aken The French Monarchy During The Period Of 1519-1529To what extent did the Valois – Habsberg conflict, weaken the French monarchy during the period of 1519-1529?
In 1515 Francis I inherited the throne of France. His kingdom covered 459,000 square kilometres with the majority of its population in widely spread towns and cities. The population was about 15million, recovering from the ravages of the Hundred Years war and the Black Death. This had stimulated a recovery of French agriculture. The mining industry was also receiving official encouragement, if only to remedy an acute shortage of silver and German miners were being encouraged to settle in France. The French economy was in good shape with trade booming. . Frances relative prosperity allowed the monarchy to effectively collect tax revenues by employing tax collectors. France was also largely self-sufficient so it didnt spend much on imports from other countries. Frances oversees trade was expanding as it had regular trade from the Levant, Netherlands, Scandinavia and England. As a result the crown achieved 1300 livres alone from harbour dues each year. But these factors alone did not make the monarchy strong so therefore I must examine the strengths of the monarchy.
Many factors combined to give the impression that the monarchy was in a strong position. Firstly, we have the leadership Francis I who saw himself as a contemporary monarch. He was a Renaissance Prince and took an interest in the arts and new learning. This is how he wanted people to see him. He considered himself as a first amongst equals. It can also be said that there was no opposition towards his accession to the throne even though Mary Tudor (who married Louis XII just before he died) could have had a son who would make his claim void. Louis XIIs second wife did have children but they were all female therefore they were debarred from succession by Salic law. Francis was intelligent, well built and quick-witted which made him a good figurehead. He had also learnt the art of being a king and was popular amongst the nobility because of his character.
Politically, the position of the monarchy was very strong not only in France but also in Western Europe. The monarchy enjoyed many features of absolute control over the realm and its dominions. A sign of this strength can be shown by the fact that the Estates General, which was the French national representative assembly like the English parliament, was never called during the reign of Francis I. The French parlements were only required to ratify laws, pass papal bulls and perform limited administrative tasks. The monarchy had some control over the church. All papal bulls had to go through parlement before becoming effective in France and the monarchy had some influence in appointing bishops and other leading officials. The kingdom had thousands of paid officials owing their position to the king and his patronage. Much of the power and influence of the Kings council and Grand council had been reduced. In fact the judicial role of the kings council had been moved to the Grand council by 1519. To add further insult these two councils were expected to follow the king around the country. The nobles had no real control over central government but they were powerful in regions. These groups, such as the Bourbon faction (mentioned later), could seek more power if the monarchy was ever weakened and as such they were a potential threat to the monarchy.
The French monarchy was in a strong financial position – probably the biggest reason for this is that the crown could levy taxes without having to call the Estates-General. The tax that brought in the most money for Francis and the only direct tax was the taille, which brought in 2.4 million livres out of a total revenue of 4.9 million at the start of Francis reign. However, in 1519, Francis had to spend a large amount of money to the sum of 400,000 crowns on bribing the imperial electors to back him instead of Charles. However, because Francis could not raise enough loans from bankers he lost the election and was left out of pocket because of it.
Frances military strength was also a force to be reckoned with. The military was built up of a nucleus of French gendarmerie, which made up a standing army. This army was also highly experienced from the campaigns in Italy during the previous 30 years. The French army was also confident after defeating the Swiss at Marignano. The Swiss were the most formidable fighting forces at that time. French confidence and experience had also increased after they successfully defended Milan against imperial troops. Because of Frances wealth, and the Perpetual Peace of Fribourg of 1516, the king could always hire Swiss mercenaries if he needed to. The military generals of France were also very competent in particular Charles de Bourbon, who became Constable of France.
It was the diplomatic front, which allowed Francis to project not only his power and prestige but also Frances. This is probably best seen by his spectacular show at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This wonderful event was staged to secure a treaty with Henry VIII of England. The monarchys relationship with the Pope was also good as Francis held the title of Most Catholic King. The Concordat of Bologna signed by the pope in December 1515 also legalised and enlarged royal control over the Church in France. In 1516 the Treaty of Noyon was signed between Charles I of Spain and Francis. Charles was to marry Francis daughter and pay a tribute for Naples as recognition of the French claim. This allowed Charles to establish his authority in Spain without a challenge from France. Another treaty between France and Spain in 1517 at Cambrai meant a state of peace existed between the two. This peace was, in fact, designed for Francis, Charles and Maximillian in the event of an attack by the Turks, to join in a Christian crusade. This peace was recognised by the Pope in 1518 to further strengthen the monarchys diplomatic position. Overall, the monarchy appeared in a sound and secure position diplomatically by 1519. Unfortunately, Francis did suffer a personal and strategic set back after Charles was elected as Holy Roman emperor in 1519.
Despite these features which made the French monarchy appear strong, there were potential challenges to its authority and prestige. Perhaps the biggest threat to the French monarchy would come from the aristocracy. There are many reasons why the aristocracy could have come to challenge the monarchys position. One reason could be because the Kings personal council was made to follow him around the country instead of having a permanent seat in Paris. This would mean that the council was always under close scrutiny by the King and was given little or no opportunity for courtiers to work on their own. The King also held the right to appoint his closest friend s onto the conseil secret. This was just an extension of the Kings council but it was a prestigious position. This could lead to rivalry between the nobles and possible resentment towards the King. The influence of the old aristocracy was also in decline as educated people were being used in these offices instead such as Chancery.
Hostility could have also come from subjects of provinces and the Governors themselves as the Governors were often expected to be at court or fighting for the King. An example of the absenteeism of Governors can be found examining the career of Odet de Foix who was Marshall of France. He was often away from his province as he was expected to lead the Kings armies. These nobles were also expected to provide funds and gendamerie for the campaigns the King undertook. Perhaps the biggest threat to the monarchy from the aristocracy was that of Charles de Bourbon whom Charles appointed Constable of France in 1515. This was the highest military office under the King himself and he was an effective commander of the French army during peacetime. However, the first signs of discontent were found in 1521 when Francis gave command of the Vanguard to Alencon. Usually, the Constable commanded the vanguard and Charles clearly took offence but concealed his feelings. The final insult was when Charles wife, Suzanne, died and Louise of Savoy contested the inheritance of the Bourbon lands, as she was the closest relative. Both claims had to go through Parlement but since Francis supported his mothers claim he started to divide up the lands of Bourbon between himself and his mother without Parlements verdict. Charles de Bourbon’s reaction could not have been more defiant when in 1523 he joined Charles becoming one of his most able commanders.
Another potential challenge for the monarchy could have come from the Parlements. Francis tended to be very short with the Parlements when he dealt with them. Francis disliked the way Parlements magistrates who compared themselves to senators of ancient Rome. Furthermore, Francis even threatened to make Parlements follow him around the country if they didnt comply with his wishes. Francis also alienated crown lands by gift or sale to pay off debts or raise money. Since Parlement saw itself as the defender of the French crown against the personal actions of a particular monarch they thought that this was a breach of Fundamental Law. Parlement was often asked to raise money for the King. An example of this can be found when examining Francis reaction to the hostage situation involving his sons. He expected Parlement to raise the funds to pay for the ransom of his sons or to pay for an army to fight Charles in the event of Charles refusal to release his captives. It could also be said that because Louise of Savoy relied on the Parlement of Paris so heavily that they might have got a taste of power and wanted to keep it. Not only did Louise need the Parlement of Paris to make sure there was a steady supply of grain and food into Paris but she also needed it to fund the defence the north against a possible Anglo-Imperial invasion while Louise was in the south.
Conflict with the papacy could develop due to the monarchys influence over the Church. Francis set up commissions to see if the Church was acquiring lands without paying its dues. These commissions were set up in 1520 and were called nouveau acquits and droit damortissement. These were designed to stop churchmen acquiring gifts without paying the correct dues. The monarchy also had a lot of influence over the appointment of the clergy as the bishops appointed could of received their position because of their relationship with the King rather than what they did within the Church. The Church was also taxed heavily in relation to raising funds for the ransom, which again could lead to discontent. The Church was also burdened with having to deal with heresy within the state leaving it with little time to influence politics.
Normally, relations between the King of France and the Popes were good after all the French King did hold the title of Most Catholic King. However, when the pope saw the lands that Charles had acquired he decided that it would be a better idea to sign a treaty between the Emperor and the papacy. Francis took offence at this and stopped all revenues from the French church going to the papacy. The pope could also resent the concordat of Bologna in 1516. This was signed to stop the French invading the Papal States to get to Naples. This meant that Francis was more or less without allies in Western Europe leaving him vulnerable to attack.
Other potential external threats included Charles V (now Holy Roman emperor since 1519), Henry VIII of England.
Charles Vs reasons for being a threat were not his own doing. From Charles perspective Francis, perhaps out of jealousy, was the instigator for armed conflict. This is probably because Charles was not only King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor but that he also had a strong influence in Italy. Nevertheless, Charles was aggressive, as he did want the lands of Navarre to be given back to Spain and wanted the lands of Burgundy returned and the French to renounce its claim to Milan.
Henry VIII, on the other hand, also saw himself as a Renaissance Prince and also saw France as the old enemy. Henry VIII always wanted to restore the English empire and continue the campaigns into France like he and indeed Henry V had done years before. Henry VIII had also signed a secret treaty in 1521to attack France in May 1523. Henry could have also taken offence not only to losing to the King of France during a wrestling match at the Field of the Cloth of Gold but also in having his ambassadors kept waiting when he offered arbitration between Francis and Charles. Henry VIII could also have been extremely jealous of Francis as they were both sporting men and Henry that he had to do better than Francis.
Before looking at how the conflict affected the French monarchy I will go through the events that could have had an Impact from 1519 to 1529.
After the election of Charles as Holy Roman emperor in 1519, Francis hoped to delay Charles journey to Italy to be crowned by the Pope. On the 29 May 1520 Francis also lost the support of Leo X, who signed a treaty with Charles and on the 28 June lightening struck an ammunition store killing 300 French troops. When Robert de la Marck, Lord of Sedan, invaded Luxembourg in 1521, few believed that Francis had nothing to do with it. Francis had in fact paid La Marck 100,000 ecus and twenty-five men at arms in return for serving him. Francis also took advantage of the Commeros Revolt to invade Spanish Navarre. Francis success was short lived as Imperial forces not only liberated Luxembourg but also the lordship of Sedan and threatened Frances northern border. The Calais conference in 1521 gave Francis until the following November to end hostilities or England would enter the fray. On the 23 September Seigneur de Lorges was successful in bringing supplies to the besieged town of Mecieres. On the 19 October Bonnivet captured the Key to Spain, Fuenterrabia, which meant the war was turning in favour of Francis.
These victories had an impact on the talks in Calais, which meant that Wolsey was more reluctant to back Charles and Francis was even less interested in a truce. On the 23 October, Francis missed a unique opportunity to end the war quickly. The two armies met near Bouchain but because of bad weather Francis was unable to see the exact strength of the imperial army and did not risk an attack. The Imperial army was in fact a lot smaller that that of Francis and could have been easily routed but the opportunity was missed. Milan fell on the 19 November after Lautrec could not afford to maintain the troops there. Francis would not rest until Milan was recaptured and ordered 16,000 troops from Switzerland. The price was high. When his troops were received by Lautrec, he attempted to besiege Milan but found it too well defended and so he retreated. Francis was not happy with this and ordered Lautrec into battle. The battle of La Bicocca was a foregone conclusion with the loss of some 3,000 Swiss troops and many captains. The defeat in Italy brought England into the war but lack of money and supplies limited any real impact. In July, Francis prepared to invade Italy but soon found out about his Constables treachery. This threw Francis plans into disarray, which meant Francis had to stay in France. The invasion into Italy was then to be led by Admiral Bonnivet who was defeated by the Viceroy of Naples in April 1524. In July, an Imperial invasion led by Bourbon made ground in Provence. Francis took one last chance that year and crossed the Alps in record time to take Milan. Francis then decided to besiege Pavia, which meant his troops would have to suffer the harsh winter. The new Pope was beginning to favour Francis because of his successes in Italy but neither side wanted peace. On the 24 February 1525 the battle of Pavia started with the French camp being taken by surprise and ended with the capture of Francis himself. Amongst the dead were a number of Francis closest friends and nobles. The only important noble to escape was the Kings brother in law, Charles dAlencon. The King was finally released from imprisonment by promising the duchy of Burgundy and his two sons as hostages to Charles in the treaty of Madrid.
Meanwhile, Louise of Savoy, acting as regent, was successful in defending the Kingdom against an English invasion by detaching Henry from his alliance with Charles in the Treaty of More. As soon as Francis had regained his freedom he refused to honour the Treaty of Madrid. Instead of giving up the lands of Burgundy he offered the Emperor a cash settlement. Things once again turned in Francis favour when the papacy and other Italian states joined with Francis in the Holy League of Cambrai in 1526. This however, didnt avert the Sack of Rome by Imperial troops in May 1527. The Treaty of Amiens was signed on August 1527, as the Pope was practically the prisoner of the emperor. This also gave Francis an excuse to commit himself to an armed intervention into Italy commanded by Marshall Lautrec; the army crossed the Alps and took over the whole of Lombardy excluding Milan. As a result, Charles refused to release Francis sons as long as the French army remained in Italy. The French army besieged Naples but after the blockade was lifted an outbreak of plague or cholera in the French camp carried off Lautrec and a large proportion of the army lifting the siege. Peace talks commenced after Charles was promised to be crowned as Emperor by the Pope. Louise of Savoy and Margaret of Savoy negotiated the treaty of Cambrai on the 3 August 1529.
So was the French monarchy weakened by these events of 1519 to 1529? It is true that financially the whole affair was very costly. It cost Francis 2 million gold crowns to pay Charles his ransom. Francis constantly needed money from somewhere. Francis would alienate crown lands to find the money he needed. He also got the support of the public and the church to raise funds. He also looked more closely at his financial administration in an attempt to reduce corruption. Before 1523 the financial administration was more or less the same as it was for Charles VII (1422-1461). It had to kinds of administrations, one for Ordinary revenues and the other for extraordinary revenues. The former was called the Tresor and was headed by four Tresoriers de France. Their job was to supervise collection and disbursement of revenues but the actual handling was done by Receveurs ordinaires. The Extraordinary revenues were looked after by four Generaux des Finances. Responsible for all revenues was the Receiver-General with the title Changeur du Tresor. He was based in Paris but little revenue actually got to him as many debts were settled by means of warrants (decharges) at a local level. This saved the expense of carting large amounts of money across the dangerous countryside of France. These two administrations were expected to come to court when they could and also to draw up a sort of budget based on the accounts from each district. The French monarch was virtually bankrupt in 1523 so to solve the problem Francis reformed his treasury and increased his revenues. Francis created a new office, the Tresorier de lEparge who reported only to the King. This new position destroyed the influence of the Tresoriers and Generaux and also eliminated most of the corruption.
Revenues came in from the sale of annuities. These rentes de lhotel de ville were like loans for Francis. The French crown had to deal with the growing problem of inflation. The campaigning in 1523 had cost Francis 50 per cent of his annual income. So financially the monarchy was not permanently damaged by the war although it was a set back he was able to obtain money from nobility and the church to pay for his sons ransom. In fact the war had helped to develop a more financially secure system.
The campaigns had also been costly on the military strength. Not only
did Francis end up losing 16,000 Swiss troops after La Bicocca but at Pavia, it is thought that some 10,000 men were taken prisoner or killed. However, since tactics had changed after the first Italian campaigns, commanders no longer relied on their heavy cavalry. Instead, they would use infantry. Because the armies used were so large it was impossible a monarch to fund a standing army of that size. Francis was forced to use foreign mercenaries especially the Swiss and Germans. It would be these mercenaries that tended to take the heaviest losses. So there is no evidence that after the war, France was weakened militarily or that it could not re -supply its gendarmee. It had however lost some of its best commanders and closest advisors most notably Charles de Bourbon in battle or in treachery.
Administantivly, the monarchy also kept its strength. Even without the King, Louise of Savoy was able to keep a disgruntled Parlement in check and gave it a warning not to trespass on the Kings authority. It is true that some people did not like the idea of a female monarch and thought that Charles de Bourbon should be regent. However, this was overcome and Parlement assured the King of its loyalty. This is probably down to the way Louise dealt with Parlement. She was more tactful with it and tended to flatter it. Nevertheless, there were no significant uprisings or political changes during this period to weaken the position of the monarchy. If anything, Francis captivity meant that the country could be run effectively without him being there. This can also be attributed to Chancery, which was responsible for the drawing up of laws. It was headed by the Chancellor and contained 119 notaries and secretaries. As the load of government business increased, the notaries or secretaries were allowed to sign the concilliar decisions to make them valid.
The diplomatic position of the French monarchy ended more or less as it started. England and the Empire became enemies of France by the treaty of Bruges in 1521, as did the pope when he saw how powerful Charles was becoming. However, Louise was successful in prising Henry away from his alliance with Charles in the Treaty of More. France also joined the Holy League of Cambrai with the pope. So once again France was in a strong diplomatic position with both England and the Papacy at his side. Francis did lose Milan, which was a serious set back for him not only strategically but also personally. He had also lost his influence over Genoa by 1529 but there were new potential allies outside of Christendom in the form of the Turks to redress the balance.
If the image of the monarchy had been seriously damaged then Francis wouldnt have been able to extend his grip on power as well as he did so. Surely, there would have been opposition to proposals he put forward or even for his continuing campaigns into Italy. The fact that there was only one notable act of treason is more proof that Francis still had the support of his political elite. No doubt his capture was a personal embarrassment but it didnt have a serious effect on the position of the monarchy. Another sign of its strength is the acceptance of a woman as regent so it is my opinion that the image of the monarchy was not substantially damaged either.
It is true that the treaty of Cambrai was an embarrassment for Francis, however studying the decade it is my judgement that the conflict did not weaken the French monarchy. The areas of French society, which provided strength to the monarchy, were affected individually and French finances were seriously weakened. However, these weaknesses were only temporary and the French monarchy, probably, because it was so strong to start off with was able to recover and continue to develop in a similar way to the manner in which it had been changing since the mid 15th Century. However, recognition of the collapse of Royal power later in the 16th century, after the death of Henri II, could be linked to weaknesses already apparent in this period.
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