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In the 15th Century, Agnès Sorel (c1422-1450), mistress of Charles VII of France, was the first woman to wear a diamond at the court of a king. Charles VII, who had been disinherited by his mother, had been reinstated on the throne thanks to Joan of Arc.

Agnès Sorel, who was not of royal blood but who was of noble origins, was also the first mistress of a king of France. This was also the period when women came out of the wings to take up a place on the centre stage of the Court. Still considered as ornamental in a man’s life, women  oftened the Court’s lifestyle by providing gallantries and entertainment for the king. The favourites, or mistresses, received the benefit of the king’s favours but also received castles, land and jewels. Agnès Sorel, known as “the Lady of beauty”, became the king’s special favourite and was treated as such, that’s to say, like a queen.

Thanks to her beauty, she influenced the king on a political level. She probably helped him fight England and return France to prosperity. The legend even says that she surely saved the country. During her liaison with the king, many counsellors were present at Court, such as Jacques Coeur, the master of the mint, who provided her with ermine furs, Levant muslins, gold and silk brocades and precious gems.

She had considerable influence on luxury goods, arts, morals and habits of the court. She introduced a form of “royal luxury” by baring her shoulders and adorning her neck with diamonds.

She was strongly criticised by the moralists and by the poet Chastelain who qualified her as queen of “fashion”, as well as by Christian representatives who had never seen a woman adorned so excessively and caused a scandal as Mr Robert explained in his book: “The true queen was humiliated, for not only did Agnès Sorel have the privileges of a princess, the most beautiful bed coverings, the best rugs, rings and jewellery, but she also had the king’s authorisation to sit at the queen’s table.”

All these favours brought about jealousy and conspiracy and she was probably poisoned after giving birth for the fourth time. Her grave was destroyed during the Revolution but restored under Napoleon I. In 2005, research was undertaken to discover the real cause of her death.

In 1449, Jean Fouquet mortalised Agnes Sorel in his painting entitled “The Virgin and child” which portrays her as majestic. What a consecration for a Diva who became a myth after her death! In the 18th and 19th century she was even likened to Joann of Arc and Tchaikovsky wrote two operas about her.


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Text @World Luxury Jewellers.