Rene of Anjou - the Littlefinger of the pre-Renaissance Game of Thrones
Ask someone of the most notable figures in the 15 th 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 Domain
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His 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 Domain
Although 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.
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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."