France's first perfumier
So back to Catherine de Medici. Despite the gloves and the ten children, one of which almost killed her during childbirth … her husband, the King of France, was madly in love with his mistress Diane de Poitiers.
What’s a girl to do?
Fortunately for Catherine, she had brought with her a perfumer from Florence by the name of Renato Bianco, later known as Renè Le Florentin. Renato was an orphan raised by the friars in the convent of Santa Maria Novella in where he first worked as a stable boy.
At the age of twelve he was entrusted to an old alchemist friar, who introduced the child to the secret technique of herbal distillation which the convent was famous for.
The friars from the convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, went to France as part of Catherine's entourage. Ambitious and eager to please her, he perfumed her gloves.
The royal court was ripe for perfume. People did not bathe in the 1500’s. Royals were said to sponge themselves once a month, and rarely wash their silk undergarments. They never washed their hair, which was often so greasy and lice-ridden that the combs one sees in pictures were often used to scratch their lice infested bee hives.
And a sponge bath, clearly didn’t help much….
In all fairness, taking a bath in medieval times was a dangerous business—cold marble in drafty houses risked pneumonia and even death. Would you die for a bath? Probably not. The images show just how unpleasant and complicated the art of bathing once was.
Rene le Florentin's perfumes solved the matter. Soon, it wasn’t just the vain Parisian nobility who embraced this new custom of perfuming oneself, it was everyone.
He opened a shop on the Pont St. Michele… Renè le Florentin's shop was an instant hit.
Soon…his perfumes were so popular that he had rivals.
So he turned his perfume turned into poison, and the increasingly cunning and political Catherine De Medici was all to happy to help.
As Shakespeare once said, 'Hell has no fury like a woman scorned'