René D'Anjou, [1409- 1480] although little known today, was one of the most industrious and influential figures of his time and for generations to follow. His life encompassed the conquest of Normandy by Henry V and its reconquest by Charles VII, the rise and fall of the Duchy of Burgundy, and the Renaissance of the Italian city-states. He had ties to royal houses not only in France but also in England and Spain: his sister married Charles VII of France and his daughter married Henry VI of England. But his great ambition, to repossess the Angevin kingdom of Sicily, was ultimately unsuccessful, and even before his death his lands and titles were being reclaimed by the king of France.
Chief the three royals; Hungary, Sicily (Anjou ancient) and Jerusalem.
Point the three duchies; Anjou, Bar and Lorraine
As you can see from his coat of arms of 1434-1453, he came in the course of his life to hold an awesome array of titles. Among the most important were Count of Bar, Count of Provence, Count of Piedmont, Count of Guise, Duke of Calabria, Duke of Lorraine, Duke of Anjou, King of Hungary, King of Sicily, King of Aragon, King of Valencia, King of Majorca, King of Sardinia and most resonant of all: King of Jerusalem.
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 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. This is the first meeting of Jeane and René that history records. Yet René was the future lord of both Bar and Lorraine and Domremy, the town where Jeanne was born and raised lay within his demesnes. She knew him by sight and requested of Duke Charles that 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. But history does not record that René travelled with her to Chinon. Duke Charles was allied with Phillip of Burgundy and the English. If René were to accompany her he would have to do so secretly. Of the men who are recorded as providing her escort only one lacks any documentation of a life before or after the the journey to Chinon: Colet de Vienne, the supposed king's messenger. As René appears at Chinon later to join the army Jeanne leads to Orleans, he could have made the trip with her in disguise as the king's messenger.
Someone had to have taught Jeanne how to wear and ride with armor, how to use a lance and a sword. Is it not possible that it was René who did so? His sister was married to the dauphin Charles of France. His mother,Yolande d'Aragon, was the young king to be's most ardent supporter. History supports the argument that Yolande recruited and used female agents, Jeanne among them, to further her family's ambitions. Who better than her son to train this most important instrument of all. As a well known prophecy of the time promised: A maid (sacred virgin) from the marches of Lorraine would deliver France from the English. When Jeanne arrived at Chinon it was Yolande who championed her cause against all of Charles doubting councillors.
Jeanne D'Arc relieved the siege of Orléans not through any strength of arms or use of superior strategy, for she sorely lacked any tactical knowledge whatsoever. What she did - what her purpose was - was to reassure the demoralized French troops that God was on their side.
The following year René and Jeanne escorted the dauphin to Reims. René attended, in honor, 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. This was René's first open, public break with his father-in-law and most importantly, with Phillipe the powerful Duke of Burgundy. René's actions in support of his family ambitions would cost him dearly later.
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 wife's right. He was immediately involved in a fight for that right with his wife's uncle Antoine de Vaudémont who was supplied with soldiers by the Duke of Burgundy. Vaudémontdefeated and captured René at the battle of Bulgnéville on July 2, 1431. I like to think these troubles are what kept René from attempting to rescue Jeanne.
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, the Tour de Bar (the only one of René's title the duke would acknowledge). Here René passed the time by painting miniatures on glass, possibly under the tutelage of Jan Van Eyk, 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.
For many years the Western mind had access to only one source of thinking. Thinking was pre-packaged and served as "absolute truth" and all of education consisted merely of learning the thinking as it was served and repeating it - verbatim. Any attempt to do one's own thinking, or to explore ideas creatively, or to try to improve them, was ruthlessly persecuted as heresy. Millions were bullied and at least a million (mostly women) were roasted or drowned by the Inquisition, even the powerful Knights Templar were crushed. This infamous period of Western history became known as The Dark Ages.
It was René d'Anjou who broke the monopoly on the ownership and dissemination of thinking. This feat began a program for the advancement of knowledge which changed the course of history right up until the present day. Rene, criticised, even threatened by elitists for selling thinking, started the phenomenon we now call the Renaissance.
Using his numerous Italian possessions as a base of operations, Rene spent many years in Italy. He inspired sponsorship from the ruling Sforza family of Milan and his friend Cosimo de Medici and he got them to send their agents all over the world in quest of ancient manuscripts.
As a result, in 1444, Cosimo opened Europe's first public library! The Library of San Marco now made available, for the first time, the thinking and ideas that had been suppressed for centuries. Translations of Platonic, Neo-Platonic, Pythagorea, Gnostic and Hermetic thought were now readily accessible at last. This first public library burst apart the thinking cartel of the Dark Ages!
At René's suggestion Cosimo also instructed the University of Florence to begin teaching Greek for the first time in Europe for seven hundred years. He established many academies throughout Italy which sought to add value to the knowledge that existed by freedom of thought, exploration and research, and the general inprovement of thinking as it then stood. This operation to improve the quality of thinking was successful. It broke the Church's monopoly on thinking and the new "quest for excellence" became the theme for the high culture of the Renaissance which rapidly began to blossom.
But success and achievement eluded him on the field of battle. 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. There is no doubt in my mind that Sorel was an agent of Yolande D' Anjou. Unfortunately, future French kings would not benefit from this new female power behind the throne who in many ways would be more powerful than any queen (most of which would be foreigners) as Charles VII did. Madame de Maintenon and Madame the Pompadour, mistresses to Louis XIV and Louis XV respectively, did much harm to France through their interference.
In addition to some poetry, three works can be attributed to René of Anjou: the Mortiffiement de Vaine Plaisance, The Mortification of Vain Pleasures, a religious allegory with gnostic overtones (1455); the Livre du Cuer d'Amours Espris, a romantic allegory also in a gnostic vein (1457); and the Forme et Devis d'un Tournoy, an entirely practical treatise on how to hold a tournament (1460). All three works were written during a period when René was a central figure at the court of his brother-in- law, King Charles VII.
In May 1444 René's 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.
During the occasional pauses in two decades of fighting with the English, René organized several of the most famous and extravagent tournaments of the mid-fifteenth century. Among them were a tourney at Nancy in 1445, on the occasion of the marriage of his two daughters Marguerite and Yolande; the Emprise de la Gueule du Dragon at Razilly in 1446; the Emprise de la Joyous Garde, at Saumur, also in 1446; and the Pas de la Bergère, in 1449, at Tarascon. Already known as a writer and a patron, René may have been inspired by the publication of Antoine de la Sale's treatise on the tournament in 1458 to write a treatise of his own, "a little treatise ... on the form and way in which I think a tourney ought to be undertaken at court or elsewhere in the marches of France ...."
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 Isabelle's death, René's 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.
René's court at Aix-en-Provence was steeped in esoteric tradition. His court included a wise Jewish astrologer, Cabalist and physician known as Jean de Saint-Remy who was the grandfather of Nostradamus and another physician, the father of Leonardo de Vinci. For some time, René employed a young Christopher Columbus. Columbus credits good King René with giving him his first command at nineteen! Command of a ship at such a young age, especially for a former carder of wool with no naval experience, was unprecedented. One must wonder what further connections existed between the two or what secrets they shared that are now lost to history.
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.
René died at Aix-en-Provence July 10, 1480.
Rene had provided for a fitting tombstone at the Church of Sain Maurice in Angers during his lifetime. Above the marble tomb was affixed one of his own large paintings, showing a dying king on a throne. The figure, holding scepter and orb, is halfway to being a skeleton already, his crown threatening to slip off the head leaning to one side. It is an indictment of the foolishness of placing any value on wordly possesions and trapping, even one's own body.
This memorial was destroyed during the French Revolution.
Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky promised himself he would one day set the story in a play called "King René's Daughter" by Henrik Hertzit, to music. He remained true to that promise; "Iolanta," named after the princess, was the composer's last operatic masterpiece composed in 1892.
The beautiful Princess Ioanta (Yolande) is protected in a secret place to keep her from realizing that she is blind. Placed there since birth by her well-intentioned father, King René, the princess is surrounded by people who conspire to keep her in a state of ignorance by never mentioning light or the fact that they can see. Blind Princess Iolanta, betrothed in infancy to the Duke of Burgundy, has never been told of her blindness by command of her father, King René of Provence. On the very same day that a doctor arrives to restore Iolanta's sight, the Duke turns up too with his best friend Vaudémont, who falls for Iolanta like a terrier down a rabbit hole. Insisting that Iolanta will see only if she really wants to, the doctor declares a cure unlikely since Iolanta's ignorance has brought her happiness as she is.
On discovering Iolanta's blindness, the smitten hero spills the beans to her with a rapturous comparison between light and love, which makes instantaneous (though unlikely) sense to his beloved. King René contrives a strategy to encourage motivation even further - he says Vaudémont must die if Iolanta isn't cured (though he has no real intention of carrying out the threat.) The ploy succeeds flawlessly of course; and when Burgundy declares that he loves another actually, if nobody minds too much that is, he is immediately released from his engagement by kindly old King René so that everyone lives happily ever after
Aside from the obvious gnostic parables in this tale, Tchaikovsky wrote another opera, The Maid of Orleans, based of course on Jeanne D'Arc. Obviously that period and its singular personages captured his interest, as it did mine. Perhaps for the same reasons? Did he also see more there than history has made apparant?
It is from Rene d'Anjou, and his title to Hungary, that the modern Cross of Lorraine - the symbol of the Free French Forces adopted by Charles DeGaulle against Hitler in the Second World War - ultimately derives. When he became Duke of Lorraine, the now familiar cross with its two horizontal bars became his personal device.
Throughout his life René was surrounded by outstanding women: his formidable mother Yolande of Aragon, his two wives Isabelle of Lorraine and Jeanne de Laval, his daughter Marguerite, queen of England, and of course Jeanne D'arc. René venerated Mary Magdalen above all other saints and historical figures. Was this respect and admiration he accorded to women an aberration? Or did he follow gnostic teachings about Sophia and believe that wisdom spoke in a woman's voice?
René employed cabalists, astrologers, sorcerers, and alchemists. And of course, a few priests. Like most nobles of the time, and indeed most of the rural peasantry, he was to all intents and purposes, a heretic. It was the burgeoning middle class, much the same as inhabits suburbia today, who whole-heartedly embraced the establishment. In their case, the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church. René was like today's celebrities, exploring all avenues of faith open to him. There is no evidence he was the head of the Priory de Sion, as they state in their literature, and he certainly didn't appear to follow any hidden agendas other than the advancement of his family's fortunes. In any event, even without the embelishment of secret societies, conspiracies and mysteries, the historical record of the life of RenéD'Anjou makes him, to me, the most interesting historical figure of all.