The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

By Salvatore Caponetto; Anne C. Tedeschi et al. | Go to book overview

14
RENÉE DE FRANCE AND CALVINISM AT FERRARA AND FAENZA

AT THE COURT OF RENÉE DE FRANCE

THE INTRIGUING LIFE of Renée de France ( 1510-76), the daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany, who became the duchess of Ferrara in 1528 when she married Ercole II d'Este, a French ally, has not been treated equitably by her principal biographer, Bartolommeo Fontana. Fontana, attempting every way he could to diminish Renée's contacts with John Calvin and the church of Geneva in the vain effort to demonstrate that she was neither a Protestant nor a Catholic,1 avoided drawing a full picture of Ferrarese Calvinism and its diffusion to neighboring towns.

Renée had been orphaned as a child and was brought up at the court of Francis I, who had married her sister Claude. These early years of the reign of Francis, before his defeat at Pavia in 1525, were a high point of humanistic culture in France and of the diffusion of the works of Erasmus and Luther. The young king, with the connivance of his mother, Louise of Savoy, and of his sister Marguerite, queen of Navarre, protected the reforming efforts of Guillaume Briqonnet, bishop of Meaux, and of his disciple Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, humanist, mathematician, and theologian.

Under their direction, Marguerite, cultivated and sensitive, had come to a personal faith, founded on the conviction of the centrality of Scripture and that the salvation of the believer was a gift from God. At court echoes were heard of the bitter attacks of the Sorbonne against the perceived errors of Erasmus and Luther, and at Paris heretics were being sent to the stake, beginning with the Augustinian Jean Vallière on 8 August 1523. During these years Renée received spiritual guidance from Marguerite, the king's sister, a devoted follower of Lefèvre d'Étaples. When the eighteen-year-old Renée came to Ferrara in 1528 as Ercole's bride, she joined one of the most famous of Italian Renaissance courts, one still under the spell of the great

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1
B. Fontana, Renata di Francia, Duchessa di Ferrara ( Rome: Forzani, 1898), 3:361.

-234-

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