In 1444 Charles VII gave to his faithful counselor and chamberlain, Pierre de Brézé, the four “lordships” of Nogent-leRoi, Anet, Breval and Mont Chauvet as reward for his services to the kingdom in the war with England and particularly in the re-conquest of Normandy.
Jacques, grand sénéchal of Normandy, the son of Pierre de Brézé, built in 1470 in Anet, a manor house of brick and stone. This Jacques de Brézé was married to Charlotte of France, daughter of Charles VII and Agnès Sorel and half-sister of Louis XI. The union had a tragic end: In 1477 Jacques surprised his wife, in the manor de Rouvres on the grounds of Anet, in the act of adultery with one of his huntsmen. He murdered them both with more than a hundred sword thrusts. When Louis XI learned of the death of his beloved sister, he became wild with rage, swearing vengeance. The Grand Sénéchal was arrested, held prisoner for a number of years and finally condemned to death, with the confiscation of all his goods. However the sentence was not strictly carried out: the Lord de Brézé saved his head but had to give up all his possessions to the king, who immediately handed them over to Louis de Brézé, his godchild and eldest son of Charlotte. Three years after his accession to the throne, Charles VIII annulled the verdict against Jacques de Brézé and restored to him his former titles and goods.
Jacques de Brézé died in 1490 and was succeeded by his son Louis, who became one of the foremost dignitaries of the kingdom as Comte de Maulevrier, Seigneur d’ Anet, Grand Sénéchal of Normandy and “Grand Huntsman” of France. He was the widower of Catherine de Dreux.
At the age of 56, he married Diane de Poitiers, forty years his junior. The marriage took place at Hotel de Bourbon in Paris on March 29, 1515. The wedding guests included the King and Queen of France.
Since her husband was not continually required to be at court, the couple could spend the intervals at Anet. Louis de Brézé liked this rather somber dwelling with its proximity to the forests of Dreux, Roseux and Normandy, for he was a tireless hunter. His friendship with François I and their mutual love for the hunt often brought the King, Queen and entourage to Anet. It was in this ancient manor that Diane made her debut as mistress of the house.
In January of 1518 “La Grande Sénéchale” gave birth to her first child, a girl, who was named Françoise in tribute to the king. It is from her that I descend. Three years later a second girl was born, called Louise after her father.
Sharing her elderly husband’s enthusiasm for the hunt, Diane acquired a reputation as a huntress which is attested by numerous paintings and sculptures. Her authentic portraits present the image of a woman of robust health with body hardened by long rides on horseback, cold baths in all seasons a real sportswoman.
Louis de Brézé died in Anet on the 23rd of July 1531 . His widow mourned him sincerely. She had a magnificent tomb erected in the cathedral at Rouen and went into mourning which she never abandoned. The inscription of the tomb reads as follows:
O Louis de Brézé, ce tombeau a été construit
Par Diane de Poitiers, désolée de la mort de son époux.
Elle te fut inséparable et très fidèle épouse
Autant elle le fut dans le lit conjugal
autant elle le sera dans le tombeau
Translated it means:
O Louis de Brézé, this tomb was built
By Diane of Poitiers, saddened by the death of her husband.
She was inseparable from you and very faithful wife
As it was in the marital bed
so it will be in the tomb
Though she dressed in silks and for the most part décolleté, her attire was confined to black and white. Her position at court did not suffer a change through her husband’s death. She remained “La Grande Sénéchale”.