RENÉE, re-nê', OF FRANCE (RENATA OF FERRARA): French Protestant, daughter of King Louis XII. of France and wife of Ercole II., duke of Ferrara; b. at Blois (100 m. s.w. of Paris) Oct. 25, 1510; d. at Montargis (38 m. e. of Orléans) June 12, 1575. Having been early orphaned, she was brought up by the devout Madame de Soubise. She was married in Apr., 1528, and received from Francis I. an ample dowry and annuity. Thus the court that she assembled about her in Ferrara corresponded to the tradition which the cultivation of science and art implicitly required, including scholars like Bernardo Tasso and Fulvio Pellegrini. Her first child, Anna, born in 1531, was followed by Alfonso, in 1533; Lucrezia, 1535; after these, Eleonora and Luigi; whose education she carefully directed. In 1534 the old duke died, and Ercole succeeded to the throne. Hardly had he rendered his oath of allegiance to the pope when he turned against the French at his own court. Both their number and influence displeased him; and, besides, he found them too expensive; so he by direct or indirect means secured their dismissal, including the poet Clément Marot. And while the Curia was urging the duke to put away the French that were suspected of heresy, there came to Ferrara no less a heretic than John Calvin, whose journey to Italy must have fallen in Mar. and Apr., 1536. Calvin passed several weeks at the court of Renée, though the persecution had already begun, and about the same time a chorister by the name of Jehannet, also one Cornillan, of the attendants of the duchess, together with a cleric of Tournay, Bouchefort, were taken prisoners and tried. In a "man of small stature," whom the Inquisition likewise seized as under suspicion, although he made his escape, is to be recognized not Calvin, but Clément Marot.
McCrie, Bonnet, and others have asserted that Renée's attitude toward the Reformation in Italy was favorable. Fontana, reinforced by much new material, has strongly combatted this view, although he must admit that the visit of Calvin speaks against his contention. Cornelius also combats the inference drawn from Calvin's visit. But both Fontana and Cornelius were unacquainted with the decisive documents brought to light by Paolo Zendrini in 1900. These show that Renée was not only in correspondence with a very large number of Protestants abroad, with intellectual sympathizers like Vergerio, Camillo Renato, Giulio di Milano, and Francisco Dryander, but also that on two or three occasions, about 1550 or later, she partook of the Lord's Supper in the Evangelical manner together with her daughters and fellow believers. Meanwhile, notwithstanding its external splendor, her life had grown sad. The last of her French guests, the daughter and son-in-law of Madame de Soubise of Pons, had been obliged, in 1543, by the constraint imposed by the duke, to leave the court. The drift of the Counter-Reformation, which had been operative in Rome since 1542, led to the introduction of a special court of the Inquisition at Ferrara, in 1545, through which, in 1550 and 1551, death sentences were decreed against Evangelical sympathizers (Fannio of Faenza and Giorgio of Sicily), and executed by the secular arm. Finally Duke Ercole lodged accusation against Renée before King Henry II. of France, and through the Inquisitor Oriz, whom the king charged with this errand, Renée was arrested as a heretic, and declared forfeit of all possessions unless she recanted. She thereupon yielded, made confession on Sept. 23, 1554, and once again received communion at mass. "How seldom is there an example of steadfastness among aristocrats," wrote Calvin to Farel under date of Feb. 2, 1555.
Renée's longing to return home was not satisfied until a year following the death of her husband on Oct. 3, 1559. In France she found her eldest daughter's husband, François de Guise, at the head of the Roman Catholic party. His power, indeed, was broken by the death of Francis II., in Dec., 1560, so that Renée became enabled not only to provide Evangelical worship at her estate, Morntargis, engaging a capable preacher by application to Calvin, but also generally to minister as benefactress of the surrounding Evangelicals. In fact, she made her castle a refuge for them, when her son-in-law once again lighted the torch of war. This time her conduct won Calvin's praise (May 10, 1563), and she is one of the frequently recurring figures in his correspondence of that period; he repeatedly shows recognition of her intervention in behalf of the Evangelical cause; and one of his last writings in the French tongue, despatched from his deathbed (Apr. 4, 1564), is addressed to her. While Renée continued unmolested in the second religious war (1567), in the third (1568-70) her castle was no longer respected as an asylum for her fellow believers. On the other hand, she succeeded in rescuing a number of them from the massacre of St. Bartholomew's night, when she happened to be in Paris. They left her personally undisturbed at that time; though Catherine de'Medici still sought to move her to retract. But she died in the Evangelical faith. In consonance with Renée's last fifteen years, her will (given by Bonet-Maury in the Revue historique, 1894) bears witness of her Evangelical goodness.