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

Rivalry of Kings

Francis was not the only ambitious prince of his time, for Henry VIII was then monarch of England, and Charles of Austria sole heir to the vast possessions of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, as well as to Austria and the Netherlands. When Emperor Maximilian died, therefore, in 1519, these three young rulers became rival candidates for the imperial crown. The electors awarded it to Charles,—who thus became the Emperor Charles V. Francis had previously said in his chivalric way, "We are two gallants courting the same mistress, and he who fails will have no excuse for ill-temper"; but he changed his mind and became alarmed when he found himself surrounded by the lands of his powerful rival.

In fact, this election influenced European policy for the next hundred and forty years. It determined Francis to begin what is known as the "Struggle for the Balance of Power," because he foresaw that Charles would soon try to become master of all western Europe, and would want to absorb France in the process.

In hopes of securing the aid and alliance of England in his plan to check Austria, Francis arranged a personal interview with Henry VIII, to take place near Calais, which was then under English rule. The two young monarchs, who were equally vain and extravagantly fond of display, met therefore on a plain, since known as the "Field of the Cloth of Gold," because their tents were of this precious tissue, and all their appointments of unequaled luxury and splendor. The nobles in both suites are said to have "carried their mills and castles on their backs," because they heavily mortgaged their possessions so as to appear to brilliant advantage, in what is also known as "the last feudal parade."

Unfortunately, Francis succeeded on this occasion in outshining his guest and rival, not only in costly display, but also in personal strength and agility. Rashly setting aside the extreme formality with which the first interview was conducted, he insisted upon free and easy intercourse, and one day even proposed wrestling bouts and tests of skill, in all of which he came off victor. Now Henry VIII was quite as vain and spoiled as Francis himself, so did not enjoy being thus eclipsed, and the interview resulted in little save vague promises on the part of Henry, and in bankruptcy for many of the courtiers who had taken a prominent part in the festivities. The famous magnificences of the "Field of the Cloth of Gold" are represented on a picturesque old house in Rouen, where they are still frequently admired by the travelers who pass through this interesting city.

Charles V, wiser or more diplomatic than either of his former rivals for the imperial crown, went to visit Henry—whose first wife, Catherine, was Charles's aunt—without any fuss at all, and not only avoided hurting the English king's pride, but cleverly won the support of the prime minister Wolsey by promising to help him to become Pope. Thus he succeeded in forming with his uncle a treaty of alliance, whose great aim was to conquer France, dividing its lands between England and Austria.

Instead of there being wars in Italy only, therefore, France was attacked in the north by the Imperialists (the troops of the Emperor Charles V), but their advance was checked by the brave Bayard at Mezieres (1521). The next year, the French with their Swiss allies were sorely defeated in Italy. Just as Francis was preparing to cross the Alps a second time to avenge this defeat, he learned that the Constable of Bourbon, one of his chief nobles, had suddenly turned traitor!

The defection of this nobleman, which proved a grievous blow to France, was due mainly to the fact that Bourbon was vain and overambitious. He was proud of his vast estates, part of which he had gained by marriage. But after his wife died, childless, leaving him her property, the king's mother claimed these lands as next of kin. The king favored his mother's claim, and Bourbon forgot, in his resentment, what was due to his country, if not to his king, and basely deserted the French to join Charles V. Henry VIII, who had noticed Bourbon's vanity and ambition at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, had shrewdly remarked to Francis one day, "If I had a subject like that, I would not leave his head very long on his shoulders!" And Francis now had ample cause to regret not having paid heed to that advice.

Nevertheless, a French army was sent to Italy; but it was defeated and Bayard mortally wounded while covering the retreat of his friends. As this "knight without fear and without reproach" lay dying under a tree, gazing devoutly at his sword hilt,—which, being cross-shaped, had been set up before his dim eyes,—the enemy came rushing toward him, full of pity and admiration, and tried to ease his last moments on earth by erecting a tent over his head. Even the traitor Constable of Bourbon drew near to express the pity he felt; but the virtuous knight firmly declined all his offers of assistance, saying: "It is not I, but you, who ought to be pitied. You, who are fighting against your king, your country, and your oath!"

After a few hours of extreme suffering, Bayard passed away, the last words he uttered being "God and my country," which show that to the end he was loyal to both. It is said that he alone was worth a regiment, and he has often been called "the last of the knights." The tidings of his death spread mourning throughout the country, and Francis once remarked with heartfelt regret: "Alas, I have lost a great captain. He carried with him into the grave many of the brightest jewels which might have been added to my crown!"

The memory of this true knight and virtuous Frenchman has always proved an inspiration and example to his countrymen, who have honored him by a fine grave in his birthplace at Grenoble, and who continue to prize his name and noble sayings, among which were the following: "Our deeds must speak for us and claim reward. It is finer to deserve favors without getting them, than to obtain them without being worthy of them."

Having defeated the French in Italy, the Imperialists entered France, with the intention of carrying all before them and sweeping on to Paris; but at Marseilles Bourbon met unexpected resistance. This city held out against his forces for forty days, while even women and children worked with heroic perseverance to strengthen the fortifications as fast as they were weakened. The brave resistance of Marseilles not only frustrated the plans of the foes, but enabled Francis to collect an army and hasten to the rescue of his loyal people. The invaders were driven back into Italy, and Francis quickly followed and captured Milan.

Then, dividing his army into two bands, Francis sent one off to reconquer Naples, and with the other met the Imperialists in the memorable battle of Pavia (1525). Here the French were greatly outnumbered, and in spite of prodigies of valor on the part of king and army, they experienced a terrible defeat. Francis himself fell into the hands of his foes, and when summoned to surrender to Bourbon, haughtily replied, "Better die than yield to a traitor!" Still, he consented to give up his sword to another officer, and that very evening wrote to inform his mother of the disaster, stating in his letter that "all is lost save honor and life, which we saved!" Tradition has drawn from this letter the time-honored epigram, which you will often hear quoted, "All is lost save honor!"

After being detained in Italy for a short time, King Francis was conducted to Madrid, where, instead of being treated with the courtesy and honor which he expected,—and which were his due,—he was locked up in a dungeon, so dark and unwholesome that he soon became dangerously ill. This severity was used in hopes of forcing him to sign a disgraceful treaty; but when Charles V suddenly learned that Francis was about to abdicate in favor of his son, and when the prisoner became so ill that there seemed danger lest he should die, a beneficial change was made in his treatment. He was also allowed to see his devoted sister, who came from her kingdom of Navarre on purpose to visit him, and he was granted his first interview with his rival and jailer, Charles V.

It was only after this momentous colloquy that Francis decided to yield to humiliating conditions to recover his freedom. He therefore signed the treaty of Madrid (1526), whereby he relinquished all his rights to Italy, pardoned and reinstated the traitor Bourbon, agreed to give up Flanders, Burgundy, and other territories, pledged himself to marry a sister of Charles V, now that Queen Claude was dead, and surrendered his two sons as hostages.

On the frontier between France and Spain Francis I was merely allowed time to embrace these children, who were immediately conveyed to Madrid. They were locked up in a prison as dismal as that in which their father had languished, and kept there without means of amusement or education, until it is said they forgot even their native language!

Meanwhile, their selfish father, having reached French soil, sprang on a fine horse and galloped off, exclaiming, "Now I am once more king!"

Although Francis had solemnly sworn to keep his engagements with Charles V, he had no intention of doing so, as you will see.