Renese of Ferrara was the second daughter of King Louis XII of France and the wife of the duke of Ferrara, Italy. She was a patron of Protestant Reformers and a supporter of a number of religious refugees during the Wars of Religion in France. When King Francois I* of France began a campaign against religious dissent in 1534, a number of recent converts to the Reformed faith, including the youthful John Calvin,* fled the country. Although we do not know the nature of her own religious opinions at the time, Renese allowed a number of French Calvinist refugees to settle in Ferrara. In 1536 Calvin himself was a visitor, and although the author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion ultimately settled in Geneva, Calvin and Renese maintained a lifelong correspondence. In 1547 Renese intervened with her husband on behalf of an Italian Protestant named Fanino Fanini, but her appeals were in vain, and Fanini was executed. She had already been examined by the Italian Inquisition in 1543, and ten years later, King Henri II of France sent inquisitors from his court in order to convince Renese of her need for repentance. Much to the disappointment of Calvin, Renese capitulated and publicly returned to the Roman Catholic fold in 1555.
Returning to France upon the death of her husband and establishing her court at Montargis, east of Orlesans, in 1560, Renese extended her earlier efforts in support of Protestant Reformers. She befriended Gaspard II de Coligny, head of the Huguenot army in France, but she was also mother-in-law to Francis, duke of Guise, leader of the Catholic forces in the French religious wars. Al­though she attempted to maintain neutrality during the long conflict, the patron­age of women like Renese was key to the survival of the Reformed cause during the Wars of Religion (1562-98); she was joined in this work by a number of other powerful noblewomen. Calvin sent spiritual advisors from Geneva, but they quarreled with Renese because she wanted to attend meetings of the synod or council of church elders.
Renese's work of granting refuge and repose to those who suffered during the decades of religious conflict was part of a larger movement by aristocratic women to forward the cause of the Protestant Reformers. Of the thirty-seven women arrested at a Protestant demonstration in Paris in 1557, half were of noble birth.
R. H. Bainton, Women ofthe Reformation in Germany and Italy, 1971.
William Spellman

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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