The Greatest French King

The life and personality of Francis I.

The Battle of Marignano by Natale Datti, 16th century. 'This Big Boy will ruin everything', so Louis XII of France is reported to have said, on more than one occasion, of his own son-in-law and putative successor: not exactly a ringing endorsement. The young nobleman whom the king disparaged was Francis of Angoulême, Duke of Valois. The royal quip expressed Louis's fear that he would have no son of his own to inherit the throne and that Francis' charismatic and impulsive personality would cast into shadow (and perhaps hazard) all that Louis had achieved during his own reign. At times it seemed that Francis might, indeed, have ruined everything. Nineteenth-century historians of his reign often scorned him for allowing a supposedly libidinous and erratic disposition to distract him from the principal tasks of kingship. Yet, 500 years after his accession, if there is one king of France before Louis XIV that the French people remember – and with affection – it is Francis I.

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