Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Francis I.

As Louis XII left no male descendant, the crown at his death passed on to his next of kin and son-in-law, Francis of Angouleme, known in history as Francis I. A dashing, energetic, handsome youth of twenty-one, loving pleasure, letters, and art, Francis was the very king to charm rich and poor. It is said, "Never was king of France in whom the nobles took such delight!" Nevertheless, Louis XII wisely foresaw that so brilliant a youth might not prove a wise ruler; for he once shook his head and shrewdly remarked, "This big fellow is going to spoil everything,"—a prediction which very nearly came true.

Brought up by an adoring mother, and the constant companion of a talented sister who was equally his slave, Francis was the typical spoiled child, who preferred pleasure to work, and romances of chivalry to any other reading or study. Having thus never been denied anything in boyhood, it is no wonder that he grew up self-indulgent and passionate, and that at his coronation he thoughtlessly squandered all his predecessor's savings in mere revelry.

Having been accustomed to associate with clever and charming women at home, Francis first desired ladies to appear publicly at his court, remarking gallantly: "A court without women is like a year without spring, and a spring without roses!" Still, he was not always so complimentary to the fair sex, for he used to consider women most changeable, and wrote once on a pane of glass in one of his castles: "Women often vary; a man's very foolish to trust them."

Although his queen—Claude of France, daughter of Anne of Brittany—was a quiet and very retiring woman, there were many brilliant ladies at Francis's court. One of the royal favorites was Diana of Poitiers, a lady noted for her beautiful complexion which all the other dames envied. Because Diana once informed them that her fine color was due mainly to exercise and plentiful bathing, court ladies began to use more soap and water than had hitherto been their custom; for in those days cleanliness was almost equal to godliness. In fact, Francis I's sister is said to have remarked on one occasion, while exhibiting her shapely hands: "Look at these lovely hands of mine; they have not been washed for eight days, yet I will wager they outshine yours!" So, although Diana of Poitiers may have done much harm to this king and to his son, she did considerable good to the human race by inducing French ladies to bathe more frequently.

The new king, eager to distinguish himself and thirsting for adventures and a stage upon which to play a brilliant part, soon decided to renew the war in Italy, where he hoped to retrieve his predecessor's losses. Leaving his mother at the head of affairs at home, therefore, Francis started out bravely to win the glory he coveted in foreign lands.

Francis I at the Battle of Marignano


Instead of following the usual route, Francis scaled the Alps by means of a pass known only to herdsmen and smugglers, through which, after surmounting almost incredible difficulties and blasting a way for his cannon, he conducted an army down into Italy. This move greatly amazed the Italian general Colonna, who, on hearing that the French were at his gates, wonderingly exclaimed: "What! Have they flown over the mountains?"

Soon after his arrival in Italy, Francis came face to face with the Swiss mercenaries at Marignano (1515) where a tremendous battle was fought. The king himself took a brilliant part in the fray, and slept on a cannon when nightfall checked this "Battle of Giants." On this battlefield, also, King Francis I was knighted by Bayard, the sword used on this occasion being laid aside as a priceless relic, never to be drawn again save "against the infidel." On account of this picturesque ceremony, and because of his many chivalric instincts, Francis was often called "the knightly king."

By the brilliant victory of Marignano, Francis recovered possession of Milan, and induced the Swiss to sign a perpetual peace with France,—a treaty which was never broken, and which enabled French kings thereafter to have large bodies of Swiss mercenaries in their service until the outbreak of the Revolution.

The Pope also became an ally of Francis, and although the Concordat (1516), which replaced the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges tried to restrict the king's privilege of naming all bishops and abbots in his realm, French rulers continued to exercise this power. Neither Francis nor his successors, however, were sufficiently careful in their choice of persons to occupy such influential positions.

By this first campaign of Francis I in Italy, France gained territory, wealth, and much glory, so the young conqueror returned home, one of the marked men of his age. He brought with him fine paintings by Raphael, and statues by Michelangelo, as well as hosts of artists to decorate the new buildings which he was planning. Thus the Renaissance, or New Birth of arts and letters, continued to make its way in France, which, at this epoch, could boast of being the foremost power in Europe.