Francis I and Henry VIII

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Francis I and Henry VIII

On April 27th, 1989, at Sangatte on the northern coast of France, a ceremony was held to mark the commencement of the main work on the Channel Tunnel. At the tunnel entrance stood two giant pasteboard figures. One was of Henry VIII of England and the other was of Francis I of France. Their symbolic presence at the beginning of an ambitious project designed to link England and France was especially appropriate.

Henry VIII is often called a |Renaissance prince' and is popularly remembered for his ebullience and the extraordinariness of his reign. What is often not so well appreciated, is the extent to which his style of monarchy and the events of his reign were influenced by his relationship with that other |Renaissance prince', Francis I. Rarely, since their time, have France and England been so drawn together by some higher ideal or imperative. Now it is the single market and European unity. Then, it was magnificent, competitive, kingship.

Francis of Angouleme was born at Cognac in western France on September 12th, 1494. The Angouleme family was a cadet branch of the royal house of Valois. Francis' father, Charles, died on January 1st, 1496, and in 1498, the boy became heir presumptive to the reigning monarch. Louis XII. From the age of fourteen Francis lived at court and was soon known in Italy and England as the rising star of France. Louis XII died leaving no surviving son and Francis succeeded him as king on January 1st, 1515.

Francis's accession was greeted favourably by the French nobility. He was young, healthy, full of confidence and he immediately rejuvenated the French court. His mother, Louise of Savoy, who was a great patron of artists and intellectuals, had ensured that her son had been well educated, at least by contemporary noble standards.

Francis was inspired by dreams of royal greatness and chivalric glory. This was reflected in the iconography of the early part of his reign. A recent French study has identified more than a dozen different topoi of kingship which were produced under Louise of Savoy's patronage and which were taken up by the king himself. Among the most important were; Francis as the crusading roi chevalier, as the descendant of Charlemagne, and especially, as Julius Caesar's true successor. Royal propaganda promoted two ideals or hopes for Francis's reign. These were just and effective government at home and, abroad, the revival of a French imperial heritage.

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