René d'Anjou

René d'Anjou was a storybook prince and a legend in his own lifetime. He was a dreamer and a romantic who through fame and misfortune managed to maintain an aura of romantic splendor. In addition to being a royal duke and a titular king (known as Good King René), he was an artist and a poet. René was intelligent, attractive, sensitive, tolerant, and fatalistic. He saw himself as a chivalric knight. He enjoyed jousting and even serious fighting. He planned many tournaments and wrote a famous treatise on the form and devising of a tournament. Throughout his life he was surrounded by outstanding women: his formidable mother Yolande of Aragon, his two wives Isabelle of Lorraine and Jeanne de Laval, and his daughter Marguerite, queen of England.

René was born at Angers on January 9, 1409. His parents were Louis II duke of Anjou and Provence and Yolande of Aragon. In 1419 his granduncle, the Cardinal Louis duke of Bar, adopted him as inheritor of the duchy of Bar.

On October 34, 1420, when he was thirteen years old, René was married to Isabelle, the ten year old heiress of Lorraine. Isabelles parents were duke Charles II of Lorraine and Marguerite of Bavaria. At the time of Renés marriage, Charles the dauphin of France was married to Renés sister Marie and had lived at the Angevin court for five years. By the time René was twenty, in 1429, he and Isabelle had four children: Louis, Yolande, Jean, and Marguerite.

René was at the court of Lorraine in Nancy in 1428 when Jeanne d'Arc visited to ask duke Charles for assistance. She also requested that the dukes son (René) escort her to the court of the dauphin at Chinon. The duke offered Jeanne four francs and a black horse, which she gratefully accepted. René did not accompany her.

The following year, after Jeanne had relieved the siege of Orléans and escorted the dauphin to Reims, René was present for the coronation of his brother-in-law as Charles VII on July 17, 1429. After the ceremony René was knighted by the count of Clermont.

René was always in need of a quest, so in true chivalric tradition, he began his adventures in the retinue of the maid of Orléans. In August of 1429 he was campaigning against the English with Charles VII and Jeanne; on August 15 he led the main battle at Senlis; in September he was one of Jeannes captains at the siege of Paris. It was René, with the count of Clermont, who was sent by Charles VII to inform Jeanne that the siege of Paris was being withdrawn.

In June 1430, the sudden death of his granduncle, Cardinal Louis of Bar, made René the duke of Bar. Six months later, on January 25, 1431, duke Charles II the Bold of Lorraine died, and René claimed the dukedom in his wifes right. He was immediately involved in a fight for that right with his wifes uncle Antoine de Vaudémont, who defeated and captured René at the battle of Bulgnéville on July 2, 1431.

Antoine gave René over to his ally, duke Philippe the Good of Burgundy, who imprisoned René in a high tower of his château at Dijon. Here René passed the time by painting miniatures on glass, while his wife Isabelle took charge of his domains. He obtained a release by agreeing to the betrothal of his eldest daughter Yolande, then nine years old, to the heir of his rival, young Ferry de Vaudémont, with part of the disputed lands of Lorraine for the dowry. René also pledged to pay a ransom, give his two sons as hostages, and send Yolande to her mother-in-law to be. However, René was unable to raise the ransom and was forced to return to Burgundy. Soon after this, his second daughter Marguerite was betrothed to the son of the count of St. Pol.

In November 1434 duke Louis III of Anjou, Renés elder brother, died while campaigning for Giovanna II of Naples. René inherited Anjou and Provence and in addition claims to the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem, which Giovanna confirmed on her death in 1435. Philippe the Good refused to set René free, so the ambassadors for Naples crowned Isabelle, who set off immediately for Naples, where she found herself opposed by Alphonso of Aragon. Meanwhile René, who was still a prisoner, acted as mediator for the conference at Nevers between France and Burgundy. The agreement in principle reached at Nevers was the basis for the great international Conference at Arras.

In 1437, after pledging to pay a ransom of 400,000 ecus dor, René was finally set free. He set off on his new quest for the kingdoms of Naples, arriving there on May 18, 1438. After four years of almost continuous fighting, René was defeated and fled from Naples on June 2, 1442.

All these escapades left René with many titles and little money. Abandoning his dreams of conquest, René returned to France and began to consolidate his position at court. He and his brother, Charles count of Maine, became members of the royal council and companions of the king at festivals and tournaments. Some time in the early 1440s Agnès Sorel, who held a position in Renés household, caught the eye of Charles VII. In 1444 she became the first official mistress to a king of France, a position that further enhanced the Angevin influence at court.

In May 1444 Renés second daughter, Marguerite, was betrothed to king Henry VI of England as part of the negotiations for a truce in the Hundred Years War. In March of 1445 the proxy wedding ceremony was held at Nancy. René took part in these ceremonies and planned the tournaments that took place during the festivities.

After Marguerite became queen of England, René pressured her to pursuade her husband to give up Maine and English claims to Anjou. Henry VI agreed and promised Charles VII that he would cede Maine to France. This was very unpopular in England!

On February 28, 1453, Isabelle of Lorraine died at age 43. René was inconsolable, but then he met Jeanne de Laval, the twenty-one year old daughter of the Breton count of Laval, Guy XIV. Jeanne was rather plain and very pious, but the forty-five year old René was smitten. They were married September 10, 1454, at the Abbey of St. Nicholas at Angers and honeymooned at Saumur. For Jeanne, René wrote Regnault et Jeanneton, a pastoral ode of 10,000 verses. The poem presented a debate on love between a shepherd and a shepherdess with a pilgrim wayfarer as arbiter. François Villon was reported to have laughed when he read it and remarked that in his experience the shepherd girls of Anjou got to the point much more quickly. René also wrote Le Cavalier Coeur d Amour, a beautifully illustrated satire on courtly love. In 1456 François Villon visited Angers, but was not received, so he continued on to spend some time with Charles dOrléans.

Upon Isabelles death, Renés son Jean entered into full possession of Lorraine as Jean II. After this René spent most of his time in Provence, devoting himself to poetry and art. Between 1455 and 1460 he wrote a treatise on the forms and devising of tournaments after his series of splendid festivals. It is magnificently illustrated and may be seen in the Biblioteque Nationale at Paris.

In 1466 René was recognized by the Catalons of Northeastern Spain as their king, and his son Jean of Calabria set off for Spain to uphold the family rights.

René was in attendance at the famous meeting between queen Marguerite and the duke of Warwick at Angers on July 22, 1470.

On December 15, 1470, Jean of Calabria was killed while on a campaign in Spain, and that ended the Spanish pretensions.

René died at Aix-en-Provence July 10, 1480.

Marion Harris