de Poitiers, Diane (1499–1566)

views updated May 23 2018

de Poitiers, Diane (14991566)

A famous consort of the French king Henri II, Diane de Poitiers was born of aristocratic parents in the castle of Saint-Vallier, in the French Alps. She married Louis de Breze, a courtier and grandson of King Charles VII, at the age of fifteen. On the death of her husband in 1531, she arranged to have his titles of seneschal (king's representative) of Normandy pass into her own hands, instead of allowing that office to return to the king, which was the traditional practice. After Francis I took the throne, Diane became a companion to his sons. When Francis was captured at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, he offered his sons Francois and Henri as hostages in exchange for his freedom. When Henri returned to France, at the age of twelve, Diane became his tutor and guide. The two grew close and as he matured Henri fell in love with his mentor.

Well before Henri became king of France in 1547, Diane became his favorite mistress, adviser, and companion. As king, Henri entrusted important correspondence and documents to her, and relied on her advice in important matters of state. Diane came to wield more authority in the French court than Henri's queen, Catherine de Médicis, and despite the fact that Catherine was a distant cousin of Diane, their rivalry for Henri's affections made them bitter enemies. Henri favored Diane by ordering the castle of Anet built for her, bestowing on her the title of Duchess of Etampes, and allowing her the custody of the crown jewels and the castle of Chenonceau, one of the most magnificent royal residences in Europe. In 1559, however, Henri died of injuries suffered in a duel, and soon afterward his jealous queen, Catherine, took possession of the crown jewels and permanently banished Diane from Chenonceau.