Renée was born on 25 October 1510 at the Château de Blois, Blois, Touraine and was the second daughter of Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany. Anne, who had always fought fiercely to keep Brittany independent of the French crown, tried to will the duchy to Renée, but Louis disagreed, so the Duchy passed to her elder sister, Claude.
Her early education was undertaken by her governess, Michelle de Saubonne, Madame de Soubise. Saubonne was a partisan of Anne of Brittany and opposed to Anne's enemy, Louise of Savoy; so, after the death of Renée's parents, Louise and her son, Francis I of France, had Saubonne sacked. Renée never forgot this, and when she married, she took Saubonne with her.
In return for renouncing her claims to the duchy of Brittany, Renée was granted the duchy of Chartres by Francis. As a child, one of her companions was the young Anne Boleyn, whom Renée always remembered with kindness and affection. She was considered as a possible bride for King Henry VIII.