Francesco I, the king who in 1515 succeeded Louis XII came to Italy in September of the same year to redeem the duke of Milan taken from France two years before as a result of the victory of the Holy League sponsored by Pope Giulio II. After the defeat of Massimiliano Sforza at Melegnano, the young king of nineteen years ruddy and ambitious, became one of the richest and most important regions of Italy. This, he believed, was the moment to make his bid for the imperial crown. Another young potentate had appeared on the European scene however. He was Carlo V, who had inherited Flanders and the Franca Contea from his father Philip of Habsburg and the kingdom of Spain from his mother, Giovanna la Pazza, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella.
Francesco I and Carlo V are two names that remain in the heads of all student for the important roles they played in history. Carlo was named emperor in 1519 at nineteen years of age and in May of 1525 defeated Francesco I after a resurgent conflict for domination. Almost everyone knows that after this conflict the king said the famous phrase, “I lost everything except honor”. Few have bothered to retrace all the places where he was held captive. At first he was placed in prison in the castle of Pizzighettone on the Adda river where the understanding Carlo, being himself young, concede to the thirty year old monarch the possibility of being surrounded by vivacious women not disposed to deprive him of the pleasures of feasts and orgies.
However, he was next transferred to the abbey in Cervara. Here, in an environment decidedly more austere, the king was assigned a cell. It is well knou’n that French kings, with the exception of a few less libertine and one saint, Louis IX, were quite licentious in their sentimental relationships. Francesco, for whom chastity was not a virtue, would have been able to make some sacrifices under these circumstances but he was compelled to abstain totally. In the cell and the monastery, he had only the monks as companions. His stay lasted just three days. The Spanish admiral Laval feared that Andrea Doria, at that moment still at the service of the French, before passing arms and funds for the Spanish, was able to free the king. He kept the entire monastery under strict control until he decided to lead astray the counterespionage effort and escort Francesco I with his fleet into the Gulf of La Spezia and from there continue on to Spain to bring his prisoner to Madrid.
For the successive development of the wars between Francesco I and Carlo V I suggest that the reader consult more exhaustive books of history. I’m sure that the few anecdotes we have recounted here are known to only a few.
Portofino, a World apart.