Thursday, April 26, 2012

Death for Beauty?

Today I was reading about the powerful Diane de Poitiers, favorite mistress of Henry II of France, and enemy of Catherine de Medici (but then again, who wasn't?). Diane was known for her stunning beauty and youthful looks. But did you know that she was 20 years older than her lover?

But how did she rise to such power, and have the ability to hold the attentions of a King so much younger than herself? Diane served several of King Francois I's Queens, and became a member of the King's inner circle. In 1525, Francois was captured by Charles V's troops. His ransom? A trade for his two sons, Henri and Francois. Upon leaving France for captivity in Spain, Henri was apparently kissed goodbye by the lovely Diane. In 1530, the two boys were finally returned to France. It is thought that Diane was appointed by Francois I to teach his son Henri courtly manners, as his education had greatly suffered during his captivity. In 1533, Henri married Catherine de Medici. However, around 1538 he took on a mistress; Diane.

Despite Catherine's great jealousy of Diane, the mistress tried to help. Henri wasn't very interested in his new bride, and much preferred spending his time with Diane. However, she insisted he pay proper respect (and time) to his wife. However, Catherine remained jealous. It is hard not to blame her for her jealousy. Diane was Queen in all but name. She oversaw the King's childrens' education, held the crown jewels, and, obviously, the King's great love and affection.

The love triangle continued until Henri's death in 1559. Catherine finally got her revenge by banishing Diane from the King's bedside, despite his pleading for her. Once he died, Diane was banished from court, though she lived in comfort on her estates for the rest of her life. Even upon her death at 66, spectators remarked on her strikingly youthful appearance.

Her secret? Drinking gold.

However, I don't recommend this remedy. Though she looked stunning until her death in 1566, her excessive gold consumption seems to have killed her. In 2009, her bones were identified and found to be extremely fragile and containing large amounts of gold. It does not make sense that her bones would be so fragile, as she lived an extremely healthy lifestyle (which probably contributed greatly to her youthful appearance, despite her love for gold drink). She was an avid hunter and, uncommon for a woman of her time, went for daily runs, swims, and baths. She also stuck to a strict diet, not indulging in the fine foods of court. This added up to keep her youthful appearance throughout her life. It was commented that, though 20 years older than the King, they looked the same age.

So why drink gold, if one is so healthy? Alchemy was all the rage in the Medieval and Renaissance world. Often times, alchemists would also serve as apothecaries. Henry VIII himself dappled in it, creating elixirs to rid his favorites (and himself) of ill humors. Gold was (and still is) considered the most valuable of metals. It was also, for the Kings of France, a symbolic link to the Sun. Thus, it is no surprise that the King's mistress, who would have had the very best of everything, would drink gold. It is highly likely that the King himself partook of gold elixirs. However, Diane seems to have taken it to the next level.



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