Francis I (France)

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Jean Clouet: Francis I, portrait from 1527, Musée du Louvre , Paris

Franz I (born September 12, 1494 at Cognac Castle ; † March 31, 1547 at Rambouillet Castle ), also called the Knight King , French François I he , le Roi-Chevalier , was a French king from the House of Valois-Angoulême , a branch line of the House of Valois .

He was born on January 25, 1515 in the Cathedral of Reims to King of France anointed and ruled the country until his death in 1547. Domestically, put the reign of the foundation for the absolute monarchy and the French Wars of Religion . In terms of foreign policy, Franz fought against the universal monarchy of the Habsburg Charles V in the Italian Wars .

Franz I was considered an important Renaissance prince who generously sponsored the arts and sciences.

Life until the assumption of power


Francis I came from the Valois dynasty . He was born on September 12, 1494, the only son of Charles de Valois and Luise of Savoy . His older sister was Margaret of Navarre . His claim to the throne went back to his great-grandfather Louis de Valois , who in turn was a son of King Charles V (reign: 1364-1380). His mother, Luise von Savoyen, not only raised Francis I, but later also acted as his regent during his absence from France. She balanced out the differences between the court groups and had a decisive influence on the politics of her son.


King Ludwig XII. (Reign: 1498–1514), the last male heir of the House of Valois-Orléans , repeatedly expressed disappointment with his supposedly effeminate heir. In order to secure Franz's claim to the throne, Luise von Savoyen married her son at an early age to the older daughter of Louis XII, Claude . Due to Luise's enmity with Claude's mother, Queen Anne , the couple did not marry until May 18, 1514, after Anne died on January 9, 1514. When Louis XII. died sonless on January 1, 1515, Francis I inherited the French throne.

Franz I as king

Participation in the Italian War (1515/1516)

Immediately after his anointing of the king on January 25, 1515, the young king faced his first ( warlike ) challenge: He had received from his predecessor Ludwig XII. inherited the dispute with the confederates over the Duchy of Milan . As the grandson of the Milanese Princess Valentina Visconti , Louis XII. Claim to the Duchy of Milan. However, after the Visconti died out, rule in the Duchy of Milan did not pass to the French king, but to the Sforza . After the brief conquest of Milan, Louis XII lost. his Italian possession in the battle of Novara . Francis I therefore pursued the goal of regaining the Italian position. The offer of one million kroner was just as unsuccessful as diplomatic negotiations - an already completed contract was only recognized by the western Swiss towns of Bern , Friborg and Solothurn and the city of Biel , but not by the other federal estates . This led to the battle of Marignano on September 13, 1515 , in which the young king achieved a brilliant victory thanks to his tactical skills and the superior firepower of his artillery. Milan passed into French possession, France was considered the militarily strongest state in Europe. The so-called " Eternal Peace " of November 29, 1516 promised Francis I permanent access to the mercenary potential of the Confederation.

Concordat with Bologna (1516)

In church policy, he concluded on 19 December 1516, Pope Leo X , the Concordat of Bologna , which the French crown almost unlimited control over their own church and their Possession. For example, Francis I was reserved the right to convene synods , and he could also dispose of ecclesiastical income, the collection of spiritual tithe and the award of benefices . This finally established a state church dependent on the king.

Wrestling for Imperial Dignity (1519)

The arch enemy: Charles V.

A chance for further advancement arose when Maximilian , Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire , died on January 12, 1519. Several princes applied for the succession as Roman-German king , which was considered a preliminary decision on the emperor's dignity: Maximilian's grandson Charles I of Spain , the later Charles V, the Saxon Elector Friedrich III. , Henry VIII and Francis I, who was Prince of the Holy Roman Empire as the holder of the Duke of Milan. The Habsburg propagandists spread that Franz I wanted to take away the liberties of the imperial estates and was still a "stranger" - Karl, on the other hand, was portrayed as "noble German blood". These national arguments were not entirely honest, because Charles V himself grew up in the Burgundian Netherlands , spoke Flemish and French, but understood German poorly. For Franz, the imperial dignity of the Holy Roman Empire had to mean the legal inviolability of his Italian position. In addition, the acquisition of the Roman-German kingship by Charles V would mean that France would be geopolitically circled by Charles V in the west (Kingdom of Spain) and east (Holy Roman Empire). The French used the idea of ​​a crusade against the Ottoman Empire in order to win over the electors for themselves; only the powerful French armed forces could stop the advance of the Ottomans. In this context - the demonstration of the efficiency of France - Francis I ordered the construction of Chambord Castle in 1519 .

Since Franz I offered a bribe of 300,000 guilders, Charles V had to raise a much higher sum with the help of the Fuggers to prevent the French king from being elected to the German royal throne. The seven electors voted for the Habsburg Charles V when they were elected in Frankfurt am Main on June 28, 1519. The enmity that began between Francis I and Charles V laid the foundation for the Franco-Habsburg antagonism . This contradiction was to last until the Treaty of Versailles (1756) .

Camp du Drap d'Or

Franz I looked for ways to circumvent the "Habsburg encirclement" he feared of his kingdom between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Spain and to diplomatically explore a possible alliance with the English King Henry VIII as a counterweight. In this context, the two monarchs met from June 7th to 24th, 1520 near Calais in the Camp du Drap d'Or . They tried to outdo each other by displaying pomp and pomp, exchanging gifts and being relatively suspicious of each other. Politically, no political or military alliance was reached, but only confirmed the existing Treaty of London (1518) , which, however, at least temporarily reduced the danger for Francis I that Henry VIII would enter a war against him on the side of the Habsburgs or against him Claims to Normandy or Aquitaine would revive.

Loss of Milan (1521)

Franz I , portrait from the workshop of Joos van Cleve , around 1530

Because Emperor Charles V , apart from his Austrian hereditary lands, ruled over many of the territories bordering France (namely Spain, the Netherlands and the Free County of Burgundy ), Franz felt encircled. Breaking this encirclement and weakening the power of his rival was the central motive of his foreign policy. He waged several wars with the aim of conquering the Duchy of Milan and thus gaining sovereignty over northern Italy. The Italian wars continued . In 1521 Charles V achieved a change of alliance from Pope Leo X in his favor . In this way, Charles succeeded on November 19, 1521 in snatching Milan from the French. The Sforza returned to Milan. A personal appearance of the king in Italy became more and more urgent from the French point of view.

Entry of fiefdoms (1522 and 1532)

The "early absolutist regiment" of Franz I was difficult to reconcile with the power of the nobility and the continued existence of large fiefs. The Queen Mother  Luise of Savoy  claimed the wealth of the House of Bourbon in 1522 because of her relationship with Suzanne de Bourbon-Beaujeau . In 1532, Francis I was able to permanently bind Brittany to the crown. Francis I secured this unity of the kingdom in 1534 with the recruitment of French infantry. However, the majority of the infantry continued to come from the Confederation and the Holy Roman Empire .

Reforms (1523 and 1539)

Franz I showed the greatest reform efforts in the area of ​​financial management. In 1523 the king made the treasury the central point of all income of the kingdom (domain income, taxes and income from the purchase of offices). The treasury was henceforth directly under the supervision of the king. The kingdom was divided into sixteen financial districts to facilitate tax collection. The massive expansion of the bureaucracy should also be mentioned.

Battle of Pavia (1525)

Only after the unsuccessful campaign of the imperial army in southern France did Francis I advance to northern Italy, cut off the line of retreat from Charles V's troops and recapture Milan, where he entered on December 26, 1524. Ally with the new Pope Clement VII and the Republic of Venice , Francis I believed he could repeat his military triumph of 1515. On February 24, 1525, however, in the Battle of Pavia (1525) , he was imprisoned by the emperor through personal arrogance. Charles de Lannoy , Viceroy of Naples, wrote to Charles V about the capture :

“God has now given you your opportunity, and never will you receive your crowns better than now. This country (Italy) can currently no more rely on France than Navarre, whose legacy is captured. My opinion would be that you should come to Italy now. "

- Charles de Lannoy to Charles V.

Spanish Captivity (1525)

Francis I arrived in Barcelona on June 19, 1525 ; since July 20, 1525 he stayed in Madrid . There Francis I was prepared to renounce Italy and the feudal sovereignty in Flanders and Artois. However, the King of France refused to ask Charles V to return Burgundy as well. It was not until November 1525 that Franz responded to the request on the condition that Burgundy could only be surrendered after his return to France. The release of the French king was to take place with the leaving of his two sons. The two sons lived under unfavorable conditions on various Castilian fortresses until the Peace of Cambrai (1530) . In Paris, Francis I revoked the Peace of Madrid because he had acted under duress, which led to another war with Charles V.

Franco-Habsburg War of 1526–1529

On May 22, 1526 Francis I concluded the League of Cognac with Pope Clement VII , Francesco II Sforza , Florence and Venice . The aim of the coalition was to drive the Spaniards out of Naples, to regain Milan for France and to free Franz's sons from Spanish captivity. All of this resulted in the continuation of the war in Italy. In the course of the Sacco di Roma on May 6, 1527, Pope Clement VII was forced to surrender by Charles V. When the French king did not pay the wages,  Genoa entered the service of the German emperor in 1528. The Genoese withdrew their troops and fleet from  Naples  , ending the siege of the city. The French had to leave Genoa as a result and suffered a heavy defeat at Landriano on June 21, 1529 . After both sides were exhausted, the Lady Peace of Cambrai was concluded, which confirmed the status quo: Francis I had to renounce all property in Italy. The Italian allies of France had to recognize the rule of Charles V in Italy. Franz also had to give up the sovereignty rights in Artois and Flanders. Finally the marriage between Eleanor of Castile and Francis I was decided. This meant a Spanish-French alliance. Francis I's sons were released. The Italian question seemed resolved.

Colonial Policy (1534)

First voyage of the navigator Jacques Cartier in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence

The king never recognized the sole claim of the Spanish and Portuguese to acquisitions in the New World ( Treaty of Tordesillas ). Francis I sent Jacques Cartier to explore North America and claim fortunes for France there. This reached the St. Lawrence River and thus laid the foundation stone for the later colony of New France . Giovanni da Verrazzano was commissioned by King Francis I of France in 1534 to look for a route towards the Pacific in the region between Florida and Newfoundland . He reached the American continent on March 1, 1534 near Cape Fear , in what is now the state of North Carolina .

Affaire des Placards (1534-1535)

Franz I was a clear opponent of the Reformation , but supported the German Protestants in order to politically weaken the Roman-German Emperor Charles V. The conflict between Francis I, his councilors and parliament reached a climax with the poster affair . On October 17, 1534, pamphlet posters were found in Paris that spoke out against the traditional practice of Holy Mass . A possible split from the Catholic Church threatened to endanger the political unity of France and thus also to limit the power of the king. Within a short period of time, an unknown number of people were arrested and executed (at least 25 people). The king's crackdown was supported by the parliament in Paris.

François Clouet : Equestrian image of Franz I from 1540

With the Edict of Coucy , Francis I ended the poster affair. The edict stipulated that all heretics would be promised amnesty and the return of confiscated property if they renounced their erroneous beliefs within 6 months. He himself distanced himself from any kind of sacramentary .

Franco-Habsburg War of 1536–1538

In 1531, Francis I prepared another war in Italy against Charles V : he married his second-born son Heinrich to Caterina de Medici , the eleven-year-old niece of Pope Clement VII. The marriage project had the function of establishing a political alliance between France and to forge the Pope. The death of Duke Francesco II. Sforza of Milan prompted Franz to renew his claims to the duchy. In a preventive attack, the French troops were initially able to conquer Savoy and Piedmont. Franz I annexed these areas and asserted claims from his late mother Luise von Savoyen . Charles V launched an invasion of Provence . The city of Marseille withstood the siege by the imperial army and navy. The naval alliance between Franz and the Ottomans threatened the Italian coast. Pope, Emperor and Venice therefore formed an alliance against France. In June 1538, Pope Paul III mediated . A ten-year armistice between Charles V and Francis I in Nice. The Duchy of Piedmont was to remain under French occupation until the Battle of Saint-Quentin . In July 1538, Karl and Franz agreed a joint military defense against the Ottomans.

Franco-Habsburg War of 1542–1544

Charles V and Henry VIII of England began an invasion of France. In 1543, French troops besieged Nice , together with an Ottoman fleet under the command of Khair ad-Din Barbarossa , but soon had to vacate the city, which had been largely conquered. The Ottoman fleet then wintered in Toulon , which Franz had had its residents evacuated for this purpose. Charles marched on Paris, but was decisively weakened at Saint-Dizier . The old peace treaties with the emperor were confirmed in the Peace of Crépy . French attempted invasion of England: Henry VIII took Boulogne . Treaty of Ardres with England: Boulogne was returned for two million gold thalers.

Tax policy

His continued wars, especially against Italy, and his numerous building projects put a strain on the treasury and taxes were increased as a result. He doubled the tax for farmers ( taille ) and tripled the salt tax ( gabelle ).

Franz I (left on the picture) and Sultan Suleyman I (right). Painting by Titian around 1530.

Relations with the Ottoman Empire

For the same purpose, Francis I sought a proper alliance with the Ottoman Empire . After he had already signed a contract with Johann Zápolya of Hungary in 1528 , the Ottoman vassal and anti-king against the Habsburg Ferdinand I , diplomatic contacts continued. Since 1533/34, each empire had an ambassador in the capital of the other. In 1536 Franz tried to win Sultan Suleyman I for an attack on the Habsburg possessions in southern Italy. The hoped-for military alliance did not materialize, but the king's ambassador managed to conclude a far-reaching trade agreement in Istanbul, the so-called capitulation ( Turkish: ahdname ). In them, free navigation and free trade in the territories of the other side were stipulated for both contracting parties, taxation as residents (i.e. the French were exempt from the jizya ) and a separate jurisdiction. The cooperation between France and the Ottoman Empire - “the first non-ideological alliance of this kind between a Christian and a non-Christian empire” - was exploited for propaganda purposes by the Habsburgs : Charles V spread among the German imperial estates to Franz's court people in Turkish clothes came in and out, while those in German clothes were bloody persecuted. Francis I did not abandon his friendly relations with the Ottoman Empire until 1544 in the secret additional provisions to the Peace of Crépy , when he agreed to participate in the Turkish Aid with 10,000 foot soldiers and 600 horsemen .

Grave of Francis I and Queen Claude


Franz I died while preparing for another invasion of the Netherlands and Spain. His offensive wars brought no political disadvantages for France, but ultimately did not achieve the desired result of acquiring Milan. At his death, large parts of northern Italy, including Savoy and Piedmont, were occupied by the French and were to be converted into provinces.

He was buried with his first wife Claude de France , Duchesse (Duchess) de Bretagne, in the Basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris. When the royal tombs of Saint-Denis were sacked during the French Revolution , his grave was opened and looted on October 20, 1793, and his remains were buried in a mass grave outside the church.

Arts and Culture

Francis I is considered the first French king of the Renaissance . During his reign there was a significant development of the arts in France. In 1509, as Duke of Angoulême , he appointed Pierre Passereau as a band singer. When he took office in 1515, he was considered a humanistically educated king. This was true only to a limited extent, but he was more sensitive than any of his predecessors to the new ideas that were especially important to his Latin teacher Desmoulins and his mother. With considerable pomp he had a rhinoceros presented to him on an island off Marseille in 1515 , which was on the way in Rome as a gift from the Portuguese King Manuel I to Pope Leo X and sailed past Franz's south coast on his way to Italy.


His two predecessors, Charles VIII and Louis XII. had spent a lot of time in Italy, but had not succeeded in bringing the new cultural and artistic currents that were developing there to France. Yet they had laid the foundations for the later flourishing of the Renaissance in France. Franz I awarded numerous commissions and had artists brought to France, including Andrea del Sarto and, in 1516, Leonardo da Vinci . Leonardo da Vinci stayed in France until his death.

The king had many works by Italian artists such as Michelangelo , Titian and Raphael bought up through agents and thus laid the actual foundation of the royal collection of paintings that is now on display in the Louvre .


Until 1528 Francis I turned to the castles of the Loire . French kings had castles and palaces built there as early as the 15th century, as the royal capital Paris was occupied by the English king's troops during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). Even after the Hundred Years' War, the Loire remained a focus of royal rule. Francis I is considered the last of the so-called Loire Kings . Franz had Blois Castle extended by a wing and loggias as well as an outside staircase. The most important building project on the Loire, however, was Chambord Castle . Chambord Castle was intended to symbolize his claim to the crown of the Holy Roman Empire and the promise of a new age under his leadership. The building mixes style elements of the Italian Renaissance and French Gothic .

Chambord Castle

However, the Loire castles had the disadvantage that they were far from Paris. Paris remained of the greatest political importance simply because it was the seat of Parliament, which ratified every legislative decree of the king. Francis I therefore had Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle built near Paris and the so-called " Madrid Castle " in Bois de Boulogne . In Paris itself, the Louvre was expanded.

From 1528 onwards, Francis I began expanding the medieval castle Fontainebleau near Paris, which soon became his favorite place to stay, mainly due to the surrounding hunting forests.

Travel royalty

Franz I did not have a permanent residence, but rather traveled around the country with his court. This type of travel royalty was not atypical for the time, but it also expressed the lack of a capital city function of Paris. 18,000 horses carried tapestries, furniture, tents, gold and silver dishes from accommodation to accommodation. The Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini felt the troubles of the royal wandering life after his arrival with Francis I. He wrote about it in his biography:

“But now we had to follow the courtyard straight away, and that was a real torture. (...) Now we sometimes came to places where there were hardly two houses and they opened canvas huts like the gypsies, and I had often to suffer a lot. "

- Life of Benvenuto Cellini, p. 288


Courtyard of the Collège de France with the statue of Guillaume Budé

Among other things, he founded the still existing Collège de France in Paris under the name Collège des trois Langues (German school of three languages ), since Latin, Greek and Hebrew were initially taught there. By decree he raised the art locksmith to the state of the arts . After him, all French kings (e.g. Louis XVI. ) Learned this craft.

On August 15, 1539 king issued the Edict of Villers-Cotterets , with the French , the Latin replaced as firm language. Since then, French has been the official language in France.

Marriages and offspring

On May 18, 1514 he married Claude de France (* October 13, 1499 - July 20, 1524), daughter of King Louis XII. and the Anne de Bretagne . He had eight children with her:

  • Louise (August 19, 1515 - September 21, 1518)
  • Charlotte (23 October 1516 - 18 September 1524)
  • N (* / † 1517)
  • François (February 28, 1518 - August 10, 1536), 1524 Duke of Brittany
  • Henri (March 31, 1519 - July 10, 1559), as Henri II, King of France
  • Madeleine (10 August 1520 - 7 July 1537), ∞ Jacob V of Scotland
  • N (* / † 1521)
  • Charles (January 22, 1522 - September 9, 1545), Duke of Angoulême (1531–1545), Duke of Orléans (1536–1545), Duke of Châtellerault, Count of Clermont-en-Beauvaisis and la Marche (1540– 1545), Duke of Bourbon (1544–1545)
  • Marguerite (June 5, 1523 - September 15, 1574), ∞ Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy
  • Philippe (* / † 1524)

On August 7, 1530 he married Eleanor of Castile from the House of Habsburg .

  • The marriage remained childless.

Franz I also had numerous love affairs. With Françoise de Foix , Dame de Châteaubriant (1495–1537), Anne de Pisseleu, Duchess d'Etampes , Marie d'Assigny, Madame de Canaple, Mary Boleyn , sister of the English Queen Anne Boleyn and Marie de Langeac, Madame de, among others Lestrange.

  • With Louise de La Rieux (* 1483) he had the illegitimate son Nicolas d'Estouteville (1545–1567).


Louis de Valois, duc d'Orléans (1372–1407)
Jean de Valois, comte d'Angoulême (1399–1467)
Valentina Visconti (d. 1408)
Charles de Valois Hzg. Of Angoulême (1459–1496)
Alain IX. de Rohan (d. 1462)
Marguerite de Rohan (d. 1496)
Marguerite de Montfort (died 1428)
Francis I King of France
Louis of Savoy (1413–1465)
Philip II of Savoy (1438–1497)
Anne de Lusignan (1418–1462)
Luise of Savoy (1476–1531)
Charles I. de Bourbon (1401-1456)
Marguerite de Bourbon (1438-1483)
Agnes of Burgundy (1407–1476)

Literary reception

Some legends about the life of Francis I led to literary works being written about him. One of these works became well known both as a play, but then also in a libretto arrangement: Le roi s'amuse (The King has fun) is a play written by Victor Hugo in 1832. The premiere took place on November 22nd, 1832 in the Comédie-Française in Paris. Francesco Maria Piave arranged the piece for Giuseppe Verdi, who composed it under the title Rigoletto .


  • André Castelot : François I . Perrin, Paris 1984, ISBN 2-262-00295-9 .
  • René Guerdan: Francis I, King of the Renaissance . Societäts-Verlag, Frankfurt 1978, ISBN 3-7973-0313-0 .
  • Jean Jacquart: François I er . Fayard, Paris 1 1981, 2 1994.
  • Alfred Kohler : Franz I (1515-1547). In: Peter C. Hartmann (ed.): The French kings and emperors of the modern age 1498–1870 . CH Beck, Munich 1994, pp. 52-70, ISBN 978-3-406-54740-9 .
  • Robert Knecht: Francis I. Cambridge 1982; 2nd revised edition (new title: Renaissance Warrior and Patron: The Reign of Francis I. ). Cambridge 1994.
  • Robert Knecht: The Valois Kings of France 1328–1589. London 2004.
  • Robert Knecht: The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France. 2nd revised edition Oxford / Malden 2001, p. 77 ff.
  • Gerd Hit: Francis I of France, ruler and patron . Pustet, Regensburg 1993, ISBN 3-7917-1368-X .

Web links

Commons : Franz I.  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Alfred Kohler: The French kings and emperors of the modern age 1498-1870 . S. 52 .
  2. Alfred Kohler: Kings and Emperors of the Modern Age . S. 57 .
  3. ^ Antonius Lux (ed.): Great women of world history. A thousand biographies in words and pictures . Sebastian Lux Verlag , Munich 1963, p. 111.
  4. The Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims: Chronology of the French kings crowned in Reims between 1027 and 1825. Retrieved January 24, 2012 .
  5. The French kings and emperors . S. 61 .
  6. Volker Reinhardt : The history of Switzerland . CH Beck, Munich 2011.
  7. The French kings and emperors of modern times . S. 59 .
  8. Heinz Schilling : Departure and Crisis. Germany 1517-1648. Siedler, Berlin 1994, p. 198.
  9. ^ Richard Reifenscheid: The Habsburgs in Life Pictures. From Rudolf I. to Karl I. Piper, Munich 1984, p. 109.
  10. René Guerdan: Francis I. King of the Renaissance . Frankfurt a. M. 1978, p. 145 ff.
  11. ^ Otto zu Stolberg-Wernigerode: History of the United States of America . S. 14 .
  12. a b The French emperors and kings of modern times . S. 59 .
  13. Stephan Skalweit: Design and Problems of the Early Modern Age . S. 58 .
  14. Klaus-Peter Matschke: The cross and the half moon. The history of the Turkish wars. Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf and Zurich 2004, p. 276
  15. Klaus-Peter Matschke: The cross and the half moon. The history of the Turkish wars. Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf and Zurich 2004, p. 270 ff.
  16. Josef Matuz: The Ottoman Empire. Baseline of its history. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2008, p. 122 ff.
  17. ^ Robert A. Kann : A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2nd Edition 1977, p. 62.
  18. ^ Alfred Kohler: Franz I. (1515-1547). In: Peter C. Hartmann (ed.): The French kings and emperors of the modern age 1498–1870. CH Beck, Munich 1994, p. 60.
  19. Heinz Schilling: Departure and Crisis. Germany 1517-1648. Siedler, Berlin 1994, p. 223.
  20. ^ A b French kings and emperors of the modern age . S. 56 .
predecessor Office successor
Louis XII. King of France 1515–1547
France modern.svg
Henry II
Massimiliano Sforza Duke of Milan
Francesco II Sforza