The women of Francis I

Mother, sister, wives, mistresses, many are the women who have surrounded by the same adoration Francis I, a magnificent king in his court like a sultan in his Harem, devoting their entire life to him. He accepted their donation as due, like a child spoiled by fortune. Louise de Savoie, Marguerite de Navarre, Anne de Pisseleu, Claude de France and above all Françoise de Châteaubriant, all exceptional women of a flamboyant and eventful reign.

François I and the Breton question

Apart from his high stature, Francis I was a refined, intelligent and superficial man, an art lover, an excellent rider, appreciating luxury and especially beautiful women. Around him constantly fluttered a group of young and charming people whom he affectionately referred to as his "little Band". This does not prevent him from taking care of the affairs of state and from fighting, reaping laurels inMarignan. Despite his marriage to the daughter of Anne of Brittany, one question worried him a lot: this convention, which made Brittany a state free to separate from France at any time, risked losing many rich baronies.

Most of these Breton fiefdoms happened to belong to Lord Jean de Laval, whom Francois hastened to invite to court, along with his lovely wife, cousin Anne of Brittany. It is Françoise de Foix born in 1475 and engaged at the age of 11 to the wealthy Sieur de Laval-Chateaubriand. From an early age, the exquisite young girl held promise for her assertive character, her smooth complexion, her harmonious proportions and the beauty of her dark hair. Jean will therefore marry her in 1509 and will live happily in his county of Brittany with his beautiful. Until Francis I heard about Françoise.

The young king is impatient to meet this pretty lady whose fame has reached the court, but Jean de Laval who knows the king's penchant for women, will go alone at his invitation, arguing of Françoise's fierce nature. This only aroused the curiosity of the king, who repeatedly insisted and ended up demanding his visit. Jean de Laval then attempting a final strategy, called the Ring, wrote a letter before the king asking his wife to attend court, enclosing a ring which signified the recipient to disregard the mail when it contained the ring. This desperate husband's attempt will be stymied by a king's servant who removes the courier's ring, and the inevitable happens. Françoise goes to court, and is immediately presented to the king who immediately falls in love.

He will pay her a court full of courtesy to which the beauty will not be insensitive: " Getting into the king's bed has many She said to herself. Quickly, because François liked business smoothly, she became his mistress, making herself a fierce enemy of Lhearing from Savoy, influential mother of the king. To soften the jealousy of the deceived husband, Francis will offer him the command of an ordinance company, and will appoint the brother of his beloved governor of Milan.

Françoise de Châteaubriant, royal favorite

In anticipation of a confrontation he deemed inevitable with the very powerful Charles V, François I tried to ally himself in 1520 with Henry VIII of England. For this purpose, he will choose a neutral place where French and English can negotiate an agreement. Influenced by the beautiful Françoise, he will erect sumptuous tents decorated with tapestries and precious furniture, where magnificent celebrations will take place intended to dazzle Henry VIII.

It is the camp of the cloth of gold, operation so expensive that it will empty the coffers of the State and will have for consequence to produce the opposite effect of that expected: Henri, humiliated and furious, will return to England and will ally with Charles Quint.

Louise of Savoy, very angry, of course blamed this failure on the king's mistress and waged a merciless war against her, accusing her of being the mistress of Bonnivet, the king's admiral, which was true. But the blinded king will ignore it. During a well-watered party a guest will throw a flaming brand at François's head, putting his life in danger. He will eventually recover and this accident will inspire a fashion who would characterize the man of the XVIe century: the king's curls were cut, he had to let his beard grow to hide the scars of his burns. All the men of the kingdom and of Europe will adopt this new style.

In 1526 Francis I, who set out to conquer Italy, was beaten at Pavia and taken prisoner by Charles V, much to Françoise's despair. Louise of Savoy, her great enemy, will be appointed regent, leaving her no other choice than to pack up to reach Brittany where her husband undoubtedly welcomed her. There will be an assiduous and very poetic correspondence between the two lovers, which will soften the long months of captivity of the king in Spain. The queen Claude having died discreetly in 1524, François Ier will agree to marry Eleanor, sister of Charles V, for political purposes, who immediately falls in love with this so attractive king.

The time of rivals

A heavy ransom had been demanded for his release and the king promised to submit to it. He was released in 1526 and returned to France, acclaimed by his people. In Brittany, where the news has reached, Françoise awaits a sign from her beloved, who will not come, and for good reason. She will go to court to find a terrible rival in the person ofAnne de Pisseleu, Duchess of Etampes, a beautiful 18-year-old blonde girl with whom she will have to fight to retain her title of royal favorite. A fierce hatred will oppose the two women, to the delight of the courtiers who will revel in this rivalry. The king, who adored his new mistress, but still loved Françoise, found himself very annoyed by this situation, using his diplomacy to appease the two favorites, in vain.

Annoyed by the king's weakness, wounded in his pride, Françoise leaves the court and returns to her Brittany. Anne, the victorious favorite, not counting on stopping there, demanded from the king the return of the jewelry offered to Françoise on which were engraved beautiful mottos. Outsmarting her rival's pettiness, the fallen favorite melted the jewels, and returned them to the king in the form of gold bars. The latter, somewhat resentful and amused by this gesture, had the ingots sent back and the case turned against the jealous favorite.

The king having had important business to settle in Brittany in 1532, will settle in Châteaubriant for six weeks to Françoise's great happiness, perhaps less than that of her husband. In his honor will be given many festivals, tournaments, hunts and banquets. But the king, his affairs finished, will return to the court where Anne de Pisseleu awaits him with the impatience that one guesses. Françoise was never to see Francis I again. However, several years of correspondence between these two people who really liked each other.

Jean de Laval, whom the king had showered with honor, will get along very well with him on questions of a political nature, but what about the relations of this flouted husband with his wife? Out of revenge, he allegedly abused this woman who had cheated on him. Are these unhealthy rumors? The mystery remains on the sudden death of Françoise in 1537. There was a rumor that her husband, mad with jealousy, had murdered her. But has public opinion, hungry for dark and tragic stories, peddle baseless facts? No doubt we will never know.


- The wives of François Ier by Christiane Gil. Pygmalion, 2005.

- François Ier: Le Roi-Chevalier by Georges Bordonove. Pygmalion, 2006.

- Diary of François I's mother: 1459-1522 by Louise De Savoie. Paleo, 2006.

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