Francis I., king of France, son of Charles, count of Angouleme (cousin german of Louis XII.), and Louisa of Savoy, born at Cognac, Sept. 12, 1494, died at Rambouillet, March 31, 1547. He married Claude, daughter of Louis XII., in 1514, and succeeded him as nearest heir, Jan. 1, 1515. Louis was meditating the reconquest of the Milanese, which he claimed as heir of his grandmother, Valentina Visconti, at the moment of his death; and the youthful king, having renewed his predecessor's treaty with England, immediately crossed the Alps with an army of about 40,000, by passes previously considered impracticable. The Swiss army employed by the duke of Milan to defend the foot of the Alps was driven back, but being joined by reenforcements gave him battle at Marignano (Melegnano), 10 m. S. E. of Milan, Sept. 13, 1515. It was a fierce contest, since called the battle of the giants; and though the Swiss had only infantry to oppose to the finest cavalry in Europe, they retired only on the second day with a loss of 12,000. Francis had lost 8,000 of his best troops, but he had displayed extraordinary generalship and valor; and his name became at once the most distinguished in Europe. In the chivalric spirit of the age he accepted knighthood on the spot from the chevalier Bayard, whose final charge had completed the victory.
After the battle Francis wisely granted the Swiss an honorable peace, and secured their constant alliance. He also made a concordat with the pope, and, master of Milan, returned in triumph to Paris. In 1517 he made a treaty of friendship and alliance against the Turks with the emperor Maximilian and his grandson Charles I. of Spain, and in 1518 a treaty with England, by which Tour-nay was returned to France. He was now established firmly at home; the power of the feudal nobility was gone, and his parliament was wholly subservient. Maximilian died in January, 1519, and Francis became a competitor with Charles I., afterward Charles Y. of Germany, for the imperial sceptre. Charles prevailed in the electoral council in consequence of a recommendation of Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, and Francis betrayed the passions natural to disappointed ambition. His chagrin forced from him expressions of disparagement of his successful rival, which were resented; and from this jealousy, as much as from conflicting interests, arose that hostility between these princes which kept Europe in turmoil during their reigns. It was easy to find causes of strife; Italy and Navarre afforded them abundantly.
But before engaging in war, each strove to gain to his interests the English king Henry VIII., who obviously held the balance in his hand. Charles hastened to pay this monarch a personal visit at Dover as he passed from Spain to his dominions in the Netherlands, and at the same time secured the influence of Cardinal Wolsey by a virtual promise of the papacy. Francis invited Henry to France, where, by a splendid hospitality, he hoped to gain both the cardinal and his master. The sumptuous interview took place in the plain between Guines and Ardres, which history commemorates as the field of the cloth of gold (June 4-24, 1520). Unprecedented magnificence, feats of chivalry, and gallant exercises of every description, occupied the two courts. The kings themselves, according to Fleuranges, had a personal wrestling match in private. Francis easily overthrew his antagonist, but by his frank and generous bearing won his friendship. Henry, however, flattered by Charles, whose visit he returned after his conference with Francis, was easily secured to the interest of the emperor, and declared that he wished to remain impartial, but should pronounce against the aggressor.
The French king began hostilities by seizing Navarre. His troops also invaded Spain, but were routed and chased beyond Navarre. Charles attempted to enter France from the north. He was repelled at Mezieres by the chevalier Bayard, and Francis marched into the Netherlands. By some strange over-cautiousness he lost an opportunity of cutting off the whole imperial army. Meanwhile Cardinal Wolsey effected a league between his sovereign, the emperor, and the pope, against Francis. A papal army, under Prosper Colonna, seized Milan, and dispossessed the French of all their Italian conquests except the fortress of Cremona. Francis, in the midst of these disasters, received from Henry of England a declaration of war (May 29, 1522). Undaunted, however, although his treasury was utterly exhausted, he succeeded in putting the kingdom in a state of defence. The constable de Bourbon at this crisis, rejecting the queen mother's invitation to marriage, and robbed by the incensed woman through legal chicanery of his family estate, not only offered his sword to the emperor, but proposed to incite a rebellion in France. The conspiracy was discovered, and Bourbon fled; but an invasion of English and imperialists, which advanced to within 11 leagues of Paris, compelled Francis to abandon his plan of carrying the war into Italy. He nevertheless despatched an army of 30,000 men against Milan, which failed through the incapacity of Bonnivet, its commander.
Bourbon principally conducted the imperial operations in this quarter, and in conjunction with Pescara (1524) drove the French, after a rout at Biagrasso, into their own country. In this defeat the chevalier Bayard, who commanded the vanguard, was killed. The imperialists entered Provence. Francis hastened in person to relieve Marseilles, carried all before him, pursued the enemy again into Piedmont, and laid siege to Pavia. He was here defeated in a great battle, Feb. 24, 1525. His Swiss allies fled; and Francis, unhorsed, after killing with his own hand seven of the enemy, at length yielded his sword to the Neapolitan viceroy Lannoy, and was hurried a prisoner to Madrid. Europe was tilled with alarm. The emperor's unworthy behavior to his gallant captive, together with his growing power and ambition, roused the animosity of Henry of England, who now declared for France, and demanded the liberation of the king, as did also Rome, Venice, Florence, and Genoa. But the emperor insisted on large cessions of territory, the restoration of the constable de Bourbon to all his rights, the marriage of Francis with Charles's sister Eleanor, queen dowager of Portugal, and the delivery of his two eldest sons as hostages for his good faith.
Francis at last signed a treaty on these conditions, but at the same time caused a secret protest against them to be drawn up, and was liberated March 17, 1526, his sons taking his place at Madrid. He at once demanded and obtained from the pope absolution from his oath to fulfil the treaty, and, gracefully thanking the English king for his sympathy and alliance, sent forth armies again to Italy. If, say French historians, he was guilty of perjury, then was every man in France his accomplice. Charles, overreached, and now opposed by all Italy as well as France and England, sent Bourbon with an army of mercenaries against the pope. Rome was sacked, and the pope was imprisoned. A French army under Lautrec hastened to avenge the insulted pontiff, but after a series of triumphs was destroyed by disease before Naples. Meanwhile Francis challenged Charles V. to a duel; the emperor accepted; but the year 1528 was consumed in their mutual charges and recriminations. Both sovereigns were exhausted of men and money, and peace, an obvious necessity for all the belligerents, was concluded at Cambrai by the mother of Francis and the aunt of Charles (Margaret of Austria) in August, 1529. The king of France retained Burgundy, surrendered his Italian claims, and promised 2,000,000 crowns ransom for his sons.
Francis at the same time married Queen Eleanor. This treaty secured to France a few years of peace, during which Francis encouraged letters and art, and, after wavering for a time between the influence of Louise of Savoy and Margaret of Navarre, decided against the reformation, and persecuted the reformers with great rigor. On July 16, 1535, however, he issued an edict of toleration. This change had a political cause. In 1503 the duke of Milan put to death an agent of the king of France, charged with murder. Seizing this as a pretext for war, Francis took up arms again, and in 1535 overran Savoy. Charles in the spring of 1536 marched upon Provence, and the French troops hurried again to the defence of that region. Charles lost half his army through famine and disease, the country having been laid waste purposely by the French commander, and with the remainder fled before the light troops of the province. At the same time the prince of Nassau, who had invaded the north of France, was compelled to retreat. Soon after these events, the eldest son of Francis died, poisoned, as was supposed. The crime was laid to the charge of the emperor, probably without any foundation; but the circumstance carried the exasperation of the two sovereigns to the extreme of decency.
Francis attacked the Netherlands, and even formed an offensive alliance with the Turkish sultan Solyman; but the pope and the queen of Hungary interposing with offers of mediation, a truce of ten years was concluded at Nice (1538). The rivals exchanged visits and embraced; and Charles promised to invest a son of the French king with the sovereignty of Milan, but the promise was never fulfilled, Charles giving the duchy instead to his son Philip. War again broke out in 1542, and Francis sent five armies against various quarters of the imperial dominions, and gained a great battle at Ceresole (April 14, 1544), but without important consequences. After a short invasion of France by Henry VIII. and Charles in alliance, peace was concluded with the emperor at Crespy, Sept. 18,1544. The war with England continued, but without remarkable actions, until June 7, 1546. This treaty, like that of Nice, was followed by renewed persecution of the reformers. Having no more need to maintain his Protestant alliances, Francis carried out a most cruel decree against the Vaudois, desolating the country and killing the inhabitants by thousands. The king's health had been hopelessly ruined some years before in consequence of one of his many amours, and death at length ensued.
Francis was an unhesitating libertine, though during the latter years of his life his attention was given to wiser thoughts; but notwithstanding his vices and his cruelty to the Protestants, admiration cannot be withheld from many gallant and noble traits of character, which might have been blessings to his country had he been content with any other than military glory. His challenge to Charles V., and his court rules of honor and chivalry, did much to establish the practice of duelling. Yet he introduced into France many improvements of art and learning. Of his munificence many monuments remain; as the national library of Paris, the original Louvre, Fontainebleau, and Chambord. By his first wife he had seven children; by the second none. To his son Henry II. he bequeathed a treasury with a surplus of 400,000 crowns.