Ask someone of the most notable figures in the 15th century and they may respond with: Jeanne d’Arc, Cosimo de Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, or those involved in the War of the Roses in England. However, there is one figure that is less recognizable, and yet he is personally connected to all those figures and events. That man is Rene d’Anjou, or ‘Good King Rene’.
A quick glance of his titles is enough to convince anyone that he held a significant amount of power, though some of his titles were titular, holding no real authority.
He was: 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, the King of Jerusalem. He was also listed as the Ninth Grand Master of the Prieuré de Sion, or Priory of Sion, right after Nicholas Flamel (Leonardo da Vinci is listed as the Twelfth).
A portrait of Rene of Anjou, the titular King of Naples. 1474. Public DomainHis title as Duke of Lorraine was confirmed by his suzerain, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, at Basel in 1434. Emperor Sigismund was the monarch who reconstituted the Imperial Order of the Dragon in 1408 and was a leader of resistance to the Catholic Church, doing his best to curtail the papal influence. It is perhaps most interesting that Rene d’Anjou was connected with both the Dragon Court and the Priory of Sion, while being the instigator of the Renaissance, and yet he is largely ignored by the history books. Why is not more known about him?
Portrait of Emperor Sigismund, painted after the emperor's death. Public DomainAlthough little is known today about Rene D'Anjou, it is said he was one of the most industrious and influential figures of his time, and for generations to follow. Chroniclers considered him a major impetus behind the phenomenon called the renaissance or, as some would say, "Rene's Essence".
Rene was the man that rode at Jeanne D'arc's side in her Crusade to Orleans. Jeanne was born in the town of Domremy in the Duchy of Bar—making her Rene’s subject. When she arrived at Vancouluers announcing her mission from God, she did not ask for safe passage from the commandant of Chinon, but rather an audience with the Duke of Lorraine—Rene’s father in law. She was granted an audience with him at Nancy and Rene d’Anjou was known to have been present. The Duke asked her what she wished and she replied, “Your son-in-law, a horse, and some good men to take me into France.”
Joan at the coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in 1854. Public Domain
Rene’s sister Maria was married to Charles VII of France—the Dauphin that Jeanne d’Arc fought for. Rene’s mother Iolande, the Dauphin’s mother-in-law, appointed herself Jeanne’s sponsor, insisting the court and Dauphin listen to the young girl. There has been an effort to erase Rene’s involvement with Jeanne d’Arc, yet many chroniclers claim he was with her during the Siege of Orleans. Certainly, his whereabouts and activities are not accounted for between 1429 and 1431.
It bears mentioning that Rene’s father in law, the Duc du Lorraine was also fighting in the Hundred Years War—AGAINST France. Thus those of the House of Anjou bore no allegiance to either side and were exemplary plotters, deftly moving through the violent political landscape of the pre-renaissance era.
Politicking aside, Rene was known for his love of the arts, and was obsessed with the Legend of the Grail, creating an aura of a fairy tale within his own court. An accomplished painter—a skill he developed while a hostage of the Duc du Burgundy, he painted self-portraits and dabbled in glass painting and interior decoration. He also was a writer, composing poems and mystical allegories such as “The Book of Love”, (“Le Cueur d'Amours Espris”). His first book though was “The Manual for the Perfect Organization of Tourneys”, an actual handbook.
When Rene heard that another noble lord had mocked him for his writings, saying: "It ill befits a prince to descend to such scribbler's work," Rene shot back: "Such words might come more fittingly from a bellowing bull than a noble prince."
Seeking always to promote the advancement of knowledge, he is credited with opening a school of the arts in his duchy. He also was knowledgeable of esoteric and hermetic tradition, employing a Jewish Astrologer, Cabalist and Physician by the name of Jean de Saint-Remy—by some accounts the great-grandfather of Nostradamus.
Rene also spent time in Italy tending to his domains. He was an intimate friend of the Ludovico Sforza (patron of Leonardo da Vinci) and became friends with Cosimo de Medici. While Rene was there, Cosimo embarked on an ambitious path that would change Western Civilization, sending agents all over the world to collect ancient manuscripts, opening the first public library in Europe: the Library of San Marco, and instructing the University of Florence to begin teaching Greek for the first time in 700 years.
They also opened a Philosophical school, teaching Platonic, Neo-Platonic, Pythagorean, Gnostic and Hermetic thought. All of which, combined with certain motifs in art and literature sponsored by these men, served as a catalyst for the renaissance and the continuance of the wresting of power from the Catholic Church begun by Sigismund.
Cosimo de Medici. Public DomainAnother luminous figure of that era that Rene knew was Christopher Columbus , who acknowledged in his journals that Rene gave him his first ship's commission, writing: “It happened to me that King Rene, whom God hath taken, sent me to Tunis to capture the galleass Fernandina; and being off the coast of Sardinia I [...etc.]”
His personal life was a happy one. Though he and Isabel of Lorraine were married as children, they had a happy marriage. While he was held hostage, she did not wait at home meekly, praying for his return. It was through her efforts he was finally freed. When she died, he was inconsolable, agreeing to go to war.
He found love again with Jeanne de Laval, a nobleman’s daughter 24 years younger than him. They retired to his estates, where he spent most of his time working on his literary creations; writing and illustrating his books. The fairy-tale court was once again alive, with a new mistress. Paintings of them are found, with one by the famed Master, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti.
King René’s Honeymoon Cabinet. René and Jeanne. This panel shows the Dante Gabrielle Rossetti designed representation of Music (lovers kissing over a harpsichord). Public DomainHe died at Aix-la-Chappele on July 10, 1480.
Rene had provided for a fitting tombstone at the Church of Saint 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 a scepter and orb, is halfway to being a skeleton already, his crown threatening to slip off his head.
Featured image: Statue of King Rene House of Valois-Anjou. Public Domain
- Van Berkel, T. Nostradamus, Astrology and the Bible. [Online] Available at: http://www.nostradamusresearch.org/en/nostr/ascendants.htm
- Preston Guise, C. Rene D'Anjou. [Online] Available at: http://kingrene.guice.org/renentro.html
- Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Arrow Books, Great Britain, 1982
- Gardner, Genesis of the Grail Kings, Bantam Press, United Kingdom, 1999
By Katrina Sisowath