Now when I give Dana books, I expect a review for my blog. Here is a recap and reflection Dana Tuttle gives us from one of her birthday presents:
For my birthday, Aimee gave me a copy of Simonetta Carr’s book, Renee of France. I was excited to jump right into this “Bitesize Biography,” since I love this era and have a passion for strong, influential women during the Reformation. I was happy to be introduced to another great housewife theologian from the 16th century.
There are a lot of good things to chew on in this little book, but I found that it made me hunger for more. I imagine Carr’s hope was to give us a taste as the series title implies. It was like eating an appetizer when I really wanted a meal.
Renee’s father was King Louis XII. She was born a French Princess in 1510, just 7 years before Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door. Renee lost both her parents before age 5 and was left a royal orphan. No references were made to the beginning of her reformed views, but it was most likely friends that she corresponded with regularly. In 1528, at the age of 18, she married Italian Catholic, Duke Ercole II of Este and moved to Ferrara, Italy.
Filled with small bits of information, I was pleased when Carr lingered at describing some of the details of Renee’s new castle home. She lived at “the castle of Ferrara, a formidable medieval stronghold with four red, imposing towers, surrounded by a greenish moat…very different from the magnificent and newly renovated castle of Blois…Soon she became acquainted with its spacious halls, its rooms and its gardens. She especially loved the orange garden on the first floor, a terrace with orange trees with large vases which were moved inside every winter” (23).
For me, I needed a peak into her world in a visual way and now I was able to invest in her and get to know Renee better. She also had an impressive education and enjoyed having everything French, from language to fashion, in her new Italian home.
Carr describes Renee as “a joyous young women who enjoyed life and friendship” (43). Her letters left a trail of hobbies such as horseback riding, tennis, and ballroom dancing. “A typical week, as we read in one of her letters, included a dinner with a cardinal and her husband, and a picnic in the woods…We know that she loved plants and trees and personally oversaw their care in the large gardens of the palace, sharing with the Este family a passion for rare and exotic plants” (43).
I was able to relate to Renee as I read more details of her interaction with others. Her court was the place to be and she graciously filled her God-given mandate to create culture and community. “She sought the well-being of her subjects, tended generously to their needs, oversaw events, dinners, and parties…Like other female rulers of her time, she also became a patroness of artists, poets and musicians contributing with frequent concerts, yearly literary contests and other cultural events, to the fame of Ferrara as a vibrant intellectual centre and creative haven…Mostly, however, she is famous as patroness of banned or endangered Protestants” (45). She began to regularly house Protestant refugees that were escaping from France.
Renee was a serious bookworm and librarian. Her husband gave her a villa where “she enjoyed more freedom there to invite and host whomever she liked, building a large library of Reformed books and treatises, and enjoying the preaching of Protestant ministers” (47).
Things start to get difficult for Renee. The inquisitors for the Roman Catholic Church said that she “was not just a charitable woman giving some respite to French fugitives, but that she had harboured many suspected heretics and that her court was a breeding ground for new and dangerous opinions” (54). The bookworm in me had to be impressed when the inquisitors “searched the villa and confiscated all the books. They found about one hundred of them…the guards also retrieved infinite letters from various European Reformers…” (65). Carr brings to our attention that “if one hundred books seem relatively few today, it was an impressive number at that time, when the largest book collections owned by a noblewoman reached at most thirty titles” (65-66).
She was then “detained in her room in the palace…” (66). “To regain her freedom, Renee had to reconcile herself fully with the Roman Catholic Church, attending confession, receiving the Eucharist…” (67). Sadly, Renee caved and confessed her sins to a priest and received the Eucharist. I’m sure it was a difficult time period for many of the royal, the restless, and the reformed. What’s a Princess to do without her friends and her books! Not one of her finer moments.
In 1559, her husband suddenly dies and she moved back to France. Renee was 49 years old. The widow’s “…castle had become a permanent haven for families…children who needed education…food, clothing and shelter…Renee instituted an academy…with time, the academy evolved into a college.” She continued to care for refugees for several more years. There were an estimated three to five hundred of refugees housed by Renee on a regular basis. She had a little city going on inside the castle walls!
Carr begins to highlight the correspondence and friendship between Renee and John Calvin. “…from 1537…until his death in 1564…the longest and most pastoral correspondence the reformer ever kept with a nobelwoman”( 107). One of the notable quotes from his letters to her include, “If we wish to avoid every occasion of offending other people we would have to cast out Jesus Christ, who is the rock of offence on which most people trip and fall.” As Carr concludes, “If it is true that now we live in the ‘not yet’ as sinners, Calvin strongly reminds Renee that we live also in the ‘already’ as justified believers, and constantly points her away from herself and her failures, and to Christ” (119). Now, that is something that I can sink my teeth into!
Dana Tuttle is a housewife theologian who is obsessed with headless queens. She is the mother of 7-year-old twin boys, and the wife of King Henry, ahem, she meant to say Troy. She daydreams about owning a pub, but is happy with her role as the crazy theme mom and scrapbooking fool. Dana is an over-achiever in Book Review Club, and can often be found hiding in her closet reading books written by dead theologians while eating the latest leftover holiday candy.