Emmanuel Macron, it seems, is a leader of France who has great personal charm and determination – enough charm, indeed, judged by their recent meeting, to delight even that most lumpen of creatures, his American counterpart, Donald Trump. He has much in common, then (except height), with King Francis I, who, according to the subtitle of Leonie Frieda’s new biography, was ‘the maker of modern France’.
That is a bold claim for Frieda to make. Francis, she asserts, has been neglected and languishes in an obscurity from which she undertakes to rescue him. She promised to do the same for Francis’s daughter-in-law Catherine de’ Medici, whose presence crowds unnecessarily into this book, in her 2004 biography of her. Whether Francis’s modern reputation actually needs rescuing is open to question.
In fact, Francis has been the subject of considerable research, scholarship and reappraisal over the quarter century since the 1994 quincentenary of his birth. This work has shown that the king was not entirely the sex-obsessed, quixotic airhead that the likes of the 19th-century historian Jules Michelet, the