Women's History Month March 2022 - Diane and Catherine

Updated: Mar 8

March 3. History loves black and white, especially where women are concerned. Madonna or whore. BFF's or arch-enemies. But we all know the reality is more complicated. People are both good and bad, grasping and generous, self-serving and selfless.


As we seem to be ever more in conflict with each other - even at war with each other - it is useful to try to see the multiple sides of others, and of ourselves. Mutual understanding. That way lies peace. We hope.


And when the doom seems darkest...heck, everyone loves a good love story.


Catherine de Medici, she of the Italian mega-dynasty, was the wife of King Henri II of France in the 1500’s. Though it was an arranged marriage, legend has it she adored him. Fun fact: she was the first woman to wear a high heel (she was itty bitty).



Diane de Poitiers was Henri’s Royal Mistress. Legend has it he was smitten with her from his boyhood until the day he died (in a joust, lance through the eye, ouch). It was fact that she was 20 years older than him.




For many years, Catherine and Diane lived under the same roof (a large one, since it was a chateau). Catherine was ferociously jealous of Diane. She spread rumors the paramour was a witch who maintained her youthful skin by drinking the blood of babies (it was actually because she bathed everyday - crazy, right?). She cut a hole in her floor so she could watch the couple make love in the bedroom below. She probably tried to poison her.


Legend has it Diane was a manipulative, power/money-hungry b*tch. She got to stand next to Henri at his coronation. She enticed him to deplete the state treasury to build her the fairy-tale castle Chenonceau. But if she was such a heartless gold-digger, why was she only one who would risk death for Catherine?


From my musical, The Mistress Cycle, I offer this duet. Beautiful music and vocal by Jenny Giering.



HALF A BOWL


(Diane sits at Catherine's bedside. The Queen is very ill with scarlet fever.)


DIANE

Catherine. You must eat this. All of it. Catherine.


HALF A BOWL

OF THIS NICE WARM SOUP.

YOU MUST KEEP YOUR STRENGTH UP.

I KNOW THAT YOU’D RATHER HAVE SOME OTHER NURSE

BUT NONE WILL COME NEAR, NOW THE FEVER’S GONE WORSE.

SO PLEASE,

FOR YOUR CHILDREN -


HALF A BOWL

OF THE COOK’S BEST SOUP.

COME NOW, DON’T BE SILLY

IF YOU WISH TO SPITE ME, THERE ARE BETTER WAYS

FOR INSTANCE, BY LIVING OUT ALL OF YOUR DAYS

NOW PLEASE

FOR YOUR COUNTRY –

EAT.


CATHERINE

WHAT DOES HE SEE IN HER?

SO SHE RIDES.

I RIDE.

WELL ENOUGH.

AS WELL AS MOST.

SO SHE BATHES

I BATHE

WELL – ENOUGH

AS MUCH AS MOST.


WHAT DOES HE SEE IN HER?

SO SHE’S PALE

I’M PALE

RATHER TOO,

SOME WOULD SAY.

SO SHE’S SHAPELY

I’M NOT

BUT I’M A MEDICI

AND I’M HIS WIFE

FROM HER

NOT ONE SIP.


DIANE

HALF A BOWL

OF THIS STILL WARM SOUP

I WILL NOT GIVE UP HERE.

THE FEVER IS EATING THE FLESH OFF YOUR BONES

YOU DON’T WANT YOUR EYES TO BUG OUT LIKE A CRONE’S

NOW ENOUGH.

FOR YOUR HUSBAND.


CATHERINE

SHE HAS ENCHANTED HIM

SHE’S A WITCH

I’VE SEEN

HOW HE LOOKS

IN HER EYES

SHE’S A WHORE

SHE SITS

IN HIS LAP

SITS THERE AND RIDES


YOU HAVE ENCHANTED HIM

I HAVE WATCHED

YOU TWO

THERE’S A HOLE

IN MY FLOOR

YES I’VE WATCHED YOU

DO THINGS

NOT EVEN A MEDICI

NOT EVEN A WIFE

WOULD DO.

NOT ONE SIP.

(CATHERINE pushes the bowl away, has an enormous coughing fit, spits up blood. DIANE grabs a cloth, wipes Catherine's face.)


CATHERINE

No – you mustn’t – the Doctors say if you touch the blood –


DIANE

The Doctors. You are Queen and you must be attended to. This soup is cold. That won't do.

(SHE goes back to fetch more soup.)


CATHERINE

I NEVER KNEW SHE LOVED HIM SO MUCH

TO DO THIS

TO COME NEAR A SICKNESS THAT COULD KILL HER

AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

IT STILL BURNS SO STRONG

THE LOVE.

(DIANE is by the kettle.)

DIANE

I NEVER KNEW SHE HATED ME SO MUCH

TO DO THIS

TO REFUSE THE FOOD THAT COULD SAVE HER

AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

IT STILL BURNS SO STRONG

THE HATE


BOTH

I NEVER KNEW.


CATHERINE

SHE LOOKS SO TIRED


DIANE

SHE LOOKS SO FRAIL


CATHERINE

SHE HASN’T SLEPT IN DAYS


DIANE

SHE HASN’T ONCE COMPLAINED


CATHERINE

ANY OTHER WOMAN WOULD HAVE POISONED MY SOUP


DIANE

ANY OTHER WOMAN WOULD HAVE MADE MY LIFE HELL


BOTH

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D BE THANKFUL FOR YOU

(DIANE returns to Catherine with warm soup.)


DIANE

JUST A SIP

OF THIS NICE WARM SOUP

PLEASE, YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS

FOR YOUR CHILDREN

FOR YOUR COUNTRY

FOR YOUR HUSBAND

FOR ME.

(DIANE extends a spoon of soup. CATHERINE drinks it.)



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