Diane de Poitiers

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Diane de Poitiers, noblewoman and infamous mistress of King Henri II of France, was born on 2 September in 1499.

Diane de Poitiers was born to Jean de Poitiers, Seigneur de Saint Vallier and Jeanne de Batarnay at the Château de Saint-Vallier in the province of the Dauphine. As a young woman, she was educated in the typical Renaissance manner for young women. She studied music, hunting, languages, and continued her love of hunting throughout the rest of her life.

Diane married Louis de Brézé, Seigneur d’Anet, at the age of fifteen. Her husband was thirty-nine years older and was a grandson of King Charles VII and had served as a courtier to King Francis I. While the pair were married, Diane served as lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude. The couple had two daughters before he died in 1531. Diane was 32 years old at the time of his death and took to wearing white and black in mourning. These colors would be her fashion for the rest of her life.

The relationship between Henri II and Diane began while Henry was a young prince. In 1525, he and his brother Francis were held as hostages when King Francis I was captured by Charles V’s troops at the Battle of Pavia. Diane bid the seven-year old goodbye with a kiss as he was sent to a forelorn castle in Spain in exchange for their father.

When Henri was ten he returned to France and Diane became his mentor. Diane was twenty-eight.

In 1533, Henri married Catherine de’Medici. The coupling was not supported by the French, as the Medicis were not a popular family. Diane was related to Henri’s new bride, with both being descendants of the La Tour d’Auvergne family. Catherine immediately saw Diane as a rival, but when the royal couple failed to immediately conceive Diane would send Henri to his wife’s room instead of her own. The royal pair would go on to have 10 children, although Diane was never far from Henri.  (For more on Catherine de’Medici, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/catherine-de-medici/)

Henri would go on to have numerous dalliances with other women, but he always returned to his favorite. Despite their age difference, Diane was never far from Henri’s thoughts. For 25 years, she was the most powerful woman in France, above even the queen. It is not certain when the pair began to have a sexual relationship, but based on their correspondence it is believed their affair began when Diane was 35 and Henri was 16.

As their relationship grew and their affection for one another deepened, Henri began to trust her in all of his affairs. She would often write letters for him, and they would even sign both of their names as one: HenriDiane. She became so important that when Pope Paul III sent Queen Catherine the Golden Rose, he sent Diane a pearl necklace as well. She was given many titles by Henri, including Duchess of Valentinois in 1548 and Duchesse d’Étampes in 1553. This of course inspired much jealousy on the part of Queen Catherine, especially when Henri gifted Diane with the Crown Jewels of France and gave her such properties as Château de Chenonceau. This particular property was one that the queen had desired herself. Diane and Henri were so close that they created a symbol which can be found all over Paris – two interlocked D’s with a line in the middle, forming an H. This symbol can be found on the ceiling of the Louvre, among other buildings.ee2b65c8aef5e286d338763d9f790ab7

As powerful as this mistress had become, of course her welfare and power relied solely on the king. In 1559 Henri was wounded in a jousting tournament. According to legend, he was wearing her favors on his armor, instead of his wife’s. The queen quickly stepped into her rightful role and restricted any access to the king as he was treated. Although it is said that the king repeatedly asked for Diane, the queen never allowed her entry into the king’s sick chamber. Henri died on 10 July 1559 without bidding adieu to his favorite mistress.

After Henri’s death, Diane’s downfall was swift and merciless. Queen Catherine banished her from the Château de Chenonceau and sent her to the Château de Chaumont. She stayed there only a short while and lived the rest of her days in quiet anonymity at her chateau in Anet, Eure-et-Loiur.

When Diane died on 25 April 1566 at the age of 66, she was buried in a chapel near her home. During the French Revolution, her body was disinterred and thrown into a mass grave. However, in 2009, when her body was exhumed and studied, high levels of gold were found in her hair. Diane was said to have drank gold in order to maintain her youthfulness and good looks. In the end, it may have been her vanity that took her life.

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