Sunday, 7 June 2020

Francis I: The Maker Of Modern France by Leonie Frieda

Francis I: The Maker Of Modern France by Leonie Frieda
Published in the UK by Wedenfeld & Nicholson in March 2018.

How I got this book:
Won in a publisher giveaway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Francis I (1494-1547) was inconstant, amorous, hot-headed and flawed. Yet he was also arguably the most significant king that France ever had. This is his story.

A contemporary of Henry VIII of England, Francis saw himself as the first Renaissance king, a man who was the exemplar of courtly and civilised behaviour throughout Europe. A courageous and heroic warrior, he was also a keen aesthete, an accomplished diplomat and an energetic ruler who turned his country into a force to be reckoned with.

Yet he was also capricious, vain and arrogant, taking hugely unnecessary risks, at least one of which nearly resulted in the end of his kingdom. His great feud with his nemesis Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, defined European diplomacy and sovereignty, but his notorious alliance with the great Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent threatened to destroy everything.

With access to never-before-seen private archives, Leonie Frieda's comprehensive and sympathetic account explores the life of the most human of all Renaissance monarchs - and the most enigmatic.

I won a lovely hardback edition of this book when it was first published, two years ago, and I am slightly embarrassed to admit that it has sat on my bookshelf ever since, looking impressive, but unread until now. Unfortunately, I can't say that it was worth the wait!

Leonie Frieda certainly packs a lot of information into her book, but I was disappointed that most of the pages are taken up with details of yet another cash-strapped army setting off to invade their neighbours, again and again and again. I had expected some warmongering being, as we are, also in the time of Charles V in Spain and Henry VIII in England, but I had hoped for a bit more to the story. It was interesting to see renowned events such as The Field of Cloth of Gold from the French perspective, but this book's subtitle - The Maker Of Modern France - had led me to expect a discussion of cultural innovations that led to the France I know today. Other than perhaps the arrival of the Mona Lisa, I didn't feel that the subtitle was justified.

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  1. Bummer that this one did not work for you. I have had my eye on it for a bit, for the same reasons you explained. I think reading about The Field of Cloth of Gold from a French perspective would be fantastic (Lord knows how many times I have read about it from the English perspective! I can describe it down to the smallest detail!) but if there is nothing to support the subtitle, then I will definitely not be picking this one up.

  2. Aww, sorry this one was misleading and didn't give you what you'd hoped for.

  3. Having had to do Francis I for A-level history, I can confirm that he generally faffed about having pi**ing contests with other monarchs. ;)