CATHERINE DE MEDICI
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 22nd January
be a great prince,' wrote Machiavelli, 'one must
sometimes violate the laws of humanity.' Catherine
de Medici (1519-1589) has been described as 'the
Black Queen' and 'the Maggot from Italy's tomb',
but - says her new biographer Leonie Frieda -
the truth is very different.
Orphaned in infancy, imprisoned in childhood,
heiress to an ancient name and vast fortune, Catherine
was brought up in the Florentine court and married
off, by her uncle the Pope, to Henry, Duke of
Orléans, son of King Francis I of France. Aged
only fourteen, she suffered cruelly as Henry loved
only his beautiful mistress, Diane de Poitiers.
In 1559, when Henry, by then King of France,
died horrifically in a jousting accident, Catherine
was thrust into the lethal maelstrom of French
power politics. With the country riven by communal
strife, the forty-year-old widow and Queen Mother
became the most important figure in France for
the next thirty years. Having tried to foster
religious tolerance, she was forced to adopt extreme
methods as she struggled for the survival of her
husband's legacy and her children's royal birthright.
This led to the infamous St Bartholomew's Day
Massacre of 24 August 1572, when thousands of
French Protestants were slaughtered.
contemporary and sometime ally of Elizabeth I
of England, Catherine proved a superb political
strategist and ruthless conspirator. Though regarded
by many as a common interloper, and with no natural
power base of her own, she nevertheless single-mindedly
ruled France for her sickly and corrupt children,
three of whom became kings of France, including
one who married Mary, Queen of Scots. Her obsessive
love for them was her fatal blind spot and ultimately
threatened her magnificent achievements for France.
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