Birthday: September 12, 1494
Died At Age: 52
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: Francis I
Born Country: France
Born in: Royal Castle of Cognac, Cognac, France
Famous as: King of France
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Claude of France, Eleanor of Austria
father: Charles, Count of Angoulême
mother: Louise of Savoy
siblings: Jeanne d'Angoulême, Marguerite de Navarre
children: Charles II de Valois, Charles II de Valois - Duke of Orléans, Charlotte of France, Charlotte of Valois, Duchess of Berry, Duke of Brittany, Duke of Orléans, Francis III, Francis III - Duke of Brittany, Henry II of France, Louise de France, Louise of France, Madeleine of Valois, Margaret of France, Margaret of Valois - Duchess of Berry, Nicolas d'Estouteville, Philippe of France
Died on: March 31, 1547
place of death: Château de Rambouillet, Rambouillet, France
awards: Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Who was Francis I of France?
Francis I was the ruler of France from 1515 to 1547 under whose reign the French Renaissance flourished. He was not directly in line to the throne, but the death of his father and the lack of male heirs from successive kings made him the presumptive heir. Francis and his sister were raised by their young mother, the indomitable Louise of Savoy. It was through her influence that both brother and sister were exposed to the spirit of the Renaissance. Upon becoming king, Francis encouraged the arts, literature and language and is known as the ‘Father and Restorer of Letter’. Among his significant contributions were making French the national language and providing patronage to great artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci. Francis revered both his mother and sister all his life and they held high positions in his court. A people’s king he travelled all over the kingdom on horseback meeting his subjects and assuaging their problems. The popular king was also known as ‘Francis of the Large Nose’ for his prominent nose. Throughout his reign, he was involved in the Italian Wars. He was even taken prisoner once and spent his days in prison composing songs and poetry. Francis’s reign saw international cooperation through an alliance with the Ottoman empire and trade relations with Morocco. He encouraged the explorer Jacques Cartier who discovered Canada to make a second voyage there. History remembers him as a humanist and an important figure of the French Renaissance.
Childhood & Early Life
Francis I was born on 12th September 1494 at Chateau de Cognac, Cognac, France. His father, Charles d'Orléans, was the Count of Angouleme and his mother was Louise of Savoy.
In 1496, Charles de Valois-Orleans passed away leaving behind a 20-year old wife, the toddler Francis and his sister Marguerite. Louise of Savoy was an extraordinary woman who took charge of the lives and education of the two children and remained a prominent figure in Francis’s life.
In 1498, King Charles VIII, Francis’s third cousin died after hitting his head on a door leaving no male heir. Louis XII another of Francis’s cousin became the king but produced no male heir either. According to the French law women could not become rulers, Francis, became the heir to the French throne.
In 1498, Marshal de Gie became Francis’s tutor. A few years later Artus Gouffier took over his instruction in grammar, maths and geography and Francois de Rochefort taught him Latin and history. His mother, Louise, taught him Spanish and Italian. Apart from these he also received training in hunting, riding, music and the arts.
In 1505, King Louis XII fell ill and instructed that his daughter Claude be engaged to Francis I.
In 1514, Queen Anne, wife of King Louis XII, died and Claude inherited the Duchy of Brittany. Following this, a 15-year-old Claude and 20-year-old Francis were married on 18th May 1514 at Saint-Germain-En-Laye.
In October 1514 Louis XII married Mary Tudor the sister of Henry VIII of England. This was a short-lived union and King Louis XII of France passed away in December 1514. Francis became the king of France and was crowned at the Reims Cathedral.
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Reign of Francis I
The Great Italian wars were being fought during all of Francis’s childhood. In 1515, upon becoming King Francis I lead the French and the Venetian armies against Swiss mercenaries and defeated them in a battle on September 13-14 capturing the city of Milan.
On August 13, 1516, the treaty of Noyons was signed between Spain and France. With this treaty Charles I, (later Charles V) of Spain recognised French control over Milan while Charles I was to marry Francis’s daughter Louise who would bring Naples with her.
On 4 December 1516, Francis I signed the treaty of Brussels with Emperor Maximilian after the Emperor’s failed invasion of Lombardy.
Francis I was a patron to Italian artists such as, Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci made France his home during his final years and brought his most famous works including the ‘Mona Lisa’ with him to France.
In 1519, Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor died. Francis I eyed the Holy Roman Empire but was defeated by Charles V. This was the beginning of another series of war between France and the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1520, Francis I met King Henry VIII of England in a two-week summit in the Field of The Cloth of Gold to build friendship and cooperation. Though two monarchs were friendly towards each other but there was no outcome.
In a series of continuing wars with Charles V, the battle of Pavia in 1525 left the French Army decimated and Francis was taken prisoner.
Francis remained a prisoner in Madrid for almost a year. A treaty was reached on January 14, 1526. According to the treaty Francis was to be set free but had to renounce his claims to Milan, Genoa and Naples and marry Charles V’s sister Eleanor.
To make sure that Francis I respected the treaty, Charles V insisted that Francis I send his two young sons Francis and Henry, aged eight and seven to be kept as hostages in Spain.
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Francis I, however, repudiated the treaty soon after. He joined the ‘League of Cognac’ formed by Pope Clement VII. A war with Spain followed from 1526 to 1530.
The hostilities resulted in the young princes being kept in confinement in a sordid cell. They received no education and forgot French. It was their grandmother, Louise, who secretly used diplomatic channels to secure the release of the boys. In this, she enlisted the help of her cousin, Margaret of Austria, who was Charles V’s aunt.
In 1529, Francis I faced defeat yet again in the Battle of Landriano. At this point, he wanted peace and negotiations commenced at Cambrai in July 1529. Louise of Savoy and Margaret of Austria represented France and Spain and the negotiations came to be known as ‘Peace of the Ladies’.
Louise was successful in brokering peace and France was removed from the ‘League of Cognac’. The two young princes were returned to France after a payment of 2,000,000 gold crowns. As part of the deal, Eleanor of Austria married Francis I.
Francis I reached out to other empires initiating important international relationships. In 1533, Colonel Pierre de Piton went to Morocco which resulted in the ruler of Fez, Ahmed ben Mohammed, granting shipping and trading concessions to French merchants.
In 1534 Jacques Cartier tried to find a new route to Asia and discovered Canada. On his return, he met the king Francis I who got curious enough to send him on a second voyage to Canada in 1535.
The Italian wars continued through Francis I’s reign. In 1536, Francis established a military alliance with Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. This was a first of its kind alliance between a Christian and a Muslim empire. Due to this alliance, Turkey fought as France’s ally in the later Italian wars.
In 1537 Francis signed the ‘Ordonnance de Montpellier’ according to which the royal library was to receive a copy of every book that was sold in France. The emperor not only sent agents to Italy to look for rare books for the library but also himself read the books that were bought for his library.
Francis I replaced Latin with French as a medium of teaching and also made it the national language. In 1539, French replaced Latin as the official administrative language. The ‘Collége Royal’ was established where Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek were taught and later Arabic was included.
Francis I had been tolerant of Protestantism because his sister, Marguerite, was deeply influenced by Martin Luther’s theology. His attitude started changing after the ‘Affair of the Placards’ when anti-Catholic posters were put up in public places of 5 French cities in Paris and also on the door of the King’s bedchamber in Chateau d’Amboise.
In 1540, Francis I passed the Edict of Fontainebleau which declared Protestantism an act of treason, punishable by torture, humiliation and death thus codifying the persecution of Protestants.
In 1542. Francis I along with Ottoman King attacked Charles V once again. Charles joined forces with Henry VIII. By 1544, Charles V had no finances left and was forced to sign the Treaty of Crepy on September 18.
Family & Personal Life
Francis I chose the salamander as his emblem as in ancient times it was believed that the it could live in fires and put out flames with its cold body. His motto “Nutrisco et extinguo” means “I nourish (the good) and I extinguish (the bad).
Francis I had seven children with his first queen Claude. The Queen consort died at a young age of 24 after having borne a child almost every year after being married. Most of Francis’s children died young and it is believed that Dauphin Francois was poisoned by Charles V.
Francis married Eleanor of Austria for political reasons but he was never interested in her. His court was filled with beautiful and influential women among whom were his two mistresses; first one was Francoise de Foix who was later replaced by Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly.
Francis’s older sister, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, was known as the ‘first modern woman’. Marguerite was equally responsible for the cultural and intellectual milieu of the king’s court. She was an author who wrote the classic Heptameron and had an internationally renowned Salon called ‘New Parnassus’.
Francis I died on March 31, 1547, at Chateau de Rambouillet. It was his son Henry’s birthday who then became Henry II of France.