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  • Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France by Robert J. Knecht
  • Emma Herdman
Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France. By Robert J. Knecht. (Variorum Collected Studies.) Farnham: Ashgate, 2015. xx + 332 pp., ill.

In this volume, Robert J. Knecht celebrates the quincentenary of François Ier’s accession in 1515 by bringing together seventeen articles, originally published between 1963 and 2009, in which he reconsiders various aspects of the monarch’s life and reign. In a new Introduction, Knecht traces the fortunes of François’s reputation, from the late-sixteenth-century nostalgia for the king who reigned over France’s golden age down to the nineteenth-century disapproval of the career and character of a warrior and womanizer. Many of the articles here question received wisdom. Some focus on François as an individual: Michelet’s portraits of François (a weak prince led by women), of his mother (a demonized Louise de Savoie), and of his sister (a correspondingly lionized Marguerite de Navarre) receive astute reassessment (Chapter 2), as do the conventional perceptions [End Page 591] of François as a defender of the Catholic faith (Chapter 9) and as a patron of the arts (Chapter 6). Several chapters focus on cultural life under François’s reign, perhaps reflecting Knecht’s interests (literary and artistic sources frequently support his arguments) as much as François’s: there is discussion of the mirrors for princes written for the king (Chapter 7); of the architectural changes initiated by François at Fontainebleau (Chapter 14); of the tensions between the arts and warfare, seen in the example of Blaise de Monluc’s Commentaires (Chapter 17); and of the nature and remarkable freedom of the theatre (Chapter 5). Other chapters with wider social interests concentrate on political life: there are discussions of the size and structure of François’s nomadic court (Chapter 4); of his relationship with Paris (Chapter 10); and of the nature and operation of the lits de justice (Chapter 13). The collection also looks beyond French borders: there is reappraisal of individual events with international significance, such as the Concordat of Bologna (Chapter 1); the meeting of François Ier and Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold (Chapter 3); the treason of the connétable, Charles de Bourbon (Chapter 11); and Charles V’s much-fêted journey through France, at François’s behest, in 1539–40 (Chapter 15). The collection also has a pronounced English perspective, both in the comparisons between the size and status of the nobility at the French and English courts (Chapter 16) and between the fortunes of the Reformation in France and England (Chapter 8); and in the analysis of François’s visits to Aquitaine, based on the evidence of the English ambassadors (Chapter 12). While there is, inevitably, some repetition—François’s travels through his kingdom, or his youthful ‘sport’ of leading visiting dignitaries on masked rides through Paris, pelting the people with eggs—the array of arguments and of perspectives, narrated with assurance and informed by a wealth of deftly analysed historical detail, is impressive. Overall, this volume bears out Knecht’s introductory claim that the essays collectively paint a fuller image of the monarch than a conventional biography would permit—although his own works on François will surely withstand the rivalry for a while yet.

Emma Herdman
University of St Andrews


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pp. 591-592
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