Diane de Poitiers - Encyclopedia

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DIANE DE POITIERS (1499-1566), duchess of Valentinois, and mistress of Henry II. of France, was the daughter of Jean de Poitiers, seigneur de St Vallier, who came of an old family of Dauphine. In 1515 she married Louis de Breze, grand seneschal of Normandy, by whom she had two daughters. She became a widow in 1533, but soon replaced her husband by a more illustrious lover, the king's second son, Henry, who became dauphin in 1536. Although he was ten years younger than Diane, she inspired the young prince with a profound passion, which lasted until his death. The accession of Henry II. in 1547 was also the accession of Diane: she was virtual queen, while Henry's lawful wife, Catherine de' Medici, lived in comparative obscurity. The part Diane played, however, must not be exaggerated. More rapacious than ambitious, she concerned herself little with government, but devoted her energies chiefly to augmenting her income, and providing for her family and friends. Henry was the most prodigal of lovers, and gave her all rights over the duchy of Valentinois. Although she showed great tact in her dealings with the queen, Catherine drove her from the court after Henry's death, and forced her to restore the crown jewels and to accept Chaumont in exchange for Chenonceaux. Diane retired to her chateau at Anet, where she died in 1566.

Several historians relate that she had been the mistress of Francis I. before she became the dauphin's mistress, and that she gave herself to the king in order to obtain the pardon of her father, who had been condemned to death as an accomplice of the constable de Bourbon. This rumour, however, has no serious foundation. Men vied with each other in celebrating Diane's beauty, which, if we may judge from her portraits, has been slightly exaggerated. She was a healthy, vigorous woman, and, by dint of great pains, succeeded in retaining her beauty late into life. It is said that even on the coldest mornings she would wash her face with well water. Diane was a patroness of the arts. She entrusted to Philibert de l'Orme the building of her chateau at Anet, and it was for her that Jean Goujon executed his masterpiece, the statue of Diana, now in the Louvre.

See G. Guiffrey, Lettres inedites de Diane de Poytiers (Paris, 1866) and Proces criminel de Jehan de Poytiers (Paris, 1867); Capefigue, Diane de Poitiers (Paris, 1860); Hay, Madame Dianne de Poytiers (London, 1goo).

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