How the favorite revolutionises the ways of the court

A new court spirit.

Agnès Sorel brought to the gloomy court of France the new air that had floated through the Court of Anjou and was part of a general aspiration for a more beautiful life after the challenges of the Hundred Years' War. Through her very personality, the favourite brought a new atmosphere. She contributed to the return of a new spirit in a modest and austere Court, marked by the hardships of war and which had lost its splendour.

“La Belle Agnès”

During her lifetime, Agnès Sorel was already referred to by this flattering name. On this point, the chroniclers are unanimous, whether they are favourable or hostile: she was "one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen", notes Olivier de La Marche.

Focus : Agnes Sorel, the fashion revolution

♥ Agnès Sorel seems to revive the extravagance of the court of Charles VI (1368 - 1380 - 1422) - and Isabeau of Bavaria (1370-1435), while magnifying it with her exceptional beauty. We then witnessed the return of the hennin, dresses with long trains, wide sleeves and ample necklines, silk shirts, and rare furs.

♥ The favourite wore dresses with large necklines that suggested her breasts. These long trains and the rich ornaments caused ripples in the king's austere entourage.

♥ Through the care she gave to her ornaments, Agnès Sorel was fully in line with the developments of her time, which influenced women's clothing at the end of the Middle Ages and announced a new era.

Agnès Sorel looks after her beauty

The natural beauty of the favourite, which is unanimously underlined by all the chroniclers of her time, is magnified by the use of blushes, depilatory balms and other ointments that maintain her white complexion, uncluttered forehead and plucked eyebrows.

Loches: Agnès Sorel’s favourite place of residence.

Loches was the public residence where she frequently went. When travelling from one place to another, the favourite carried a small wooden box with an iron ring in which she kept her papers, small Hours for her devotions, an almanac, and bottles filled with balms.

In Loches, the king lives with his favourite. The queen remains most of the time in Chinon where she recovers from her successive pregnancies. The favourite's stays in Loches gave rise to several events between 1444 and 1449. Agnès Sorel had a "quarter" in the castle, while not disregarding the fresh air of the nearby forest.

In addition, Agnès Sorel remains with the sovereign when he stays at other residences in the Touraine region, at the Château de Tours and Montil-lès-Tours, where the truce with the English was negotiated (1444), and in Chinon, at the Château de Razilly or the Roberdeau dwelling.

« The rank of a princess »

Georges Chastellain emphasises that Agnès Sorel had the "status and rank of a princess" and that her wardrobe was worthy of her rank: "the most beautiful bed coverings, the finest tapestries, the best linen and blankets, the best crockery, the best rings and jewels, the best cooking and the best everything".

In the favourite's testamentary, we find several dresses "for women's use", made of damask, velvet or black satin, filled with sable and martre. In addition, these black dresses set her apart and send a message about the image that she wished to express beyond the extravagant fashion she was associated with. Black is associated with temperance and modesty.

Among her possessions were several objects intended to establish her rank, in particular ceremonial crockery. The king also gifted her with several pieces of jewellery, including a cut diamond, which was unheard of at the time. Upon her death, Charles VII bought back the jewels of the favourite for the considerable sum of 20,000 ecus.

Foundations and donations.

In a different vein, a portion of the favourite's possessions were donated to religious foundations upon her death. Agnès Sorel is known for having a pitying heart and for helping those in need. Out of piety, and for "the salvation of her soul", she made several donations and offerings to the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame and expressed her attachment to this place of residence.

Death of the favourite

In February 1450, Agnès Sorel left Loches for Normandy to join the king in his campaign against the English. Seven months pregnant with her fourth child, her journey was an ordeal that exhausted her. Once settled by Charles VII at the Mesnil de Jumièges manor (7 February 1450), she suffered from a "tummy flow, from which she was very ill" according to Jean Chartier. She was treated, in vain, by Robert Poitevin, the queen's doctor.

On 9 February 1450, her condition deteriorated and she succumbed "in the flower of her youth", at the age of 28. As early as that time, the hypothesis of poisoning was raised: "La Belle Agnès (...) who died of poison" is written in the Martinian Chronicle.

Her testament executors were Robert Poitevin, Jacques Coeur and Étienne Chevalier. The latter was responsible for transporting the body of the deceased to Loches, where the king had decided to honour her with a near-princess funeral, and commissioned a marble and alabaster tomb effigy from the sculptor Jacques Morel (1390-1459). Agnès Sorel's death was both an end and a beginning. From that moment on, she became part of history, and soon of legend.

Iconography :

  • Gérard de Nevers or the Roman de la violette. -Ball at the court of Louis le Gros, Bruges, c.1470, ms 24378, folio 5, BnF.
  • The Theseida, ms 2617, fol 14v. Delivery of the book to the unknown young lady, ÖNB.
  • The Theseida (Vienna, ÖNB, ms 2617). French translation of Boccaccio's Teseida, fol.76v. Emilia's departure for the hunt.
  • The Theseida (Vienna, ÖNB, ms 2617). French translation of Boccaccio's Teseida, Fol.3. Prayer of Emilia, Arcitas and Palamon.

Objects :

  • Reconstructed dress of Agnès Sorel, La Dame d'Atours / Nathalie Harran, 2022
  • Reproductions of beauty & hygiene items, Scalpel and Matula.
  • Travel box, 15th century, wood, iron, fabric, linen [inv. CH. 422]. Rolin Museum (Autun).