100 books like Catherine de Medici

By Leonie Frieda,

Here are 100 books that Catherine de Medici fans have personally recommended if you like Catherine de Medici. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

Kathleen Wellman Author Of Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France

From my list on women in early modern France.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian of early modern France and a professor at Southern Methodist University, I have taken students to Paris on a study abroad program for more than twenty summers. Students were invariably intrigued by the relationship of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers. The young prince married Catherine de Medici at the age of fourteen but the thirty-six-year-old Diane de Poitiers became his mistress when he was sixteen and remained so for the rest of his life. The complexities of that relationship and the significance of both women led me to conclude that the history of the Renaissance could be told through the lives of the queens and mistresses.

Kathleen's book list on women in early modern France

Kathleen Wellman Why did Kathleen love this book?

This book brings to light the intimate relationships of ordinary young men and women as opposed to those of powerful, public women. While royal women endured contemporary surveillance of their sexuality, pregnancies, and childbirths, the intimate lives of ordinary women must be wrested from archival records. Harwick’s exploration of legal records concerning unmarried pregnant women reveals the various range of strategies they adopted as well as the extensive support, both emotional and financial, they received from their community—clergy, lawyers, midwives, parents, etc.—to the benefit of both mother and child. Such support may well have reduced child abandonment and infanticide.

Hardwick not only challenges the standard notion of a sexual double standard applied to the detriment of women but also documents the mobilization of an early modern city not to punish unmarried women who faced expected pregnancies but to offer sympathetic aid.

By Julie Hardwick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sex in an Old Regime City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Our ideas about the long histories of young couples' relationships and women's efforts to manage their reproductive health are often premised on the notion of a powerful sexual double standard.

In Sex in an Old Regime City, Julie Hardwick offers a major reframing of the history of young people's intimacy. Based on legal records from the city of Lyon, Hardwick uncovers the relationships of young workers before marriage and after pregnancy occurred, even if marriage did not follow, and finds that communities treated these occurrences without stigmatizing or moralizing. She finds a hidden world of strategies young couples enacted when…


Book cover of Portraits of the Queen Mother: Polemics, Panegyrics, Letters

Kathleen Wellman Author Of Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France

From my list on women in early modern France.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian of early modern France and a professor at Southern Methodist University, I have taken students to Paris on a study abroad program for more than twenty summers. Students were invariably intrigued by the relationship of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers. The young prince married Catherine de Medici at the age of fourteen but the thirty-six-year-old Diane de Poitiers became his mistress when he was sixteen and remained so for the rest of his life. The complexities of that relationship and the significance of both women led me to conclude that the history of the Renaissance could be told through the lives of the queens and mistresses.

Kathleen's book list on women in early modern France

Kathleen Wellman Why did Kathleen love this book?

From her arrival as a fourteen-year-old bride to her death as queen mother fifty-five years later, Catherine de Medici was praised as a devoted wife and mother and able ruler but also condemned as a foreigner, a poisoner, and murderer of Protestants. This rare collection of primary sources translated into English allows readers to become familiar with the sources of such positive and negative assessments of this controversial queen. The letters included here, selected from her many volumes of correspondence, reveal her concerns as a mother and as a political figure.

Excerpts from Venetian ambassadors' gossipy reports bring to light principal figures of the French court--their character, their motives, and political interests. Other sources in the collection extravagantly praise the character and actions of the queen. The several polemical sources included in the collection offer a sharp contrast. The vehement charges leveled against Catherine allow readers to recognize and understand…

By Catherine de Medicis, Leah L. Chang (translator), Katherine Kong (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Portraits of the Queen Mother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Catherine de Medicis was portrayed in her day as foreign usurper, loving queen and queen mother, patron of the arts, and Machiavellian murderer of Protestants. Leah L. Chang and Katherine Kong assemble a diverse array of scathing polemic and lofty praise, diplomatic reports, and Catherine's own letters, which together show how one extraordinary woman's rule intersected with early modern conceptions of gender, maternity, and power.


Book cover of Marie Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen

Kathleen Wellman Author Of Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France

From my list on women in early modern France.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian of early modern France and a professor at Southern Methodist University, I have taken students to Paris on a study abroad program for more than twenty summers. Students were invariably intrigued by the relationship of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers. The young prince married Catherine de Medici at the age of fourteen but the thirty-six-year-old Diane de Poitiers became his mistress when he was sixteen and remained so for the rest of his life. The complexities of that relationship and the significance of both women led me to conclude that the history of the Renaissance could be told through the lives of the queens and mistresses.

Kathleen's book list on women in early modern France

Kathleen Wellman Why did Kathleen love this book?

This collection of articles offers an intriguing approach to the topic of women, power, and sex by focusing on the many uses of Marie Antoinette. The essays, by prominent historians, art historians, and literary scholars, examine Marie Antoinette as a “site of history” where political and cultural contests occurred. The authors analyze pamphlets, archival materials, portraits, French Revolutionary pornography, and modern films to consider the central questions Marie Antoinette raised about her identity as a foreign queen, woman, wife, mother, and political figure.

She embodied the contradictions in old regime politics, culture, and gender identity and has been used subsequently to address political and gender issues to the present. Each essay offers a distinct, intriguing perspective on the reciprocal influence of this queen and the history of France. The collection reveals the wealth of purposes this queen served and the rich variety of interpretations she provoked.

By Dena Goodman (editor), Thomas E. Kaiser (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marie Antoinette as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marie-Antoinette is one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in all of French history. This volume explores the many struggles by various individuals and groups to put right Marie's identity, and it simultaneously links these struggles to larger destabilizations in social, political and gender systems in France.

Looking at how Marie was represented in politics, art, literature and journalism, the contributors to this volume reveal how crucial political and cultural contexts were enacted "on the body of the queen" and on the complex identity of Marie. Taken together, these essays suggest that it is precisely because she came to…


Book cover of Minerva's French Sisters: Women of Science in Enlightenment France

Kathleen Wellman Author Of Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France

From my list on women in early modern France.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian of early modern France and a professor at Southern Methodist University, I have taken students to Paris on a study abroad program for more than twenty summers. Students were invariably intrigued by the relationship of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers. The young prince married Catherine de Medici at the age of fourteen but the thirty-six-year-old Diane de Poitiers became his mistress when he was sixteen and remained so for the rest of his life. The complexities of that relationship and the significance of both women led me to conclude that the history of the Renaissance could be told through the lives of the queens and mistresses.

Kathleen's book list on women in early modern France

Kathleen Wellman Why did Kathleen love this book?

This book focuses on another group of influential women. They are six women of significant scientific accomplishment who have been almost entirely written out of history. Through painstaking research, Gelbart brings these women vividly to life. She reveals their extensive scientific work and significant accomplishments as well their influence on male scientists and intellectuals. She also notes the obstacles they faced and the sacrifices they made to do their work.

The reader walks with Gelbart through the streets of Paris as she gives her figures a rich personal and professional context in time and space. She illuminates the scientific context of the Enlightenment by bringing these women into our historical understanding of the period. Her empathic treatment exposes the difficulties faced by women who pursued science, many of which continue to plague twenty-first-century female scientists.

By Nina Rattner Gelbart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Minerva's French Sisters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fascinating collective biography of six female scientists in eighteenth-century France, whose stories were largely written out of history

This book presents the stories of six intrepid Frenchwomen of science in the Enlightenment whose accomplishments-though celebrated in their lifetimes--have been generally omitted from subsequent studies of their period: mathematician and philosopher Elisabeth Ferrand, astronomer Nicole Reine Lepaute, field naturalist Jeanne Barret, garden botanist and illustrator Madeleine Francoise Basseporte, anatomist and inventor Marie-Marguerite Biheron, and chemist Genevieve d'Arconville. By adjusting our lens, we can find them.

In a society where science was not yet an established profession for men, much less…


Book cover of Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power

Anne J. Cruz and Mihoko Suzuki Author Of The Rule of Women in Early Modern Europe

From my list on women who ruled in early modern Europe.

Why are we passionate about this?

Mihoko and Anne first met at the University of Miami, where Mihoko was a specialist in early modern England and Anne, in early modern Spain. Sharing their interests in gender studies, literature, and history, and combining their expertise, they team-taught a popular course on early modern women writers. Anne’s publications range from studies of women in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, female rogues, and religious women to early modern Habsburg queens. Mihoko has published on the figure of Helen of Troy in classical and Renaissance epic; and women and politics in early modern Europe, especially in the context of the many civil wars that upended the political and social order of the period.

Anne's book list on women who ruled in early modern Europe

Anne J. Cruz and Mihoko Suzuki Why did Anne love this book?

Through her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon, Isabel of Castile united the two most powerful kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, becoming the first early Renaissance queen to rule in her own right. As mother to five daughters and one son, the formidable ruler provided them with an unparalleled education and procured their marriages to the reigning dynasties of Europe. Much of what is known about Isabel, however, has relied on medieval chronicles and her own image-making as a legitimate heir, devoted wife, and pious ruler. Examining how this public image was created, Barbara Weissberger demonstrates the strategies adopted by both her supporters and her detractors when negotiating the challenges posed by her gender and her political program for converting all non-Catholics to Catholicism.

While her followers viewed her as a virtuous and submissive queen, her detractors imagined her as a rapacious vixen, whose illicit power threatened gender norms, creating anxiety…

By Barbara F. Weissberger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Isabel Rules as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The movement to canonise the Catholic Queen Isabel has recently been revived and, therefore, this detailed and original scrutiny of both Isabel and the power she wielded is timely. Of special interest to Weissberger is the relationship between sexuality and power in 15th-century Spain, in particular the anxiety felt at the time about the nature of male and female sexuality. This created a conflict in the minds of Isabel's subjects in their perception of their queen as both spiritual and political leader and as a weak and corrupt woman. Drawing on documentary and literary accounts, Weissberger discusses male anxiety about…


Book cover of The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power

Zita Eva Rohr Author Of Yolande of Aragon (1381-1442) Family and Power: The Reverse of the Tapestry

From my list on premodern women of power and influence.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was a child, I was forever drawing pictures of princesses in elaborate medieval and early modern dress. I devoured history books—especially those containing artworks that helped me visualize the people whose names rang out from their pages. Inexplicably, I was passionate about France and French language and culture from my primary school years. Then, in my early twenties, I stumbled onto Umberto Eco’s, The Name of the Rose, which appeared in English translation around 1983. History has been, and remains, my passion (as do whodunits). I have been passionately obsessed with in my research for over two decades—uncovering the truth that lies beneath the spin and the ashes.  

Zita's book list on premodern women of power and influence

Zita Eva Rohr Why did Zita love this book?

Carole Levin’s magisterial work has now appeared in its second edition, a testament to its importance. Carole explores the myriad ways the unmarried, childless Elizabeth represented herself and the ways members of her court, foreign ambassadors, and subjects represented and responded to her as a public figure. Like her recently deceased successor, Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Tudor understood that she had to be seen to be believed. She fashioned herself into both the Virgin Queen and the mother of her people. Carole interrogates the gender constructions, role expectations, and beliefs about sexuality that influenced her public persona and the way she was perceived as a female Protestant ruler and points us to paths along which can travel to investigate other female monarchs regardless of time period and on a global scale.

By Carole Levin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Heart and Stomach of a King as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her famous speech to rouse the English troops staking out Tilbury at the mouth of the Thames during the Spanish Armada's campaign, Queen Elizabeth I is said to have proclaimed, "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king." Whether or not the transcription is accurate, the persistent attribution of this provocative statement to England's most studied and celebrated queen illustrates some of the contradictions and cultural anxieties that dominated the collective consciousness of England during a reign that lasted from 1558 until 1603.
In The Heart…


Book cover of Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric

Anne J. Cruz and Mihoko Suzuki Author Of The Rule of Women in Early Modern Europe

From my list on women who ruled in early modern Europe.

Why are we passionate about this?

Mihoko and Anne first met at the University of Miami, where Mihoko was a specialist in early modern England and Anne, in early modern Spain. Sharing their interests in gender studies, literature, and history, and combining their expertise, they team-taught a popular course on early modern women writers. Anne’s publications range from studies of women in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, female rogues, and religious women to early modern Habsburg queens. Mihoko has published on the figure of Helen of Troy in classical and Renaissance epic; and women and politics in early modern Europe, especially in the context of the many civil wars that upended the political and social order of the period.

Anne's book list on women who ruled in early modern Europe

Anne J. Cruz and Mihoko Suzuki Why did Anne love this book?

Christina of Sweden, known today primarily through Greta Garbo’s portrayal of her in the 1933 film, became queen at age six when her father was killed in battle; she received the education of a prince, including the study of statecraft, for which she read the Latin biography of Elizabeth I. Initially deemed a boy at birth, Christina’s habit of crossdressing, her refusal to marry, and her romantic attachments to both women and men bespeak her ambiguous sexuality. Veronica Buckley’s biography does justice to this idiosyncratic and controversial figure who abdicated her throne, converted to Catholicism, and moved to Rome. Although she took Alexander the Great as her model and sought to rule Naples and Poland-Lithuania after her abdication, she revealingly recorded in her memoirs her thoughts concerning the predicament she faced as a female sovereign: “Women should never be rulers... Women who rule make themselves ridiculous one way or the…

By Veronica Buckley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Christina, Queen of Sweden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The groundbreaking biography of one of the most progressive, influential and entertaining women of the seventeenth century, Christina Alexandra, Queen of Sweden.

In 1654, to the astonishment and dismay of her court, Christina Alexandra announced her abdication in favour of her cousin, Charles. Instrumental in bringing the Thirty Years War to a close at the age of 22, Christina had become one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. She had also become notorious for her extravagant lifestyle.

Leaving the narrow confines of her homeland behind her, Christina cut a remarkable path across Europe. She acted as mediator in the…


Book cover of Mary Queen of Scots: An Illustrated Life

Anne J. Cruz and Mihoko Suzuki Author Of The Rule of Women in Early Modern Europe

From my list on women who ruled in early modern Europe.

Why are we passionate about this?

Mihoko and Anne first met at the University of Miami, where Mihoko was a specialist in early modern England and Anne, in early modern Spain. Sharing their interests in gender studies, literature, and history, and combining their expertise, they team-taught a popular course on early modern women writers. Anne’s publications range from studies of women in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, female rogues, and religious women to early modern Habsburg queens. Mihoko has published on the figure of Helen of Troy in classical and Renaissance epic; and women and politics in early modern Europe, especially in the context of the many civil wars that upended the political and social order of the period.

Anne's book list on women who ruled in early modern Europe

Anne J. Cruz and Mihoko Suzuki Why did Anne love this book?

In many ways the opposite of her cousin Elizabeth I whom she sought to replace as queen of England, the thrice-married Mary Queen of Scots ruled Scotland for only six years before she was deposed; she then was imprisoned in England for almost twenty years before she was executed for plotting to overthrow Elizabeth. Susan Doran’s richly illustrated biography, which includes portraits of the queen, images of letters by her and by Elizabeth, and sketches of her trial and execution by eyewitnesses, brings to life this enigmatic figure concerning whom many questions remain unresolved: Were the “Casket Letters” written by her to her lover Bothwell or were they forgeries? Was she complicit in the murder of her second husband? Did she join English Catholics in a conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth? Doran judiciously weighs the evidence on these controversies and concludes that Mary’s lack of political judgment was largely responsible for…

By Susan Doran,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary Queen of Scots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mary Queen of Scots has been the subject of innumerable plays, poems, songs, operas, films, novels and biographies. It is not difficult to see why. The first 21 years of her life were packed with dramatic incident, including her flight to France, widowhood at an early age, the murder of her secretary and second husband, abduction and rape by a third, and finally captivity and escape from a remote castle in the Highlands of Scotland. Her last 18 years as a prisoner in England, while certainly quieter, were nonetheless marked by conspiracy and intrigue; and her execution in February 1587…


Book cover of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

Margaret Rodenberg Author Of Finding Napoleon

From my list on famous leaders we thought we understood.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I lived in France as a youngster, museum portraits became friends. I could hear courtiers scheming in Versailles and gladiators clashing in coliseums. Naturally, decades later, when I learned Napoleon Bonaparte tried to write a novel of love and betrayal, I vowed to finish it for him. But to ghostwrite for Napoleon, I had to know him as personally as his great love Josephine did. I dove into research, translated his writing to capture his cadence, and became secretary of the Napoleonic Historical Society. Finally, on remote St. Helena Island in the ramshackle rooms where Napoleon died in exile, I found the intimate connection I demand from historical fiction.

Margaret's book list on famous leaders we thought we understood

Margaret Rodenberg Why did Margaret love this book?

May I suggest historical fiction fans of the English Tudors try the French royalty for a change? For me, Tudor intrigue pales in comparison to France’s 16th-century queen and regent, Catherine de Medici. This lush, biographical novel from C.W. Gortner follows Catherine from traumatic childhood to poignant death, revealing the necessity behind her ruthlessness. Since the era’s religious conflicts echo today’s cultural divides, the history feels surprisingly fresh. I can’t help thinking that this strong woman who stopped at nothing to protect France, her children, and her power would be more admired if she had been a man. 

By C.W. Gortner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Confessions of Catherine de Medici as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is a dramatic, epic novel of an all-too-human woman whose strength and passion propelled her into the center of grand events. Meticulously-researched, this engrossing novel offers a fresh portrait of a queen who has too often been portrayed as a villain. Bravo Mr. Gortner!”—Sandra Gulland, author of The Josephine B Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun 

The truth is, not one of us is innocent. We all have sins to confess. So reveals Catherine de Medici, the last legitimate descendant of her family’s illustrious line. Expelled from her native Florence, Catherine is betrothed to…


Book cover of Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France

Kevin O'Connell Author Of Bittersweet Tapestry

From my list on fascinating women of 16th and 18th century Europe.

Why am I passionate about this?

Whilst I was born in America, growing up in an old Irish family with a long history and a powerful sense of its past, I learnt a great deal of Irish, British, and European (especially French) history from an early age – proving valuable in both of my careers – one, as an international business lawyer, the other as a full-time writer of historical fiction. As a result of a “very Irish” numinous connection with the Gaelic poet, Eileen O’Connell, I frequently find myself drawn to books about strong, courageous, and memorable women – particularly those who lived in interesting times, such as the tumultuous days of Sixteenth and Eighteenth-Century Europe.  

Kevin's book list on fascinating women of 16th and 18th century Europe

Kevin O'Connell Why did Kevin love this book?

I am perhaps more familiar with – and fonder of – Marie Antoinette than I am of any other historical personage. Emersed in French history since an early age, I have had a near-lifetime fascination for this complicated woman – who never said, “Let them eat cake!” 

Having researched Antoinette exhaustively (most recently, in connection with her periodic appearances in my own books), since first reading Evelyn Lever’s masterful, beautifully-written work some twenty years ago, I have found myself frequently returning to it. I am drawn to it for its depth and detail, as well as her balanced treatment of an, in many ways, controversial figure. I recommend it as it is a perfect introduction to the life of a captivating woman, as well as presenting a highly satisfying experience for any lover of fine biography. 

By Evelyne Lever,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marie Antoinette as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Married for political reasons at the age of 14, Marie Antoinette was naive, impetuous, and ill-equipped for the role in which history cast her. From her birth in Vienna in 1755 through her turbulent, unhappy marriage, the bloody turmoil of the French Revolution, her trial for high treason during which she was accused of incest, and her final beheading, Marie Antoinette's life was the tragic tale of disastrous circumstances colliding.

Drawing upon her diaries, letters, court records, and memoirs, Evelyne Lever paints a vivid portrait of Marie Antoinette, her inner circle, and the lavish court life at Versailles. What emerges…


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