The future King Francis I of France was born on 12 September 1494, the eldest and only son of of Charles, Count of Angoulême, and Louise of Savoy. The infant was a paternal great-great-grandson of King Charles V of France but no one thought that with so many male heirs to the throne of France still alive and of breeding age that the newborn Francis would ever be crowned. However, fate is fickle and just a few years later King Louis XII, who had only two living daughters that could not inherit the crown under Salic Law, named Francis his heir in 1498 and invested the four year old little boy with the title of Duke of Valois.
King Louis wanted his eldest daughter, Claude, to be be queen even if she could not rule the country by law so he arranged her marriage to Francis in the spring of 1514. Louis passed away a few months later, leaving Francis and Claude to become king and queen of France in January of 1515.
Francis, like most French kings before him, kept his wife perpetually pregnant and entertained mistresses. As was done at the time, these mistresses were named and and given official (and reasonably honorable) positions as royal bedwarmers. Nevertheless, Francis appears to have been fond of his wife and none of his mistresses obtained real power until Claude died.
You know who who never named as one of Francis’s paramours? A young English visitor and lady in waiting to his wife by the name of Mary Boleyn.
What? How can this be?? Everyone “knows” that Francis called Mary his “English mare” because he had ridden her so much!
Yeah, about that … do you know how scanty the historical “evidence” is for Mary’s relationship King Francois of France? The only report of her supposed affaire with Frances that was actually given by a person alive at the same time as Mary Boleyn was written in a letter by Rodolfo Pio (the Bishop of Faenza) to Prothonotary Ambrogio on the 10th March 1536 (LP x.450): “Francis said also that they are committing more follies than ever in England, and are saying and printing all the ill they can against the Pope and the Church; that “that woman” pretended to have miscarried of a son, not being really with child, and, to keep up the deceit, would allow no one to attend on her but her sister, whom the French king knew here in France ‘per una grandissima ribalda et infame sopre tutte.’”
As I point out in my book, The Jezebel Effect, this claim is probably hogwash. Mary was in France from around 1514 to 1519, more than twenty years before the letter was written, and at no time in those four years was Mary Boleyn ever listed by a contemporary as one of his mistresses. Moreover, if Francis had deflowered the daughter of an English ambassador, at the very least the Boleyn family would have been given “gifts” to compensate them for her virginity … gifts that were never given. There is no indication that Mary had attracted much attention at the French court or that she was promiscuous in any way. Additionally, Pio’s assertions that Anne Boleyn didn’t miscarry in January of 1536 and that Mary was the only one to attend her are demonstrably false; why, then, is the final part of a sentence full of disproved rumors given so much credence? Mary Boleyn’s history as a “great slut” came about only when insulting her could become a way for Catholics and proponents of Henry VIII’s first wife to denigrate her sister, Anne Boleyn, by insinuating both siblings were loose-legged trollops.
Francis was a significant French king and a particular thorn in the side of King Henry VIII of England, but of all his accomplishments bedding Mary Boleyn was almost certainly not among them.