Renée of France
128 pages, £6.99
Star rating : 4
I must confess that before reading this book I had never heard of its subject, even though I am half French! And yet it is staggering to think that, had she been a man or, if French laws had allowed women to rule at that time, she would have been the French sovereign and part of my history lessons.
Since this is a Bitesize Biography, the reader is taken quickly through a description of Renée’s background and context. The author covers her arranged and stormy marriage to an Italian duke, subsequent relocation to Italy and motherhood. She then relates a visit from John Calvin, which transforms her beliefs about the Christian faith and changes her life.
These new-found beliefs will lead to trials and persecutions, meaning that Renée finds herself going back and forth throughout her life between her husband’s Catholic faith and her own Protestant allegiances.
Dispersed through the book are precious gems from letters written by Calvin to Renée, exhorting her to be bolder for Christ and follow Christ’s example, rather than giving in to the pressure to compromise. Calvin continues to encourage her, once she returns to France as a widow amidst the Wars of Religion.
She does come across as a character who keeps ‘vacillating between loyalties’, and Calvin stresses the importance of her being spiritually well taught and having regular pastoral guidance.
The last chapter is a well written summary of the main themes that come up in their correspondence. It is fascinating that these are issues still common in our day — having a private faith; church government and discipline; and loving our enemies.
It is good to be reminded that those things we still struggle with today were similar in a different time and context. We are, however, all the richer for being able to read Calvin’s pastoral counsel, originally intended for one individual but pointing us all to One who ‘always receives us in his grace and, when we fall, holds out his hand that our falls may not be fatal’.
It took me a while to get into the book, but in the end I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to all potential readers.