Diane de Poitiers returns to her grave…


Diane de Poitiers

Diane de Poitiers is one of the foremost ladies of the French Renaissance. As the mistress of King Henri II, twenty year her junior, she wielded immense political influence. She was given the royal title of Duchesse de Valentinois, and much of the crown jewels. The palatial chateau of Anet was built for her in the midst of her late husband’s vast estates, and another one, Chenonceau, belonging to Queen Catherine de Medici, was transferred to her.

Diane was reaching the age of sixty, but the King’s devotion remained unabated. Her power was undisputed until Henri’s untimely death during a joust. This dramatic turn of events shifted power to his widow, Catherine de Medici. Diane was invited to retire to her chateau of Anet, after surrendering Chenonceau and the crown jewels.

I have visited Anet, which retains to this day much of Diane’s spirit. Her exquisite taste is still on display in every architectural detail, and the interwoven DH monograms, for Diane and Henri, are omnipresent. So are crescent moons and stags, symbols of Diana, goddess of the hunt, after whom she was named. The King wore her colors, black and white, chosen as a reminder of her widowhood, as he rode to his death on the jousting field.

Her contemporaries marveled at her miraculously youthful looks. She used the most expensive age-defying technique of her time: daily doses of a gold elixir. Less surprising for us, she followed a strict exercise regimen: regular horse riding and frequent swims in nearby rivers. But the most wonderful recipes can only delay the inevitable, and she died at the age of 66. She was buried in a black and white marble tomb, in the funeral chapel her daughter (by her husband) built for her next to the chateau. There she lay undisturbed for over two centuries.


Chateau of Anet: tomb of Diane de Poitiers

Then, a few years into the French Revolution, the destruction of royal tombs became the order of the day. Diane had been too close to royalty for her remains to be left in peace. Her embalmed body, perfectly preserved in her best clothes, was exhumed and extracted from its lead coffin, along with those of two of her grandchildren. Put in sudden contact with oxygen, soft tissue decomposed rapidly, and her blonde tresses detached from her skull. Her bones were then taken to the town churchyard. A century later, a monument was built on the spot.

In 2008, the site was excavated, and the remains of an elderly woman and two children found there were examined by Dr. Philippe Charlier, coroner. A  scientific team conducted a battery of tests, including radio carbon dating and the superposition of the adult skull with known portraits of Diane. Everything points to a positive identification, including the traces of two leg fractures, due to horse falls. Still more intriguingly, the gold content of the bones is 250 times higher than normal! Diane’s gold potions were not a legend… In fact, they may well have killed her.

Back to the present: this coming Saturday, the 29th of May, her remains, for the second time since 1565, will be interred in state in her marble tomb at Anet. Here is a program of the accompanying celebrations. Even if you cannot attend, I highly recommend a visit of Diane’s still gorgeous chateau of Anet.

Chateau of Anet

Chateau of Anet

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34 Comments to “Diane de Poitiers returns to her grave…”

  1. Michele Donnet says:

    Mary Jane Mc Camant, you might want to read “Une Certaine Diane” by Jean Rousselot. Not a history book, maybe, but I believe that it is historically correct. You might enjoy it. I have it in French and do not know if exists in English.

  2. Mary Jane Mccamant says:

    I cannot believe what a mess I wrote on this site. I have not found any book the only one I have is Diane de Poitiers , by Shari Beck. I promise not to say anthing except; I found it boring.
    I have found a publishers for my book. while researching I did do some on Diane. I found
    very little information except what we already do know. One thing I did find is Catherine
    Medici. I must respect Diane for not allowing this younger cousin to overtake her. She was cruel, viciously drawn to power, used her children to make her dreams come true, Margot Reine married Henri Naverre a Bourbon it is purported she used poison gloves on his mother , she tried to kill him several times, Margot saved him . They divorced and both marrried others. Catherine a curse of the French nation. She slaughtered devout French Heuguenots who were invited to Henri’s marriage to Queen Margo.
    Diane had a tolerance for religion so did Henri the King a Valois. Margo was the most beautiful woman in France at this time.
    AS Catherine’s daughter it made her life very hard. Yet she was a Queen in her own right.
    I loved Dumas Reine Margo. I know he plays fast and loose with history but much is said
    that is the truth.
    Upon Henri Naverres divorce he married another Medici a blonde girl Marie Medici who was
    the grandmother of Charles II. His dark skin and black hair came from Lorenzo the magnificant. I find history a way to build on the future, without it we are cast in a shadeless shame.

  3. Robert says:

    My Sincerest Thank You, for such beautiful pictures and your obvious scholarly interest in Diane. With Kindests Regards.

  4. Found this site by accident, Lana Turner did not do her justice but was an history lesson
    in the 50’s movies. I may never to my most treasured places. I study the photos, paintings,
    etc, though as a designer Iam right there in the story it is a great gift to have. Someone
    Madam De maintenons biography was brilliant as is Grace Elliots. I love tid bits, oneis of after the fall of the 2nd Empire in France Empress Eugenie lived in London. She, quite close to Queen Victoria attends a Royal Comand performance Victoria sits down without looking if a chair was there,a true royal, Empress Ugenie unknowingly turns around to sight a chair, duely noted. In one palace there is a garden by dianne De. Poitiers beside
    one of Catherine De medicis. I love behind scenes in a palace.

  5. I have just finished Princess Michael of Kents book The Serpent serpent and the Moon. It is detailed and most interesting that a woman at any time could influence a man let alone a king. I for one was impressed. Her style and panache jumped from the very pages.The french almost celebrate the regiside of their majesties Louis the XVI his queen. It has from my point been the forward thinking of all the monachies of Europe,where style etc
    was formost. This as other countries has given them untold rewards with tourists. Diannes
    & other royal tombs where not spared the descreation of the rabble.

  6. Mary Jane Mccamant says:

    I am so grateful to this site. Sue I just finished the courtesan. It is great, however, it is alternate history.
    I am writting a fictional novel on King Charles II, his mistresses . I found researching him was enlightening his character, loves, indolence, super energy, and finally dismissal of parliament was an attempt to keep the exclusion bill away from successon.All Charles wanted was to retore england to happier times and seek pleasure which I believe he needed. Historical fiction, to me ,is like eating a box of chocolates.Real history is more complex and nourishing and who do you believe, so many have their version of the truth.I need suggestions on Diane Poierters biographies.

    Ms. Delors I will buy your book, I had seen it advertised but I mistakeningly thought it was another Tudor book. I was on Amazon at the time.

  7. Sue says:

    I´m searching for good books about Diane , any recommentations ?

  8. True, Lisa, and Diane was extremely ambitious (and bright too.) She remains a complex and fascinating character, certainly one of the key figures of her time.

  9. Lisa Yarde says:

    Thanks for this fascinating post. When I used to read historical romance, my first introduction to Diane was in Diane Haegar’s the Courtesan. The more I learned about Diane de Poitiers afterward, I understood her as someone who did what she had to for survival, something many women can relate to.

  10. Catherine Delors says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Josie! Yes, Anet is a spectacular place, and it is amazing to see the extent to which it still bears Diane’s imprint. I can’t wait to hear my friend Gene’s report on today’s ceremonies…

  11. Josie says:

    I visited Anet 5 years ago and walked along the path pictured in front of the Chateau! We came across Diane’s tomb and stood in awe as our imaginations went back through time. It truly is a wonderful place to visit. So pleased she is being returned to her resting place. Thank you Catherine, I love your site!

  12. Catherine Delors says:

    Tragic indeed, Marilyn! In Mistress of the Revolution, I describe my heroine’s very personal anguish over this. Hopefully now Diane’s remains will rest in peace.

  13. Marilyn says:

    I hope She is allowed to rest in Peace this time! One of the tragedies of the French Revolution besides the guillotine and the Deaths of so many was the desecration of the Graves.

  14. Catherine Delors says:

    Yes, Penny, certainly Catherine could have made it far more difficult for Diane than she actually did. Maybe she was so relieved to have her out of her life that she felt generous…

  15. Penny says:

    What a beautiful way to be buried.
    love that house. I think Catherine de Medici was very
    generous in letting her have as much as she did.

  16. Richard says:

    It is amazing what some on can do to a mill.

  17. Catherine Delors says:

    We count on a full report, Gene. Have fun there!

  18. gene says:

    I will go to Anet saturday. Will report…

  19. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Marg! Yes, Chenonceau and Anet are extraordinary places. If you visit that area, you have to add to your list Maintenon, the home of Louis XIV’s second wife. She too still “feels” very present there, and it is only a dozen miles from Anet. Come to think of it, I will do a post on it soon.

  20. Marg says:

    I do find the stories about Diane de Poitiers fascinating, and when I do my world tour of historical places I have learnt about in books her chateaus would definitely be on the list.

    Another very interesting post from you Catherine!

  21. Catherine Delors says:

    You are welcome, Elizabeth! A scandalous woman if ever there was one… Speaking of scandalous, I am reading Jo Manning’s bio of Grace Elliott, and enjoying it immensely.

  22. I’ve always wanted to go to Chenonceau and Anet. Fascinating story about the tomb and her remains. Thanks for this!

  23. Catherine Delors says:

    Ah no, you are right, it does NOT match the direction of the picture on the site. When I told you I was dyslexic…

  24. Catherine Delors says:

    Ah, Richard, good question! I don’t think so, and it matches the one on the official site of the celebration. But I saw it reversed too. Can’t remember which way is right, and I am dyslexic, see…

  25. Richard says:

    Is the picture inverted?

  26. Catherine Delors says:

    No, Julianne, unfortunately I can’t make it. Rather maddening because I will be in that exact area only the following week-end, on June 5-6! I will revisit Anet then.

  27. Catherine Delors says:

    Lovely indeed, Daphne!
    Julianne, that is interesting! Can’t wait to read it… :)

  28. Are you going to the event? The “Fête Renaissance” on the 29th looks wonderful! I wish I could be there.

  29. She does indeed figure, although not prominently. My take on her is similar to CW’s.

  30. Daphne says:

    Anet looks like a lovely place to visit someday.

  31. Catherine Delors says:

    Thanks, Julianne! Does Diane appear in your new novel? She is an important character (not very nice) in CW’s Catherine de Medici.

  32. Thanks for posting this, Catherine! I hadn’t heard about the re-interment ceremonies. Will link.

  33. Catherine Delors says:

    Oh, Tristan, you, of all people, would love Anet! If anything, Diane has an outstanding sense of beauty.

  34. I have heard the stories of the gold treatments – but I always thought they were just old wives’ tales! Fascinating stuff! Must make a point of visiting the chateau!

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