Le Dauphin François (1518-1536): an unknown prince

Le Dauphin François (1518-1536): an unknown prince

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On February 28, 1518, Queen Claude of France gave birth to her first son. Named Francois like his father, the child is titled dolphin of France and it is on him that the hopes of the dynasty rest. By the death of his mother in 1524, François inherited the Duchy of Brittany and was crowned in Rennes in 1532 by Bishop Yves Mahyeuc, he was then known as François III of Brittany. Died at eighteen, it was his younger brother the future Henri II who would become the Dauphin of France.

Childhood of the French dolphin

The Battle of Pavia (1525)

Following the failure of the imperial troops of Charles V in Provence in 1523, François Ier wanted to push the advantage to try to regain Milan lost in 1521, against the advice of his advisers. At the end of October 1524, Milan fell into the hands of the French who then decided to pursue Pavia, the former capital of Lombardy, besieged from October 27, 1524. After several months of siege, the imperial reinforcements opened a breach in the French enclosure on the night of February 23 to 24, 1525. The rout was complete. The French lost around 10,000 men, a large part of which were army cadres.

François Ier is taken prisoner by an Italian knight, César Hercolani, nicknamed the victor of Pavia. The King of France embarked at Villefranche (near Nice) and was detained in Spain by Charles V for a year pending the payment of a ransom by France and the signing of the Treaty of Madrid (January 14, 1526) which l 'undertakes to restore the Duchy of Burgundy and the County of Charolais, but also to abandon the claims of Artois and Flanders as well as the claims on the Italian peninsula. Freed, François Ist leaves Charles V with his sword and his two sons, François the Dauphin and little Henri (future Henri II).

Detention in Spain (1526-1530)

As a pledge of the execution of the Treaty of Madrid, signed on January 14, 1526, François I accepted to deliver his two eldest sons to Charles V. On March 17, 1526, two boats were moored on either side of the Bidassoa. On the Spanish shore, that of François Ist. On the French side, that of the Dauphin François and his brother Henri d'Orléans, the future Henri II. At the signal, the boats reach a pontoon in the middle of the river. This is where the exchange takes place. The king, in tears, embraces his sons, whom he leaves as a pledge of the execution of the Treaty of Madrid, signed on January 14. The boys see their father moving away towards France, while they reach Spain. They are very young to understand. The dolphin is just eight years old and Henri will be celebrating his seventh birthday on March 31st in a few days. They lost their mother, Claude from France, two years earlier. It was their grandmother, Louise de Savoie, who accompanied them to Bayonne. No doubt she explained to them that they were going to Spain so that the king could regain his freedom. No doubt she also promised them that they will be happy there and that they will come back soon.

On their arrival, the little princes are entrusted to the Duke of Frias, Constable of Castile. They are magnificently treated, at the expense, it is true, of the King of France. From Irún, they reach Vitoria, where Éléonore of Austria, the Emperor's sister, is preparing to leave for France in order to marry François 1st, in accordance with the Treaty of Madrid. Charles V is waiting for the ratification of the treaty to give the order to leave.

The weeks go by, and François 1er does not comply. He never intended to respect an agreement that amputates his kingdom from Burgundy. By forming a European coalition, he wants to bring Charles V to negotiate the terms of the treaty. The little hostages will have to wait.

To the emissaries of Venice and the Holy See, who wanted to join forces against the Emperor, the king said he was ready to leave his sons for two or three more years in Spain. They will be treated well, he adds, will be able to learn Spanish and form useful friendships. François Ier hopes to be able to recover his sons against a ransom in cash, but Charles V, furious at having been fooled, refuses. When, in July 1526, the Italian allies of France entered a campaign to drive the Imperials out of the Peninsula, Charles V ordered the Duke of Frias to lock up the little princes in his castle at Villalba. The situation of the children will deteriorate as the relationship between the King and the Emperor deteriorates. At first, the Dauphin François and his brother lived offshore in the vast fortress, surrounded by a retinue of seventy lords and officers, and one hundred and fifty subordinate servants. Their train is still worthy of their royal rank even if, the finances being exhausted, their Governor begins to save on everything.

In the summer of 1527, Lautrec's army entered Lombardy, and Charles V tightened surveillance around the hostages. Visits and communication with the outside world are now prohibited. Six months later, the conditions of detention suddenly worsen.

In retaliation for the official declaration of war by France and England, Charles V had the hostages transferred to the castle of Villalpando, near Zamora. Their French servants, imprisoned or under house arrest, were replaced by an exclusively Spanish entourage. François I sometimes has news of his sons through spies. They were seen on their way to church or bird hunting. Henri seems to give a hard time to his jailers: "He never does anything but knock and there is no man who can be master of it, saying in Spanish all the villainies in the world, as it was reported throughout the city ". To prevent any attempted kidnapping, surveillance is tightening.

The children are transferred from one castle to another. They are forbidden to go out and even to communicate with Eléonor, who tries to soften their lot. They are ultimately imprisoned in the castle of Pedrazza, in the province of Segovia, an old medieval fortress isolated in the mountains, wet and icy in winter. Window bars, rudimentary furniture, coarse food, constant surveillance, suspicious jailers. To destitution and boredom is undoubtedly added the terrible feeling of having been abandoned. On August 3, 1529, the Peace of Cambrai, or Peace of the Ladies was finally signed and Charles V finally agreed to release his hostages against a huge ransom of 2 million gold crowns, but it still took months to reunite the silver.

It was only on July 1, 1530, on the Bidassoa, that the money was given to the Emperor in exchange for the little princes and their future mother-in-law, Eléonor of Austria.

Death of the Dolphin

The Eighth Italian War (1536-1538)

When the Duke of Milan François II Sforza died on October 24, 1535, Philippe, son of Charles V, inherited the duchy, but François I also claimed possession. At the beginning of the year 1536, the King of France invaded the Duchy of Savoy and seized Turin. In response, Charles V invaded Provence and took Aix-en-Provence. In order to stop Charles Quint, the dolphin leaves with his father in the direction of Provence.

A game of Jeu de Paume in Lyon

At the beginning of August 1536, the king and the dolphin were in Lyon. On August 2, before leaving Lyon, the runner-up wants to play a final game of palm in the Ainay room. Despite a stormy and stifling heat, the prince does not dissuade himself and his opponent does not spare him either. At the end of the game, the Dauphin drinks a glass of ice water brought by his cupbearer, Count Sébastien de Montecucculli. He then experiences great weakness, is burning with fever and is breathing with difficulty. However, he finds the strength to follow his father and brothers.

On Thursday August 3, the king and his sons are in Vienna. The royal procession attends a blessing in the cathedral of Vienna and all the chroniclers note the pallor and the weakness of the dolphin. His doctors surrounded him and the worried Cardinal de Tournon gave him his own doctor, Jean Champier. The doctors are of the opinion that the prince cannot continue the journey on horseback to Valence and recommend the descent by boat on the Rhone. The boats leave on Saturday, August 5 in the morning. After a stop in St Vallier at the Poitiers, the dolphin is at its worst and the Cardinal de Tournon proposes to the procession to stop at the castle of Tournon.

The arrest and death in Tournon

Doctors are busy around the Dauphin François who is increasingly ill and we stop at Tournon at the invitation of the Cardinal. The king and his escort were probably greeted on August 7 by the Lady of Vissac, Countess of Tournon, a widowed dowager for 11 years, with his son Just II and his wife Claude de la Tour Turenne. Just II leaves his room on the ground floor to the Dauphin, whose windows face north and which adjoins the Beauregard tower.

The king left Tournon the next day (August 8), probably reassured about the health of the dolphin, and moved to Valence where he remained until September 10. The new honorary child of the Dauphin, Pierre de Ronsard, also joined at this time his father, Loys de Ronsard at the bedside.

The dolphin's condition worsened rapidly, he suffered terrible pains on his right side with intense fever. Doctors have little hope of saving him from what should be pleural pleurisy. Between seven and eight in the morning, after a night of agony, the dolphin breathes his last on August 10, 1536.

The remains of the dolphin will be stored for 11 years in the church of St Julien before joining that of his father in 1547 in the basilica of Saint Denis in Paris.


- François Ier: A king between two worlds, by Cédric Michon. Belin, 2018.

- La France de la Renaissance, by Arlette JOUANNA. Tempus, 2009.

Video: Versailles, le rêve dun roi Fr 2007 Fr2


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