Renée of France (1510–1575)

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Renée of France (1510–1575)

Duchess of Ferrara. Name variations: Renata of France; Renee of France; Renée of Ferrara; Renée, duchess of Ferraro; Renee, duchess of Italy; (Ital.) Renata di Francia. Born at Blois on October 25, 1510; died in 1575; second daughter of Louis XII, king of France (r. 1498–1515), and Anne of Brittany (1477–1514); sister of Claude de France (1499–1524); married Hercules II also known as Ercole II (1508–1559, future duke of Ferrara and son of Lucrezia Borgia), in 1528; children: Alfonso II (1533–1597), 5th duke of Ferrara and Modena; Cardinal Luigi d'Este (1538–1586); Anne of Ferrara (1531–1607, who married Francis of Lorraine, 2nd duke of Guise); Lucrezia d'Este (1535–1598, duchess of Urbino, who married Francesco Maria II della Rovere); Eleonora d'Este (1537–1581).

Renée of France was born in 1510, the second daughter of Louis XII, king of France, and Anne of Brittany . After being betrothed successively to Gaston de Foix, Charles of Austria (the future emperor Charles V), his brother Ferdinand, Henry VIII of England, and the elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, 18-year-old Renée was married with great pomp to Ercole II d'Este, son of the duke of Ferrara and Lucrezia Borgia ; Ercole succeeded his father six years later.

Renée's court became a rendezvous for men and women of letters; her closest friends were Vittoria Colonna and Margaret of Angoulême , queen of Navarre (related by marriage to Renée's sister Claude de France ). It was also a refuge for the persecuted French Calvinists. Renée had been raised by her governess Mme de Souboise and an Englishwoman, who had taught her the scriptures from the Wycliffe Bible. Thus, she received Clément Marot and John Calvin at her court, and finally embraced the reformed religion. Her husband, who viewed these proceedings with disfavor, had Calvin arrested for heresy, but Renée secretly backed an armed group who freed Calvin. Ercole then banished her friends, took her children from her, and threw her into prison. When Renée recanted and attended mass, she was released.

After her husband's death in 1559, Renée went back to France and turned her duchy of Montargis, 60 miles southeast of Paris, into a center for Protestantism. "She aided, succoured, and fed as many as she could," noted Saint-Beuve. During the wars of religion, she was harassed several times by Catholic troops, and in 1562 her château was besieged by her son-in-law Francis of Lorraine, 2nd duke of Guise, who referred to her castle as "a nest of Huguenots." Renée died at Montargis and was buried in the castle's chapel, where she and her fellow Protestants had worshipped for 16 years.

suggested reading:

Fontana, B. Renata di Francia. Rome, 1889.

Rodocanachi, E. Renée de France. Paris, 1896.