Catherine de Medici
Catherine de Medici was half French, half Italian. Orphaned in infancy, she was the sole legitimate heiress to the Medici family fortune. Married at fourteen to the future Henri II of France, she was constantly humiliated by his influential mistress Diane de Poitiers. When her husband died as a result…
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Catherine de Medici has been reviled as an evil and power-hungry queen mother of three French kings, and as the architect of the St. Bartholomew’s Day’s Massacre—the most infamous episode in the decades-long French Wars of Religion. She was even slanderously accused of murdering another queen by sending her poisoned gloves, in keeping with her “Machiavellian” Italian extraction. Leonie Frieda’s biography corrects the “Black Legend” of Catherine and provides a vivid portrait of the complex woman who wielded unprecedented power as queen regent in France, where Salic Law prohibited women from exercising sovereignty in their own right, as did her…
Leonie Freida’s biography intended for popular audiences does not shirk from the complexities of Catherine’s life or the political and religious history of sixteenth-century France. One of the very few English-language biographies of Catherine de Medici, it is thorough, richly illustrated, and engagingly written and a welcome addition to the spate of recent works about royal women. Catherine de Medici was, after Elizabeth I of England, the most powerful woman of the sixteenth century.
Yet, she is known primarily through her Black Legend, created by Protestant polemicists in the wake of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which defined her as…
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