Diane De Poitiers: Victim Of Vanity?

Nowadays women turn to plastic surgery, cosmetic treatments and expensive creams that promise miracle results in an attempt to turn back the clock. But the desire to look young forever is not new. Women always felt it and some went as far as to use poisonous remedies that eventually killed them. One of the most famous victims of this desire was Diane De Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, King of France. She was twenty years her senior. But who was Diane De Poiters? And how has she managed to keep her young royal lover enthralled until his death?

Who was Diane De Poitiers?

Diane was a beautiful woman, with flawless porcelain skin and luscious golden locks. But it wasn’t just her looks that enchanted men. Diane, a widow with two children who had served as a lady-in-waiting to a succession of French Queens, was a well-educated woman for the standards of her time, witty, clever, elegant and a keen sportswoman and art lover. And when the young 12-year-old Prince Henry, who had spent a few years as a hostage of the Spanish king, finally returned home, Diane was chosen to teach him courtly manners. Henry was already enthralled by her, but for a few years nothing happened.

In 1538, Henry and Diane finally became lovers. She was in her thirties, he was only nineteen. And married to Catherine De Medici. The two women were rivals for Henry’s affection, but it was clear that Diane was the winner (but she did insist that Henry pay more attention to his wife in public and fathered children with her). And when he become king in 1547, she was the power behind the throne and in charge of pretty much everything. The king even allowed her to sign official letters (which she had also written) with “HenriDiane” (and you thought nicknames such as Brangelina and Zanessa were a modern invention..). But royal mistresses hold power only until the king lives and when Henry suddenly died in 1559, Diane had to pack her bags and retreat to one of her country estates.

Diane De Poitiers’ beauty secrets

Diane was said to still be remarkably beautiful even in her 50s. But this beauty came at a very high cost. Diane exercised by running daily, hunting and riding, swam in cold river water and followed a strict diet. Every day, she would also take a bath, which was followed by massages performed with perfumed oils and other beauty concoctions. All this undoubtedly helped, but Diane had another, more dangerous beauty secret: she drank gold.

Drinking gold was quite common among wealthy women during the Renaissance. Back then, gold was considered to be an elixir of life and so was a treatment prescribed for a wide variety of illnesses. In addition, gold was also thought to have aphrodisiac properties and to preserve youth and beauty, all things that it was essential for a mistress to have, especially when her lover was a much younger king. While the trick seemed to have worked (Henry wasn’t always faithful to her, but his fascination and love for her never stopped), it also poisoned her.

When her remains were exhumed and examined in 2009, forensic experts noted that, for a woman that led such an active and healthy lifestyle, her bones and hair were very fragile. Both are symptoms of gold intoxication. Her white complexion was also caused by anemia, a result from consuming drinkable gold. When a lock of her hair still preserved at the Chateau d’Anet, the place where she died, was tested, it was found it contained 500 times the normal level of the precious metal! Eventually, it killed her. She died at 66, still beautiful. And while it is true that she had a remarkably long life for the standards of her time, it could have been even longer if she hadn’t poisoned herself.

Is the price to pay for eternal youth really worth it in the end?

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    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Krys, that’s scary indeed. And I agree with Citrine about pearl powder. A small dose isn’t harmful but taking a large amounts on a regular basics will have side effects.

  1. says

    It would be nicer if what exactly is drinkable gold is mentioned, since the melting point of the metal is well over 1000 degrees.

    @Krys: Pearl powder is essentially calcium carbonate (a common source for calcium tablet) and we don’t “eat” it, a very small portion of the powder is taken with water on weekly basis. Of course a large, prolonged intake would harm one’s health, but that goes with literally everything, including water.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Citrine, the potion contained gold chloride dissolved into a solvent, but what this solvent was no one knows (at least I couldn’t find any information about it). I know alchemists such as Paracelsus made gold drinkable by dissolving it in nitric acid so it could have been that. It is probable that the other components of the elixir could have been poisonous too, but the reason why she drank it was because gold was thought to preserve youth and beauty. Apparently, she drank it daily too, and it eventually killed her.

      And thanks for the info about pearl powder.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Kuri, she had a very fascinating life and it’s interested to know to what extent some women went to preserve their youth and how they achieve it.

  2. says

    You know what this sounds like 😀 ?
    Drink gold, be beautiful well into your old age, live more than the contemporary average.

    Not my cup of Aurum, but it’s funny.

  3. says

    I learned about her from the book “Renaissance Queen of France” which is about Catherine de Medici. Pretty fascinating.

    I’ll keep gold on my jewelry rather than drinking it, though…

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Eight, I have that book on my to-read pile. It must be a great read. I find both Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poiters fascinating.

      I agree with you, I’d rather wear gold than drink it. Makes you look good without any side effects..

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Trisha, thanks. I’m glad you do.

      It really interesting to see to what lengths some women would go in an attempt to stay young…

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Jamilla, you’re welcome and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Her white skin was a consequence of anemia, caused by the drinkable gold but who knows? She used several beauty concoctions whose recipes haven’t survived and some may have contained lead for that purpose.. after all, I doubt she knew her pale complexion was a symptom of gold intoxication.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Amanda, I’m glad you do. I completely agree with you. There are some things that just aren’t worth doing in the name of beauty. It makes you wonder if she realised how bad the gold elixir was for her health though…

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