Traditionally envisioned as the dawning of a new age characterized by the rebirth of classical learning and the arts, the Renaissance is often said to have been transported into France from Italy during the last decades of the 15th century and to have reached its peak there during the reign of King Francis I (r. 1515–1547), after which it quickly faded as the darkening clouds of religious dissent and civil war extinguished its optimistic spirit. Putting a terminal date to the French Renaissance is nevertheless not easy. The skepticism expressed in Montaigne’s essays, first published in 1580, suggests that the coming of war did not so much bring an end to Renaissance creativity as to change its tone. Renaissance culture in France must thus be viewed within the broader context of the kingdom’s social, economic, and political history between the late 15th and early 17th centuries. That is what this entry attempts to do. For more detailed discussion of religious issues and the Wars of Religion in France, see The Reformation and Wars of Religion in France.
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