On January 8, 1499, after harsh negotiations, Anne de Bretagne, former Charles VIII wife, was married to French King Louis XII. The wedding was celebrated at the Dukes castle in Nantes. The marriage contract was in fact an international treaty, the last one between the Duchy and the Kingdom. It specified that the couple’s 2nd child, girl or boy, would inherit the duchy and that the duchy would once again become sovereign after the couple’s death. In other words, the duchy was joined with the kingdom only as long as the couple was alive.
3. Item, et à ce que le nom et la principauté de Bretagne ne soit et ne demeure aboli pour le temps à venir, et que le peuple d’icelui païs seroit secouru et soulagé de leurs nécessitez et affaires, ci esté accordé que le second enfant masle, ou fille au defaut de masle, venant de leurdit mariage, et aussi ceux qui isseront respectivement et par ordre, seront et demeureront princes dudit païs, pour en jouir et user comme ont de coustume faire les ducs ses predecesseurs, en faisant par eux au Roi les advenances accoustumées ; et s’il avenoit que d’eux deux en ledit mariage n’issist ou vinst qu’un seul enfant masle, que cy-après issent ou vinssent deux ou plusieurs enfans masles ou filles, audit cas ils succéderont pareillement audit duché, comme dit est.__La clause 3 du contrat de mariage d'Anne et de Louis XII (traité du 7 janvier 1499)
The Duchess and Queen died on January 9, 1514, but nothing went as planned. She had given birth to numerous children but only two daughters had survived : Claude and Renée. On that day, her daughter Renée, aged only 3 years old, should have been proclaimed Duchess of Brittany according to the Treaty of Nantes of 1499. The royal proclamation should have been: “The Duchess is dead, long live Duchess Renée!”. A regent should have been chosen by the Brittany State Assembly (the parliament). The name of the regent may also have been in the queen’s will. Historians like Joël Cornette now recognize that the queen’s will was deliberately destroyed so that the duchy could be permanently annexed to the kingdom of France.
On May 18 1514, François married Claude, Renée oldest sister, and on October 27 Louis XII gifted him the administration of the Duchy of Brittany in the name of his wife, who at the same time took the title of Duchess of Brittany. Louis XII nevertheless specified that this gift was made “without prejudice to the right that our very dear and much-loved daughter Renee de France has and may have in the said country and duchy; which right and all that may belong to her, we have reserved and hereby reserve for her” [in Dom H. Morice].
Louis XII died one year after Anne, January 1, 1515, and Renée’s rights to Brittany promptly disappeared from the documents. On June 28, 1515, Claude offered Brittany to her husband François I “to remunerate him for the gift he was pleased to make of the duchy of Anjou, Angoumois, county of Maine, and to take care of the marriage of his sister Madame Renée of France “. The gift was “for life” but in perpetuity, “without reserving or retaining anything therein”.
But what was in Anne will? We suppose the Duchess was reaffirming her daughter Renée’s legacy. We know that she had entrusted Renée to her devoted friend Michelle du Fresne, known as de Saubonne (1485-1549), and Lady of Soubise. Michelle du Fresne was also Renée’s governess since birth and defended the heritage of her protege all her life. She was quickly dismissed from court by François 1er and Louise de Savoie, her mother… only a year after the death of Anne de Bretagne.
Dismissed in 1515, Michelle du Fresne later joined Renée in Ferrara in 1528 following her marriage at 16 to Duke Este of Ferrara and her exile in Italy. It is undoubtedly Michelle du Fresne who explained to Renée that she was in fact Duchess of Brittany. The princess never had been informed of this as her mother died when she was 3 years old, and worse, her marriage contract had been written in Latin. Renée filed a lawsuit against the King of France Charles IX upon her return to France in order to recover her inheritance. The trial was recounted by Le Bon de Girardot. Her rights were dismissed because she had signed her wedding contract and despite, as her lawyers pointed out, the fact that she was a minor when she was married…
Caroline Zum Kolk is one of the first French historians to have explained Francis I machiavellian plan to get rid of Renéé “The transfer of the maternal inheritance of the daughters of Anne of Brittany into the bosom of the crown was thus accomplished. François I was not unaware that this transaction had been carried out to the detriment of Renée’s rights and that she could, once an adult, contest it and claim her share of the inheritance. If by misfortune she were married to a powerful husband, capable of supporting the rights of his wife, the situation could prove very delicate for the crown. Renée’s marriage to Hercule d’Este allowed the king to avert this danger: an Italian duke, master of a small principality, was not in a position to attack the king of France.”