For the last year, René d’Anjou has consumed my life. If he has yet to take over your life, click here to learn more.
Most of my research has been focused on his religious life, specifically his Books of Hours, so I have not been as focused on some of his more secular interests, such as his love of the tournament or his chivalric order. However, these things tend to flow over into his Books of Hours, Specifically, Aix-en-Provence, Bibliothèque Méjanes, MS rés. 19 and BnF MS 17332, two Books of Hours completed late in René’s life. The crescent symbol kept popping up, and with its proximity to René’s arms (seen below), I knew it was important. This specific heraldry is from late in René’s life, after he had added the superimposed shield representing his claim on Aragon.
Symbols such as the golden crescent seen at the bottom of this champ initial ‘D’ from the Aix-en-Provence Manuscript represent René’s chivalric order. The proximity of this crescent symbol to René’s arms would seem to show how proud he was of his order, and that it was important to him. This book also contains the ceremonial of the order, titled “Les sermens de l’ordre en brief” or the oaths of the order in brief. These are only on one page, and they simplify the promises of the members of the order. I wanted to know why this order was important to René and why it was included in his Books of Hours.
The order, called l’Ordre du Croissant, was started in 1448 in response to the Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III in the 1348. The Garter has a lot of mystery surrounding its origin, but was allegedly begun when a woman accidentally dropped a garter at a dance, and Edward strapped it to his own leg to save her from embarrassment (Trigg 48). This order also has a famous motto, “Shamed be those who think ill of it” that appeared at the end of the only surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This connection could have been made because both the girdle in Sir Gawain and the garter in the Order of the Garter myth represent shameful acts that became symbols of honor (Trigg). This order became the standard for all other chivalric orders, and it was an incredible honor to be part of it. (Collins 12). The Order of the Garter inspired the creation and codes of several other orders, including René’s. René was also inspired by The Order of the Golden Fleece, started by Philip the Good of Burgundy. This order was created in 1430, during the time that René was being held prisoner by Philip (Reynolds 126). The order had 25 original members, regular meetings, and even an official church, the Sainte-Chapelle of Dijon (Prizer). René would have had the chance to learn about the order and make plans for his own during his imprisonment.
So what is a chivalric order? Traditionally, it was an order of noble knights that fought on behalf of their leader (think Arthurian legend), but by the fifteenth century, their role was changing (Reynolds 126). Scholars debate over the meaning of chivalric orders after knights became obsolete, but it seems that Rene would have had a group of important noble people who could fight his battles as ‘political tools’ (Reynolds 155). He could rely on these men to provide support and having the backing of influential people was intimidating to his enemies, especially during his battles for Naples and Sicily from 1453 to 1465 (Reynolds 155). They provided backing for the political aspects of war, as many of the order’s members were nobles from Brittany, the Holy Roman Empire, and Italy (128). Controlling an Order also gave René a new threat, as he could now use honor as leverage against his enemies (Taylor 80).
Cool. René had a political group of buddies to help him out, but why did this symbol find its way into his books of hours?
According to Michael Reynolds, the crescent symbolized a lot of things. For one, the word ‘croissant’ means ‘crescent’ but it also means ‘growth.’ For René, this crescent symbolized growing his kingdoms and his chivalric nature, but also his faith. He had several battles over the title to King of Jerusalem with his rival, Alfonso of Aragon, who felt he was the rightful heir. René ultimately lost the battle for Jerusalem, but he continued to stress his claim to the kingdom in his heraldry. The crescent represented his claims to Jerusalem, and it also evoked images of the earlier houses of Anjou, who used crescents on their coins (128). The symbol in the Aix-en-Provence manuscript contains the order’s motto “Los en Croissant” which means “Honor in the Crescent,” “Increasing Honor,” or “Honor in Increase” (Reynolds 128). The ambiguity of the motto of the order could be intentional, as each meaning has slightly different connotations, and all of them apply to René. Additionally, it represented the threat of the Turkish empire and of Islamic culture, in which the crescent is an important symbol, tying the Order of the Crescent to earlier crusades. René reclaimed the symbol, and it served as a reminder of these empires, and what René and his order were fighting for: God.
In his earlier Book of Hours, Egerton MS 1070, René added a miniature of Jerusalem next to his coat of arms. The crescent seems to serve a similar purpose in the Aix-en-Provence manuscript, as it calls up René’s claim to Jerusalem, as well as the constant threat René felt from Alfonso of Aragon, a competitor for the titles to Jerusalem and Naples. It represents René’s love of the chivalry and honor of earlier times (best illustrated in his guide to a successful tournament found here), and his desire to continue to grow despite his many military defeats. It was also a symbol that unified all of his kingdoms, creating one kingdom made up of each of René’s claims. In the minatures in his Books of Hours, the crescent always appears below his heraldry, almost as an actual foundation for all of his titles. In many ways these ideas fit perfectly into a Book of Hours.
The crescent represents what he is praying for: the growth of his kingdoms and the unification of them into one. In a much more literal way, one of the ideals of the Order was to attend a daily mass, so the crescent would be a reminder of the oaths the members had taken and their obligation to the church.
Documents about the order exist from René’s time, including Bibliothèque Nationale de France MS fr. 25204, a document of the order’s statutes and the arms of some of the first members. These statutes do not match with the oaths found in the Aix-en-Provence Book of Hours, but seem to be an expanded documentation of them. This manuscript details all of the rules and expectations for members, and includes each of their individual coats of arms and helmets, with additional blanks at the end for possible future members. One of the most notable members was René’s son, John II, whose arms can be found on folio 46v.
Despite all of its members and its popularity, René’s order fizzled out after his death in 1480… or so I thought. Oddly enough, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity claims René as their ‘spiritual founder,’ and incorporate the crescent and some of the order’s code into their ideals. It seems that René’s dream of his order becoming a lasting memory of him has come true, just maybe not in the way he expected.
- “Aix-en-Provence, Bibliothèque Méjanes, MS rés. 19” Digitised Manuscripts. https://bibliotheque-numerique.citedulivre-aix.com/records/item/7800-heures-du-roi-rene
- “BnF MS fr. 25204” Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8470042b
- “BnF MS fr. 2695” Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84522067/f2.image
- “BnF MS lat. 17332” Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
- Collins, Hugh E. L. The Order of the Garter, 1348-1461 : Chivalry and Politics in Late Medieval England. Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press, 2000.
- “Egerton MS 1070” British Library, Digitised Manuscripts. http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_1070.
- “Exhortations of Rene D’Anjou.” Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity at Cornell University, www.iswza.org/ideals/rene.
- Gautier, Marc-Édouard, et al. Splendeur De L’enluminure: Le Roi René Et Les Livres. [Angers] : Ville D’Angers ; Arles : Actes Sud, 2009.
- Reynolds, Michael T.. “René of Anjou, king of Sicily, and the Order of the Croissant.” Journal of Medieval History 19, no. 1-2 (1993): 125-161. DOI: 10.1016/0304-4181(93)90011-Z
- Prizer, William F. “Brussels and the Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Fleece.” Revue Belge De Musicologie / Belgisch Tijdschrift Voor Muziekwetenschap, vol. 55, 2001, pp. 69–90. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3686829.
- Taylor, Craig. Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France during the Hundred Years War. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2013.
- Trigg, Stephanie. Shame and Honor : a Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter. 1st ed., University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.
Featured Image is taken from BnF MS fr. 25204 folio 52r, and shows René’s arms and symbols.