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The Historic Tale Of Diane De Poitiers And You Think Your Marriage Is Complex

Aug 17, 2007
The story of Diane de Poitiers should serve as a motivation to all of us who feel not-as-young-as-we-used-to-be. Diane was born in 1499, the daughter of Jean de Poitiers and thus a member of a very ancient line. A beauty from a very young age, at 13 she married into another distinguished line when she became the spouse of Louis de Breze who was 39 years older than Diane and a grandson of Charles VII.

When she came with Louis de Breze to the court of Francois I, she found herself deep in the wonderful Renaissance atmosphere that she loved. This was a time when France was discovering the new wonders of architecture and art brought back to France by Francois I from his travels in Italy, where, of course, the Renaissance was in full swing.

In 1531, her old husband died, but Diane stayed at court. Whilst there she not surprisingly managed to catch the eye of young Henri who later became Henri II. Although she was in her 30s by then, and surrounded at court by many women who were much younger, she was considered to be one of the dazzling court beauties. Before Henri's arranged marriage to Catherine de Medicis in 1533, Diane became his mistress. Henri was 14. Before I forget, at the time of the marriage, Catherine was herself something of a looker and she was 18 years younger than Diane.

In spite of this, Henri seemed to try to avoid Catherine as much as he could, continuing to pursue his interest in Diane. You might guess that Catherine de Medicis did not take kindly to her husband's interest in Diane, especially when Diane was officially acknowledged as his mistress three years after the marriage. The age factor added insult to injury, and things just seemed to go from bad to worse for Catherine.

As Henri's wife, it was of course her duty to produce an heir (or better yet, several of them), preferably male, since, a daughter could not succeed to the throne in France. Catherine appeared to be incapable of fulfilling her duty in this respect. Of course, this failure may have had something to do with the fact that Henri seemed resolute to spend all his time, day AND night, with Diane.

Now this is where the story even more interesting. Diane appreciated that there was no love lost between her and Catherine, of course, but she was also aware that if Henri's marriage were annulled because there was no successor, he might have to marry someone even less accommodating. Being something of a pragmatist, she made a deal with Catherine, agreeing that on some evenings Henri would spend several hours in Diane's bed, then go to Catherine's for a while, then return to Diane's bedchamber. We are told that Diane also gave Catherine some practical hints which we assume were not directed toward how she could cook a better pot roast.

This apparently did the job, because the future Francois II was born in 1544, followed by the future Charles IX in 1550, and the future Henri III in 155l, plus several other children..

So Diane did not exactly marry a man younger than herself. She did come close, managing to retain Henri's interest and love until his death in 1559. Although Diane did present an enduring distraction, Henri II managed to enjoy some other interests. One of them, unfortunately, was jousting. Every so often, Henri would throw a huge fete, which would typically involve consuming copious amounts of wine, eating the French equivalent of a bar-be-que, and enjoying, as entertainment, a sort of recreation of a medieval tournament. Now this would have been fine, as long as the King just sat in the stands and cheered on his favorites. But that was not the sort of man Henri was.

So, on one of these memorable tournaments, Henri, always the life of the party, climbed on his horse and prepared to have a go at his opponent with what we believe were tipped lances. This did not turn out to be a good idea. Although the sport was aimed at simply knocking your opponent off his horse, something went wrong. Henri zigged when he should have zagged and the next thing he knew he had been nearly run through by a lance, which pierced deeply into his eye.

Henri should have known better than to deliberately expose himself to such danger, because there was really no able heir ready to succeed him. In spite of his heroic efforts to produce children by his wife Catherine de Medicis, none of his sons was yet of age to assume the throne. This meant, of course, that when he succumbed to his injuries shortly after the tournament in 1559, he left France in the hands of at least one minor children.

In any case, with a new monarch, Diane suddenly found herself persona non grata at court. Since Catherine de Medicis was now in a better position to extract her revenge, being the king's mother instead of simply an out-of-favor wife, she began to pressure Diane to hand over one of the most important presents she had been given by Henri II - the castle of Chenonceau, something of a bug bear between the two women.

Diane loved the castle of Chenonceau. In 1547 Henri II had made her a gift of the castle and in 1551, she had become the Duchess of Valentinois there. If the accounts are correct, she ran the castle with an iron but artistic hand, turning the already lovely area into a garden spot with plants and trees personally selected by her, including such exotic offerings as artichokes and melons. The balls and hunts given by her at Chateau Chenonceau became legendary.

By 1552, Henri was spending most of his time, frequently without Catherine, at Chenonceau. It was probably expected that Catherine would want Chenonceau returned if anything untoward ever happened to the man in both women's lives. But when Henri died, Catherine discovered that Henri had not simply given Diane the use of the property instead, the castle had been given outright to Diane, in spite of legal restrictions which specified that such royal property could not be alienated.

Since it was potentially no longer part of the royal domain, it would be difficult for Catherine to assert a claim to Chenonceau on purely legal grounds. On her side, Diane had not been naive enough to trust that all would be well forever between her and Henri, and she had sensibly set about to make her own castle of Anet quite comfortable just in case.

A period of sparring ensued, but since Catherine's power was clearly on the ascent, Diane did the prudent thing and decided to yield, however painful that may have been for her. There is some reason to believe that Catherine offered to provide her rival with the castle of Chaumont in exchange for Chenonceau, but in the end, Diane retired to Anet, where she died in 1566, seven years after the death of Henri.
About the Author
Corina Clemence runs a luxury french chateau in the Loire Valley near Blois, for up to fifteen people perfect for touring vineyards and chateaux and relaxing french holidays. It is ideal for a french wedding, party or event. Rent the whole castle or rent a suite. Rent a castle in France. Hire castle - hire chateau Rent castle http://www.loirechateau.com Rent chateau France
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