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Francis I

Francis I was born on the 12th of September 1494 at Cognac, as son of the count d' Angoulême and Louise, daughter of Philip, Duke of Savoy. on the 25th of January 1515, in the cathedral of Rheims, Francis I received the crown from the hands of Robert de Lenoncourt, archbishop of Paris, becoming the first Renaissance King of France.

Francis I Portrait
Jean Clouet-Portrait of Francis I
During the first few years of his reign he had to solve important religious and political problems. Francis I invaded Italy in 1515, being determined to reconquer the Duchy of Milan. At Marignano on September 13 he defeated the Swiss, and occupied Milan on October 4.

In August 1516, Francis I and Pope Leo X concluded The Concordat of Bologna, which substituted the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges of July 1438. This way, Francis settled the question of the relation of the French Church to the Pope.

The Concordat confirmed that the Pope had the right to collect the income made by the Catholic Church in France. In exchange, the King had the right to collect land-tax (tithe) from the clerics, and the right of nomination to bishoprics, abbeys, and conventual priories. Thus Francis I gained immense powers in controlling the French Church, and the patronage of bishoprics and abbeys in the hands of the king prevented any large scale Reformation movement in France.

The Swiss agreed to an alliance with France, which was officialised by the Treaty of Geneva in November 7, 1515, and the Treaty of Fribourg, in November 29, 1516.

Francis I was one of the candidates to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, and spent immense sums of money in attempting to bribe the Electors. But on June 28, 1519, Charles V was elected Emperor, and the conflict between the Habsburgs and France became inevitable, as France was now surrounded by the Holy Empire.

Arms of Francis I
The Arms of Francis I, at Chambord
In 1520, Henry VIII met both Charles V and Francis I, and probably the discussions were trying to find a way to maintain peace, as cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s chief adviser, desired. However, in 1521, the French crossed the Pyrenees on behalf of the King of Navarre. The Imperial troops replied by entering France in August, and at the same time laid siege to Tournai. At the end of the year, Henry VIII agreed to help Charles, and the Treaty of Windsor was signed in June 1522, specifying how many troops each of the allies will provide against Francis I.

On April 27 1522, the Vicomte de Lautrec, Governor of Milan, was defeated at Bicocca, near Milan, by the allied troops of the Emperor and the Pope. The French forces evacuated Milan, and in July an English force invaded Picardy. In July 1523 Charles, Duke of Bourbon, joined the camp of Charles V. However, the Count of Guise defeated a German force on the Meuse, giving new hope to the French. Francis I, still resolved to retake Milan, besieged the city in the autumn of 1524. On February 25, 1525, at the famous battle of Pavia, Francis I lost, and refusing to accept the defeat, he did not leave the battlefield, being taken prisoner.

In order to obtain his freedom, Francis I accepted the demands of the Emperor, and on January 13, 1526, the Treaty of Madrid was concluded. Francis resigned all his Italian claims, promised to restore Bourbon to his estates, and to marry Eleanor of Austria, Charles' sister. He renounced his suzerainty over Flanders, Artois, and Tournai.

Europe realized that Charles's victory might endanger its freedom. The idea of a balance of power was more appealing, and the League of Cognac was formed. It included Pope Clement VII, Francis I, Florence, Venice, and Francesco Sforza, under the protection of Henry VIII. The object of the League was to preserve peace in Europe, and if Charles refused its demands, including his withdrawal from Italy, the League would take action.

However, Francis made no attempt to interfere in Italy, Henry VIII was occupied with the divorce question, and in July 1526 Milan was occupied by the Imperial troops, and Sforza fell. Moncada occupied Rome and, in September, forced Clement to agree to all his demands. On May 26, 1527, Rome was sacked by the Imperial army, and on June 7 Clement was captured. The news of the sack of Rome stirred up Europe, and especially France and England. Francis at last took action, and Henry abandoned Wolsey's policy of inactivity.

Before the sack of Rome, the two monarchs already concluded an alliance, which in August took the form of the Treaty of Amiens, Henry now renouncing his claim to the French throne. In July, a French army occupied all Lombardy except Milan, with the result that Florence, Savoy, Mantua, and Genoa adopted the French cause. Due to the dispute between Francis and Andrea Doria, who commanded a large force of galleys, the control of the Mediterranean passed from Francis to the Emperor, and Naples was saved. When Lautrec died, the whole French army in the south of Italy capitulated, while in October Genoa was recaptured by Doria. In June 1529 Saint-Pol was defeated by a Spanish army at Landriano, and the fate of Lombardy was settled. Finally, the Treaty of Barcelona, between the Emperor, and Clement VII on June 29 ended the Treaty of Cognac.

On August 3, the Treaty of Cambrai was signed, and Francis abandoned all his Italian claims. After 6 years of peace, in February 1536 Francis opened his third war with Charles by seizing Savoy and occupying Turin. Charles replied by invading Provence and capturing Aix. But his enterprise proved a failure, as did a French invasion of the Netherlands. Both Charles and Francis were again ready for peace, and on June 17, 1538, a truce was concluded at Nice. Francis I kept his hold on Savoy and Piedmont. In July, he met Charles at Aigues-Mortes and it looked like the peace would be permanent. Not quite so.

The fourth war between Charles and Francis I broke out in July 1542, and the French attacked the frontiers of Spain and the Netherlands. In February 1543 Henry VIII became the Emperor's ally. In July Charles invaded France, laying siege to St. Dizier, which made an heroic resistance, while Henry VIII landed at Calais and besieged Boulogne. Luckily for Francis, his opponents did not cooperate. Charles, who had advanced to Meaux, suddenly agreed to treat, and on September 18 the Treaty of Crépy was concluded. Charles retained Milan for his son Philip, while Henry VIII, much to his irritation, found himself deserted by his ally. Till June 1546, when the Treaty of Ardres was concluded, Henry continued the war. He captured Boulogne, and in 1545 several indecisive naval fights took place in the Channel. By the treaty Henry engaged to restore Boulogne in exchange for two millions crowns.

In 1534, Francis I sent Jacques Cartier to explore the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, and in 1541, he sent Jean-François de la Roque de Roberval to settle Canada and to support the spread of "the Holy Catholic faith."

Form 1528 onwards, Francis I took measures to stop the spreading of the reformed doctrines in France. In 1534 the persecution of the Lutherans began. The works of Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, and Étienne Dolet were forbidden, and Dolet was executed.

Francis I and The Renaissance

The Renaissance was already known to the French people since the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII, and Francis I will fully support the change, his reign marking the height of the movement in France. Francis I became a patron of the arts and of the New Learning, the humanists naming him the Father of Letters.

Wars did not interfere with the steady development of the Renaissance in France. The architectural and the literary side were fully exemplified under Francis I and his successors. It was an age of building, and great works were in progress at Blois, Chenonceau, Chambord, Chantilly, and the Louvre. Francis was the true creator of the modern Fontainebleau, the castle where Charles IV of France had founded his famous library. Under Francis I, Fontainebleau became preeminent, and it was the king 'and the brilliant Pleiad of artists whom he gathered round him who were the true creators of the modern Fontainebleau'. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci (who died in France in 1529), Andrea del Sarto, Rosso, and Primaticcio, assisted by other Italian and French artists, made Fontainebleau the most magnificent palace in Europe.

Francis I died on March 31, 1547. Despite his defeat at Pavia, he managed to keep in check the Austro-Spanish expansion, and his support for the Renaissance movement revealed him as one of the most enlightened monarchs of Europe.

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