Diane of Poitiers, royal mistress of Henri II is still a living legend today. She never forgot her principles "always be in honorable bearing, in a cold and confident manner, humble gaze, low speech, constant and firm, always in one word, without wavering, moderation in everything". She also succeeded in transforming Henri, making this awkward and awkward young man a troubadour, a poet, a horseman and a monarch.
A lady of the renaissance
Daughter of Jean de Poitiers, Diane, named in homage to the goddess of the hunt, was born on December 31, 1499, in the family castle in Dauphiné. She would later inherit from her grandfather the Château de Saint-Vallier, the title of Countess of Valentinois and the emblem of Poitiers. On the day of her birth, an old woman came to predict that the child star would raise her higher than a queen.
At the age of six, she went hunting with her father, had her own falcon, and became a distinguished rider. On the death of her mother, she joined the court of Anne de Beaujeu and Louis XII, learned Latin, Greek, theater, dance, philosophy, the logic of Plato and above all contempt for intrigue, dignity. the rank to be kept, the nobility of taste, the art of conversation, in short everything that made a true Lady of the Renaissance. Maid of honor to Queen Anne, then that of the future Queen Claude, wife of François I, she attended the coronation of the king in 1515.
On March 29, 1515, she was married to Louis de Brézé, Grand Seneschal of Normandy, emeritus hunter, rich, powerful, very well titled. Diana, the slender figure, the aristocratic bearing, blonde with a high forehead, white and pale skin, blue-gray eyes, straight nose, a small mouth with full lips, thus reached a royal rank just below that of princess: the 3rd rank of the kingdom. Their home is Anet, a grim and ruined house. When the king passed through Rouen, Louis de Brézé gave him the keys to the city and welcomed him to his home. The Court quickly realizes that the Great Senechale of Normandy takes her marriage very seriously and does not allow herself to be conquered by the courtiers, to such an extent that François 1st annotates a portrait of Diana "beautiful to see, honest to haunt" in 1520 .
After having given birth to a little Françoise in 1518, her father Jehan, taken in spite of himself in the plot fomented by Charles Quint and Charles de Bourbon, was arrested in September 1523, taken to Loches, dismissed of all his property, condemned to death, then narrowly pardoned in February 1724 for life imprisonment. Rumor has it: Diane is the King's mistress! Not only was the king demented, but on the death of his wife, he entrusted the custody of his children to Diane in July 1524: a great honor.
During the exchange of François I, captive of Charles V for his children, Diane supports François eight years and Henry six years with her comforting words. The king, back in Rouen, took advantage of the hospitality of the Brézé in Anet and conquered by the righteousness, intelligence and culture of Diane, he offered her a new place at court: lady of honor to his mother Louise of Savoy.
The meeting with the dolphin Henri
In the early summer of 1530, the royal children returned. Young Henri, disappointed by his father, turns to the only two people who have shown him affection: Diane and Anne de Montmorency. The children spend the fall in Anet with Diane and Louis de Brézé, then return to Saint Germain. During tournaments in honor of the new Queen Eleanor, sister of Charles V, young Henri chooses his lady: Diane. For the election of "the beauty among the beautiful", Queen Eleanor, the mistress of King Anne de Pisseleu and Diane de Poitiers are in competition. As the king's mistress and Diana are tied, Anne de Pisseleu, annoyed, will have only one goal in her life: to annihilate Diana.
In July 1531, Louis de Brézé passed away. From that date, after 17 years of happy living together, Diane wears only black with a few touches of white. To her coat of arms, she adds the symbol of a widow: a torch turned downwards and her motto is "the one who ignites me with the power to extinguish me".
Retiring to Anet, following the disappearance of the regent Louise of Savoy, Diane takes care of her. She practices a strict lifestyle, washes in clean water, takes an ice-water bath at all times, a broth in the morning, 3 hours of horseback riding at a brisk pace, a small snack at 11 am. No cosmetics, no sun, skin always white, dressed in silk, she attaches rows of pearls to her shoulders crossing over a black velvet bodice with a deep neckline, the ends of the sleeves in fine muslin, stones precious to her size, Diane regulates the affairs of her estates, grants audiences, dines at 6 p.m. and goes to bed.
Diane de Poitiers, favorite of Henri II
Called back to court in the fall of 1533, Diane, a close relative of Catherine de Medici, future wife of Henri, was chosen to guide her and explain French rituals and customs to her. Grandiose receptions, masked balls, endless banquets for this princely wedding… Diane is dressed in black and white, wears feathers of the same colors… Henri wears the same white and black feathers on his hat! He does his duty as a husband and immediately returns to his Lady. From the age of 6 and until his death at the age of 42, Henri worshiped Diane de Poitiers.
Appreciated by the king, very often invited to the hunt, Diane must face the aggressiveness and the hatred of the royal mistress who launches slander and rumors of belonging to witchcraft. We are witnessing the formation of 2 camps: that of the king's mistress and that of Diane. At this moment, Henri openly takes his defense, in front of the whole court and reiterates his oath of devotion to Diane. Diane, for her part, supports the king and Henri during the "Affaire des Placards", organized by the Reformed against the Catholics.
Henri became Dauphin (François just died) asserts himself, shares his opinions and feelings with his friends. Diane knows how to use her intelligence and charm, and is aware of the means to achieve her ends. They became lovers at the end of 1536 or the beginning of 1537, certainly at the castle of Ecouen, Anne de Montmorency’s favorite residence. On the morning of their first night, Diane writes a little poem (of which here is a passage) and sends it to Henri:
"Here really is Love, one fine morning,
Very nice flowers came to me ...
Because, you see, flowers so nice
Were boy, fresh, fit and young.
Henri shines with happiness thanks to Diane's constant presence by his side. Diane discovers with him the pleasure that a teenage lover provides, she transmits all her knowledge acquired alongside Louis de Brézé to him. She is not looking for Henri's love, but she does everything in her power not to let him die out, she holds him back by the power of her mind and by her intelligence, until she becomes godmother in 1538, of little Diane d'Angoulême (daughter of Henri and Filippa Duci). She will be married to the son of Anne de Montmorency, Françoise (1st daughter of Diane) married to Robert IV de la Marck, and the 2nd daughter of Diane to un Guise. But the Guises impose themselves too much: Catherine de Medici still not having a child, they propose a new wife for Henry II, young, beautiful who risks stealing Diana's place in Henri's heart.
The future queen and the mistress "stick together": one implores the king, the other takes care of the dolphin. Diane takes Catherine aside, talks to her gently, explains the art of making love to her. Some evenings, she sends Henri to his wife. Finally, the miracle happens: Catherine gives birth to her first baby boy in January 1544. Henri, so happy, offers a sum of money to thank Diane for helping the Dauphine. Once again, the mistress had known how to make herself useful ... But intrigues are going well at court, the royal mistresses hate each other, Francis I banishes Diana from the court, taking advantage of the fact that Henri has gone to war. Back from the countryside, he rushes to Anet.
The king, tired in February 1545, recalled Diane to the court, she resumed her position with Henri and was in charge of the education of 2 of the king's grandchildren. She feels that things will change very quickly after the death of François 1er and gets closer to Les Guises. The revolution did take place in March 1547, when François I died. Anne de Montmorency is appointed head of the Privy Council. Henry claims the jewels from the royal treasury and offers them to Diana, she also receives the key to the vault and the authorization to draw from it at will. Henri seizes the house of Anne de Pisseleu and gives it to Diane. The latter takes pleasure in receiving all these honors, but does not lose the head so far.
Queen or royal mistress?
Diane takes a keen interest in government, in the functioning of the kingdom's finances. She pushes Henri to create sumptuary laws (limitation of expenditure) concerning distractions, the pomp of the court, she encourages him to reduce the number of courtiers, and to establish new social measures (each district of Paris should constitute a fund social services for the poor, hospitals should accommodate the sick and infirm). To thank her and prove his love to her, Henri offers her the most beautiful jewel of the Loire: the Château de Chenonceau, which will become even more magnificent after the transformations made.
On the day of Henri II's coronation in July 1547, the king's costume caused a scandal: the embroidery recalled the attributes of Diana (quiver, bows, arrows, moon crescents, double D hanging on the H), the letter C of the queen does not appear anywhere! When Catherine's 3rd child is born, Diane decides on the governess, on feeding the children, on their education. Only Diane's word counts. For the celebrations in Lyon in September 1548, everything was black and white, from the uniforms of the soldiers to the harnessing of the horses. During these ceremonies, Diane attains the highest dignity of unborn princesses: Duchess of Valentinois. In May 1549, the spectacle given in Paris was even worse than the previous one: all the letters were "tied H and D", everything was white and black. Henri only trusts Diane, she signs official letters "HenriDiane", participates in the Privy Council, but is not immune to malicious acts and must fight against rumor: she would be at the origin of the persecution of heretics. Henri II is there for her.
They spend weeks in Anet, hours on horseback in the early morning and on the hunt, and magnificent banquets close the evenings. Henri had portraits of his favorite made: from this period dates the tradition of bathing portraits. Anet is a paradise: Henri recovered there from his imprisonment in Spain, the royal children stayed there with a good heart, the king likes to spend long moments in the library (all the books were bound in red morocco decorated with the number of king and his lady, one of the most prestigious collections of the Renaissance). Henri made Anet the seat of his government, writing the mail there and granting audiences.
Diane is very appreciated by those around her. Little Marie Stuart was entrusted to him when he arrived in France. She takes her housekeeper in "her luggage": Lady Fleming who has an affair with Henry II ... Diane is bedridden due to a fall from her horse. He does everything to hide this affair, but the royal mistress can count on her friends! Lady Fleming is sent back to Scotland. Diane is extremely upset to learn that Anne de Montmorency is involved in this story: in fact, he wants to remove Diane from power. The children of Catherine and Henri will reconcile the constable and the king's mistress.
During the war years 1552 to 1557, the queen and the royal mistress had to live together, despite the many differences: “Diane went one day to Catherine's apartments, she was reading. Interested Diane asks her what she was reading: "I read the stories of this kingdom, and I find there that from time to time at all times, whores have run the affairs of kings." The insult circled the kingdom. Diane takes revenge by making Montmorency note that among the king's children, only Diane of France resembled the king… this comment is spreading in all the courts of the country!
Diane de Poitiers' last years
After the truce with Spain, the celebrations recommenced, with weddings in 1558 and July 1559, with tournaments and jousting. And this is the famous accident of the king, fatally injured during a game. Diane rushes to him, but the queen definitely forbids her passage. This is the first time that Diane de Poitiers has felt utterly helpless… she is afraid of seeing the King of France die, but above all afraid of suffering the queen's revenge. Without Henri, she no longer has any authority. She returns to her house and awaits the news. Not being invited to the funeral, she just watches the procession from one of her windows. The king’s effigy does not wear black and white, no crescent moons, the HD number does not appear on the king’s horse harness. She was asked to return to Anet castle and Queen Catherine de Medici offered her the castle of Chaumont sur Loire in exchange for Chenonceau: the deed of cession was signed in April 1560.
On entering Chaumont sur Loire, the queen's former property, Diane is horrified by all the traces of necromancy and alchemy left by Catherine: Greek, Egyptian and Hebrew characters adorned an altar on which sat a skull, vials of powder and brine jars containing animal limbs, strange works, scrolls and animal remains. She burns everything, closes Chaumont and bequeaths it to her daughter Françoise.
She joins Anet where she has all of Henri’s memories. At the dawn of her 60s, she is still a beautiful woman, enjoying good physical condition, despite a horse accident which broke her leg, she has just turned sixty-four.
Brantôme wrote: "I saw this lady, six months before she died, still so beautiful, that I did not know heart of the rock that was not moved by it, although beforehand she had broken her leg on the pavement. d'Orléans, going and keeping on horseback as dexterously as she had ever done; but the horse fell and slipped under her; and, for such a rupture and aches and pains which she endured, it would have seemed that her beautiful face had changed; but nothing less than that, for her beauty, her grace, her majesty, her beautiful appearance, were all the same as she had always had ".
Two years later, after a brief and serious illness, she passed away on April 26, 1566 in her castle in Anet, having divided her immense fortune between her two daughters and assured bequests to a number of convents. During her funeral, a hundred poor people from the villages dressed in white accompany the procession, singing "pray to God for Diane de Poitiers".
Diane de Poitiers is buried in the funeral chapel she had built near the castle. The French revolutionaries, in 1795, opened the tomb and cut his hair to make souvenir wicks, then later an owner sold the castle stone by stone.
- Diane de Poitiers by Michel de Decker. Pygmalion, 2004.
- The moon and the serpent: Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médicis, two rivals in the heart of the king of Marie-Christine de Kent. Pocket, 2007.
- Diane de Poitiers de Cloulas Ivan. Fayard, 1997.