Tarascon, where I have a house, is situated on the banks of the river Rhône directly across from the town of Beaucaire. The bridge between the two of them provided the gateway to Provence and was part of the Via Domitia, the road built by the Romans to link Northern Europe with Italy and Spain
Both towns have large fortified castles that stand across from one another, built to defend themselves at this strategic crossing.
Tarascon’s castle was built by the Duc d’Anjou, cousin of King Charles VI between 1400 and 1435 but is mainly associated with his son, King René who inherited it in 1449. René who has been quoted as “a man of many crowns but no kingdoms”, had many titles during his lifetime, including King of Naples, Sicily, Valencia, Hungary and Jerusalem, Count of Bar, Piedmont, Guise and Provence and Duke of Anjou and Lorraine. His brother-in-law was the young Dauphin, later King Charles VII and it was René who Jeanne d’Arc requested to present her at the Dauphin’s court in Chinon. René fought alongside Jeanne D’Arc at the siege of Orleans and Paris and was by her side at the Battle of Senlis. Some contemporary historians have even suggested that the two were lovers (I know and we were made to believe she went to the stake a virgin).
In 1419, when René was 10, he married Isabel of Lorraine aged 9, from whose father he inherited the Duchy of Lorraine on the Duke’s death in 1431. However his inheritance was contested by the Duke’s male heir who enlisted the help of the Duke of Burgundy and captured René in battle. It was during his time in Prison (in a castle in Dijon) that René learned to paint, supposedly under the guidance of Jan van Eyck, which led to his life-long passion for the arts.
In later life, after his wife Isabel had died and he married Jeanne de Laval, 20 years his junior, he retired to Tarascon where he dedicated himself to the love and patronage of the Arts, holding court in his castle with many of the painters, writers, astrolegers, physicians, (including Jean of Saint Remy, the grandfather of Nostradamus) of the day. He enjoyed painting and writing poetry himself and was a great collector of tapestries and manuscripts. His most well known writing was the traictié de la forme et devis d’un tournoi, which laid out the rules and customs of the tournament and he often performed in pageants with his wife and friends, being especially interested in allegorical plays and the Arthurian legends. He also created two Chivalrous orders, The Order of the Ship and Order of the Croissant (meaning crescent not the breakfast pastry). The tournaments are re-enacted in Tarascon every year in the Fêtes les Mediévales (16 – 18th August 2013).
King René, often called Good King René, as instead of punishing people with death and torture he preferred to exact fines and taxes, (he was in constant need of money), was the last ruler of Provence. He bequeathed the land to his nephew who died without an heir leaving it to the King of France who amalgamated the counties of Provence with the rest of France.
King René was a hugely influential and powerful man in his life-time and inspired many artists and writers for centuries after his death. He appears as King Reignier in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part I and in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Anna von Geierstein. This in turn inspired the pre-raphaelites who were particularly fond of illustrating allegorical subjects. Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Edward Burne Jones and Ford Maddox Brown each painted a panel for King René’s Honeymoon Cabinet, a wooden cabinet commissioned by the Morris Firm (Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company) that depicted imagined scenes from the honeymoon of René and Jeanne de Laval, now in the V&A Museum.
King René is also associated with the Knights Templars and appears as the ninth Grand Master of the Priory of the Scion in The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.
His daughter Maguerite, or Margaret, of Anjou, became Queen of England on her marriage to King Henry VI and was given the title of She-Wolf of France by Shakespeare in Henry VI part III.
Although none of the Art and manuscripts of King René remain, Tarascon castle is still well worth a visit. Much of the castle’s interior was ransacked during the French Revolution and became a prison in the 18th Century, which it remained up until the 1900’s, you can see graffiti scratched onto the walls and floors by the prisoners incarcerated there. The restoration of the castle began in the early part of the 20th century.
Chateau du Roi René
Boulevard du Roi René
Tel : 04 90 91 01 93
Entrance 7,00 €
18 – 25 year old 5,00 €
12 – 18 years old 3,00 €
Children under 12 free
Open Monday through Sunday
November – February 9h30 – 17h00.
February – May and October 9h30 -17h30.
June – September 9h30 – 18h30.
Last entrance 45 minutes before closing time.
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