The Effectiveness of the French Monarchs in Dealing with Religious Issues
This era witnessed clashes between the Catholic Church and the Crown.
The position of the King in this was very difficult. The King was
Catholic and expected to uphold the Catholic Church in his kingdom.
But what if the power of the Catholic Church was seen to be
encroaching on the power of the crown? The Valois kings were very
explicit in their beliefs - they wanted France before Rome. There was
never a spiritual challenge to the power of the pope but his political
power was always being challenged and avoided in France. The clash had
started as early as 1438 with Charles VII and eventually ended with
the Concordat of Bologna under Francis I.
At the start of the 16th Century the Roman Catholic Church was very
powerful in Western Europe. Anyone who was against it was labelled a
heretic and burned at the stake. It did not tolerate deviance from
its teachings. It was so powerful because it relied on ignorance and
superstition on the part of the populace. It had been drummed into
the people that they could only get to heaven via the Church.
Francis I’s reign coincided with the beginnings of the Protestant
reformation. Throughout his lifetime he was opposed to Heresy. His
main difficulty was to discover what constituted as heresy. Until the
mid 16th Century the Catholic Church was unable to give a precise
definition. In France there were many humanists and scholars who had
developed theological ideas and Francis was sympathetic to these ideas
and encouraged them in their work.
In April 1521 the University of Paris condemned Martin Luther for his
’95 theses’ and the Parlement began to charge humanists as heretics.
As both institutions had opposed the growth of absolutism, Francis did
all he could to block their persecution – if he could undermine the
authority of both institutions he could then advance his own cause at
The King did not have to accept any definition of heresy if it clashed
with other principles to which he was attactched.
May 1523 Parlement searched the home of a young scholar Louis de
Berquin who was in possession of books by Luther and other reformers.
Francis allowed the Sorbonne to examine Berquins own writings but
The Emperor took Francis prisoner in 1525. Whilst he was imprisoned
Parlement began harassing the circle de Meaux despite letters from
Francis ordering a suspension of proceedings against them. They were
forced into exile. Louis de Berquin was arrested again in 1526 but no
sentence was passed because Francis was returning to France. Francis
began reasserting his authority after an attempt by the Sorbonne and
Parlement to encroach upon his power.
In March 1528 Berquins trial was resumed. The Sorbonne announced the