DIANE de Poitiers

(1499-1566)
Diane de Poitiers was the mistress of King Henri II of France. Married in 1515 to the grand seneschal of Normandy, Louis de Bréze, Diane was the mother of two daughters at the time of her husband's death in 1531. She first met King Francois I's second son, the dauphin Henri, in 1530, when he was only eleven. Soon after her husband's death, Diane began an association with Henri that was viewed by some as maternal in nature, even as late as 1547. Indeed, Henri had married Catherine de' Medici* in 1533, when both were aged fourteen. Still, it seems likely that the relationship between the dauphin and Diane became sexual by the mid-to-late 1530s.
Diane's importance at the French court was enhanced in 1536 when Henri's older brother and heir apparent Francois died unexpectedly. Henri assumed the throne after the death of his father in 1547, and according to more than one contemporary observer, Diane played a key role in the new monarch's decision making. Henri would share a regular noon meal with his informal advisor and sounding board, and she became adept at balancing the rival factions at court. The impact of her influence on the new king was immediate: Diane's son-in-law Robert de La Marck was made a marshall of France, while three of her nephews were elevated to bishoprics during the first few years of the new reign. In addition, the king's mistress was granted a number of valuable properties, some of them seized from his late father's mistress Anne de Pisseleu. Diane's avaricious nature was noted by contemporaries, and by the early 1550s she had become the major recipient of the king's patronage.
Diane was a keen benefactor of the arts and literature. She supported poets, artists, and architects during her years at court. She was also thought to be responsible for the dissemination of the last medieval romance, Amadis de Gaule, which was first translated into French in 1540. The king was eager to restore the tournament to court life, even participating in a number of jousts, and the romantic tales of knight-errantry in Amadis de Gaule appealed to both king and mistress.
One of the most important features of the reign of Henri II was the rise of Protestantism within France. All of the king's closest advisors, including Diane, were conservative Roman Catholics, and the king, who was not interested in the religious affiliations of potential foreign allies, was concerned to stamp out Protestant heresy in his own kingdom. In 1558 the papal nuncio to France reported that Diane was steadfast in her desire to see French Protestants punished with their lives. Both king and mistress worked tirelessly to intensify the pros­ecution and punishment of Protestants. After the death of Henri in 1559, Diane retired to her country estates and devoted herself to a quiet life of charitable works.
Bibliography
F. J. Baumgartner, Henry II: King of France, 1547-1559, 1988.
William Spellman

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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