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?