RENÉ I. (1409-1480), duke of Anjou, of Lorraine and Bar, count of Provence and of Piedmont, king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem, was born at Angers on the 16th of January 1409, the second son of Louis II., king of Sicily, duke of Anjou, count of Provence, and of Yolande of Aragon. Louis II. died in 1417, and his sons, together with their brother-in-law, afterwards Charles VII. of France, were brought up under the guardianship of their mother. The elder, Louis III., succeeded to the crown of Sicily and to the duchy of Anjou, René being known as the count of Guise. By his marriage treaty (1419) with Isabel, elder daughter of Charles II., duke of Lorraine, he became heir to the duchy of Bar, which was claimed as the inheritance of his mother Yolande, and, in 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, and, joining the French army at Reims in 1429, was present at the Coronation of Charles VII. When Louis of Bar died in 1430 René came into sole possession of his duchy, and in the next year, on his father-in-law's death, he succeeded to the duchy of Lorraine. But the inheritance was claimed by the heir-male, Antoine de Vaudémont, who with Burgundian help defeated René at Bulgnéville in July 1431. The Duchess Isabel effected a truce with Antoine de Vaudémont, 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, Jean and Louis of Anjou. His title as duke of Lorraine was confirmed by his suzerain, the 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. He had succeeded to the kingdom of Naples through the deaths of his brother Louis III. and of Jeanne II. de Duras, queen of Naples, the last heir of the earlier dynasty. Louis had been adopted by her in 1431, and she now left her inheritance to René. The marriage of Marie de Bourbon, niece of Philip of Burgundy, with John, duke of Calabria, 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 the Duchess Isabel. René's captivity, and the poverty of the Angevin resources due to his ransom, enabled Alphonso of Aragon, who had been first adopted and then repudiated by Jeanne II., to make some headway in the kingdom of Naples, especially as he was already in possession of the island of Sicily. In 1441 Alphonso laid siege to Naples, which he sacked after a six months' 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. at Nancy. René now made over the government of Lorraine to John, duke of Calabria, who was, however, only formally installed as duke of Lorraine on the death of Queen Isabel 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 XIV., count of Laval, and Isabel of Brittany, René took a less active part in public affairs, and devoted himself more to artistic and literary pursuits. The fortunes of his house declined in his old age. The duke of Calabria, after repeated misfortunes in Italy, was offered the crown of Aragon in 1467, but died, apparently by poison, at Barcelona on the 16th of December 1470; the duke's eldest son Nicholas perished in 1473, also under suspicion of poisoning; René's daughter Margaret was a refugee from England, her son Prince Edward was murdered in 1471, and she herself became a prisoner, to be rescued by Louis XI. in 1476. His only surviving male descendant was then René II., duke of Lorraine, son of his daughter Yolande, comtesse de Vaudémont, who 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. Louis seized Anjou and Bar, and two years later sought to compel the king of Sicily 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 the 10th of July 1480, his charities having earned for him the title of “the good.” He founded an order of chivalry, the Ordre du Croissant, which was anterior to the royal foundation of St Michael, but did not survive René.
The king of Sicily's fame as an amateur of painting has led to the attribution to him of many old paintings in Anjou and Provence, in many cases simply because they bear his arms. These works are generally in the Flemish style, and were probably executed under his patronage and direction, so that he may be said to have formed a school of the fine arts in sculpture, painting, gold work and tapestry. Two of the most famous works formerly attributed to René are the triptych, the “Burning Bush,” in the cathedral of Aix, showing portraits of René and his second wife, Jeanne de Laval, and an illuminated Book of Hours in the Bibliothéque nationale, Paris. The “Burning Bush” was in fact the work of Nicolas Froment, a painter of Avignon. Among the men of letters attached to his court was Antoine de la Sale, whom he made tutor to his son, the duke of Calabria. He encouraged the performance of mystery plays; on the performance of a mystery of the Passion at Saumur in 1462 he remitted four years of taxes to the town, and the representations of the Passion at Angers were carried out under his auspices. He exchanged verses with his kinsman, the poet Charles of Orleans. The best of his poems is the idyl of Regnault and Jeanneton, representing his own courtship of Jeanne de Laval. Le Livre des tournois, a book of ceremonial, and the allegorical romance, Conqueste qu'un chevalier nommé le Cuer d'amour espris feist d'une dame appelée Doulce Mercy, with other works ascribed to him, were perhaps dictated to his secretaries, or at least compiled under his direction. His Œuvres were published by the comte de Quatrebarbes (4 vols., Paris and Angers, 1845~46).
See A. Lecoy de la Marche, Le Roi René (2 vols., 1875); A. Vallet de Viriville, in the Nouvelle Biographie générale, where there is some account of the MSS. of his works; and j. Renouvier, Les Peintres et enlumineurs du roi René (Montpellier, 1857).