Diane de Poitiers - Famous Royal Mistress

Diane de Poitiers
Diane de Poitiers | Source

Early Life of Diane de Poitiers

Diane de Poitiers was born in 1499 at the castle of Saint Vallier in the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Her parents were Jean de Poitiers, Seigneur de Saint Vallier and Jeanne de Batarnay. As was the custom in those days for highly born girls, she was still a child when she was sent to join the retinue of Anne de Beaujeu, who was the eldest sister of King Charles VIII. She was married at the tender age of 15 to Louis de Breze, Seigneur d’Anet, a man who was 39 years older than her. Her new husband was rich and well-connected, being a grandson of King Charles VII and acting as a courtier for King Francis I. This marriage produced two daughters, Francoise born in 1518 and Louise born in 1521. She became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France, and after Claude’s death became lady-in-waiting in turn to both Louise of Savoy and Eleanor of Austria.

Diane de Poitier’s family were hit by scandal and almost brought down in 1524 when her father, Jean de Poitiers, was accused of treason due to his association with Charles III, Duke of Bourbon who was planning to carve up the kingdom of France with the aid of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King Henry VIII of England. Her father’s head was actually placed on the block and the executioner poised to bring his axe down, when a pardon came through at the last minute from King Francis I.

Did Alchemy Kill Diane de Poitiers?

Diane de Poitier's Beauty and Accomplishments

Diane de Poitier’s husband died in 1531, and it was at this time that she started to exclusively wear the black and white clothes, which became one of her hallmarks and served to enhance the attractions of her pale beauty and coppery hair. Unusually for a woman at this time, she was very interested in finance and legal matters, and after her husband’s death she managed to retain his rights as governor and grand-senechal of Normandy, and took up a legal challenge to stop his appanages being returned to the royal estates. In this way she managed to stay a wealthy and influential woman in her own right.

Diane de Poitiers was famous for her beauty and was immortalised in art by many painters, notably by Francois Clouet, who painted her topless in her bath. Diane de Poitiers retained her remarkable good looks until she was well past middle age, with one of the French courtiers describing her as ‘as fresh and lovable’ in her later years as she had been in her thirties and that her skin was ‘of great whiteness’. She was also a very active woman and was a keen rider and enjoyed hunting as a sport. Diane was very well educated and was able to read Latin and Greek, as well as learning dancing, music, manners and the art of conversation. During her life she was to become the patron of many painters and poets, and was renowned for being a very cultivated woman.


Diane de Poitiers and Henri II

Diane de Poitiers had known Henri II since he was a small child, and was part of the entourage that escorted Henri and his brother to the Spanish border, when they were sent as hostages in exchange for their father’s freedom, after Francis I had been captured during the Battle of Pavia in 1525. When he was returned to France at the age of 12, Henri went to Diane for comfort and she was appointed as his mentor to teach him the ways and manners of the French royal court. Even at this age, Henri was evidently very taken with Diane as at the tournament that was held to celebrate the coronation of Francis I’s new wife Eleanor, Henri saluted Diane rather than the new bride as was customary and carried Diane’s colours of green and white.

In 1533 Henri was married to Catherine de Medici.  This was not a popular union at the French court, as many believed the Medici to be nothing but upstarts, as they were Florentine merchants. The marriage was, however, promoted by Diane de Poitiers, as Catherine de Medici was related to her through the La Tour d’Auvergne family. Diane was very active in helping to make the marriage a success, so as to further her own political ends and to retain her power at court.  It was always useful to have a Queen in your power. When rumours began to abound that Catherine de Medici was to be repudiated as Henri’s wife because she was childless, Diane made sure that Henri paid frequent visits to his wife’s bedchamber so that she would conceive.  Diane also nursed Catherine through a bad bout of scarlet fever, to help ensure that she would survive and that Diane would retain her influence. Henri and Catherine eventually had ten children, and Diane was placed in charge of their education until 1551 and Diane’s daughter Francoise was put in charge of Catherine’s servants.

Diane de Poitiers - Royal Mistress

It is believed that Diane de Poitiers became Henri’s mistress in 1538, and their relationship was to last over 20 years until his death in 1559. Henri was devoted to her, and although he strayed occasionally, Diane always remained the most important woman in Henri’s life. Diane could be ruthless in eliminating any woman who she perceived to be a rival, and on the death of Francis I she had his mistress Anne de Pisseleu dismissed from court, because Anne had earlier been the supporter of Philippe de Chabot, while Diane supported Montmorency. As well as being Henri’s lover, she came to wield a great deal of influence over him and became a powerful political force at court. Henri became King of France in 1547 and Diane de Poitier’s place at court was assured as long as she had Henri’s support. Henri II trusted her with all of his business and even allowed her to write his official letters, some of which were jointly signed HenriDiane. In 1548 Henri gave Diane the title Duchesse de Valentinois and in 1553 she became Duchesse d’Etampes.

As you can imagine, none of this made Diane very popular with Henri’s wife Catherine de Medici, who was constantly thrust into the background. She had first had had to put up with Diane managing her life and her relationship with her husband, and then she had to endure watching him spend all his time with Diane, listening to her opinions and showering her with titles and possessions. Henri II gave Diane the Chateau de Chenonceau, which Catherine had coveted for herself, built the Chateau d’Anet for her and even entrusted her with the French Crown Jewels. Diane de Poitiers was all powerful while Henri II was alive, but when he was fatally injured in a tournament, Catherine immediately stopped Diane from having any access to the dying king. Although he reputedly incessantly called out for Diane from his sickbed, Catherine denied Henri the comfort of being with Diane in his last days and Diane was also barred from attending his funeral.

Diane de Poitiers
Diane de Poitiers | Source

Downfall and Death of Diane de Poitiers

Catherine de Medici ousted Diane from the Chateau de Chenonceau soon after Henri’s demise and banished her to the Chateau de Chaumont. She left there to go and reside in her own Chateau d’Anet, where she lived out the rest of her life in comfortable obscurity until she died at the age of 66. She was buried in a specially built funeral chapel at the Chateau d’Anet, but her grave was desecrated during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century and her remains were flung into a mass grave outside the castle.

One of the great mysteries of Diane de Poitier’s life was how she managed to stay looking so young and beautiful, and how she kept Henri II captivated until his death despite being twenty years older than him. Scientists believe that they may have found the answer to this after Diane’s remains were discovered in 2008 and examined. Diane drank an elixir every day to preserve her porcelain, white skin and to stop her aging. This elixir was a mixture of gold chloride and diethyl ether, with some mercury thrown in as a ‘purifier’. These drinkable gold elixirs were very popular at the French Court during the 16th century, as they thought that the gold was imbued with the powers of the sun, which would be passed on to whoever drank the gold mixture. The scientists think that it was ingesting this gold mixture that eventually killed Diane. One of the symptoms of gold poisoning is very white skin, which is caused by anaemia, and also brittle bones and teeth, and having exceptionally fine hair. Diane’s remains showed all these affects of gold poisoning when examined and when some locks of her hair, which had been preserved at Chateau D’Anet, were tested, they were found to contain more than 500 times the level of gold that would be expected in normal human hair.


Diane de Poitiers' ghost is still said to haunt the Chateau de Chenonceau that she loved so well, her apparition appearing at the time of the full moon alongside that of her rival for Henri II’s attention and affection, Catherine de Medici, who is seen combing Diane’s hair. Diane’s lonely ghost is also sometimes seen forlornly gazing into the mirror in her old bedroom. Diane de Poitier’s remains are soon going to be reburied back in the Chateau d’Anet, so it is to be hoped that she will then finally rest at peace.

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Comments 23 comments

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 20 months ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Glad you enjoyed the hub Easy Exercise. It's amazing the lengths people will go to to preserve their looks and extend their lives, even though historically many of those things were actually harmful


Easy Exercise profile image

Easy Exercise 20 months ago from United States

Cmhypno,

What a fascinating lady and her ending! Wow! I had never heard of this youthful elixir!

Very enjoyable. Thank you!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Glad that you found the information on Diane de Poitiers useful Rebecca, and thanks for reading the hub and leaving a comment


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 5 years ago from Canada

wow, I was reading a book and they made mention of here, in passing but this really adds to this work. Well done! many thanks.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi Ingenira, I don't think that they have made the story of Diane de Poitiers into a movie yet, though there have been tv programmes and documentaries


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 6 years ago

interesting story, have they made it into movie ?


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Glad that you found the story of Diane de Poitiers useful D.Virtual.Doctor


D.Virtual.Doctor profile image

D.Virtual.Doctor 6 years ago from Europe

Thanks a lot for such a piece. I didn't hesitate saving it at all. I have been searching for something very very similar to this for some research work, now I have it. Thanks....


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks heyju, and glad that you enjoyed reading about the life of Diane de Poitiers. It was a tough business staying at the top as a royal mistress back then!


heyju profile image

heyju 6 years ago

CMHypno...I always love your stories...thank you so much!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

hi Slainia, precious metal elixirs - colloidal silver and colloidal gold - are still widely used today, so you can taste the colloidal gold to see what the flavour is. Probably in Diane de Poitiers elixir they added extra stuff, so we may never really know what the taste was


Slainia profile image

Slainia 6 years ago from Goderich Ontario

Huh. You caught a pet hobby of mine in the history and lifestyle here. Did find one or two typos - extra word "had had", I believe, but the content itself was fun, and still interesting. I wasn't able to watch the video, still in the process of updating my computer from the reformat, but there were so many points I found interesting. Probably my favorite was the gold elixir - I kept wondering how it would taste. Funny how so much of alchemy at that point was influenced by the mythical properties of the materials they used, considering their deadly natures.

Hrm. I'm rambling - I'm sorry. :(


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks Hello,hello. Glad you enjoyed the story of Henri II's royal mistress!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for such a well research and wonderfully written hub.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

katiem2 - Glad you enjoyed reading about Diane de Poitiers - the life of a royal mistress in the Renaissance was indeed a fascinating one!

Sandyspider - thanks for the read and glad you enjoyed the Hub


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Great story of Diane de Poitiers.


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

Ewwww, very interesting, loved this packed detailed report of Diane de Poitiers and just a fab video, wonderful indeed. Thanks and Peace :)


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Glad you enjoyed the story of Diane de Poitiers and her royal lover, De Greek. Thanks for the read and for leaving a comment.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Fascinating story. Thank you very much :D


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi travelespresso, back then, when most marriages were arranged rather than love matches, most kings and noblemen had mistresses, and the position of 'official' mistress was recognised and she would have been deferred to and toadied up to by members of the Court who were trying to get the King's ear. The topless picture would not have been scandalous because of her mistress status, indeed the famous Venus rising from the sea on a shell picture is a likeness of Simonetta Vespucci, the mistress of Lorenzo de Medici. A topless picture of Queen Catherine would have been a different matter!


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

Great read CMH. They certainly knew how to "do", affairs, intrigue and power back then. I like this hub! Well done. Did the topless painting cause a scandal back then?


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Well the story goes that the ghost of Catherine de Medici is combing Diane de Poitiers hair. Maybe the comb is dipped in arsenic or something? Thanks for the read and the great comment.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

Are you certain that the ghost of Catherine De Medici is really combing Dianne's hair? Isn't it more likely that she is about to cut her throat?

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