Frieda’s biography of Francis I is certainly on the popular history end, and is well written and accessible. Moreover, not only did I find it accessible, but it gave me some desire to get back to Here I Stand, which covers the period, and includes much of what she goes into.

However, she does not deliver on her promises in the subtitle or the introduction. Freida mentions she first got interested in Francis by seeing his symbol (a flame-wreathed salamander) everywhere in buildings while doing research. This shows the impact and involvement he had on France at the time, all the projects he had some sort of hand in. And not much of this really shows in the main part of the book. Similarly, she does not really show how he determined the course of France in the Renaissance, which would earn him the title of ‘maker of modern France’.

Coverage of the period in general also suffers, with very little attention paid to the rising religious tensions in France. (In fact, if not for the Affair of the Placards, you might not realize the Reformation is happening at all.)

She is much more successful in showing Francis as a person, and some of the court around him. She also shows how much of his reign was defined by his continual rivalry with Emperor Charles V, and how it affected the future Henri II. Francis I is largely known as a poor king and person for some very good reasons, but Frieda does a very good job of rounding out his personality and accomplishments, and while this book isn’t a great look at the early 16th Century in France, it is a good look at Francis himself, and is recommended as a deeper look into the person.