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Diane de Poitiers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Diane de Poitiers
Diane de Poitiers Atelier Clouet.jpg
Born(1500-01-09)9 January 1500[1]
Château de Saint-Vallier, Saint-Vallier, Drôme
Died25 April 1566(1566-04-25) (aged 66)
Burial placeChâteau d'Anet, Anet, Eure-et-Loir
TitleThe Grand Senechal(e) of Normandy
Countess of Saint-Vallier
Duchess of Étampes
Duchess of Valentinois
Spouse(s)Louis de Brézé, Seigneur d'Anet
ChildrenFrançoise de Brézé
Louise de Brézé
Parent(s)Jean de Poitiers, Seigneur de Saint Vallier
Jeanne de Batarnay

Diane de Poitiers (9 January 1500 – 25 April 1566) was a French noblewoman and a prominent courtier at the courts of kings Francis I and Henry II.

She wielded much influence and power at the French court as King Henry's chief mistress. She continued in this role until Henry was mortally wounded in a tournament accident. During that tournament his lance wore her favour (ribbon), rather than his wife's.

Diane is subject of paintings by François Clouet as well other anonymous painters. She was also immortalised in a statue by Jean Goujon.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Château Chenonceau 3 – Diane de Poitiers (Fontainebleau School)
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  • ✪ Monarchs, Marriage and Monogamy - Lecture 1 - Brains or Beauty?
  • ✪ Diane de Poitiers - secolul XVI-lea / Franta


When Henri II was crowned as king of France, he offered Chenonceau as a gift to his twenty years older mistress, Diane de Poitiers a legendary beauty. She was also entrusted with the Crown Jewels of France and appointed by Henri to Duchess of Valentinois. Contrary to contemporary custom, she seemed to have been ridiculed for keeping herself young and attractive for her much younger lover, by using false teeth and false hair and much makeup. She claimed, her beauty came from bathing in cold water every morning not a usual thing to do in those days, then going riding and then returning to bed until mid-day. According to the legend she bathed nude in the river Cher, alongside the kitchen, where boats with supplies moored - presumably when she was not present! Her appearance was frequently immortalized in art, often topless or nude, depicting a vibrant and attractive woman. Nowadays scholars have doubts about the identity of some of these women. This ‘Lady in her Bath’, for instance, is recently dated about 1570, four years after Diane’s death, and thus probably represents another royal favorite. Diane was a keen hunter and was often depicted as the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana, whose symbol is the moon. Three interlaced crescents form the emblem of Diane de Poitiers, in a geographic way an impossible figure, inwhich the intriguing Borromean rings can be recognized, an arrangement of three seeming circles. If you cut one of them off, the other two will fall apart. In physics it is shown that three atoms can reach a new stable form of matter similar to Borromean rings. Also Henri II adopted the emblem of the three crescents. This one with a crown above, is on a wall in the ballroom of the palace of Fontainebleau. In a room of Chenonceau you can see a painting of Diane de Poitiers as the huntress Diana. It is painted at the castle when she was 57 years old. The artist is Francesco Primaticcio an Italian Mannerist painter, architect and sculptor who spent most of his career in France. He was one of the leading artists of the Fontainebleau School, a group of Italian masters who were hired by king François I to embellish his palace at Fontainebleau. These Italians successfully adapted their own styles to the French taste and were assisted by French and Flemish artists. Together they produced a distinctive style of Mannerism. In spite of the severe catholic censorship of the representations of the nude body, strange erotic scenes were painted, usually cloaked as allegories or mythological motives. Mannerism is notable for its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. It makes itself known by elongated proportions, highly stylized poses, and lack of clear perspective. This painting, probably of Diane de Poitiers as the goddess Diana, is a typical example of the maneristic style of the Fontainebleau School. Perhaps these drawings of Diane de Poitiers depict her most accurately. The drawings are ascribed to chief court painter François Clouet, known for his portraits of the French royal family in the sixteenth century. His drawings have a remarkable accuracy, and – in the Renaissance tradition – evoke an apprehension for the character of his sitter in his portraits. His coloring is perhaps not specially remarkable, but in perfection of drawing he has hardly any equal. His masterpiece is considered to be the portrait of Elizabeth of Austria, married to Charles IX of France for three and a half years, until his death. This piece made an important impression on Claude Lévi-Strauss, French anthropologist. In particular the lace ruff helped inspire his theory of the 'modèle réduit', or of works of art as simplifications and scale models of the realities they represent, in his book 'The Savage Mind'. Diane became the second lady of Chenonceau. She was fervently attached to the château and its view along the river. In 1551 Diane started the construction of a beautiful garden at the north bank of the river Cher, buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, and inspired by the symmetrical, so-called Italian gardens of the royal castles of Blois and Amboise, designed by Pacello da Mercogliano. She oversaw the planting of flowers and fruits, and vegetables which at that time were considered exotic, such as melons and artichokes. The castle belonged to the Crown and Diane would have to wait until 1555 and to resort to legal artifices and other subtle procedures to become its legitimate owner. The profits made through the cultivation of the estate and the confident knowledge that the castle was hers, encouraged Diane to further embellish her property. In 1556 she asked the royal architect Philibert de l'Orme, who also worked in Fontainebleau and Tuileries, to construct a five arch bridge of 60 meters long and 6 meters wide, over the Cher river; joining the château to its opposite bank. So the park at the south side of the river came within reach. Some prints are left showing the castle together with the bridge, however the proportions in these prints seem not correct. According to this drawing, at the end of the bridge was a small building. In the castle, the bedroom of Diane is dominated by her bed, which is believed to have an ‘extraordinary’ effect on those who lay on it. In his book ‘Along the Loire’, Gustave Flaubert described his delight at seeing Diane de Poitier’s bed: "… a canopy bed from the royal concubine, covered with damask. If it was mine, I would not resist lying down once in a while. To sleep in the bed of Diane de Poitiers, even empty, is much more exciting than sleeping in other bed with much more touchable realities. Imagine, if you are part of those who have imagination, the incredible, historical and 16th century voluptuousness, to put your head on the pillow and the mattress of the concubine of Henri II. Oh! How would I like to exchange all the women in the world against the mummy of Cleopatra." Chenonceau was not the only castle Diane possessed. She also owned Château d´Anet. It was a gift from the king and was specially built for her, partly on the foundations and cellar vaults of the former château at the center of the domains of Diane's deceased husband. This castle is regarded as the masterpiece of the earlier mentioned architect, Philibert de l'Orme. Of course it was paid for out of the Royal treasure. During the French Revolution and the years there after, it was destructed with the exception of one wing, which can still be visited today. In 1559, tragedy struck. In a tournament at Paris, king Henri had jousted with great success all day, but his captain of the Scottish guard, the young Gabriel, Comte de Montgomery, knocked him half out of the saddle. Henry insisted on riding against Montgomery again, despite reservations of his wife, queen Catherine, concerning his last joust. He charged, sporting the black-and-white colors of Diane, who was sitting next to the Queen. The captain’s lance shattered into the king's face. The king stumbled and fell from his horse. He lingered for eleven days before succumbing to his injuries. Before dying, the King absolved Gabriel of all fault. King Henri's son, François II, who was then fifteen years old, became his successor. But perhaps more in reality, power passed from one lady, Diane de Poitiers, to another lady, Catherine de’ Medici. Diane returned the crown jewels to Catherine, but was nevertheless removed from court, Catherine forced her to leave Chenonceau under royal rules, but gave her the less prized, Château of Chaumont in exchange. In Chaumont Catherine had entertained many occult astrologers there, among them Nostradamus of whom she was one of the greatest admirers. When Diane arrived at Chaumont, she found signs of the occult, such as pentangles drawn on the floor, and she quickly withdrew to her exquisite Château d’Anet and never set foot in Chaumont again. In the chapel of the Château d’Anet, with Diane’s emblem: the crescent on top, you can still find her tomb.


Early life

Diane was the daughter of Jean de Poitiers, Seigneur de Saint Vallier and Jeanne de Batarnay.[1] When still a girl, she was briefly in the retinue of Anne de Beaujeu,[2] eldest sister of King Charles VIII, a capable and highly intelligent woman who held the regency of France during his minority.[2]

Diane was educated according to the principles of Renaissance humanism, in music, hunting, manners, languages, the art of conversation, and dancing. She learned how to read Latin and Greek, and became a keen hunter and sportswoman,[2] remaining in good physical condition well into middle age.


At the age of 15, Diane was married to Louis de Brézé, seigneur d'Anet, who was 39 years her senior.[2] He was a grandson of King Charles VII[3] who served as a courtier of King Francis I. They had two daughters:

In 1524 her father Jean was accused of treason as an accomplice of the rebellious Connétable de Bourbon.[5] His death sentence was commuted but he was confined to prison until the Treaty of Madrid in 1526.[5]

When Diane's husband died in 1531 in Anet,[5] Diane adopted the habit of wearing black and white, her personal trademark for the rest of her life.[6] They were among the permitted colours of mourning, which, as a widow, she was required to wear, but they were also the symbolic colours of the bright and dark sides of the moon. They played on her name, Diane, which derived from Diana, the name of the Roman moon goddess.

Diane's keen interest in financial matters and legal acumen became apparent for the first time during this period. She retained her late husband's emoluments as governor and grand-sénéchal of Normandy, assuming herself the title of "sénéchale de Normandie". She challenged in court the obligation to return her husband's appanages to the royal domain. King Francis I allowed the widowed Diane to keep and manage her inherited estates independently, without the supervision of a male guardian.[citation needed]

While Louis de Brézé was still alive, Diane became lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France.[7] After the queen died, she served in the same capacity to Louise of Savoy[3] and then Eleanor of Austria.

Royal favourite

Anonymous sketch of Diane de Poitiers wearing a French hood, after a 1525 original
Anonymous sketch of Diane de Poitiers wearing a French hood, after a 1525 original

After the capture of Francis I by Charles V's troops during the battle of Pavia (1525), the two eldest princes, Francis and Henry, were retained as hostages in Spain in exchange for their father. Because the ransom was not paid in time, the two boys (eight and seven at the time) had to spend nearly four years isolated in a bleak castle, facing an uncertain future. Henry found solace by reading the knight-errantry tale Amadis de Gaula. The experience may account for the strong impression that Diane made on him, as the very embodiment of the ideal gentlewomen he read about in Amadis. As his mother was already dead, Diane gave him the farewell kiss when he was sent to Spain.[8] At the tournament held for the coronation of Francis's new wife, Eleanor of Austria, in 1531, while the Dauphin of France saluted the new queen as expected, Henry addressed his salute to Diane.[8]

In 1533, Henry married Catherine de' Medici.[9] There had been opposition to the alliance, the Medicis being no more than upstarts in the eyes of many in the French court. Diane, however, approved of the choice of bride.[10] Diane and Catherine were actually related, their grandmothers being sisters.[11] As the future royal couple remained childless, concerned by rumours of a possible repudiation of a queen that she had in control, Diane made sure that Henry's visits to his wife's bedroom would be frequent.[12] In another act of preservation of the royal family, Diane helped nurse Catherine back to health when she was ill.[13] Until 1551, Diane was in charge of the education of her and Henry's children,[14] whose governor and governess Jean d'Humières and Françoise d'Humières,[15] took their orders from her; her daughter Françoise managed the queen's household as her chief lady-in-waiting or Première dame d'honneur. While Henry and Catherine would eventually produce 10 children together, and despite the occasional affair with such as Philippa Duci, Janet Fleming, and Nicole de Savigny, Diane de Poitiers would remain Henry's lifelong companion. For the next 25 years, she would be the most powerful influence in his life and the most powerful woman in France.[16] Based on allusions in their correspondence, it is generally believed that she became his mistress in 1534, when she was 35 years old and Henry was 15.[17]

The painting A Lady in Her Bath by François Clouet possibly depicts either Diane de Poitiers or Mary, Queen of Scots according to other scholars.
The painting A Lady in Her Bath by François Clouet possibly depicts either Diane de Poitiers or Mary, Queen of Scots according to other scholars.

A noted beauty, she maintained her good looks well into her fifties, and her appearance was immortalized in sculpture and paintings.[18] Only two signed paintings by François Clouet are known to exist, one being a painting of Diane (or Mary, Queen of Scots according to other scholars) as a teenager. The subject of that painting shows her as a teenager seated nude in her bath. She sat for other paintings of the time, often topless or nude, other times in traditional poses.

In about 1549, an unknown artist (formerly believed to be Jean Goujon) designed a statue especially for her in which she represented the goddess Diana. It features her reclining nude body together with her two dogs and a stag and was entitled "Fountain of Diana". It is displayed in the Louvre.[19]

When Francis I was still alive, Diane had to compete at the court with Anne de Pisseleu, the king's favourite. After Francis' death, his son Henry II had Anne banned from government and confiscated the duchy of Estampes.[16]

Diane had a sharp intellect and was so politically astute that King Henry II trusted her to write many of his official letters, and they even signed them jointly with the one name HenriDiane. Her confident maturity and loyalty to Henry made her his most dependable ally in the court. Her position in the Court was such that when Pope Paul III sent the new Queen Catherine the "Golden Rose", he did not forget to present the royal mistress, Diane, with a pearl necklace. Within a very short stretch of time she wielded considerable power within the realm. In 1548, she received the prestigious title of Duchess of Valentinois, and in 1553, she was made Duchesse d'Étampes. The king's adoration for Diane caused a great deal of jealousy on the part of Queen Catherine, particularly when Henry entrusted Diane with the Crown Jewels of France, had the Château d'Anet remodelled for her, and gave her the Château de Chenonceau, a piece of royal property that Catherine had wanted for herself. However, as long as the king lived, the Queen was powerless to change that.

Henry's death and her downfall

Portrait of Diane de Poitiers as Diana goddess of the hunt on display in the bedroom of Francis I at the Château de Chenonceau.
Portrait of Diane de Poitiers as Diana goddess of the hunt on display in the bedroom of Francis I at the Château de Chenonceau.
The emblem of Diane de Poitiers, three interlaced crescents.
The emblem of Diane de Poitiers, three interlaced crescents.

Despite wielding such power over the king, Diane's status depended on the king's welfare and remaining in power. In 1559, when Henry was critically wounded in a jousting tournament, Queen Catherine assumed control, restricting access to him. Although the king was alleged to have called out repeatedly for Diane, she was never summoned or admitted, and after his death, she was also not invited to the funeral. Immediately thereafter, Diane was obliged to give to Catherine the Château de Chenonceau, the jewel of the Loire Renaissance palaces, in exchange for Catherine's Château de Chaumont. Diane stayed there only a short time, and she lived out her remaining years in her château in Anet, Eure-et-Loir, where she lived in comfortable obscurity as a virtual exile.[20]

At the age of 64, Diane suffered a fall during a ride.[18] Never fully recovering, she died at the age of 66.[18] In accordance with her wishes and to provide a resting place for her, her daughter completed the funeral chapel, built near the castle. During the French Revolution, her tomb was opened, her corpse desecrated, and her remains thrown into a mass grave. In 1866, Georges Guiffrey published her correspondence.

When French experts dug up the remains of Diane de Poitiers in 2009, they found high levels of gold in her hair. It is suggested that the "drinkable gold" that she "reportedly" regularly took, believed to preserve youth, may have ultimately killed her.[21][22][23][24] In May 2010, she was reburied at her original tomb in the Château d'Anet.

In popular culture

A simple crescent emblem of Diane de Poitiers on a cannon of Henri II
A simple crescent emblem of Diane de Poitiers on a cannon of Henri II

Diane de Poitiers has been featured in many novels and films.




See also


  1. ^ a b Wellman 2013, p. 189.
  2. ^ a b c d Wellman 2013, p. 190.
  3. ^ a b Wellman 2013, p. 191.
  4. ^ Carroll 1998, p. 20.
  5. ^ a b c d Wellman 2013, p. 192.
  6. ^ Wellman 2013, p. 193.
  7. ^ Brown 2010, p. 128.
  8. ^ a b Wellman 2013, p. 197.
  9. ^ Baumgartner 1988, p. 28.
  10. ^ Wellman 2013, p. 198.
  11. ^ Wellman 2013, p. 194.
  12. ^ Wellman 2013, p. 200.
  13. ^ Baumgartner 1988, p. 98.
  14. ^ Carroll 2009, p. 55.
  15. ^ Knecht 2016, p. 4-5.
  16. ^ a b Wellman 2013, p. 203.
  17. ^ Wellman 2013, p. 199.
  18. ^ a b c Wellman 2013, p. 214.
  19. ^ "Fountain of Diana". Louvre. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  20. ^ Wellman 2013, p. 213.
  21. ^ "Henry II’s mistress returned to rightful resting place", May 31, 2010, The Sunday Times
  22. ^ Charlier, Philippe; Poupon, Joel (2009), "Fatal Alchemy" (PDF), British Medical Journal, 339: 1402–1403, retrieved 29 May 2016
  23. ^ Charlier P; Poupon J; Huynh-Charlier I; Saliège JF; Favier D; Keyser C; Ludes B (2009), "A gold elixir of youth in the 16th century French court", British Medical Journal, 339: b5311, doi:10.1136/bmj.b5311, PMID 20015897
  24. ^ ḎḤWTY. "A Mistress with the Midas Touch: Her Hunger for Gold Would Be the Death of Her". Ancient Origins. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Nostradamus (1994)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 31 July 2012.


  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. (1988). Henry II: King of France 1547–1559. Duke University Press.
  • Brown, Cynthia Jane, ed. (2010). The Cultural and Political Legacy of Anne de Bretagne: Negotiating. D.S. Brewer.
  • Carroll, Stuart (1998). Noble Power During the French Wars of Religion: The Guise Affinity and the Catholic Cause in Normandy. Cambridge University Press.
  • Carroll, Stuart (2009). Martyrs and Murderers: The Guise Family and the Making of Europe. Oxford University Press.
  • Knecht, R.J. (2016). Hero or Tyrant? Henry III, King of France, 1574-89. Routledge.
  • Wellman, Kathleen (2013). Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France. Yale University Press.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 1 January 2020, at 04:03
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