laonnois took up the essence of the truce signed in 1538. France lost its suzerainty over Flanders and Artois and renounced its claims to Milan and Naples, but temporarily retained Savoy and Piedmont. Charles V gave up Burgundy and its dependencies and gave one of his daughters in marriage, endowed with Milan as an apanage, to Charles, duke of Orleans and second son of the king.

Although Francis I and Charles V did not like each other very much, they showed each other the respect that was due to them during official visits. Thus, Francis I received Charles V several times, notably in the Louvre, just before the construction of the new Louvre began. In January 1540, Charles V asked Francis I to allow him to cross France to quell a revolt in Flanders, and was received by the king and, accompanied by the latter, made an entrance into Paris, after having passed through Bordeaux, Poitiers, and Orleans. He visited Fontainebleau, where Francis I showed him the newly completed gallery. The political communication and diplomacy are set up as a tool of parade in order to impress the adversary.

The two heads of state also sought to create family ties to give a sense of peace and understanding. Francis I offered his daughter Louise (who died in infancy) in marriage to Charles V, and Charles V initiated the marriage of his sister Eleanor to Francis I in 1530.

When François I came to power, France had little interest in the Great Discoveries and limited its maritime voyages to smuggling and acts of piracy on the African coast. However, France had all the assets of a great colonial and naval power: it was endowed with a long maritime façade, numerous ports and quality sailors. Nevertheless, the predecessors of François I had favored Mediterranean conquests. France had been left behind in the race towards America by Spain, Portugal and England.

It is thus under his reign that the first French infatuation for the Americas was born. The King of France sought to loosen the control of the New World established by the Iberian kingdoms with the support of the papacy (papal bull of 1493 Inter Cætera modified by the treaty of Tordesillas of 1494) by limiting the scope of the bull to the territories already discovered at that date, a limitation that he obtained only in the form of a declaration by Clement VII in 1533. Francis I was thus able to push his envoys towards the territories still remaining outside Iberian control. The Spanish protests born from this policy are at the origin of the repartee of the king of France: “I would like to see the clause of the testament of Adam which excludes me from the division of the world”.

Thus, the ships of the Dieppe shipowner Jean Ango reconnoitered the coasts of Newfoundland, went down to Guinea and then to Brazil, and rounded the Cape to Sumatra. In 1522, one of his captains, Jean Fleury, intercepted two Spanish caravels coming from New Spain and carrying the treasures offered by Cortes to Charles V. This discovery made the French court aware of the importance of the New World and the riches it could contain. In 1523, Francis I began to encourage exploration in North America. He took under his aegis the Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano and put at his disposal the royal vessel La Dauphine, leaving to Jean Ango and Florentine capital the care of financing the expedition. Verrazano reached North America and Florida (which he named Franciscana), mapped Newfoundland, then founded New England (site of the future New Amsterdam, renamed New York in 1664), in homage to the family of the King of France, before continuing to Brazil and the West Indies. His objective was to find a northwest passage leading directly to the Indies. His conclusions were eloquent: “It is a land unknown to the ancients, larger than Europe, Africa and almost Asia. In 1534, Jean Le Veneur, bishop of Lisieux and the king”s great chaplain, advised François I to send Jacques Cartier from Saint-Malo on an expedition to discover “certain islands and countries where it is said that there must be a great deal of gold and other rich things. This was the birth of New France and Canada as a French colony.

Leaving Saint-Malo on April 20, 1534, Cartier crossed the Atlantic in only three weeks. On July 24, he took possession of the Gaspé coast, then returned to Saint-Malo on September 5. Supported by François I, he left on May 15, 1535 at the head of three ships. He discovered the mouth of the St. Lawrence, sailed up the river and founded the post of Sainte-Croix (future Quebec City), then reached a village on a hill, Hochelaga, which he renamed Mount Royal (future Montreal). On August 13, 1535, Cartier was the first person in history to write in his journal the word “Canada” which corresponded to an Amerindian country located a little north of the current city of Quebec and which had been indicated to him by his guides Domagaya and Taignoaguy. In fact, they (they spoke French) used the words “chemyn de Canada”, meaning the river (St. Lawrence today) leading to Canada. Cartier wrote this new word “Canada” 22 times in his Journal de voyage. He announced his departure to the “chemyn de Canada”. And on September 7 he reached, according to his words, “the beginning of the land and providence of Canada”. There he met Donnacona, lord of the place. The French went up to Sainte-Croix, but were blocked by the ice between November 1535 and April 1536. Cartier left for France, considerably weakened and arrived in Saint-Malo on July 16, 1536. The war with Charles V did not facilitate the establishment of a new expedition. In the fall of 1538, François I nevertheless read the “Mémoire des hommes et provisions nécessaires pour les Vaisseaux que le Roy voulait envoyer en Canada”. To govern this overseas province, François I chose Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval from Languedoc, a military expert in fortification. Jacques Cartier left Saint-Malo on May 23, 1541 at the head of five ships loaded with provisions for two years and carrying several hundred men. They were “of good will and of all qualities, artz and industry”. His mission was to go to the countries of “Canada and Ochelaga and to the land of Saguenay, if he could land there”. He founded a colony that he named Charles-Bourg about fifteen kilometers from the island of Sainte-Croix. After complications with the Amerindian populations and a difficult wintering, Cartier decided to return to France. On June 8, he crossed paths with Roberval in Newfoundland, who arrived alone in the colony in July. In October 1543, he was back in France.

Following the writings of Cartier and with the influence of François I, the French cartographers of the famous School of Dieppe began the production of geographical maps of North America by displaying the word “Canada” in full on the territory of the St. Lawrence Valley: 1541 (Nicolas Desliens), 1542 (Harleyenne map), 1543 (anonymous), 1547 (Vallard) and 1550 (Desceliers). France thus ensured the worldwide diffusion of the name of this new country visited by Cartier, the first European to navigate on the river and to explore its valley.

This French attempt in North America thus ended in failure, but the taking of possession of North American territories challenged the Spanish colonial monopoly and opened perspectives for the future, especially for Samuel de Champlain at the beginning of the 17th century.

To this day, Francis I is still seen as the first King of Canada. The walls of the Senate of Canada display his portrait, which is a symbol of one of the world”s oldest unbroken royal successions, from Francis I in 1534 to Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada today. The present Monarch is also a descendant of Francis I through the Kings of the Angles.

Domestic Policy

While the king built many castles in France, he seriously unbalanced the kingdom”s budget. At the end of his reign, Louis XII was already worried about a very spendthrift Francis. The king”s father-in-law had left a France in good economic health with a monarchy whose power was strengthened over the power of the feudalists. Francis I continued to consolidate the hold of the crown on the country but, at the same time, deteriorated the economic situation of the kingdom.

The reign of François I saw a strengthening of royal authority, laying the foundations for the absolutism later practiced by Louis XIV. The most ardent defender of royal supremacy was the jurisconsult Charles du Moulin. For him, the king alone, and no other lord or officer, enjoys the imperium.

The court (estimated at between 5,000 and 15,000 people), which was always itinerant, formed the real heart of power. Although surrounded by councils – the Grand Council, the Council of Parties or Privy Council and the Narrow Council, the latter responsible for important decisions of the state – the king appeared increasingly as the sole source of authority, arbitrating in the last resort the initiatives of the judicial and financial administration, choosing and disgracing his favorites, his ministers and his advisers.

At the beginning of his reign, François I kept in favor several servants of his predecessor: La Palisse and Odet de Foix, Lord of Lautrec, increased the number of marshals to four. La Trémoille took on high military responsibilities. He also confirmed Florimond Robertet as the “father of the secretaries of state”. La Palisse ceded the office of grand master to Artus Gouffier de Boissy, former governor of the king. Guillaume Gouffier de Bonnivet became Admiral of France in 1517; Cardinal Antoine Duprat, a magistrate of bourgeois origin, became Chancellor of France; finally, Charles III of Bourbon received the sword of Constable. The king”s mother, Louise de Savoie, had a significant influence on the affairs of the country. Raised to the rank of duchess, she was part of the king”s private council and was twice appointed regent of the kingdom. Until 1541, Anne de Montmorency, appointed first gentleman of the king”s chamber, enjoyed royal favor and a brilliant political career. Francis I also relied on his advisors, the French admiral Claude d”Annebaut and the cardinal of Tournon, for the execution of financial decisions.

Francis I is considered a very Christian king and a good Catholic. Although he was perhaps not as pious as his sister Marguerite, he prayed every morning in his room, went to mass after the Council of Affairs and took communion regularly under both species. Francis I also took part in pilgrimages: on his return from Italy in 1516, he went to the Sainte-Baume in Provence to the tomb of Mary Magdalene. Later, he went on foot with his courtiers to pay homage to the Holy Shroud in Chambéry.

After several decades of crisis between the papacy and the kingdom of France, Francis I signed the Concordat of Bologna (1516) with Pope Leo X.

While the ideas of the Reformation began to spread in France, Francis I initially maintained a rather tolerant attitude, under the influence of his sister Marguerite of Navarre, who was inclined towards evangelicalism, without breaking with the Catholic Church. The king protected the members of the Meaux group, persecuted during his absence by the theologians of the Sorbonne and, on the advice of his sister, even appointed Lefèvre d”Étaples, previously exiled because of these persecutions, as tutor to his son Charles.

On the other hand, from 1528, the Church of France took action against the development of the new religion and offered the Reformed a choice between abjuration and punishment. The influence of Marguerite de Navarre was countered by that of two powerful advisors close to the king: the cardinals Antoine Duprat and François de Tournon.

Faced with the acts of vandalism perpetrated against the objects of Roman worship, Francis I was implacable and favored the prosecution of the reformed. Faced with iconoclastic acts, the king personally participated in ceremonies intended to erase what was considered a crime at the time. In October 1534, the affair of the Placards took place, in which Francis I felt that the royal authority had been flouted, and this accelerated the process of persecution of the Protestants and the beginning of the Wars of Religion in France.

The most painful episode of this repression, which tarnished the end of François I”s reign, was the massacre of the Vaudois of Luberon, who had rallied to Calvin”s theses, in the villages of Cabrières, Mérindol and Lourmarin, villages located on Church land. After the publication of an edict by the Parliament of Aix in 1540, François I remained silent at first because he needed the support of the Vaudois against the Emperor Charles V. François I therefore sent letters of grace to the inhabitants persecuted in Provence because of their religion. But the retreat of Charles V in 1545 changed the situation. On January 1, 1545, François I promulgated the Mérindol ruling and ordered a crusade against the Vaudois of Provence. He decided to put down the disorders of this community in blood. Thanks to the galleys of Paulin de La Garde who brought troops from Piedmont, Jean Maynier, president of the Parliament of Aix, and Joseph d”Agoult, baron of Ollières, carried out the royal orders with such enthusiasm that even Charles V expressed his emotion.

The hardening of Francis I”s policy towards the Reformed religion is also likely to be linked to the secret agreements made with Charles V at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Crépy-en-Laonnois, agreements that obliged the French king to actively participate in the eradication of the Protestant threat in Europe and thus in France. Notwithstanding these agreements, Francis I persisted in his policy of supporting the Protestant princes of Germany.

In his castle of Villers-Cotterêts in the Aisne, in 1539, François signed the royal decree, elaborated by the chancellor Guillaume Poyet, which made French the exclusive official language of administration and law, in place of Latin. The same document required priests to register births and keep an up-to-date register of baptisms. This is the official beginning of civil status in France and the first registrations with filiation in the world.

The constructions turned out to be a financial drain while the war effort against Charles V mobilized enormous sums.

To cope with the situation, the king increased taxes: the taille, paid by peasants, was more than doubled, and the gabelle, paid on salt, was tripled. Francis I generalized the customs and the slave trade, thus increasing the share of the Treasury”s resources from taxes generated by the import and export of goods. Unlike most of his predecessors, especially for decisions of a fiscal nature, Francis I did not convene the States General during his reign.

He put in place three protectionist customs measures. He imposed customs duties on silk imports in order to protect the silk industry in Lyon. The other two measures were aimed at taxing foodstuffs for export, motivated by the fear of a shortage in the kingdom.

The increase in the number of different drafts rendered the collection system in use until then inoperative. François I remedied this administrative shortcoming by extending the system of collection by the farm to the gabelle. In the same way, the king intended to improve the efficiency of the use of the funds raised and the adequacy of the levies with the creation in 1523 of the Treasury of Savings, a single fund where all the finances and general expenses of the State were to be brought. This new institution centralized the activities of the ten pre-existing general revenues, which operated independently and without coordination, allowing errors and duplication to develop.

Francis I also used new means to raise funds. He disposed of precious stones belonging to the crown and alienated royal territories that provided him with the funds necessary to finance his policies.

Finally, the king innovated with the venality of offices. Thus, many bourgeois and nobles from great families gained access to the highest offices of the State by their own fortune. The most prized positions were notaries and secretaries of the Chancellery of Paris, who wrote and authenticated laws. Although he did not abuse this last means, it was certainly the beginning of a phenomenon destined to grow and thus later weaken the administration of the country despite an increasingly centralized power.

With the edict of Châteauregnard (May 21, 1539), François I also created the first state lottery, on the model of the blancmange already existing in several Italian cities.

Finally, as in the case of the Constable Charles de Bourbon, Francis I did not shy away from dubious procedures to solve the financial problems of the crown. The most striking example of this was the trial of Jacques de Beaune, baron de Semblançay, principal intendant of the finances since 1518 and accused in a lawsuit brought by the king in 1524 of embezzling funds intended for the Italian campaign. Although he managed to justify himself during this trial, he was arrested in 1527, accused of embezzlement, sentenced to death and executed at the gallows of Montfaucon. At the time of his rehabilitation, it appeared that he had been especially guilty of being an important creditor of François I; other characters, less important creditors like Imbert de Batarnay, had not been worried.

Most of the acquisitions of the royal domain were limited to the fiefs of the family of François I and his wife, which were united to the crown at the time of his coronation, such as the county of Angoulême, which was erected into a duchy and offered to Louise de Savoie, which returned to the crown at her death in 1531. In 1523, the king”s domain extended to the duchy of Bourbonnais, the county of Auvergne, Clermont, Forez, Beaujolais, Marche, Mercœur and Montpensier (most of these lands were confiscated from the Constable of Bourbon in 1530 after his treason). In 1525, the crown acquired the duchy of Alençon, the counties of Perche, Armagnac, Rouergue and, in 1531, the Dauphiné of Auvergne.

Brittany was already in the process of being attached to the royal domain in 1491, the Duchess of Brittany Anne having married Charles VIII and then Louis XII. However, the death of Louis XII on January 1, 1515 put an end to the personal union which was not a real union. François I stripped and despoiled the heirs of Renée de France, a 4 year old minor. The duchy then entered a rather prosperous era, whose peace was only disturbed by a few English expeditions, such as that of Morlaix in 1522.

François I became the usufructuary by marrying the daughter of Anne of Brittany, Claude de France, Duchess of Brittany, who died in 1524. François I was not the owner of the Duchy because Louis XII had reserved the rights of Renée de France, daughter of Anne of Brittany, in 1514, so he sent Antoine Duprat who became Chancellor of Brittany in 1518, in addition to the title of Chancellor of France. In 1532, the year of the duke-dauphin”s majority, François I gathered the states of Brittany in Vannes, at the beginning of August, asking for a perpetual union in exchange for the respect of their rights and fiscal privileges. Threatened with the use of force by the King”s lieutenant Montejean and despite the opposition and official protest of the Nantes deputies Julien Le Bosec and Jean Moteil, the States of Brittany only gave up sovereignty but not the free administration of the Duchy by the States, the national assembly of the Bretons. On August 13, he signed the edict of union of the duchy to the crown of France. Brittany, until then a principality of the Kingdom, thus having a very large autonomy, became property of the crown and symbolized the success of François I in his territorial expansion of the royal domain. On August 14, in Rennes, he had his son crowned as Francis III of Brittany.

Claude de France, at the time of his marriage, also brings in dowry the county of Blois, the Soissonnais, the seigneuries of Coucy, Asti and the county of Montfort.

Apart from the conquests of Milan at the beginning of his reign and the temporary acquisition of Savoy and Piedmont, the reign of Francis I was poor in foreign conquests, especially after the failure of his claims on the kingdom of Naples.

Last years and death

By the end of the 1530s, Francis I had become considerably thicker, and a fistula between his anus and testicles, this “genital abscess”, forced him to abandon the horse in favor of a litter for his travels. During the following years, the disease worsened and the fever became almost continuous.

After more than 32 years of reign, King François I died on March 31, 1547, “at 2 o”clock in the evening”, at the castle of Rambouillet, at the age of 52. According to the paleopathological diagnosis established according to the report of his autopsy, the cause of his death was septicemia (evolution of his vesico-perineal fistula), associated with severe renal failure due to ascending nephritis. During his agony, he would have made his son come to deliver his political will and would have been able to govern until his last breath.

Immediately after the death of the king, according to the will of the latter, François Clouet, in tears, begins the effigy, body and face (it will last 15 days).

Funerals and posterity

After funeral ceremonies in Saint-Cloud, he was buried on May 23, together with the remains of his sons Charles II of Orleans and François III of Brittany, next to his first wife Claude of France in the Basilica of Saint-Denis. His second son Henri II succeeded him.

Anne de Pisseleu, his mistress, is forced to leave the court.

A cardiotaph made in the form of an urn on a high pedestal sculpted between 1551 and 1556 by Pierre Bontemps – originally placed in the priory of Haute-Bruyère (Yvelines), which was destroyed – is now preserved in Saint-Denis, not far from the monument to the body where the king rests next to Claude de France, a funerary monument commissioned by Henry II. The mausoleum, which evokes a triumphal arch, was designed by the architect Philibert Delorme, and the whole sculpted between 1548 and 1559, the work of François Carmoy, then François Marchand and Pierre Bontemps.

The tomb of François I was desecrated during the Revolution, on October 20, 1793, along with those of his mother and his first wife, their bodies thrown into a common grave. Alexandre Lenoir saved most of the monument, which was restored and preserved in a rotunda of the Museum of French Monuments in 1795 before it was returned to the royal basilica under the Second Restoration on May 21, 1819.


The most common image of Francis I, visible in his many portraits such as the one by Jean Clouet of 1530, presents a calm face with a prominent, long nose. Another profile portrait by Titian confirms this silhouette, with a small mouth flashing a mischievous smile and almond-shaped eyes. According to a Welsh soldier present at the Drap d”Or camp in 1520, Francis I is tall and :

“…His head is well proportioned, despite a very thick neck. He has brown hair, well combed, a three months beard of a darker color, a long nose, hazel eyes injected with blood, a milky complexion. His buttocks and thighs are muscular, but below the knees his legs are skinny and bowed, his feet long and completely flat. He has a pleasant voice, but he has the “unroyal” habit of rolling his eyes continuously towards the sky… “

The chroniclers mention a change in appearance following a pas d”armes in Romorantin on January 6, 1521. While the king was simulating an attack on the Count of Saint-Paul”s hotel, one of the besieged (identified according to tradition as Jacques de Montgomery), in the excitement of the game, threw a burning firebrand at the besiegers. This projectile wounded the king in the head, forcing his physician to cut his hair to heal the wound. François I decided to wear a beard to hide the wound and to keep his hair short. The long beard would thus have returned to fashion at court for more than a century.

The custom-made ceremonial armor of Francis I, currently on display at the Musée de l”Armée in Paris, allows us to estimate the size of the king: he was between 1.95 and 2 meters tall (his exact height would be 1.98 meters), which was quite unusual for the time. The gold stirrups and richly decorated arms of Francis I, on the other hand, on display at the National Renaissance Museum in Écouen, also attest to the king”s robustness.


From the various portraits of his contemporaries, from his rigorous education and from his correspondence with his family, we already know that Francis I showed himself to be quite intelligent, inquisitive and broad-minded, interested in everything without coming out as a scholar, ready to discuss all sorts of subjects with an often ill-founded assurance, and very brave, going into battle himself and fighting bravely. However, he shows a selfishness characteristic of a spoiled child, a lack of involvement and an impulsive temperament that brings him some setbacks in the military art. While knowing the authority he owes to God and the image he represents, Francis I marks a certain rejection for an often too rigorous protocol and takes some liberties, which allows the French Court to live as a rather relaxed place. He sometimes imposes conventions but can override etiquette.

The lightness of Francis I in his curial life should not obscure a true sense of his royal responsibilities. Marino Cavalli, ambassador of Venice from 1544 to 1546, insisted, in a report to the Senate, on the will of the French king: “As regards the great affairs of state, peace and war, His Majesty, docile in all the rest, wants others to obey his will; in these cases, there is no one in the Court, whatever authority he possesses, who dares to reproach His Majesty.

In victory as well as in military setbacks, Francis I was distinguished by a lively but poorly controlled courage; a mediocre strategist, he made poor use of the technical innovations of his time. The example of the battle of Pavia is instructive: Francis I hastily placed his artillery, although one of the best in Europe, behind his cavalry, thus depriving it of much of its effectiveness.

During his reign, François I did not hide his taste for courtly pleasures and infidelity. According to Brantôme, his taste for women caused him to contract syphilis in 1524 with one of his mistresses, the wife of the Parisian lawyer Jean Ferron, nicknamed “la Belle Ferronière”. The king is said to have said: “A court without women is like a garden without flowers”, showing how much the king relied on the presence of women at the French court, thus imitating the Italian courts in which the feminine attests to a symbol of grace. Among his mistresses, we can mention Françoise de Foix, countess of Châteaubriant, supplanted by Anne de Pisseleu, duchess of Etampes and maid of honor of Louise de Savoie at the return of François I after his Spanish captivity. We can also mention the Countess of Thoury and even an unknown lady, of whom the king had a son, Nicolas d”Estouteville.

Some of these women did not only play the role of the king”s mistress. Some of them also exercised political influence, such as Anne de Pisseleu or the Countess of Thoury, who was responsible for the construction of the castle of Chambord.

Claude de France, first wife of François I, gave birth to seven children, two of whom died in infancy:

Some mention an eighth child, Philippe, born in 1524 and died in 1525, which suggests that Claude de France died in childbirth.

In addition to the last Valois-Angouleme, all the kings of France and Navarre, from 1715 on, are descendants of François I.

Illegitimate descent

From Jacquette de Lansac, he has :

François I also had a son from an unknown lady who was not legitimized afterwards: Nicolas d”Estouteville, Lord of Villecouvin.

Simplified genealogy

Several sources differ as to the origin of the salamander as a symbol of Francis I: one tradition would have it that Francis had received this emblem from his tutor, Artus de Boisy, who had observed in his pupil, “a temperament full of fire, capable of all the virtues, which it was necessary sometimes to encourage, sometimes to dampen. But it is to forget that one finds already a salamander in the emblem of the count Jean of Angouleme, younger brother of Charles of Orleans and grandfather of François I, and that a manuscript carried out for Louise of Savoy in 1504, carries also a salamander. The thesis that the animal was brought to Francis I by Leonardo da Vinci is a romanticized version. Nevertheless, Francis I, once he became king, kept this emblem inherited from the salamander, often surmounted by an open or closed crown, according to the hesitations of the time in the representation of the first insignia of power.

The salamander generally symbolizes power over fire, and therefore over people and the world. The motto Nutrisco & extinguo (“I feed on it and extinguish it”), which sometimes accompanies this emblem, takes on its full meaning when referring to the power over fire. This imperial crowned salamander is found on many ceilings and walls of the Chambord and Fontainebleau castles, and on the arms of the city of Le Havre and Vitry-le-François, as well as on the logo of the Loir-et-Cher department. The double-loop knot (cordelière en huit) symbolizes concord. This somewhat magical animal is supposed to extinguish bad fires and fan the good ones.

Cinema and television

The first film in which the king of France was represented is François Ier et Triboulet directed by Georges Méliès in 1907 and released in 1908. In this film, the role of the king is played by an unknown actor.

Subsequently, various actors have taken on the role of Francis I in films and on television:


In 2011, a documentary-fiction, entitled François Ier: le roi des rois, is dedicated to him in the program Secrets d”Histoire, presented by Stéphane Bern.

The documentary looks back at his role as a patron of the arts, his meeting with Leonardo da Vinci, and the antics of his love life, particularly his relationships with his two favorites: Anne de Pisseleu, Duchess of Etampes and Françoise de Foix, Countess of Châteaubriant

External links


  1. François Ier (roi de France)
  2. Francis I of France
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