We’ve met tons of royal mistresses here: Louise Julie de Mailly, Hortense Mancini, and Nell Gwyn. The first French mistress to be given the title of Maitresse-en-titre, or official mistress, was Agnès Sorel.
Agnès was born in/around 1422 in Touraine, France. She was the daughter of Jean Soreau and Catherine de Maignelais. Her family was probably minor nobility since she was able to get the position of maid of honor to the wife of Rene I of Naples, Isabella, the Duchess-Regnant of Lorraine.
Agnès met Charles VII of France when she would’ve been around twenty years old. Pretty soon after, Agnès got the position of lady-in-waiting to the Queen, Marie of Anjou. Soon after, Charles proclaimed that he was going to leave his pregnant wife for Agnès (Charles was like nineteen years older than Agnès, but does that really matter?). It didn’t matter that everyone knew that Agnès was Charles’s mistress, she was still going to have her lady-in-waiting job.
After the birth of Agnès’s first daughter, Marie Marguerite de Valois, Charles gave Agnès the official title of Maitresse-en-titre, so she became the first woman to have the office, even though tons of kings had had tons of mistresses long before Agnès.
Agnès didn’t just have a very official affair with King Charles, though, she really helped him out. One example of this was that since the Hundred Years’ War was going on then (Charles was the one that Joan of Arc helped put on the throne), Agnès would help him get money to fund the war from the nobles. Agnès turned him from a depressed man into a strong king ready to keep fighting for his crown.
Charles gifted Agnès the Chateau de Beauté. Because she owned the Chateau, Agnès became known as the Dame de Beauté, meaning the Lady of Beauty. The king liked Agnès very much, and he gifted her many things, such as jewelry, and that jewelry might have included the first cut diamond. But the most famous thing about Agnès is her fashion choices.
Agnès introduced low-cut dresses to the French court, and that turned into her pretty much just unlacing her bodice and letting her breasts show. Some ladies thought it was super cool and started emulating it, while others thought that Agnès’s way of dressing was just too scandalous that they couldn’t even be near it.
Agnès would wear an uncut diamond necklace just because she wanted to, and the king kept gifting her jewels, properties, everything Agnès could’ve wanted. Since Agnès was now one of the richest ladies in the kingdom, she dressed extravagantly, and would sometimes even appear better-dressed than the Queen, Marie of Anjou.
Anyone who wasn’t a royal wasn’t supposed to wear diamonds, but did Agnès care? Nope. She just kept wearing her cut or uncut diamonds and all the jewelry she had, and she probably looked amazing in them, since the other ladies of the court began emulating her yet again. A lot of women just wanted to be like Agnès, but a lot of people also wanted the king to get Agnès to stop wearing her breast-exposing clothes and pretty diamonds.
Agnès was even painted a few times with her clothing just the way she wore it every day. The portrait, Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, depicts Agnès as the Virgin Mary. Her complexion is extremely pale in this portrait, and the background is full of red and blue angels. Agnès is also holding a child in the portrait.
She had a lot of influence over the king, and since she was amazing, she used her influence to actually help him. There were many important reforms that occurred during Agnès’s time as mistress, and many of them probably happened due to Agnès’s influence. People at court began abandoning the Queen’s circle for Agnès’s since she was clearly the one who had influence over King Charles. She was seen as the new Joan of Arc in terms of her influence over the king.
Louis XI, then the Dauphin wasn’t happy that his father had a mistress who had a tremendous amount of influence over politics. He didn’t just hate the fact that Agnès was doing a lot of stuff to help his father behind the scenes, he hated Agnès herself (his mother was Marie of Anjou, so I kind of understand that), and according to one source, he once chased Agnès with a dagger.
Louis XI was unsuccessful in stabbing Agnès, and she ended up having three children, all daughters: Marie Marguerite de Valois, Countess of Tailebourg (1444 — 1473); Charlotte de Valois (1446 — 1477), whose son, Louise de Brézé, married another very influential royal mistress, Diane de Poitiers; and Jeanne.
When she was pregnant with her fourth child, Agnès was on her way from Chinon to Jumièges to meet Charles, who was on campaign, and she went into labor while traveling. Agnès and her newborn child died on February 9th, 1450. Agnès was only 28 years old.
Charles suspected that his son or a minister named Jacques Coeur had poisoned Agnès. He may have actually been right. Recently, Agnès’s body was exhumed, and high levels of mercury were found in her body. Then, mercury was used to treat various illnesses, so it may have just been used for medical reasons, or maybe, Agnès was being slowly poisoned.
Charles was devastated at the loss of his beloved mistress, but Agnès’s cousin, Antoinette, took Agnès’s place. I think that another possibility for someone who poisoned Agnès would be Antoinette. Agnès had an amazing and luxurious life as Charles’s official mistress, and really, who wouldn’t want to wear a bunch of diamonds and help run a country. So maybe Antoinette poisoned her cousin to get her hands on all that luxury. It’ll probably take a while to find out who really killed Agnès Sorel.