Diane De Poitiers: Victim Of Vanity?

by Gio
the beauty secrets of diane de poitiers

Would you drink gold to stay young and beautiful?

Diane De Poitiers did. Kinda like those women who die today during a liposculpture or a boob job gone wrong, Diane thought the chance of wrinkle-free skin was worth the risk.

She paid for it with her life. Her golden elixir killed her before her time.

Why Did Diane De Poitiers Drink Gold?

Have you ever heard of Diane De Poitiers before? She was the mistress of of Henry II, King of France. An unusual one at that.

You’d think the King would have fallen for a young and innocent maid. Not exactly. Diane was twenty years his senior. By the time they became lovers, she was already a widow with two children.

Diane was more than just a pretty face. Sure, she was gorgeous, with her flawless skin and luscious golden locks. But she also was well-educated (particularly for the standards of her time), witty, clever, elegant, a keen sportswoman and an art lover.

The two first met when the 12-year-old Henry returned home from Spain, where he had been held hostage. Diane was chosen to teach the young prince courtly manners. He fell in love straight away, but for a few years, nothing happened. Phew!

Henry was 19 when he finally convinced the 31-year-old Diane to become his lover. Given the age gap, can you blame Diane for feeling the pressure to keep her looks for as long as possible?

This obsession with her looks, and her desire to keep her royal lover enthralled, lead her to drinking gold regularly… and eventually to her death (she would survive Henry, though).

Diane De Poitiers’ beauty secrets

According to her contemporaries, Diane was still remarkably beautiful even in her 50s. But this beauty came at a very high cost.

Diane was very active. She ran daily, loved to hunt and ride, swam in cold river water and followed a strict diet. Every single day, she took a bath followed by massages 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. Considered an elixir of life, it was prescribed for a wide variety of illnesses.

Back then, people thought gold also had aphrodisiac properties and preserved youth and beauty. All things a royal mistress needed in spades, if she wanted to keep the attention of her royal lover.

Unfortunately, her golden elixir killed 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.

Gold also gave her anemia, which was responsible for her white complexion. When researchers tested a lock of her hair still preserved at the Chateau d’Anet (the place where she died), they discovered it contained 500 times the normal level of the precious metal!

Diane died at 66, still beautiful. It’s true she had a remarkably long life for the standards of her time. But 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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24 comments

Krys October 11, 2011 - 1:30 pm

Oof. Now that’s scary. Reminds me of this Chinese practice of eating pearl powder. Wonder if it has side effects as well?

beautifulwithbrains October 11, 2011 - 2:22 pm

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.

Citrine October 11, 2011 - 2:01 pm

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 October 11, 2011 - 2:29 pm

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.

kuri October 11, 2011 - 3:12 pm

wow, drinking gold!

fascinating stuff. she led a very active life!

beautifulwithbrains October 11, 2011 - 6:14 pm

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.

Ana October 11, 2011 - 3:49 pm

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.

beautifulwithbrains October 11, 2011 - 6:20 pm

Ana, that’s a nice slogan, I can see the appeal. I think I’ll pass though..

eight October 11, 2011 - 5:00 pm

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 October 11, 2011 - 6:25 pm

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..

Trisha October 11, 2011 - 7:02 pm

I love your beauty history posts. 🙂

Drinkable gold! I had no idea that was even a thing. Oh what some will do to stay young and beautiful…

beautifulwithbrains October 11, 2011 - 8:13 pm

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…

Vonnie (socialitedreams) October 11, 2011 - 7:39 pm

i love these posts from you! how fascinating. thanks for the great read

beautifulwithbrains October 11, 2011 - 8:14 pm

Vonnie, you’re welcome and thanks. I’m glad you like this type of posts. 🙂

Kahani October 12, 2011 - 1:53 am

I’m with Vonnie, great piece BWB. ^_^

I wonder if her hair looked gold with all that precious metal in it.

beautifulwithbrains October 12, 2011 - 6:05 am

Kahani, thanks!

Diane had blonde hair but who knows, the gold may have enhanced it or something.. 🙂

Jamilla October 12, 2011 - 5:50 am

Thanks for a very interesting post! I wonder too, if she used white lead on her face to get that pale complexion….

beautifulwithbrains October 12, 2011 - 6:10 am

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.

astrorainfall @ beauty box October 15, 2011 - 9:12 am

I really enjoyed reading this post…what a fascinating woman….

beautifulwithbrains October 16, 2011 - 7:20 pm

Astrorainfall, she really was. And I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

Amanda October 17, 2011 - 11:08 pm

I love hearing stories. This one is definitely interesting. But I doubt why she could live as long for all the poisons she had taken. For me, I wouldn’t poison myself even for beauty’s sake! Beauty is important but my life is even more so.

beautifulwithbrains October 18, 2011 - 6:17 am

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…

Diane Tscherne October 23, 2017 - 9:39 am

Quite scary and unsettling, especially since this is the woman I was named after! My mother read about her in a romance novel 4 days before my birth.

The author of the novel wrote of Diane’s striking beauty and intelligence in great detail. Being a romance novel creative license was taken, and stories of her endless beauty and many accomplishments were embellished.

My mother, bless her soul wanted these things for me. She’d hoped I’d be a 70 year old woman with the face of a girl of 20, and that I’d have a long and successful career.

Unfortunately, the romance novel did not explain how Diane ultimately died. I can only hope that part of legend plays no part in my life!

Gio October 28, 2017 - 1:31 pm

Diane, you have a beautiful name! I’ve always found Diane De Poitiers to be very fascinating. Too bad about her sad ending. I’m sure history won’t repeat itself. These days we have safe cosmetics, thankfully!

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