On coming to the throne in 1547, Henri II of France gave the Château de Chenonceau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers and it was there in 1551 he made her the Duchess of Valentinois.
Despite being 20 years his senior, Diane was Henri’s favourite mistress throughout his life. It is thought that the two became lovers in 1538, when she was 39 years old and Henri 19. Their affair lasted until his death and Diane became the most influential woman in France.
However, on Henri’s death after a jousting accident in 1558, his wife had her revenge. Catherine de Medicis, the queen who Diane had eclipsed, took the opportunity to take back the beautiful château, along with jewels and other gifts her husband had given to her rival. She also ensured that Diane was prevented from visiting Henri on his deathbed.
While Diane’s star waned, Catherine’s rose. She became not only the most influential woman in France, but a major figure in European politics. Her eldest son acceded to the throne after his father but the new young king died within a year. Following him, two more of Catherine’s sons became king and through them she ruled France.
Catherine’s reputation today remains as that of a sinister, malevolent figure, responsible for the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots in Paris during the years of religious turmoil in France which followed the Reformation. Catherine however is a far more interesting and complex figure than the cardboard cut-out villain she is often portrayed as.