Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Renée of France

The Bible is transparent about the failings of God's people but some Christian biographies suggest that a state of sinless perfection occurs on earth. Not so this biography of Renée of France by Simonetta Carr, published by EP books.

Renée is a lesser known Reformation character and a deeply flawed one. Renée was born a French princess but married off to a lesser Italian potentate for political reasons. Renée had Protestant beliefs which were not shared by her husband but there was also marital discord on account of Renée's spending habits and the rather French character of her court.

This fascinating biography leads us through Renée's life, in Italy, where she was visited by famous French reformers including Clement Marot, the poet, and John Calvin as well as by thinkers whose understanding was less than reformed. Poor Renée vacillated between standing firm for the Reformation and compromise. Did it matter whether she attended mass and the Lord's supper? Would she be causing offence to others if she stopped going to mass? Should she keep reformed thinkers at her court or dismiss them?

Renée's husband, the Duke of Este, died suddenly and Renée made the decision, against John Calvin's advice to return to her estates in France. She narrowly escaped with her life in the St Bartholomew's Day massacre and her estates became a haven for Protestants. Yet, Renée had a problem: her son in law was the Duke of Guise who was a major force for the Roman Catholic side in the Wars of Religion, in France.

One of the fascinating features of Renée's life is her almost thirty year correspondence with Calvin whose letters are pastoral and encouraging. He urges Renée to have sound teachers in her court; deals with whether the way we worship God is important and urges her to submit to the church and support it.

There is so much to learn from this frail saint in these days. It is easy to criticise but how many of us would be ready to stand firm under pressure to conform which might mean loss of property or even life? Renée suffered from having preachers who compromised for convenience sake. She made mistakes but sought forgiveness. Her weakness meant that she was viewed with suspicion by many Protestants and yet, the King of France refused to allow her a Roman Catholic funeral because of her Protestant views.

Definitely, a book to read and muse over.

I was provided with an e-copy of this book for the purposes of the review. The opinions are entirely my own.


  1. Thank you for this thoughtful review!

    1. Thank you-I enjoyed this thought provoking book!

  2. Sarah,

    Thanks for contributing to the Bitesize Biographies - Renee of France blog tour.

    Shaun Tabatt
    Cross Focused Reviews