French History is the World’s greatest(and longest running)action adventure movie. Chock full of everything you could want in a Hollywood blockbuster.(expect the SFX, bien sur.) Love, Intrigue, Betrayal, Murder, Assassination, Torture, War,Plagues. And, ocassionally, a few brief periods of peace, happiniess and justice for all.
Although I am, as you are well aware, a “dyed in the wine” Francophile my interest in things Historical here in the land of gastronomy is not massive. However, from time to time, a slice of ancient froogie-dom freezes on my screen. Such an event is the story that I’ve entitled : “The Tears Of Chenonceau.”
Our tale begins during the reign of King Francois 1. Our interest however, is in the King-to-be, his son. Young (future)Henry 2, like all nobles of his day, had a variety of tutors. And not just the readin’, writin’, ‘rithmatic variety. World history, knowledge of other languages and cultures, knowing which fork to use for the salad were also on the educational menu.
One of young Henry’s tutors was a cultured lady of her day by the name of Diane de Poitiers. A Noblewoman of considerable power and influence in the court of Francois 1, it was Diane who gave young Henry his farewell kiss when he was sent to Spain.(Owing to the fact that his Mother was dead) That kiss would blossom into a relationship so intense that some future royal documents were signed : “HenriDiane.”
This understandably did not go down well with the Queen. She being Catherine de Medici, of the infamous Italian dynasty, who Henri married in 1533. Although the Italians did introduce that revolutionary eating instrument – the fork – to the French table, they, and the Medicis’ in particular, were’nt on anyone’s quick-dail in Henri’s court.
So, yet another negative for Catherine to deal with. In addition to the fact that, as a coronation present, Henri had given Diane the magnificent Chateau of Chenonceau – which Catherine had been drooling over.
But wait – there’s more! Catherine was not having success with producing a Royal heir. Which, as you well know, is the primary function of the Queen. Enter an entourage of snake oil salesman/potion peddlers (predictably Italian) each claiming to possess the magic elixir that would enable Catherine to finally have “a bun in the oven.”
To Diane’s credit, she did see to it that Henri paid frequent visits to his wife’s bedroom. And eventually (with or without the Italian fertilizer magicians) 10 children were produced.
And, of course, the rivalry continued. Curiously, Diane and Catherine were actually related. Both being descendants of the La Tour d’Auvergne family.
As Shrewd as she was beautiful, Diane realized that her power and influence could not be challenged by Catherine while Henri was alive. Ok – time now to get out your hankies.
When Henri was mortally wounded in a jousting accident(in which the ribbon he won was Diane’s, not Catherine’s – OOPS!)Catherine asserted her Queenly powers. First refusing to allow Diane access to Henri. (although he’s alleged to have called out for her. And why would he not?)
Next, when Henri died, Catherine, obviously humming a few bars of “revenge is sweet”, barred Diane from the funeral.
Tout de suite apres, Catherine de’ Medici banished Diane from Chenonceau to the Château de Chaumont. She stayed there briefly. Living out her remaining years in her chateau in Anet, Eure-et-Loir, where she died at age 66.
And so, dear reader, if you should visit Chenonceau, looking right to see Diane’s garden, and left to view Catherine’s, and if, treading the stones of it’s ancient interior you should feel a certain “tristesse” that you can’t quite describe, you will let me know, won’t you?
THROW ME A BONE HERE, PEOPLE!
What are ya thinkin’?