Thursday, February 10, 2011

Catherine de Medici

What would you get if you combined equal parts Joan Crawford, Nancy Reagan, Imelda Marcos, and any woman who ever commanded a European empire (think Elizabeth I of England, Maria Theresa of Austria, or Russia's Catherine the Great)?  Well, you might have someone very like Catherine de Medici, who despite being the daughter of Italian merchants, was the driving force behind the politics of France in the 16th century.  Virtually ignored by her husband Henri II while he devoted his energies to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, Catherine nonetheless managed to bear him 10 children.  Each was more hapless than the last --- she saw three of her sons become kings of France although none go down in the history books for being anything other than sickly and inept.  She was ruthless with her enemies and careless in her plotting.  Her plans to execute a handful of top French Protestants spiralled out of control to become the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre which after six days resulted in somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 deaths.  She was devoted to her husband, cruel to her children, obsessed with finery, and dabbled in the occult.  Really, how much more fascinating can you get?

Leonie Frieda's biography helped me better understand Catherine de Medici's place in French history and the disastrous fissures caused by the French wars of religion.  It's quite long and fairly detailed although she includes maps and family trees to help you keep all the Henris, Valois, Bourbons, and Guises sorted out.   And if you're looking for traces of the queen in current day Paris, you'll have to search.  The Tuileries palace is long gone as is the Hotel de la Reine which sat near the present day Bourse de la Commerce.  The only thing that remains of that palace is a single column which she and her astrologer used to track the planets and plot the future.


Elizabeth said...

Fantastic, I was looking for information about her recently.

Sweet Freak said...

Yowzer... sounds like a brilliant bio! Was it written in a style befitting her spunk??

Starman said...


Maria O. Russell said...

Long ago I read that she was a mother in law from Hades to Mary, Queen of Scotland! What with the Queen of France for a mother in law and the Queen of England for a cousin this poor doomed lady had no chance whatsoever!

Anonymous said...

I have that same book and got about 3 chapters in and had to put it down. Mostly, because I'm a grad student and had to read other books for class, but also because I wanted to save it for when I moved to Paris.
There's a French movie I rented on Netflix about her (in French) which is really interesting.
I'll be moving to Paris in June--we should meet up and explore other areas in the city for remnants of Medieval Paris!

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