Madame de Poitiers, born on 3rd September 1499, is among the most intriguing figures of French history. For a decade she ruled France alongside King Henri II as a royal mistress. Not only was she very beautiful and wealthy, but in her days, Diane de Poitiers had a lasting impact on the royalty of France during the French Renaissance. Her story is one of the most famous love triangles that were encrypted with royal fame, having smitten the heart of the prince to bits. In France, her love triangle story is told in tales of exemplary romance and of daring rivalry.
The royal mistress was a bold and inspiring woman. In fact, today she is often regarded as a role model, a heroine preceding the modern woman. The simple way of describing Diane de Poitiers is, if she had lived in this twenty-first century, there is no doubt that she would have put up a popular website. She had class and pomp, boldness and courage, elegance and beauty, and a daring spirit and funfair to boot. For instance, how her royal fame begun shows how opportunistic and liberal she was. When Queen Claude, the official wife of King Francois I died, Diane de Poitiers, a lady in waiting at that time, managed her grandest social coup when she was put in charge of the courts’ royal nursery.
This was in around July, 1524, and Diane de Poitiers met the five year old Prince Henri. She came into his life as a mother figure and earned his absolute love. The following year, 1525, King Francois lost in the battle of Pavia and was taken hostage by Emperor Charles V. The king could only be granted freedom if his two eldest sons, Henri and the Dauphin, were taken captive. As the two princes aged below nine years were escorted to Spain, the French entourage included Diane de Poitiers as she tried to comfort young Henri, terrified by the prospects of living as a captive in enemy land.
When Henri returned home from exile two years later, he sought for comfort from Diane and not his own father. Actually the whole summer and part of fall in 1530, the Dauphin and Henri lived with Diane and Louis de Breze, her husband, at their chateaux, Anet. The boyish adoration with which Henri loved Diane, at the age of twelve and thirteen, was phenomenal. He wore green and white colors that spring during his jousting tournament, to honor Diane, for those were her favorite colors. The royal fame of Diane was rising as the prince blossomed. Francis I allowed Diane to be Henri’s mentor in courtly manners. When Francis’s new wife, Eleanor was crowned queen in 1531, people saluted the queen as Henri saluted Diane.
That same year however, Louis de Breze died, leaving Diane de Poitiers, a widow. Louis had served the court of King Francis I by virtue of having been the grandson of King Charles VII. Her survival at the French court was endangered, and she knew it as well. She was very wealthy at that time coupled with a majestic beauty. She also realized that she needed a protector against her powerful enemies in the court, such as Anne de Pisseleu, the mistress of François I. Her royal fame was now in jeopardy. Henri was only 14 years old at that time but he made known his devotion to protect the widow from any force. They had not yet become lovers but the foundation of the single most powerful love story of all the Renaissance period had been laid by this innocent but chivalrous admiration. Diane was actually able to have her fierce opponent, Anne de Pisseleu exiled, a few years later.
As was becoming of the prince, Henri married Catherine de Medici, a daughter of an upstart Florentine merchant in 1533, a quiet and rather plain faced girl who could never hope to compare with the lovely goddess, Diane de Poitiers. Henri saw to it that Diane played a very important role in their marriage. Diane oversaw the household running, nursed the royal children and generally run the family from top to bottom, with Henri’s admiration. Although Catherine observed it all in casual stare, smiled through it all, she was preparing venom, to strike at the opportune hour, when the royal fame of her kin, Diane de Poitiers, could not save her.
But by 1538, Diane and Henri were lovers and a French folklore. It is usually said that Diane de Poitiers learned her mischievous boldness and strong personality from Anne de Beaujeu, the strong willed daughter of Louis XI, who defended the French regency stiffly, in her brother’s minority. This is where Diane spent her young years before she went on to marry 54-year old Louis de Breze, at age 15. By the time she died, on 25 April 1566 at the age of 66, the noblewoman had reigned in royal fame through the two courts of Francis I and Henri II. Her consistent and adamant stature, defying all odds to become a royal mistress of a King, 20 years her junior, has earned her a prestigious place in history books.
She was not just a royal mistress, but a shrewd business woman and a scheming lawyer. She fought against the nationalization of her husband’s wealth and multiplied it ten fold. She was a fierce sportswoman and a reputed hunter. Beautiful and well figured, well after her middle age, she was the caption of imagination and splendor. For twenty five years, as their correspondence later showed, Diane remained the most authoritative figure in Henri’s life. Yet she instigated the preservation of the French royal family by forcing Henri to visit the Queen’s bedroom often. Diane served Catherine faithfully, nursing her many times from scarlet fever and educating her eleven children.