article | Reading time12 min
article | Reading time12 min
In Anjou, it is impossible to miss the "good" King René. But do you really know the history of this king "without crown" ?
King René is a historical character present in many regions of France: in Lorraine, in Provence, and in Anjou of course, where he was born in 1409!
He was the son of Yolande of Aragon and Duke Louis II of Anjou. Great-grandson of King Jean II Le Bon, he is part of the family of the kings of France. Supposed companion of Joan of Arc, he was very close to the dauphin Charles VII with whom he was raised and whose brother-in-law he became.
In Anjou, René is a duke. But this is not the only territory he owns: he is also Count of Provence, Duke of Bar and Lorraine.
He also inherited the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily and the title of king of Jerusalem . His daughter Marguerite became queen of England.
In the 15th century, René was a key figure in the political history of Europe!
What Shakespeare says about him in his play Henry VI is in fact not far from the truth...
Despite his many titles and territories, René struggled to exercise his power. In Italy, King Alfonso V of Aragon contested his possessions: these incessant campaigns would eventually ruin him.
Even in Anjou, his "reign" ended in failure: with no legitimate descendants, René had to cede the duchy to his nephew, King Louis XI of France, in accordance with the tradition of the apanage . He was forced to leave Anjou in 1471 for his county of Provence where he died in 1480.
It will take all the ingenuity of his second wife Jeanne de Laval to exfiltrate Rene under the nose and the beard of the Provençals, and to bring back his heart and his body to Angers, according to his last will.
The History retains especially today of Rene his love for the arts.
Author of a treatise on tournaments and novels, the last Duke of Anjou was indeed a literate prince and a collector. He owns many books, scientific objects or from the East, a large princely menagerie...
This known taste for arts was sometimes the object of caricatures. A historian of the XVIIth century will thus describe René as more busy painting a partridge than listening to his advisers who report the capture of Naples...
In truth, René did not engage in such artistic activities himself. As was common in the great princely courts of that time, and even if we do not yet speak of "patronage", he commissioned works of art and made artists work.
In Angers, in the heart of his private apartments in the royal dwelling, he welcomed the painter Barthelemy d'Eyck.
Within the castle, René built the châtelet and the royal dwelling, two buildings representative of the refinement of the flamboyant Gothic style.
Around Angers, he launched the fashion for country manors and founded the convent of La Baumette, which testifies to his piety and his attachment to the protection of mendicant orders.
René was also a botanical lover. In this territory of horticultural innovation that is today Anjou, he is considered a pioneer of plants: he acclimatized species such as the hackberry tree, the Provins rose, the apricot tree, the muscatel...
This figure, again often exaggerated, of "king gardener" will be widely used by historians to glorify René.
In Anjou and Provence, where the remains of the deceased king were disputed, the death of René was synonymous with the loss of the status of principality, and therefore of prestige.
In the castle, the death of this prince marked the end of the Angevin court: after René, the site would only serve as a prison or garrison. What a feeling of nostalgia ! 50 years after his death, the historian Jean de Bourdigné describes René as "a lover of peace and harmony" whom the "poor Angevins" still mourn.
Scoffed at or celebrated, the memory of this character will be reactivated according to the political changes. Under the Restoration For example, the old monarchic figures, victims of the revolutionary iconoclasm, were glorified The destruction of the mausoleum of René in 1794 in the cathedral of Angers had marked the Angevins.
Despite the reservations of some historians of the time who judged the Duke of Anjou severely, the 19th century definitively established the figure of "Good King René".
In 1845, the complete works of the sovereign were republished. The profits are used to finance a statue project. The sculptor David d'Angers, a famous Republican who paradoxically had a passion for this king, was one of the artists solicited. The statue was inaugurated in Angers in 1853.
It is still today one of the emblematic images of the city and a spatial landmark for the inhabitants. The young and proud René, who sits at the foot of the castle, has a square haircut, totally anachronistic, borrowed from the fashion of the time of Saint Louis (13th century).
Like the expression "Good King René", it perfectly illustrates the fantasy of the Middle Ages that was popularized by the Romanticism of the 19th century.
Have you ever heard this expression? It is the nickname sometimes given to the castle of Angers. However, the history of the construction of the latter is far from being limited to the 15th century.
The six centuries that separate us from René have in fact contributed greatly to his legend, helping to make him the emblematic figure of Anjou today.