Agnès Sorel

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Agnès Sorel (1421 – 9 February 1450), known by the sobriquet Dame de beauté, was a favourite mistress of King Charles VII of France, to whom she bore three daughters.

She was the subject of several contemporary paintings and works of art, including Jean Fouquet's Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels.


Life in the royal court

The daughter of soldier Jean Soreau and Catherine de Maignelais, Sorel was twenty years old when she was first introduced to King Charles. At that time, she was holding a position in the household of Rene I of Naples, as a Maid of Honour to his consort Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine. As reflected in contemporary art, she was an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, and was also of above-average intelligence. The French king was immediately enamoured of her and she soon became his mistress. The King gave her the Château de Loches (where he had been persuaded by Joan of Arc to be crowned King of France) as her private residence. [1]

Soon, her presence was felt at the royal court in Chinon where her company was alleged to have brought the king out of a protracted depression.[citation needed] She had a very strong influence on the king, and that, in addition to her extravagant tastes, earned her a number of powerful enemies at court. [2]

Suspicious death

Agnès gave birth to three daughters fathered by the King: Marie de France, Charlotte de France, and Jeanne de France. (Charlotte's son, Louis de Brézé, seigneur d'Anet, in turn married Diane de Poitiers, herself ultimately a famous royal mistress.) While pregnant with their fourth child, she journeyed from Chinon in deep midwinter to join Charles on the campaign of 1450 in Jumièges, wanting to be with him as moral support. There, she suddenly became ill and died at the age of 28. While the cause of death was originally thought to be dysentery, scientists have now concluded that Agnès died from being poisoned by mercury, possibly the victim of murder, although mercury was also used to treat worms.

Charles' son, the future King Louis XI, had been in open revolt against his father for the previous four years. It has been speculated that he had Agnès poisoned in order to remove what he may have considered her undue influence over the king. It was also speculated that French financier, noble and minister Jacques Coeur poisoned her, though that theory is widely discredited as an attempt to remove Coeur from the French court. In 2005 French forensic scientist Philippe Charlier examined her remains and determined that the cause of death was mercury poisoning, but offered no opinion about whether she was murdered.[3] Mercury was sometimes used in cosmetic preparations and this could therefore have been the reason for her death.

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