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In 16th century France, when her husband Louie, Count de Brézé is accused of conspiring with his cousin Charles, the Duke of Bourbon, against King Francis I, Diane, Countess de Brézé, seeks an audience with Francis to plead for her husband's life. Francis shows the traitor's wife no mercy but decides that she is to remain in the palace until the trial. That afternoon in the courtyard, Diane watches Francis reprimand his son Prince Henri for dueling with a common groomsman named Michel Montgomery, but Henri proclaims that Montgomery is more noble than most of his father's court. While strolling the palace grounds together, Francis asks Diane whether he would follow the fleeing Bourbon into Italy, where his enemy might conspire with the Italians against him. Diane suggests that instead of chasing after Bourbon, the Medici, the ruling family in Italy, must being willing to trade for a promise of peace. The King explains that the Medici would like the Dauphin to marry their princess, Catherine de Medici, but Francis is averse to sanctioning a marriage between an Italian bride and the King of France. Diane then suggests that Catherine marry Henri, the King's younger son. Although grateful for the sagacious advice, the king replies that the ungracious Henri is not a serious candidate. One night, after Francis informs Diane that Louie will be executed the next day for acts of treason, Diane tells him that her husband is not a traitor to France but a traitor to the King, and accuses Francis of seizing Bourbon's land to pay for his own greed. When Diane then offers to do anything to secure her husband's release, Francis, both outraged and impressed by her insubordination, grants Louie his freedom in trade for an unidentified promise to be named and fulfilled by Diane at a later date. Diane returns home to find that Louie believes she has committed some indiscretion with the King and renounces her. A month later, when Francis sends word that she is to return to the palace to fulfill her "promise," Louie, believing she has become the king's mistress, sends her away angrily. At the palace, Francis explains that upon Diane's advice, he offered Henri as a suitor for Catherine and although the Medici accepted, they now make fun of the insolent youth. When Francis asks Diane to tutor Henri about the art of etiquette, she accepts the task. Despite Henri's initial complaints of noble falsity, Diane's easy temperament and wise words win his favor. After the two embark on fencing, language and dancing lessons, the young man, smitten with his mature tutor, asks her about her relationship with Louie. She explains that her love for the older man grew over time, but Henri argues that true love is more instantaneous. With only two weeks until the marriage, Diane advises Henri that his marriage will bring peace to France. The young man then professes his love for Diane and commands that she is to remain in the palace until his return from the wedding in Marseilles. Months later, Henri and his new bride arrive in France in a pageant-filled march through the city. Among Catherine's court are her astrologer, Ruggieri, and advisors, Count Gondi and Sardini. Meanwhile, Montgomery, who has been knighted, rides at Henri's side as his trusted aide. That night, when Sardini witnesses Henri furtively knocking at Diane's door, he reports to Gondi, who tells Catherine that Henri's tutor is also his mistress. The next day, Catherine cautions Diane that Italians are rumored to be such skilled murderers that they can poison only one side of the knife. She then cuts an apple, handing a slice to Diane while she eats the other. After Diane takes a bite, Catherine states that true friendships develop slowly. Later, when Gondi persists on portraying Diane as Catherine's enemy, the princess, reluctant to believe Diane untrustworthy, challenges her advisor to prove it. One night, Gondi shows Catherine a secret spying hole into Diane's chamber, through which Catherine witnesses Diane tell Henri that she will not betray the princess despite her love for him. When Henri commands Diane to consummate their love, Catherine, seething with hatred, seeks Ruggieri, who calls on his young seer Piero to look into the crystal to foretell Catherine's destiny. Holding the ball, Piero sees Catherine will bear three sons who will one day rule as kings, and visions of a golden cage and wild boar which foretell a tragedy in which Henri is harmed while Montgomery is at his side. After Catherine leaves, Ruggieri reveals that Henri is destined to become King of France and die at the hands of Montgomery. On a royal hunt one day, Montgomery and Henri are chasing a wounded stag on foot when they enter grove of glimmering birch trees resembling a golden cage. Suddenly a wild boar attacks Henri, who is severely wounded. That evening, Francis, having learned from Louie that Bourbon has raised an army against him, prepares to leave with his men to fight. After earlier witnessing Bourbon's brutality, which only served to advance his interests and not those of France, Louie has turned his allegiance to Francis and now begs Diane to pardon him for misjudging her. At her husband's request, Diane awaits the war's end at the de Brézé chateau, where she writes to the recuperating Henri, begging him to cease contact with her, and sends him a ring as a pledge of her love. One night, Francis returns home victorious but severely wounded and announces Louie was mortally wounded while killing Bourbon. On his deathbed, Francis advises Henri and the Dauphin to seek Diane's advice when they are in trouble. When weeks later, Diane arrives at the palace upon the "King's" request, she is shocked to find Henri in the King's chamber. After Henri explains that the Dauphin has been poisoned and he suspects Catherine, Diane advises that the palace judges should decide the matter. Henri then begs Diane for her continued help and states, "You made me a prince, now make me a king." During the trial, Montecuculli, the cup-bearer caught poisoning the Dauphin, is identified as part of Catherine's court and, under torture, admits that he was ordered by the King Philip of Spain to kill Charles. Later in her chambers, Catherine is outraged to learn from Gondi that the Medici rulers conspired with Spain to kill the Dauphin so that Henri would be king, thus ensuring the Medici would rule France through her sons. When Henri visits Catherine later that day, she begs him to trust her and tells him she is bearing his child, but Henri has lost faith in his wife. Seven years pass and, as Ruggieri had predicted, Catherine bears three young princes by Henri, but is estranged from her husband and from France. Diane continues to reside at the palace as Henri's mistress, beloved "auntie" of the children and a favorite among France's public. One day, when the Duke of Savoy and Italian Count Ridolfi visits the palace, Henri decides to hold a jousting tournament for entertainment. Later that night, Diane reprimands Henri for naming her queen of the tournament during dinner, in essence publicly announcing her as his mistress and thereby dishonoring her and Catherine, who she believes is innocent of any treachery. Late that night, Gondi meets with Ridolfi, who has installed a head on one of the lances that will shatter on impact, exposing a sharp blade sure to kill Henri. The next day at the tournament, after Henri defeats the Duke and Montgomery defeats Ridolfi, a joust is set between the two friends. Finding that his shield is damaged, Montgomery borrows the Italian shield with a coat of wild boar and then grabs the nearest jousting stick, Ridolfi's tampered weapon. In the crowd, Piero, sensing the danger, cries out to the king to forfeit the joust, prompting Catherine to attempt to stop her husband; however, their cries are ignored and Montgomery's weapon gouges the "golden cage" of Henri's face shield, wounding him. While Henri is being carried to the palace, Catherine removes Diane's keepsake ring from Henri's hand. Although weakened, Henri commands that he be taken to Diane's chambers, where he orders Diane to leave the palace at once to save herself. Soon after, Montgomery offers to take Diane away into hiding, warning that Catherine will soon order her execution, but Diane, fearing the repercussions to any who should help her, bids Montgomery farewell and prepares to meet her doom. After the king dies that evening and she learns of the Italian conspiracy, Catherine orders Gondi's arrest, but the traitor commits suicide before the truth can be revealed. Catherine then receives Diane, who suggests that Catherine, being a practical woman, has no use for Diane's death since Henri is no longer between them. The stern but merciful Catherine orders the guards to take Diane back to the de Brézé chateau. As she watches her enemy descend the palace steps to an awaiting carriage, the weeping Catherine sends her eldest boy to return the keepsake ring to Diane.