Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France

Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France

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by Leonie Frieda

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"Poisoner, besotted mother, despot, necromancer, engineer of a massacre : the stain on the name of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this biography, Leonie Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen of Frnce to reveal a skilled ruler battling against extraordinary political and personal odds." "Orphaned in infancy, imprisoned in childhood,… See more details below


"Poisoner, besotted mother, despot, necromancer, engineer of a massacre : the stain on the name of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this biography, Leonie Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen of Frnce to reveal a skilled ruler battling against extraordinary political and personal odds." "Orphaned in infancy, imprisoned in childhood, heiress to an ancient name and vast fortune, Catherine de Medici was brought up in Florence, a city dominated by her ruling family. At age fourteen, the Italian-born young woman became a French princess in a magnificent alliance arranged by her uncle the pope to Henry, son of King Francis I of France. She suffered cruelly as her new husband became bewitched by the superbly elegant Diane de Poitiers. Henry's influential and lifelong mistress wisely sent her lover to sleep with Catherine, and after an agonizingly childless decade when she saw popular resentment build against her, she conceived the first of ten children. Slowly Catherine made the court her own: she transformed the cultural life of France - cuisine, art, music, fashion - from Italy, cradle of the Renaissance." "A contemporary and sometime ally of Elizabeth I of England, Catherine learned to become both a superb strategist and ruthless conspirator. During the rise of Protestantism, her attempts at religious tolerance were constantly foiled, and France was riven by endemic civil wars. Although history has always laid the blame for the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day massacre by a Catholic mob of thousands of French Protestants at Catherine's door, Leonie Frieda presents a powerful case for Catherine's defense." This queen's fatal flaw was a blind devotion to her sickly and corrupt children, three of whom would become kings of France. Despite their weaknesses, Catherine's indomitable fight to protect the throne and their birthright ensured the survival of the French monarchy for a further two hundred years after her death, until it was swept awa

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1533, 14-year-old Catherine de Medici arrived in France to marry the future king Henri II; over the next 16 years, she endured the dominance of Henri's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the disdain of courtiers for her family's merchant background. The sudden death of Henri launched Catherine into three decades as regent and chief adviser to three sons who ruled in succession. Frieda navigates the twists and turns of the French royal court and family with particular attention to the formation of Catherine's political skills. From her lonely childhood as a tool in the diplomacy of her powerful uncles to her carefully cultivated relationship with her father-in-law and maneuvering through shifting family alliances, the queen learned self-possession, deception and strategy. While Catherine has been maligned for her role in France's wars of religion and in particular the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Frieda argues that Catherine attempted to reach compromise in the religious strife of her adopted country. While trying to flesh out Catherine, Frieda occasionally paints others with a too-broad brush. At times, her descriptions of Catherine's actions as emotionally or politically motivated seem arbitrary. But Frieda's portrait of Catherine is multifaceted, and her presentation of the complicated narrative of five tumultuous reigns is compelling. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Scholarly but lively biography of the Italian-born queen who ruled France as regent during 30 years of bitter religious warfare. Catherine (1519-89) was only 14 when she married the French Dauphin (crowned Henri II in 1547), but she'd already been very nearly murdered by opponents of her cousin Pope Clement VII. Being scorned by the French nobility as an Italian upstart merely sharpened the political skills of a young woman who wasn't pretty but had learned how to be charming-and how to keep her thoughts to herself. Yet Catherine's centuries-old reputation as a murderous schemer is undeserved, argues first-time biographer Frieda: ruthless, yes, but no more brutal than anyone else embroiled in the struggle between Catholics and Protestants that racked 16th-century France and threatened to destroy the Valois dynasty. Henri's untimely death in 1459 left Catherine with a ten-year-old son on the throne; two more underage sons would inherit the crown while she checked the ambitions of the powerful Guise and Bourbon families. Yes, Frieda acknowledges, Catherine did plan the 1572 assassination of leading French Huguenots that has tarnished her name ever since, but the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre was "intended as a relatively small-scale surgical operation," though the passions of the Catholic masses turned it into a full-scale bloodbath. In fact, Frieda demonstrates, Catherine was a religious moderate who repeatedly offered toleration to the Huguenots until she became convinced they weren't just heretics but traitors. Seven months after Catherine's death, fellow pragmatist Henri de Bourbon abjured Protestantism and ascended the throne and, with the 1598 Edict of Nantes, ended the nation'sfratricidal conflict. If any of her sons had been that adept, Catherine would be remembered as a patron of the arts, enthusiastic huntswoman, and thrower of great parties instead of "the Black Queen" of St. Bartholomew's Day. Persuasive rehabilitation of Catherine, not as a nice woman, but as a shrewd leader who did what she had to. Agent: Georgina Capel
Washington Times
“”Riveting and dramatic . . . there is no mistaking the abiding pleasure of this book.”
Wall Street Journal
“Vivid and entertaining...a convincing human portrait against the backdrop of a brutal age.”
“A carefully nuanced portrait…[Leonie Frieda] achieves remarkable balance as she freshly interprets Catherine…a revealing biography.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.41(d)

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