Diane de Poitiers

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Diane de Poitiers (3 September 1499 – 25 April 1566) was a French noblewoman and a courtier at the courts of kings Francis I and his son, Henry II of France. She became notorious as the latter's favourite mistress.

She was immortalised in art as the subject of paintings by François Clouet as well as other anonymous painters.


Early life and marriage

She was born the daughter of Jean de Poitiers, Seigneur de Saint Vallier and Jeanne de Batarnay in the château de Saint-Vallier, in the town of Saint-Vallier, Drôme, in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. When still a girl, she was briefly in the retinue of Anne de Beaujeu, eldest sister of King Charles VIII, a capable and highly intelligent woman who held the regency of France during his minority.

Diane was educated according to the principles of Renaissance humanism which was popular at the time, music, hunting, manners, languages, the art of conversation, and dancing. She learned how to read Latin and Greek, and became a keen hunter and sportswoman, remaining in good physical condition well into middle age.

At the age of 15, she married Louis de Brézé, seigneur d'Anet, who was 39 years her senior. He was a grandson of King Charles VII who served as a courtier of King Francis I. She bore him two daughters, Françoise de Brézé (1518–1574) and Louise de Brézé (1521–1577).

In 1524, her father was accused of treason as an accomplice of the rebellious Connétable de Bourbon. His head was already on the execution block when his life was spared by Francis I.

When Louis de Brézé died in 1531 in Anet, Diane adopted the habit of wearing the colours of black and white, her personal trademark for the rest of her life. These were among the permitted colours of mourning, which as a widow she was required to wear, but they were also the symbolic colors of the bright and dark sides of the moon. They played on her name, Diane, which derived from Diana, the name of the beautiful Roman goddess of the moon.

Her keen interest in financial matters and legal shrewdness now became apparent for the first time. She retained her late husband's emoluments as governor and grand-sénéchal of Normandy, assuming herself the title of "sénéchale de Normandie". She challenged in court the obligation to return Louis de Bézé's appanages to the royal domain. The king allowed her to enjoy the appanage's income "until the status of those lands has been totally clarified."

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