On this day . . . January 5th

Catherine de Medici
April 13th, 1519 – January 5th, 1589

Not one of the most popular queens that France has ever had . . . Catherine de Medici is usually depicted as cruel, corrupt, and cold towards her daughters yet close to her sons. Catherine appears to have been extremely ruthless and willing to do anything for her sons.  

I don’t think that she was totally to blame for her behaviour as life dealt her a rough deck of cards. She was orphaned when she was an infant; both of her parents, Lorenzo II de Medici and Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, both died just a few weeks after her birth. After the death of her parents she was passed around to other members of her family and used as a pawn in order to secure their own advancement in life. Later she was kidnapped during the Italian Wars and finally she was married off to the Duc d’Orléans, the second son of King Francis I, Henri. 

The wedding took place on the 28th of October 1533 when the bride and groom were only 14 years old. Unfortunately this was not a fairytale wedding – although Catherine was enamoured with her new husband, the feeling was not mutual as Henri much preferred the company of his much older mistress Diane de Poitiers. The marriage was not considered an immediate success as it took 10 year to finally produce an heir – a result of Catherine turning to some very strange remedies such as drinking mule urine and covering herself in cow dung. After the birth of their first child, son Francis in 1544, Catherine had no problems and ended up with a total of 10 children, 7 of which survived infancy.

Upon the death of her husband in July 1559 from a lance to the face, Catherine became regent to her son King Francis II, and then to her other son King Charles IX – and it is believed that without her, it is unlikely that they would have remained in power. Although she never acted as King Henri III’s regent, she still played a major role throughout his reign. Catherine’s sons reigned during an age of almost constant civil and religious war in France which all came to a head in 1572 with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which thousands of Huguenots were killed in Paris and throughout France, an event that Catherine seems to shoulder the blame for and that is considered one of her worst decisions of the crown.

For some great reads on Catherine de Medici, pick up

Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

At the age of fourteen, Catherine de Medici, last legitimate descendant of the Medici blood, finds herself betrothed to the King Francois I’s son, Henri. Sent from her native Florence to France, humiliated and overshadowed by her husband’s life-long devotion to his mistress, when tragedy strikes her family Catherine rises from obscurity to become one of 16th century Europe’s most powerful women.

Patroness of Nostradamus and a seer in her own right, accused of witchcraft and murder by her foes, Catherine fights to save France and her children from savage religious conflict, unaware that her own fate looms before her—a fate that will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, reputation, and the passion of her own embattled heart. . .
From the splendors of the Loire palaces to the blood-soaked battles of the Wars of Religion and haunted halls of the Louvre, this is the story of Catherine’s dramatic life, told by the queen herself.

The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis

Born into one of Florence’s most powerful families, Catherine was soon left a fabulously rich heiress by the early deaths of her parents. Violent conflict rent the city state and she found herself imprisoned and threatened by her family’s enemies before finally being released and married off to the handsome Prince Henry of France.

Overshadowed by her husband’s mistress, the gorgeous, conniving Diane de Poitiers, and unable to bear children, Catherine resorted to the dark arts of sorcery to win Henry’s love and enhance her fertility—for which she would pay a price. Against the lavish and decadent backdrop of the French court, and Catherine’s blood-soaked visions of the future, Kalogridis reveals the great love and desire Catherine bore for her husband Henry, and her stark determination to keep her sons on the throne.

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