Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

DIANE DE POITIERS
(1499-1566)

France
Royal Adviser

Born into a noble family and married at age sixteen to fifty-six-yearold Louis de Breze, leader of the French province of Normandy, Diane de Poitiers was the mother of two girls at the time of her husband's death in 1531. Louis de Breze was a close ally and loyal subject of the King of France, Francis I. Diane first met Francis I's second son, Prince Henry of Orleans, in 1530, when the future king of France was only eleven. Soon after the death of her husband, Diane began an association with eleven-year-old Henry that was viewed by most observers as strictly maternal in nature, especially given their differences in age. In 1543 Prince Henry was married to Catherine de' Medici, cousin of Pope Clement VII. But Henry never grew to love his wife, and it seems likely that the relationship between the Dauphin and Diane de Poitiers had become sexual by the mid- to late 1530s. Despite being twenty years his senior, Diane remained Henry's mistress until his death in 1559. Queen Catherine appears to have suffered this relationship in silence, remaining at all times polite and deferential to the older woman.

Diane's importance at the French royal court was enhanced considerably in 1536 when Henry's older brother and heir apparent Francis died unexpectedly. Henry succeeded to the French throne after the death of his father in 1547, and according to more than one contemporary observer, Diane played a key role in the appointment of the king's advisers. The king created a new title for his mistress, Duchess of Valentinos, and he bestowed upon her the royal jewels. Henry then levied a special tax on all the churches in France and turned the receipts over to Diane for her personal use. The king would normally share a noon meal with his informal adviser, and Diane became very adept at balancing the many factions and interest groups at court.

The personal impact of her influence on the new king was imme

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