Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France – a guest post from Robert J Knecht

This is a guest post from Robert J Knecht, whose Variorum Collected Studies volume Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France is due for publication later this year.

The publication of my book Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France coincides with celebrations in France marking the fifth centenary of that king’s accession to the French throne in 1515.

Francis I belonged to an illustrious trio of monarchs who dominated Europe in the early sixteenth century, the others being Henry VIII of England and the Emperor Charles V. Soon after his accession, Francis I led a huge army across the Alps and conquered the duchy of Milan after defeating the Swiss – then reputed the leading military power – at the battle of Marignano. Acclaimed as the new Julius Caesar, he remained popular even after he had been defeated and taken prisoner at Pavia in 1525. Under the Bourbon dynasty and the ensuing republic, however, he was largely forgotten. He then suffered at the hands of Victor Hugo and other novelists who portrayed him as little more than a playboy.

But he has now regained his rightful place as a great Renaissance monarch. He is remembered as a notable patron of the arts, who built some of the finest chateaux in France and employed leading Italian artists of his day, including Leonardo da Vinci. He also encouraged learning and built up one of the finest libraries in Europe. But he also had to face serious challenges, none more so than the rise of Protestantism.

In my new volume published under the Variorum imprint, I look more closely at these topics than I was able to do in my biography of the king, published in 1994. In particular, I look at the court, at the roles played by the king’s mother and sister, at his relations with the papacy, at his quarrels with the Parlement of Paris, at the treason of the duke of Bourbon, at the king’s so-called ‘absolutism’ and the political ideas that circulated in his reign, at his relations with Paris, at the building of the chateau of Fontainebleau. Two summit meetings, one with Henry VIII and the other with Charles V, are examined. As an English historian, I compare the attitudes of Francis I and Henry VIII to the Reformation and compare the French and English nobilities. Two essays – one on popular theatre, the other on the soldier-author, Blaise de Monluc – look beyond the reign of Francis.

About the Author: Robert Jean Knecht is Emeritus Professor of French History at the University of Birmingham. A former Chairman of the Society of Renaissance Studies and of the Society for the Study of French History, he is the author of several works on sixteenth and seventeenth century France, including, Richelieu (1991), Renaissance Warrior and Patron: the Reign of Francis I (1994), Catherine de’ Medici (1998), The French Civil Wars (2000), The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France (revised edn. 2001), The Valois (2004), The French Renaissance Court (London & New Haven, 2008) and Hero or Tyrant? Henry III, King of France, 1574-89 (Ashgate, 2014).

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