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Francis I

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King of France; b. at Cognac, 12 September, 1494; d. at Rambouillet, 31 March, 1547. He was the son of Charles of Orléans, Count of Angoulême, and Louise of Savoy, and the husband of Claude of France, daughter of Louis XII. He succeeded to the throne 1 January, 1515, not as son-in-law, since the Salic Law did not permit succession through women, but as cousin of Louis XII, who had no male heir. His victory at Marignano (1515) over the Swiss who were defending Maximilian Sforza established the young king's reputation in Italy. He took advantage of this at "the interview of Bologna" to bring to a successful termination the efforts of his predecessors, Charles VII and Louis XI, to impose on Leo X the concordat which governed the organization of the French Church from that time till the end of the old regime (see FRANCE). This marked the beginning of a series of measures destined to establish in France the preponderance of the royal power. Francis I sought by every means, even by exceptional tribunals, to destroy among the nobles, both bishops and seigneurs (lords), the spirit of independence. The formula of royal edicts "car tel est notre bon plaisir" (because it is our good pleasure) dates from his reign. The death of Emperor Maximilian I (1519) led Francis I to dispute the imperial crown with Charles of Austria who had recently inherited the crown of Spain. The latter became emperor as Charles V. Surrounded on the south, north-east, and east by the states of Charles V, Francis I, immediately after his interview of the Field of the Cloth of Gold with Henry VIII of England (1520), began the struggle with the House of Austria which was to be prolonged, with occasional truces, until 1756. Four successive wars against Charles V filled the reign of King Francis. The first, famous for the exploits and death of Bayard, the "chevalier sans peur et sans reproche", the treason of the Constable de Bourbon, the defeat of Francis I at Pavia (1525), and his captivity, ended with the Treaty of Madrid (1526), by which he ceded Burgundy to Charles V. The second war, rendered necessary by the refusal of the deputies of Burgundy to become the subjects of the emperor, and marked by the alliance between Francis I and the Italian princes, among them Pope Clement VII (League of Cognac, 1526), brought about the sack of Rome by the imperial troops under the command of the Constable de Bourbon (1527), and ended with the Peace of Cambrai (1529), in reality no more than a truce. After its conclusion, Francis I, who had lost his wife, Claude of France, in 1524, wedded Eleanor of Austria, sister of Charles V. The third war, entered upon by Francis I after he had reorganized a permanent national army, and at the time when Charles V had undertaken an expedition against Tunis, was marked by the entrance of the French troops into Savoy and the entrance of the troops of Charles V into Provence (1536); it was brought to an end, thanks to the mediation of Pope Paul III, by the treaty of Aigues-Mortes. The fourth war, resulting from the ambitious designs of Francis I on Milan, was marked by the alliance of Charles V with Henry VIII, by the French victory of Ceresole (1544), and was ended by the Treaties of Crespy and Ardres (1544 and 1546).

The history of no other reign has been so profoundly studied in modern times as that of Francis I. A series of recent works has brought out the originality and novelty of his political maxims. The struggle against the House of Austria made Francis I the ally of the Holy See during the pontificate of Clement VII, whose niece, Catherine, had married Henry II, the future King of France (see CATHERINE DE' MEDICI), but he could not prevail upon Clement VII to grant a divorce to Henry VIII of England. Impelled by the desire to menace Charles V not only on the frontiers but even in the interior of his territory, Francis I sent his agents into Germany, who fostered political and religious anarchy and favoured the political ascendency of the Protestant princes. His policy in this respect was opposed to Catholic interests and even opposed to those of Christianity, for, after having in 1522 and 1523 sent Antonio Rincon to the King of Poland and the Voivode of Transylvania to urge them to threaten Charles V on the eastern frontier of the empire, Francis I thought of utilizing the Turks against the emperor. Before he had even thought of this alliance rumours spread throughout Germany held him responsible for the victories of the Mussulmans at Belgrade and Rhodes. Francis I entered into negotiations with the Sultan Soliman in 1526 through his agent Frangipani, and in 1528 through Antonio Rincon. The Progress of the Turks in central Europe between 1528 and 1532 injured the reputation of Francis I. He then secured the assistance of the Turks against Charles V in the Italian peninsula and in the Western Mediterranean. Then followed his negotiations with Barbarossa (1533-34), at that time master of all North Africa. In 1535 his ambassador Jean de la Forest was sent to Barbarossa to arrange for a campaign against the Genoese, and to the sultan to secure his alliance with Francis I in order to preserve the European balance of power. From these negotiations of Jean de la Forest date the abandonment by France of the medieval idea of la Chrétienté, or Christendom, and, on the other hand, her protection of the Christians in the East (see FRANCE).

Francis I played the part of a Mæcenas in the spread of the Renaissance in France. He invited from Italy the great artists Leonardo da Vinci, Rosso, Primaticcio, Benvenuto Cellini, and Andrea del Sarto. He began the present Louvre, built or decorated the châteaux of Fontainebleau and Chambord, and was patron of the poets Marot and du Bellay. His most valuable service to Humanism was the foundation of the Collège de France, intended originally for the teaching of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He was also the founder of the Imprimerie Royale. While he permitted the development in intellectual circles of certain Protestant ideas simultaneously with Humanism, he was on the other hand, after 1534, quite hostile to the propagation of Protestantism among the common people, as is shown by his persecution (1545) of the Vaudois of Chabrières and Mérindol. The poems of Francis I, though interesting as historical documents, are mediocre work. His tomb and that of his wife, Claude of France, in St. Denis, were designed by Philibert Delorme, and executed by Pierre Bontemps.


CONTEMPORARY SOURCES: Catalogue des actes de François Ier (10 vols., Paris, 1887-1907); Ordonnances du règne de François Ier, 1515-1516 (Paris, 1902); CHAMPOLLION-FIGÉAC, Captivité du Roi François Ier (Paris, 1847); Poésies de François Ier, ed. CHAMPOLLION-FIGÉAC (Paris, 1847); Journal de Louise de Savoie, ed. GUICHENON (Paris, 1778); Journal de Jean Barillon, ed. VAISSIRE (Paris, 1897-99); Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris sous le règne de François Ier, ed. LALANNE (Paris, 1854); Chronique du Roi François Ier, ed. GUIFFREY, (Paris, 1864); Mémoires de Martin du Bellay, de Fleurange, de Saulx de Tavannes, de Vieilleville; Histoire du gentil seigneur de Bayard, ed. ROMAN (Paris, 1878); MONLUC, Commentaires, ed. DE RUBLE (Paris, 1864-1872).
MODERN WORKS: PAULIN PARIS, études sur le règne de François Ier (2 vols., Paris, 1885); MADELIN, De Conventu Bononiensi (Paris, 1901); MIGNET, Rivalité de François Ier et de Charles-Quint (2 vols., Paris, 1878); HAMY, Entrevue de François Ier avec Henri VIII à Boulogne-Sur-Mer en 1532; Intervention de la France dans l'affaire du divorce (Paris, 1898); BOURRILLY, La première ambassade d'Antonio Rincon en Orient in Revue d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine (1900-1901), II; IDEM, L'ambassade de Laforest et Marillac à Constantinople in Rev. Hist. (1901), LXXVI; IDEM, La règne de François Ier in Revue d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine (1902-1903), IV; LEMONNIER, La France sous Charles VIII, Louis XII et François Ier in LAVISSE, Histoire de France (Paris, 1903), V; URSU, La politique oriental de François Ier (Paris, 1908).

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1909). Francis I. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Francis I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerald Rossi.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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