The poet Charles de Sainte-Marthe called Anne de Pisseleu "la plus belle des savantes et la plus savante des belles" ("the most beautiful among the learned and the most learned among the beautiful"). Indeed, Anne needed intelligence and a sharp wit, in addition to looks, to keep the attention of François, who prided himself on his learning. She cultivated poets and writers like Jodelle, Magny and Dolet and championed the artist Primaticcio, Rosso's chief competitor at Fontainebleau. She beautified the many properties the king bestowed on her and her husband (in 1532, for propriety's sake, François married her to Jean de Brosse and elevated the couple in rank) and undertook architectural projects. Through her favor, distant relatives and sympathetic friends obtained appointments to court offices and the military. She completely outshone, in beauty and influence, François's second wife, Eléonore d'Autriche, sister of Charles V, whom François was forced to marry as a term of his release.
Though she faced no competition from the queen, Anne did face a real threat to her power and influence from another source: Diane de Poitiers, the dauphin Henri's mistress. As relations between François and the dauphin soured, the court split into factions: those who supported Anne and her circle, those who looked to the future and threw their support behind Henri and Diane (including the powerful Grand Master of France, Anne de Montmorency), and the few who remained quietly on the sidelines with the queen. Anne did all she could to contrast her youth to Diane's age (Diane was only five years younger than François, and therefore twenty years older than Henri); she also differentiated herself by embracing the religious ideas of Luther and Calvin. Whereas Diane remained an ardent Catholic, Anne, along with François's sister Marguerite de Navarre, adhered to the reformed faith and encouraged François's tolerance of it as long as she could. Politically, her circle threw its support behind François's third son, Charles, the son François preferred.
Unfortunately for Anne, Charles died before François and upon the king's death, Henri took the throne. Anne's rivalry with Diane assured she was no longer welcome at court; in fact, she was accused of selling state secrets to France's enemy Charles V, stripped of her jewels and many of her possessions, and banished to her estate in Brittany. She died there in 1580, having outlived both Henri and Diane by many years.
The duchesse d'Etampes, pictured above around the time she became François's mistress and to the right at the height of her influence in the late 1530's, is one of the viewpoint characters in my new novel. Despite her importance, little has be written about her; much of what has been written focuses on her rivalry with Diane. An interesting source in French is this excerpt from a book by Etienne Desjardins; David Potter has written a recent article on the politics of the various court factions. In the novel, I'll be considering whether those rumors of her selling secrets to Charles V just might be true.