The Castle of Angers, René's birthplace.
René was born on January 16, 1409 in the castle of Angers. He was the second son of Duke Louis II of Anjou, King of Sicily (comprising Naples and other parts of southern Italy), by Yolanda of Aragon. René was the brother of Marie of Anjou, who married the future Charles VII and became Queen of France.
Louis II died in 1417 and his sons, together with their brother-in-law Charles, were brought up under the guardianship of their mother. The elder son, Louis III, succeeded to the crown of Sicily and the Duchy of Anjou, René being known as the Count of Guise. In 1419, by his marriage treaty with Isabella, elder daughter of Charles II, Duke of Lorraine, René became heir to the Duchy of Bar, which was claimed as the inheritance of his mother Yolande, and, by right of his wife, heir to the Duchy of Lorraine.
René, then only ten, was to be brought up in Lorraine under the guardianship of Charles II and Louis, cardinal of Bar, both of whom were attached to the Burgundian party, but he retained the right to bear the arms of Anjou. He was far from sympathizing with the Burgundians. Joining the French army at Reims in 1429, he was present at the consecration of Charles VII. When Louis of Bar died in 1430, René came into sole possession of his duchy. The next year, on his father-in-law's death, he succeeded to the duchy of Lorraine. The inheritance was contested by the heir-male, Antoine de Vaudemont, who with Burgundian help defeated René at Bulgneville in July 1431. The Duchess Isabella effected a truce with Antoine, but the duke remained a prisoner of the Burgundians until April 1432, when he recovered his liberty on parole on yielding up as hostages his two sons, John and Louis.
René's title as duke of Lorraine was confirmed by his suzerain, Emperor Sigismund, at Basel in 1434. This proceeding roused the anger of the Burgundian duke, Philip the Good, who required him early in the next year to return to his prison, from which he was released two years later on payment of a heavy ransom. At the death of his brother Louis III in 1435, he succeeded to the Duchy of Anjou and County of Maine. Joanna II, queen of Naples, had adopted Louis III in 1431 and now offered to permit René to inherit her kingdom in his place. The marriage of Marie of Bourbon, niece of Philip of Burgundy, with John, Duke of Cambria, René's eldest son, cemented peace between the two princes. After appointing a regency in Bar and Lorraine, he visited his provinces of Anjou and Provence, and in 1438 set sail for Naples, which had been held for him by his wife, the Duchess Isabel.
The castle of Baugé, home castle of René, Duke of Anjou, in the village of Baugé, Maine-et-Loire
René, as a vassal, paying homage to the King of France.
The court of honour in the chateau at Tarascon
, with vestiges of the busts of René and Jeanne de Laval on the right
René of Naples with his army.
René's captivity, and the poverty of the Angevin resources due to his ransom, enabled Alfonso V of Aragon, who had been first adopted and then repudiated by Joanna II, to make some headway in the kingdom of Naples, especially as he was already in possession of the island of Sicily. In 1441 Alfonso laid siege to Naples, which he sacked after a six-month siege. René returned to France in the same year, and though he retained the title of king of Naples his effective rule was never recovered. Later efforts to recover his rights in Italy failed. His mother Yolande, who had governed Anjou in his absence, died in 1442.
René took part in the negotiations with the English at Tours in 1444, and peace was consolidated by the marriage of his younger daughter, Margaret, with Henry VI of England at Nancy.
René now made over the government of Lorraine to his son John, who was, however, only formally installed as Duke of Lorraine on the death of Queen Isabella in 1453. René had the confidence of Charles VII, and is said to have initiated the reduction of the men-at-arms set on foot by the king, with whose military operations against the English he was closely associated. He entered Rouen with him in November 1449, and was also with him at Formigny and Caen.
After his second marriage with Jeanne de Laval, daughter of Guy of Laval and Isabella of Brittany, René took a less active part in public affairs, devoting himself to composing poetry and painting miniatures, gardening and raising animals. The fortunes of his house declined in his old age: in 1466, the rebellious Catalans offered the crown of Aragon to René. His son John, unsuccessful in Italy, was sent to take up the conquest of that kingdom but died—apparently by poison—at Barcelona on 16 December 1470. John's eldest son Nicholas perished in 1473, also under suspicion of poisoning. In 1471, René's daughter Margaret was finally defeated in the Wars of the Roses. Her husband and her son were killed and she herself became a prisoner who had to be ransomed by Louis XI in 1476.
René II, Duke of Lorraine, Rene's grandson and only surviving male descendant, was gained over to the party of Louis XI, who suspected the king of Sicily of complicity with his enemies, the Duke of Brittany and the Constable Saint-Pol.
René retired to Provence and in 1474 made a will by which he left Bar to his grandson René II, Duke of Lorraine; Anjou and Provence to his nephew Charles, count of Le Maine. King Louis XI seized Anjou and Bar, and two years later sought to compel René to exchange the two duchies for a pension. The offer was rejected, but further negotiations assured the lapse to the crown of the duchy of Anjou and the annexation of Provence was only postponed until the death of the Count of Le Maine. René died on 10 July 1480 at Aix. He was buried in the cathedral of Angers. In the 19th century, historians bestowed on him the epithet "the good".
He founded an order of chivalry, the Ordre du Croissant, which preceded the royal foundation of St Michael but did not survive René.