The story of Diane de Poitiers is a classic one if you’re familiar with the history of French nobility. A beautiful woman entered the royal court using her charms and looks. In the style of Madame de Pompadour, Diane de Poitiers was a royal mistress who wielded a very significant power to suit her interests. But while one wouldn’t expect a mistress to outlast one king, Diane thrived during the reigns of two different kings. Even before that, her life completely revolved around the French royalty. If you’re curious about her life and legacy, here are 42 extravagant facts about Diane de Poitiers.
1. “Queen of France” was Already Taken
Diane held many titles during her lifetime. These included: Duchess of Étampes, Duchess of Valentinois, Countess of Saint-Vallier, and The Grand Senechal of Normandy.
2. Starting at the End of a Century
Diane was born on September 3, 1499. Her birthplace was the commune of Saint-Vallier in the département of Drôme, in south-eastern France.
Diane was named after Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon, as well as hunting and archery. In case you’re curious, Diana was inspired (or plagiarized) from the Greek goddess Artemis. That does make us wonder why Diane couldn’t have been named after the original moon goddess, given how Diane later adopted the moon as part of her persona.
4. Stroke of a Pen
Diane has been the subject of many novels over the years. We’ll go over the two biggest examples, but for now, we’ll mention some of the other authors who have written about Diane. The list includes Dorothy Dunnett, Carolyn Meyer, C.W. Gortner, Jean Plaidy, and Princess Michael of Kent. Speaking of the latter, the princess was actually a descendant of Diane herself!
5. Mom & Dad
Diane was the daughter of Jeanne de Batarnay and Jean de Poitiers, a French nobleman who was the seigneur of Saint-Vallier.
6. Asymmetrical Wedding Couple
When Diane was just 15 years old, she married Louis de Brézé, seigneur d’Anet. Although de Brézé was very well-placed in French society—he was the grandson of King Charles VII of France and served King Francis I as a courtier—it’s worth noting that he was a full 39 years older than his new bride.
7. Our Girls
Diane and her husband Louis de Brézé had two daughters together. Francoise de Brézé was born in 1518, while Louise de Brézé was born in 1521.
8. Knowledge is Power
Diane received a very well-rounded education as she grew up. Aside from the subjects of conversation, music, dancing, and courtly manners, Diane was also taught how to read Latin and Greek, hunt, and debate the subject of Renaissance humanism. She would be an accomplished hunter and sportswoman as a result.
9. As Long as He Doesn’t Gouge Out his Eyes
Diane first became acquainted with Henry when he was still a boy. During his youth, Henry II was sent to Spain to live as a royal hostage. Diane stood in for his mother and gave him a kiss of farewell before he departed France. When he returned to France several years later, he fell head over heels in love with Diane. If you think this setup sounds a bit Freudian, we agree with you!
10. Raised Among Royalty
As a little girl, Diane served in the retinue of Anne de Beaujeu. In case you’re wondering who that was, de Beaujeu was a princess of France and an older sister of Charles VIII. She spent several years ruling France as a regent for her brother and proved her skills at administration.
11. From One Queen to Another
Before 1531, Diane was one of the ladies-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France, who was married to Francis I. This position was partly acquired due to Diane’s husband’s role within the French court. With the death of Queen Claude, Diane instead served as lady-in-waiting to Francis I’s mother, Louise of Savoy.
12. Cougar Courtier
Contrary to how you might have expected the situation to be, Diane was actually much older than the king whose mistress she became. In fact, she was 20 years older than Henry II.
13. Dropping the Bomb
Hollywood tried their hand at depicting the life of Diane in a 1956 historical film that was conveniently titled Diane. Portrayed by Hollywood starlet Lana Turner, the film focused on Diane’s love story with Henry II, portrayed by Roger Moore decades before his stint as James Bond. It also featured her rivalry with Henry II’s wife Catherine de Medici, played by Marisa Pavan.
Unfortunately, the film was a famous flop, losing millions of dollars for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
14. Well Done, Pierre!
During her time as a courtier, Diane was an enthusiastic patron of the arts. One of the people who most benefited from her patronage was Pierre de Ronsard. Ronsard was a prominent poet during the French Renaissance and was the poet laureate of France in all but name during his lifetime.
During the reign of King Henry II, Diane became more than just his mistress. Her intellect and political mind were such that she wrote many of Henry II’s official letters. He even allowed her to add her signature to some of these letters. And for those shippers out there, they totally signed some of those letters together with the couple name “HenriDiane.”
True, it’s not the most original name out there, but still.
16. I was One of His French Girls
Unsurprisingly, Diane was the subject of several paintings in her life. The most famous of these paintings was made by Renaissance artist Francois Clouet. It depicts a youthful Diane topless in her bath. Admittedly, there is debate as to whether the painting is about Diane or Mary Queen of Scots, but it’s known that Diane wasn’t at all averse to posing for nude paintings.
17. Cradle Robber
According to a study of the surviving letters of correspondence between Diane and King Henry II, their romantic relationship began when she was 35 and he was 15.
18. No French Actresses Were Available?
In 1994, Diane was portrayed in the historical biopic Nostradamus. Diane appears in a supporting role, played by English actress Diana Quick.
19. Why Would This Possibly Be Awkward?
While Diane held sway over Henry II and his court, she drew the fury of Henry II’s wife, Queen Catherine. For Diane’s part, she had actually approved of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, and tried her best to keep things as cordial as possible.
20. Home Sweet Home
Diane’s most consistent home during her life was the Chateau d’Anet, her husband’s estate. Located near Dreux, in Northern France, the house was very luxurious and included one of the first gardens in France to be designed in the Italian parterre style. The house itself was a manor built in the Late Gothic style. Interestingly, the manor was built on top of the foundations of a feudal castle.
21. I Recognize it Now!
Many years after Diane’s death, the Chateau d’Anet underwent a very tumultuous journey. During the French Revolution, its rich belongings were sold via auction. A lot of the chateau was demolished, though a portion of it was preserved. You might recognize Diane’s former property being used as a location in both the 1965 film Thunderball and the 1976 film The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
22. Isn’t This Where They’d Become Friendly?
Despite the rivalry between them, Diane was able to put the realm above her feelings for Queen Catherine on several occasions. When the queen was struck down by an illness, Diane assisted in nursing Catherine back to full health. Based on what eventually happened, this did nothing to make things less difficult between the two women.
23. Who Gets the Credit?
One of the most well-known people to write about Diane was none other than French author Alexandre Dumas. He wrote about her in the 1846 historical novel The Two Dianas. However, we might be jumping the gun by mentioning Dumas, since he himself disputed that he had anything to do with the novel. Dumas claimed that the true author of The Two Dianas was his longtime collaborator and friend Paul Meurice.
Historians continue to dispute how involved Dumas was in the creation of The Two Dianas.
24. Apparently Adultery Doesn’t Matter to Him!
Diane’s position in the French royal court was so clearly recognized by her contemporaries that even foreign dignitaries paid her due honors. No less a figure than Pope Paul III was among those figures who acknowledged Diane’s prestige as the royal mistress. When the pope bestowed the ornament known as “The Golden Rose” upon Queen Catherine, he made sure to provide a pearl necklace to Diane as well.
Again, the head of the Catholic Church happily gifted the king’s mistress alongside his lawfully wedded wife.
25. One Great Woman Writing About Another
One of the first people to write about Diane was the elusive and renowned French author Madame de La Fayette. She wrote about Diane in her novel La Princesse de Cleves. Originally released anonymously in 1678, La Princesse de Cleves has since been attributed to de La Fayette. It’s been recognized as the very first historical novel in French history.
26. Looks Just Like You!
In 1549, the Fountain of Diana was first presented. This marble sculpture features the Roman goddess Diana alongside a large stag and two dogs. Not only was this sculpture originally built to stand in Diane’s Chateau d’Anet, but the goddess’s face was shaped to be in tribute to Diane’s own image. Frankly, that kind of vanity could only be achieved by one of the ultra-rich.
27. Torn Apart
Diane’s power over the French royal court came to an abrupt end when King Henry II was badly injured during a jousting tournament in 1559. Henry’s wife, Queen Catherine, pounced on the opportunity she’d finally gotten after being overshadowed by Diane for so long. Taking charge as regent, Catherine blocked Diane and Henry II from seeing each other, even when the king reportedly demanded that Diane visit him.
Catherine also refused to allow Diane to attend Henry II’s funeral when the king eventually died of his injuries.
28. Spat Between Cousins?
Coincidentally, Diane and Catherine de Medici were distant relatives. Both women were descended from the La Tour d’Auvergne family.
29. Climbing the Ladder
Diane’s elder daughter, Francoise de Brézé, benefitted greatly from her mother’s position in the French royal court. As the wife of Robert IV de La Marck, she was herself a courtier, but she also became the royal governess to the royal children and the primary lady-in-waiting to Henry II’s wife, Queen Catherine de Medici.
30. No Hard Feelings?
You might be astonished to know that Diane’s daughter was a lady-in-waiting to Catherine de Medici while Diane was mistress to Catherine’s husband. However, despite any ill will which existed between Diane and Catherine, the French queen didn’t blame Francoise de Brézé for any of it. Even when Catherine became the ruling regent in the aftermath of Henry II’s death, Francoise didn’t lose her position in the royal household.
31. This Old Story
From 2013 to 2017, The CW aired a historical romance drama series Reign. Following the early adult years of Mary, Queen of Scots, Reign also featured Diane in the first two seasons. She was played by English actress Anna Walton, proving once again that nobody is better at portraying French people than a Brit!
32. Say it Ain’t So!
In 1524, Diane’s father, Jean de Poitiers, was implicated in a plot against King Francis I. He was acting as an accomplice to Charles III, Duke of Bourbon. To make the discovery of the plot all the more awkward, it was Diane’s own husband Louis de Breze who turned his own father-in-law into the authorities.
33. Dark Cloud with a Silver Lining
Despite being found guilty of treason against the King of France, Diane’s father’s death sentence was commuted by Francis I himself. Jean de Poitiers was imprisoned in Loches, and his death sentence was carried out anyway due to the harsh conditions of the prison. Despite dying very soon after his imprisonment, Diane’s father inspired a character in Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse.
34. Dangerous Accident
When Diane was 64 years old, she fell from her horse while riding. Due to her age and the seriousness of her injuries, she never fully recovered.
35. Farewell to the Royal Mistress
On April 25, 1566, Diane passed away on her estate in Anet. She was 66 years old at the time. As per her wishes before dying, Diane’s daughters arranged for a funeral chapel to be built on the estate. This served as Diane’s resting place.
36. What Did She Ever Do to You?!
Sadly, Diane’s rest in the funeral chapel of Anet was disturbed many years later. The French Revolution swept across France more than two centuries later, and Diane’s tomb was opened during that time period. Her remains were desecrated and reburied in a mass pauper’s grave.
37. No Grey Here, Please
In 1531, Diane’s husband, Louis de Brézé, passed away. Following this personal loss, Diane spent the rest of her life wearing clothes that were black or white in color. This was partly due to both shades being the expected ones for mourning, but this fashion choice was also representative of the moon’s dark and light sides.
38. No Cat Fights Included
During the reign of Francis I, Diane developed an animosity between herself and Anne de Pisseleu. Anne was the favorite of the king, and like Diane did afterward, she wielded immense influence in the French royal court and enriched her own family through her position as the king’s mistress.
39. Out with the Old
The rivalry between Diane and Anne de Pisseleu did not end well for Anne. In 1547, Henry II began his reign following the death of his father, Francis I. Henry II did not take kindly to Anne, but we’re sure even Diane might have thought his treatment of Anne was cold. Anne was not only banished from the royal court but she was also forced to give up the gifts she’d gotten from Francis I and was made to live the rest of her life in obscurity.
40. Exiled in All but Name
With the death of King Henry II in 1559, Diane was no longer welcome in the royal court. Queen Catherine insisted that she return the Chateau de Chenonceau, a former gift from the king to his lover. Diane lived out the rest of her life in obscurity at the Chateau d’Anet.
41. Shining Youth
In 2009, Diane’s remains were excavated by French scientists. Upon a study of her remains, Diane was revealed to have a very high level of gold in her hair. This was allegedly due to “drinkable gold” that she took while alive, in the hope that it would keep her from aging—given that she was reported to remain fit and youthful during her autumn years, it might have worked after all. Ironically, though, a theory suggests that this practice of drinking gold was what led to her death.
42. Home at Last
Following the study of her remains, Diane was re-interred on her former estate of Anet in 2010. This time, it’s safe to say that she’ll be able to rest in peace—unless we’re due for another French Revolution soon.