Symbols and Emblems of the French Monarchy in 16th Century France

I first read of Diane de Poitiers in 2006 in a book by Diane Haeger titled Courtesan. I was intrigued by the descriptions of the personal badges she and the royals took, the reasoning behind them and the extent to which they were carved and displayed. Some survive to this day and in a way it is the mark of Henri’s everlasting love for Diane.

Though Diane is an antagonist in C. W. Gortner’s novel, I still adore her because my first impression was set with Haeger’s novels. Both stories are unique and wonderfully rendered and I recommend them both for those interested in early Renaissance France.

I’ll start with Francois I, who took the salamander as his emblem. Salamanders were thought to have mystical characteristics such as the ability to extinguish fire with their bodies, walk through fire or appear generally immune to heat. Francois’ motto was, ‘I nourish the good and extinguish the bad’ which is a loose interpretation that ‘enduring faith triumphs over the fires of passion.’ Ironic words coming from the exceedingly promiscuous King, though perhaps he was referring to his passion for possessing Milan.

Queen Claude took the ermine symbol, which is pictured above beside her husband’s salamander. The ermine is simply the symbol of Brittany, of which Claude was Duchess in her own right. From age 14 to 24 she gave birth to 7 children, though she suffered scoliosis. Her second son became King of France after Francois I died in 1547.

This insignia of the initials of Henri II and Catherine de Medici can be found at Chenonceau. During Henri’s reign it was far more common to see the intertwining initials of his life-long mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and his own–even down to the trappings on his horse.

Henri not only adopted Diane’s habit of wearing only black and white, but also wore the symbol of his crowned H with double crescents or Diane’s ‘menage a trois’ of crescents. The H with a crescenst can also be taken as C for Catherine and this ambiguity was probably his intent. “When full, she equals the sun” was his motto, which should tell us his preferences, as Catherine’s symbol was a rainbow–did she find her pot of gold when Henri died and she came into power?

Diane’s emblem (pictured above from Fontainebleau), three interlaced crescent moons or Borromean rings–notice how the outline looks like an H. Diane was also depicted in paintings and sculptures as Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, and so this was just another of the many allusions surrounding this much-beloved mistress.

There are many more versions of Henri, Catherine and Diane’s personal insignias and if you’re interested in reading of them I recommend the book The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King by Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent. It’s full of photos and illustrations as well as being an easy to read history book–not stuffy or boring like some can be.

C. W. Gortner’s portrayal of all of the characters I have mentioned above is sympathetic for the most part. Perhaps Diane doesn’t catch much of a break, but someone has to be the antagonist and I will always like her. On that same note, because of Gortner’s view of Catherine, I think I shall always like her as well, though I know there are some books that paint her very much as a villain. First impressions are lasting impressions!

This post was part of a blog tour for C. W. Gortner’s The Confessions of Catherine de Medici.

“The truth is, not one of us is innocent. We all have sins to confess. So reveals Catherine de Medici, the last legitimate descendant of her family’s illustrious line. Expelled from her native Florence, Catherine is betrothed to Henri, son of François I of France. In an unfamiliar realm, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children in a kingdom torn apart by the ambitions of a treacherous nobility. Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons, unaware that if she is to save France, she may have to sacrifice her ideals, her reputation, and the secret of her embattled heart.”