Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Two by Two

The important women in François I's life seem to come in pairs. The king spent the first two decades of his life in close relationship with his mother and sister. As an adult, he married twice and had two official mistresses. Even his daughters followed the pattern: of the four he fathered, two died extremely young and two lived long enough to marry off. Over the next few weeks, I'll briefly sketch these pairs for you and try to give you a glimpse of what life as a women in the French court was like.

François's mother, Louise de Savoye, devoted her life to seeing her son, whom she called her "César," named king. François's father, Charles d'Angoulême, died when François was only two, leaving his nineteen year old wife, Louise, a widow with two small children (François and his sister Marguerite). The Angoulêmes were a minor branch of the House of Valois, but, unless the aging reigning monarch, Louis XII, produced a male heir, François was next in line for the throne. Louis allowed the widowed Louise to retain custody of her children, but only if she agreed not to remarry and to live under conditions imposed by him. Louise accepted the terms and lived with François and Marguerite as virtual house prisoners under the tight surveillance of Pierre de Rohan, seigneur de Gié, for years. During this time, Louise provided her children a broad humanist education, laying the foundation for the love of learning and the arts that would inspire François throughout his reign. Louis, meanwhile, fathered two daughters, Claude and Renée; his only son was stillborn in 1502. In 1506, Louis finally affianced Claude to François; the marriage took place in 1514 and François ascended to the throne the following year.

Louise never did remarry, even after her son became king. She remained active in politics during the early years of his reign and served as regent in 1515 and in 1524 when François went to war. Her influence in foreign affairs was great. Wolsey referred to Louise as "the mother and nourisher of peace." An English ambassador in 1521 described her influence over the king:

I have seen in divers things since I came hither, that when the French king would stick at some points, and speak very great words, yet my Lady would qualify the matter; and sometimes when the king is not contented he will say nay, and then my Lady must require him, and at her request he will be contented; for he is so obeissant to her that he will refuse nothing that she requireth him to do, and if it had not been for her he would have done wonders. [Quoted in Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron 113]

Louise was one of the principal negotiators of the Treaty of Cambrai, known as the "Paix des dames" ("Peace of the ladies") in 1529, which put an end to the second Italian war between François and the head of the Hapsburg dynasty, Charles V. She died in September, 1531 at the age of fifty-five. François was not with her when she died, but gave her a magnificent funeral. Her body was taken to he abbey at Saint-Maur-des-Fossées, where her wax effigy was displayed. After a funeral service at Notre Dame in Paris, she was buried at the abbey of Saint-Denis, where French royals were customarily laid to rest. With her passing, François lost one of his greatest supports and the woman who had formed him as man and king.

Next up, François's sister, Marguerite de Navarre. But as my next post will be my hundredth, she'll have to wait until the festivities have ended!


Anonymous said...

whose counting! Keep posting.....and writing ofcourse :)

Tess said...

Wow, she sounds like a fascinating woman :) Looking forward to hearing about his sister.

Congrats on that 100th post!

Julianne Douglas said...

Yes, Tess, I think she'd make a great novel. I'd love to read some more about her.

Hi, Renee! [waves]