Francis I. and his sister. The portrait of the king.
Francis the First and his sister, Margaret of Angoulême, were destined
to exercise so important an influence in shaping the history of the
French Reformation during the first half of the sixteenth century, that
a glance at their personal history and character seems indispensable.
Francis Was in his twenty-first year when, by the extinction of the
elder line of the house of Orleans, the crown came to him as the nearest
heir of Louis the Twelfth. He was tall, but well proportioned, of a
fair complexion, with a body capable of enduring without difficulty
great exposure and fatigue. In an extant portrait, taken five years
later, he is delineated with long hair and scanty beard. The drooping
lids give to his eyes a languid expression, while the length of his
nose, which earned him the sobriquet of "le roi au long nez," redeems
his physiognomy from any approach to heaviness. On the other hand,
the Venetian Marino Cavalli, writing shortly before the close of his
reign, eulogizes the personal appearance of Francis, at that time more
than fifty years old. His mien was so right royal, we are assured, that
even a foreigner, never having seen him before, would single him out
from any company and instinctively exclaim, "This is the king!" No ruler
of the day surpassed him in gravity and nobility of bearing. Well did he
deserve to succeed that long line of monarchs upon each of whom the
sacred oil, applied at his coronation in the cathedral
1 He was born at Cognac, Sept. 12, 1494.
2 See the fac-simile in the magnificent work of M. Niel,
Portraits des personnages français les plus illustres du 16me siècle,
Paris, 1848, 2 vols. fol.
of Rheims, had conferred the marvellous property of healing the king's-evil by
a simple touch.1
His character and tastes.
At his accession, the lively imagination of Francis, fed upon the
romances of chivalry that constituted his favorite reading, called up
the picture of a brilliant future, wherein gallant deeds in arms should
place him among the most renowned knights of Christendom. The ideal
character he proposed for himself involving a certain regard for his
word, Francis's mind revolted from imitating the plebeian duplicity of
his wily predecessor, Louis the Eleventh--a king who enjoyed the
undesirable reputation of never having made a promise which he intended
in good faith to keep. The memory of the disingenuous manner in which
Louis, by winking at the opposition of the Parliament of Paris, had
suffered the revocation of the Pragmatic Sanction to fail, in spite of
his own solemn engagements to carry it into execution, was, undoubtedly,
one of the leading motives inducing the young prince, at the very
beginning of his reign, to adopt the arbitrary measures already spoken
of in a preceding chapter, respecting the papal concordat. Not for half
his kingdom, he repeatedly declared, would he break the pledge he had
given his Holiness. It is not difficult, however, to reconcile the
pertinacity of Francis, on this occasion, with the frequent and well
authenticated instances of bad faith in his dealings with other monarchs.
1 The envoy's description of Francis's curative power is
interesting. "Ha una proprietà, o vero dono da Dio, come han tutti li
rè di Francia, di far guarire li amalati di scrofule.... E questo lo fa
in giorno solenne, come Pasqua, Natale e Nostra Donna. Si confessa e
communica; dipoi tocca li amalati in croce al volto, dicendo: 'Il Rè ti
tocca, e Iddio ti guarisca!'" Cavalli thinks there can be no doubt of
the reality of the cures effected; otherwise, why should continually
increasing numbers of sick folk come from the most distant countries, if
they received no benefit? Relazioni Venete (Albèri), ser. i., i. 237. It
must not be imagined, however, that the kings of France engrossed all
virtue of this kind. The monarchs of England were wont to hallow on Good
Friday certain rings which thenceforth guaranteed the wearer against
epilepsy. These cramp-rings, as they were called, were no less in
demand abroad than at home. Sir John Mason wrote from Brussels, April
25, 1555, that many persons had expressed the desire to obtain them, and
begged Sir W. Petrie to interest himself in procuring him some of this
year's blessing by Queen Mary. MSS. State Paper Office.
If his literary abilities were slender and his acquirements meagre, this
king had at least the faculty of appreciating excellence in others. The
scholars and wits whom, as we have seen, he succeeded in gathering about
him, repaid his munificence with lavish praise, couched in all manner of
verse, and in every language employed in the civilized world. Even later
historians have not hesitated to rate him much higher than his very
moderate abilities would seem to warrant. The portrait drawn by the
biographer of his imperial rival is, perhaps, full as advantageous as a
regard for truth will permit us to accept. "Francis," says Robertson,
"notwithstanding the many errors conspicuous in his foreign policy and
domestic administration, was nevertheless humane, beneficent, generous.
He possessed dignity without pride, affability free from meanness, and
courtesy exempt from deceit. All who had access to him, and no man of
merit was ever denied that privilege, respected and loved him.
Captivated with his personal qualities, his subjects forgot his defects
as a monarch, and, admiring him as the most accomplished and amiable
gentleman in his dominions, they hardly murmured at acts of
maladministration, which, in a prince of less engaging dispositions,
would have seemed unpardonable."
Contrast between Francis I. and Charles V.
Two monarchs could scarcely be more dissimilar than were Francis and the
Emperor Charles. "So great is the difference between these two princes,"
says the Venetian Giustiniano, "that, as her most serene majesty the
Queen of Navarre, the king's sister, remarked to me when talking on the
subject, one of the two must needs be created anew by God after the
pattern of the other, before they could agree. For, whilst the most
Christian king is reluctant to assume the burden of great thoughts or
undertakings, and devotes himself much to the chase or to his own
pleasures, the emperor never thinks of anything but business and aggrandizement;
1 The small size of the brain and the depression of the
forehead indicated in all the different contemporary portraits of
Francis have been noticed by M. Niel (Portraits, i. 10), who dryly adds
that in view of them he might have been inclined to withhold the
eulogies he has inserted in his notice of the monarch, "had he not
recollected in time that the laws of phrenology are not infallible."
2 Robertson, Charles V., iii. 396.
and, whereas the most Christian king is simple, open,
and very liberal, and quite sufficiently inclined to defer to the
judgment and counsel of others, the emperor is reserved, parsimonious,
and obstinate in his opinions, governing by himself, rather than through
any one else."1
This diversity of temperament and disposition had ample scope for
manifestation during the protracted wars waged by the two monarchs with
each other. Fit representative of the race to which he belonged, Francis
was bold, adventurous, and almost resistless in the impetuosity of a
first assault. But he soon tired of his undertakings, and relinquished
to the cooler and more calculating Charles the solid fruits of victory.2
Francis's religious convictions.
Of the possession of deep religious convictions I do not know that
Francis has left any satisfactory evidence. That he was not strongly
attached to the Roman church, that he thoroughly despised the ignorant
monks, whose dissolute lives he well knew, that he had no extraordinary
esteem for the Pope, all this is clear enough from many incidents of his
life. It would even appear that, at one or two points, he might have
been pleased to witness such a reformation of the church as could be
effected without disturbing the existing order. To this he was the more
inclined, that he found almost all the men distinguished for their
learning arrayed on the side of the "new doctrines," as they were
styled, while the pretorian legion of the papacy was headed by the
opponents of letters.
His fear of innovation.
It will be found, however, that several circumstances tended to
counteract or reverse the king's favorable prepossessions. Not least
influential was a pernicious sentiment studiously instilled in his mind
by those whose material interests were all on the side of the
maintenance of the existing
1 Relazione di Francia (1538), Albèri, i. 203, 204. It will be noticed that Giustiniano wrote at
a period when the youthful ardor of Francis had somewhat cooled down.
2 The French king's proverbial ill-success gave rise to the taunt that his was "un esser savio
in bocca e non in mente," but Marino Cavalli is charitably inclined to ascribe his misfortune
rather to the lack of the right men to execute his designs, than to any fault of his
own. Rel. des Amb. Vén., Tommaseo, i. 282.
system--that a change of religion necessarily involves a change of government.
We shall hear much during the century of this lying political axiom. When
Francis, in his irritation at the Pope, suggested, on one occasion, to the Nuncio,
that he might be compelled to follow the example Henry the Eighth, of
England, had set him, and permit the spread of the "Lutheran" religion
in France, the astute prelate replied: "Sire, to speak with all
frankness, you would be the first to repent your rash step. Your loss
would be greater than the Pope's; for a new religion established in the
midst of a people involves nothing short of a change of prince."1
And the same author that records this incident tells us that Francis
hated the Lutheran "heresy," and used to say that this, like every other
new sect, tended more to the destruction of kingdoms than to the
edification of souls.2 Nor must it be overlooked that Francis
doubtless felt strongly confirmed in his persuasion, by the rash and
disorderly acts of some restless and inconsiderate spirits such as are
wont eagerly to embrace any new belief. Not the peasants' insurrections
in Germany alone, but as well the excesses of the iconoclasts, and the
imprudence of the authors of the famous placards of 1534, although their
acts were distinctly repudiated by the vast majority of the French
reformers, inflicted irretrievable damage, by furnishing plausible
arguments to those who accused the Protestants of being authors or
abettors of riot and confusion.
His loose morals.
A second reason of the early estrangement of Francis from the "new
doctrines" has more frequently been overlooked. The rigid code of morals
which the reformers established, and which John Calvin attempted to make
in Geneva the law of the state, repelled a prince who, though twice
married and both times to women devoted to his interests and faithful to
their vows, treated his lawful wives with open neglect, and preferred to
consort with perfidious mistresses, who
1 "Sire, vous en seriez marri le premier, et vous en
prendroit très mal, et y perdriez plus que le pape; car une nouvelle
religion, mise parmi un peuple, ne demande après que changement du
prince." Brantôme, M. l'Admiral de Chastillon, Œuvres, ix. 202.
2 Brantôme, Femmes illustres: Marguerite, reine de Navarre.
Also Homines ill.: François premier (Œuvres, vii. 256, 257).
sold to the enemy for money his confidential disclosures--a prince who, not
satisfied with introducing excesses until then unheard of among his nobles,
was not ashamed to bestow the royal bounty upon the professed head of the degraded womenwhom he allowed to accompany the court from place to
His anxiety to obtain the support of the Pope.
If to these two motives we add a third--the desire of the king to avail
himself of the important influence of the Roman pontiff upon the
politics of Europe--we shall be at no loss to account for the singular
fact that the brother of Margaret of Angoulême, in spite of his sister's
entreaties and the promptings of his own better feeling--at times in
defiance of his own manifest advantage--became during the later part of
his reign the first of that long line of persecutors of whom the
Huguenots were the unhappy victims.
Studious disposition of Margaret.
Margaret was two years older than her brother. Born April 11, 1492, in
the city of Angoulême, she enjoyed, in common with Francis, all the
opportunities of liberal culture afforded by her exalted station. These
opportunities her keener intellect enabled her to improve far better
than the future king. While Francis was indulging his passion for the
chase, in company with Robert de la Marck, "the Boar of the Ardennes,"
Margaret was patiently applying herself to study. It is not always easy
to determine how much is to be set down as truth, and how much belongs
to the category of fiction, in the current stories of the scholarly
attainments of princely personages. But there is good reason in the
present case to believe that, unlike most of the ladies of her age that
were reputed prodigies of learning, Margaret of Angoulême did not
confine herself to the modern languages, but became proficient
1 The Bulletin de la Soc. de l'hist. du prot. franç., v.
380, 381, publishes from a MS. in the library of the Louvre, an order
from Francis I., countersigned by Bayard, directing his treasurer to pay
to "Cecille de Viefville, dame des filles de joye suivans nostre
court," the sum of forty-five livres tournois. This gift is to be
shared with "les autres femmes de sa voccation," as she and they shall
see fit, and to be received as "a New-Year's present for the first of
January past, such as it has been customary from all time to make." The
last clause may have been inserted for the purpose of palliating the
disgraceful usage. This precious document is followed by Cecile's
receipt, dated, like the order, Hesdin, February 18, 1539 (1540 New
in Latin, besides acquiring some notion of Greek and Hebrew. By extensive
reading, and through intercourse with the best living masters of the
French language, she made herself a graceful writer. She was, moreover,
a poet of no mean pretensions, as her verses, often comparing favorably
with those of Clément Marot, abundantly testify. It was, however, to the
higher walks of philosophical and religious thought that Margaret felt
most strongly drawn. Could implicit credit be given to the partial
praises of her professed eulogist, Charles de Sainte-Marthe, who owed
his escape from the stake to her powerful intercession, we might affirm
that the contemplation of the sublime truths of Revelation early
influenced her entire character, and that "the Spirit of God began then
to manifest His presence in her eyes, her expression, her walk, her
conversation--in a word, in all her actions."1
Her personal appearance.
But, whatever may have been the precocious virtues of Margaret at the
age of fifteen, it is certain that when, by her brother's elevation to
the throne, she was introduced to the foremost place at court, it was
her remarkable qualities of heart, quite as much as her recognized
mental abilities, that called forth universal admiration. Her personal
appearance, it is true, was a favorite subject for the encomium of
poets; but her portraits fail to justify their panegyrics, and convey no
impression of beauty. The features are large, the nose as conspicuously
long as her brother's; yet the sweetness of expression, upon which Marot
is careful chiefly to dwell in one of his elegant poetical epistles, is
not less noticeable.2
1 Ch. de Sainte-Marthe, Oraison funèbre, 1550, apud Génin, i. 3.
2 Une doulceur assise en belle face,
Qui la beaulté des plus belles efface;
D'un regard chaste où n'habite nul vice;
Tons ces beaulx dons et mille davantaige
Sont en ung corps né de hault parentaige,
Et de grandeur tant droicte et bien formée,
Que faicte semble exprès pour estre aymée
D'hommes et dieux.
--Ined. Epistle of Marot to Margaret, prefixed to Génin, Notice, xiii.,
xiv. One of the two crayons of Margaret by contemporary artists,
reproduced by Niel, Portraits des personnages illustres, etc., tome ii.,
was taken in early life; the other represents her as wearing the sombre
dress she preferred in her last years.
Her political Influence.
In the conduct of public affairs Margaret took no insignificant part.
Francis was accustomed so uniformly to entrust his mother and sister
with important state secrets, that to the powerful council thus firmly
united by filial and fraternal ties the term "Trinity" was applied, not
only by the courtiers, but by the royal family itself.1 Foreign
diplomatists extolled Margaret's intelligent statesmanship, and asserted
that she was consulted on every occasion.2 It is a substantial claim
of Margaret to the respect of posterity, that the influence thus enjoyed
was, apparently, never prostituted to the advancement of selfish ends,
but constantly exerted in the interest of learning, humanity, and
Margaret was first married, in 1509, to the Duke of Alençon, a prince
whose cowardice on the battle-field of Pavia (1525), where he commanded
the French left wing, is said to have been the principal cause of the
defeat and capture of his royal brother-in-law. He made good his own
escape, only to die, at Lyons, of disease induced by exposure and
aggravated by bitter mortification. The next two years were spent by
Margaret in unremitting efforts to secure her brother's release. With
this object in view she obtained from the emperor a safe-conduct
enabling her to visit and console Francis in his imprisonment at Madrid,
and endeavor to settle with his captor the terms of his ransom. But,
while admiring her sisterly devotion, Charles showed little disposition
to yield to her solicitations. In fact, he even issued an order to seize
her person the moment the term of her safe-conduct should expire--a
peril avoided by the duchess only by forced marches. As it was, she
crossed the frontier, it is said, a single hour before the critical
time. The motive of this signal breach of imperial courtesy
1 Vie politique de Marg. d' Angoulême, by Leroux de Lincy,
prefixed to the Heptaméron (Ed. of the Soc. des bibliophiles), i. p.
2 "La serenissima regina di Navarra ... è donna di molto
valore, e spirito grande, e che intervienne in tutti i consigli." Relaz.
di Francesco Giustiniano, 1538, Albèri, i. 203.
was, doubtless, the well-founded belief that Margaret was bearing home to
France a royal abdication in favor of the Dauphin.1
Margaret marries Henry of Navarre.
Early in 1527, Margaret was married with great pomp to Henri d'Albret,
King of Navarre.2 The match would seem to have been prompted by love
and admiration on her side; for the groom had performed a romantic
exploit in effecting his escape from prison after his capture at
Pavia.3 In spite of the great disparity between the ages of Margaret
and her husband,4 the union was congenial, and added greatly to the
power and resources of the latter. The duchies of Alençon and Berry more
than equalled in extent the actual domain of the King of Navarre; for,
from the time when Ferdinand the Catholic (in July, 1512) wrested from
brave Catharine of Foix and her inefficient husband John5 all their
possessions on the southern slope of the Pyrenees,6 the authority
1 The document contained a proviso that, should Francis be
liberated, the Dauphin was to restore to him the sovereignty for the
term of his natural life. It was dated Madrid, November, 1525. Isambert,
Recueil des anciennes lois, etc., xii. 237-244.
2 "Le mercredy penultiesme jour de janvier, au dict an,
ils furent espousez an diet lieu de Saint Germain (en Laye). Après
furent faictes jouxtes et tournois et gros triomphes par l'espace de
huict jours ou environ." Journal d'un bourgeois, 302. Olhagaray states
the date differently, viz., January 24th; ubi infra, 488.
3 See Olhagaray, Histoire de Foix, Béarn, et Navarre (Paris, 1609), 487.
4 He was born April, 1503, and was consequently eleven years younger than Margaret.
5 Catharine's bitter reproach addressed to her husband has
become famous: "Had I been king, and you queen, we had been reigning in
Navarre at this moment." Prescott, Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, iii.
353. Olhagaray gives another of her speeches: "O Roy vous demeurés Jean
d'Albret, et ne pensés plus au Royaume de Navarre que vous avez perdu
par vostre nonchalance." Ubi supra, 455.
6 The Spanish conquest of Navarre is narrated at length by
Prescott, Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, iii. 347-367. See also
Olhagaray, 454, etc., and Moncaut, Histoire des Pyrénées, iv. 233-271.
It will be borne in mind that the great crime of John d'Albret was his
adhesion to Louis XII. of France, in his determined struggle with Julius
II.; and that Ferdinand's title was justified by a pretended bull of
this Pope giving the kingdoms of his enemies to be a prey to the first
invader that might seize them in behalf of the Pontifical See. The bull,
however, is now generally admitted to be a Spanish forgery. See
Prescott, ubi supra. Baron A. de Ruble observes (Mém. de La Huguerye,
1, note): "On sait aujourd'hui que cette bulle est apocryphe."
of the titular monarch was respected only in the mountainous district of
which Pau was the capital, and to which the names of Béarn or French
Navarre are indifferently applied. The union thus auspiciously begun
lasted, unbroken by domestic contention, until the death of Margaret, in
1549;1 and the pompous ceremonial attending the queen's obsequies is
said to have been a sincere attestation of the universal sorrow
affecting the King of Navarre and his subjects alike.