The Confessions of Catherine de Medici: A Novel

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici: A Novel

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by C. W. Gortner
     
 

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BONUS: This edition contains a The Confessions of Catherine de Medici discussion guide and an excerpt from C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow.

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

Overview

BONUS: This edition contains a The Confessions of Catherine de Medici discussion guide and an excerpt from C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow.

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 Henri, son of François I of France. In an unfamiliar realm, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children in a kingdom torn apart by the ambitions of a treacherous nobility. Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons, unaware that if she is to save France, she may have to sacrifice her ideals, her reputation, and the secret of her embattled heart.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Catherine de Medici uses her natural and supernatural gifts to protect the French throne in Gortner's (The Last Queen) portrait of a queen willing to sacrifice happiness and reputation to fulfill her family's royal destiny. Orphan Catherine has her first vision at age 10, and three years later is betrothed to Henri d'Orleans, brother of the sickly heir to the French throne. She heads to France with a vial of poison hidden among her possessions, and after negotiating an uneasy truce with her husband's mistress, she matures into a powerful court presence, though power, she learns, comes at a price. Three of her sons become king in succession as the widow Catherine wields ever-increasing influence to keep the ambitious de Guise clan at bay and religious adversaries from murdering each other. Gortner's is not the first fictional reinterpretation of a historical villainess—Catherine's role in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, for instance, is recounted in a way sympathetic to her—but hers is remarkably thoughtful in its insight into an unapologetically ruthless queen. (May)
Library Journal
History has depicted Catherine de Medici (1519–89), wife of one king and mother of three, as a grotesque monster, poisoning and murdering to gain and maintain control over the French throne. After the death of Henri II, she began the struggle of her life—keeping one son after the other on the throne through the religious wars that threatened to tear France apart. In this meticulously researched novel, Gortner (The Last Queen) gives us a Catherine who is passionate yet sometimes naive. Most of her decisions following her husband's death are made to keep peace in France or safeguard her children. Yet she is still held responsible for the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, in which thousands of French Protestants were slaughtered. VERDICT While the Catherine depicted here is in some ways similar to Jeanne Kalodigris's protagonist in The Devil's Queen, Gortner breathes more life into his queen. Historical fiction fans will appreciate the vivid details of Renaissance France. [Library marketing.]—Pamela O'Sullivan, Coll. of Brockport Lib., SUNY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345521941
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/25/2010
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
56,611
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


I was ten years old when i discovered i might be a witch.

I sat sewing with my aunt Clarice, as sunlight spread across the gallery floor. Outside the window I could hear the splashing of the courtyard fountain, the cries of the vendors in the Via Larga and staccato of horse hooves on the cobblestone streets, and I thought for the hundredth time that I couldn’t stay inside another minute.

“Caterina Romelo de’ Medici, can it be you’ve finished already?”

I looked up. My late father’s sister Clarice de’ Medici y Strozzi regarded me from her chair. I wiped my brow with my sleeve. “It’s so hot in here,” I said. “Can’t I go outside?”

She arched her eyebrow. Even before she said anything, I could have recited her words, so often had she drummed them into my head: “You are the Duchess of Urbino, daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici and his wife, Madeleine de la Tour, who was of noble French blood. How many times must I tell you, you must restrain your impulses in order to prepare for your future?”

I didn’t care about the future. I cared that it was summer and here I was cooped up in the family palazzo forced to study and sew all day, as if I might melt in the sun.

I clapped my embroidery hoop aside. “I’m bored. I want to go home.”

“Florence is your home; it is your birth city,” she replied. “I took you from Rome because you were sick with fever. You’re fortunate you can sit here and argue with me at all.”

“I’m not sick anymore,” I retorted. I hated it when she used my poor health as an excuse. “At least in Rome, Papa Clement let me have my own servants and a pony to ride.”

She regarded me without a hint of the ire that the mention of my papal uncle always roused in her. “That may be but you are here now, in my care, and you will abide by my rules. It’s midafternoon. I’ll not hear of you going outside in this heat.”

“I’ll wear a cap and stay in the shade. Please, Zia Clarice. You can come with me.”

I saw her trying to repress her unwilling smile as she stood. “If your work is satisfactory, we can take a stroll on the loggia before supper.” She came to me, a thin woman in a simple gray gown, her oval face distinguished by her large liquid-black eyes—the Medici eyes, which I had inherited, along with our family’s curly auburn hair and long-fingered hands.

She swiped up my embroidery. Her lips pursed when she heard me giggle. “I suppose you think it’s funny to make the Holy Mother’s face green? Honestly, Caterina; such sacrilege.” She thrust the hoop at me. “Fix it at once. Embroidery is an art, one you must master as well as your other studies. I’ll not have it said that Caterina de’ Medici sews like a peasant.”

I thought it best not to laugh and began picking out the offensive color, while my aunt returned to her seat. She stared off into the distance. I wondered what new trials she planned for me. I did love her but she was forever dwelling on how our family prestige had fallen since the death of my great-grandfather, Lorenzo Il Magnifico; of how Florence had been a center of learning renowned for our Medici patronage, and now we were but illustrious guests in the city we had helped build. It was my responsibility, she said, to restore our family’s glory, as I was the last legitimate descendant of Il Magnifico’s bloodline.

I wondered how she expected me to accomplish such an important task. I’d been orphaned shortly after my birth; I had no sisters or brothers and depended on my papal uncle’s goodwill. When I once mentioned this, my aunt snapped: “Clement VII was born a bastard. He bribed his way to the Holy See, to our great shame. He’s not a true Medici. He has no honor.”

Given his prestige, if he couldn’t restore our family name I didn’t know how she expected me to. Yet she seemed convinced of my destiny, and every month had me dress in my uncomfortable ducal finery and pose for a new portrait, which was then copied into miniatures and dispatched to all the foreign princes who wanted to marry me. I was still too young for wedlock, but she left me no doubt she’d already selected the cathedral, the number of ladies who would attend me—

All of a sudden, my stomach clenched. I dropped my hands to my belly, feeling an unexpected pain. My surroundings distorted, as if the palazzo had plunged underwater. Nausea turned my mouth sour. I came to my feet blindly, hearing my chair crash over. A terrifying darkness overcame me. I felt my mouth open in a soundless scream as the darkness widened like a vast ink stain, swallowing everything around me. I was no longer in the gallery arguing with my aunt; instead, I stood in a desolate place, powerless against a force that seemed to well up from deep inside me . . .

I stand unseen, alone among strangers. They are weeping. I see tears slip down their faces, though I can’t hear their laments. Before me is a curtained bed, draped in black. I know at once something horrible lies upon it, something I should not see. I try to stay back but my feet move me toward it with the slow certainty of a nightmare, compelling me to reach out a spotted, bloated hand I do not recognize as my own, part the curtains, and reveal

“Dio Mio, no!” My cry wrenched from me. I felt my aunt holding me, the frantic caress of her hand on my brow. I had a terrible stomachache and lay sprawled on the floor, my embroidery and tangled yarns strewn beside me.

“Caterina, my child,” my aunt said. “Please, not the fever again . . .”

As the strange sensation of having left my own body began to fade, I forced myself to sit up. “I don’t think it’s the fever,” I said. “I saw something: a man, lying dead on a bed. He was so real, Zia . . . it scared me.”

She stared at me. Then she whispered, “Una visione,” as if it was something she’d long feared. She gave me a fragile smile, reaching out to help me to my feet. “Come, that’s enough for today. Let us go take that walk, si? Tomorrow we’ll visit the Maestro. He’ll know what to do.”


From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

C. W. Gortner, half-Spanish by birth, holds an M.F.A. in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. He was raised in Málaga, Spain, and now lives in California.


From the Hardcover edition.

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The Confessions of Catherine de Medici 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Heavensent1 More than 1 year ago
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is an historical fictional account of one of France's most notorious Queens. Catherine is a very loyal child, she understands her role in the political aspirations of her Medici family name. Even at a young age, she realizes that her destiny is one of greatness. Having the gift of 'sight', she becomes a very superstitious person, who sees signs and portents and dabbles in magical arts. Her uncle, Pope Clement, has betrothed her to the King of France's second son, Henri d'Orleans. She has no love for this man, but her duty requires her to stand strong in faith and with much determination, she makes the best of her situation. Ingraining herself into France's culture, she emerges as a champion of the countries soil. Amidst strife, and massacres like the one of St. Bartholomew, she must find her way. After several years of unsuccessfully producing an heir, Catherine becomes afraid for her future, however, King Francois I, has a special place in his heart for her, in another time, they may have been man and wife. He assures Catherine that she will produce him many fine grandchildren and Catherine is determined to fix her place in the royal family. Prince Henri believes he has married beneath himself and for many years, successfully ignores his marriage duties. His long time mistress, Diane de Poirtiers, keeps him away from court, and no matter what Catherine does to entice her husband, she fails. Ordered by his father to perform his marital duties, he dispassionately rapes her. However, no heir was produced and the two struggle to remain faithful to their duties. When Diane realizes her only hope to remain mistress is to encourage Henri of impregnating Catherine, the two begin to successfully produce the heirs that France so desperately yearn for. Catherine turns to magics to help her produce an heir and keep her husband coming to her bed, tired of court discussing her barreness. Whether they were successful or not, after eight years of non-production, Catherine goes on to birth six children. They are her life's passion and in her mother's undying love, she fails to see the jealousy and hidden innuendos amongst her own children. Diane continues to add strife to Catherine's life by having a hand in the raising of her children, sometimes adding fuel to the fire, discouraging Catherine's children from fully loving their mother. Catherine de Medici is a woman of many mysteries and C. W. Gortner has given her a different portrayal, of the woman beneath the rumours. Beginning from when she is a child, we read her thoughts and positions as she grows into womanhood and as she ages with time we learn of another possibility behind what made Catherine motivate herself to do the things she did. I truly enjoyed the book, the flow was excellent, the characters believable in their mannerisms and dialogues. I thought the passages descriptive and easily found myself envisioning the surroundings being described. I enjoyed C. W. Gortner's portrayal of Catherine, so much in history has her painted as an evil witch who poisoned those at her fancy, who controlled and manipulated everyone to her will, even when her judgements were lacking. Seeing her being portrayed as neither victim nor heroine but as a woman who has accepted what life has offered her and making the best of what is being presented to her. I was equally impressed with the graphic nature of some scenes, the author d
Humbee More than 1 year ago
"Confessions of Catherine de Medici" is a novel that art historians and historical fiction lovers will simply devour once they get their hands on it. I know, because I am of that ilk! This book is as close to reading someone else's diary as one could get were it not for the extraordinary descriptive details that highlight the story. Written by the hand of a wizard, the novel is riddled with unbelievably gorgeous descriptions of architecture, artworks, tapestries, gardens and garments. That alone could make me an avid fan, but to top that off, Mr. Gortner is a writer of such an all inclusive style that I hung on his every word. To him, history is not dull, and he conveys that in every sentence of this powerful, absorbing book. Catherine de Medici has long been a figure I've been interested in knowing more about. I was an Art History major in college, including concentrations in Fine Arts and Museum Studies. The Medicis absolutely captured my fantasies because of their collections of art, their wealth, their bent toward evil doings and their intrigues. They were handsome, gorgeous and insane, while they built a Florence that became the jewel of Italy. Fascinating stuff! So, Catherine de Medici, the last of the Medici and only surviving grandchild of Lorenzo the Magnificent had to be exceptional and endowed with dazzling gifts of mind and spirit. Mr. Gortner makes all of his characters come alive. His easy manner of introducing and evolving the emotional make up of the primary characters makes them feel like they have walked into your life, literally. I fell in love with the young Catherine and her devastating childhoood, suffered with her young bridal years, agonized over her love life, and fought with her for her children and country. What a heroine she was, and how vulnerable Gortner made her, as well as making her a lioness befitting her royal heritage. Mr. Gortner's research and writing of his historical novel seems meant to reach a wide audience, although directed mostly to women. His concerns address the historical significance of Catherine de Medici as a major woman of the 16th c. It also seems to me that he writes in order to highlight the strengths that a spirit can rise to and overcome under duress in life. Women are most often the ones who carry burdens of balancing difficult tasks, caring for home, children, poverty and wartime backlash...Mr. Gortner's book offers Catherine de Medici as a historic figure who represents real life heroics women have achieved throughout time. When all the dots have been placed and the commas laid in properly, "Confessions of Catherine de Medici" is simply a wonderful story to read. It will remind you of those books about Anne Bolyen and her sister we've all loved in the recent past, only Mr. Gortner writes much better. 5 stars for an author who will take you back to 16th century France. Deborah/TheBookishDame
JConMartin More than 1 year ago
Just read my first by C. W. Gortner and it won't be the last. Catherine de Medici comes off as a real woman on the page. She is what a writing teacher of mine used to call a marble-cake character. You see the good and you see the bad, but you see the hows and whys of her thinking and actions. The secondary characters are also given depth and are beautifully drawn. The author's afterword is especially enlightening regarding the historical Catherine, but do remember, it's to be read afterward! Highly recommended! James Conroyd Martin Author of Push Not the River & Against a Crimson Sky
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1589, seventy year old Catherine de Medici looks back on her life as a king maker with sins to confess just like she insists everyone else. When she was ten years old she thought she was a witch as she has her first vision. When she was thirteen, the orphaned Catherine becomes engaged in an arranged marriage to Henri d'Orleans, brother of the ailing heir to the French crown. Although frightened about leaving her safe home in Florence, she journeys to France allegedly to meet her fiancé. Catherine quickly strikes a deal with Henri's mistress Diane de Poitiers though she loathes the woman who occupies her spouse's bed more than she does and applies the poison she brought with her discreetly. Although loathed by her subjects as an outsider, Catherine becomes the power behind the throne when her husband becomes king. After Henri's death, the widow insures three of her sons in succession sit on the throne. She continues to use her paranormal skills to abet her political acumen and her knowledge of poisons to keep her family on the throne. Although the audience will have to leave their perceptions of the poison queen at the front cover, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is an enjoyable work of biographical fiction. Catherine argues that she is no different than everyone else who casts stones at her. Instead she insists she is just a protective mother of her offspring and her country. Although it is difficult to feel empathy to such a ruthless individual especially with her use of poison and her part in the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of the Huguenots, C.W. Gortner provides a unique perspective as he enables historical fiction readers to understand the viewpoint of Catherine de Medici. Harriet Klausner
Montreve More than 1 year ago
I will start out by saying that I wasn't overly thrilled with Gortner as a writer. I know there are some who add that name to a list of great authors, but I wasn't overly enthused. It was .... Simple reading. I was never fully engulfed in what was happening, never fully 'there' with the characters. But that could just be me ... I do wish their had been more politic intrigue in the book. You know, the really nasty, tangled, web of intrigue that seems to haunt history. I did enjoy reading about Catherine de Medici, though. I first became interested in her story when I saw a History Channel special about her and her family. The 'voice' of the character Catherine in the book does seem to match nicely with what I have discovered myself. A strong woman, fiercely loyal. I also enjoyed the path the book took through her life. Carrying the reader through her slightly spoiled childhood and then hurling both character and reader into a foriegn land with de Medici getting her first taste of true court intrigue and fear. Then, of course, into her later life where she ... Takes the reigns for herself. I'd recommend this book for book clubs, just because there are several points in Medici's life that are clearly covered and thus easy discussion points. Also, there are plenty of points where one could ask, "And how would you have acted in this situation? What would you have done?" While I thought this book was alright, I probably won't be rushing back to the store to round up anything else by this author.
WilesWales More than 1 year ago
Gortner does incredible research on the most minute facts before he even begins to put this historical novel on paper. He takes the facts and from the first sentence sends one into both the life and facts intertwined in such a way as to make one think they are reading a book that one will not be able to sleep at night. He also makes the the thoughts of this highly misunderstood woman to the table with facts without ever realizing this is history at all! Catherine de Medici can now be understood as the person she was. Be careful though, you won't be able to put this one down. What a winner!!!!
penname96 More than 1 year ago
Let me start with CW Gortner is one of my favorite authors and "The Last Queen" is one of my favorite books, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on "Confessions." Yes, my expectations were high. For starters, with this being Catherine's story, I expected Diane de Poitiers to be made out as a bad person, understandably, but their was so my much rich history there between Henri, Diane and Catherine, I felt he didn't do that relationship justice. After reading Diane Haeger's "The Courtesan" (another favorite book) I was let down. That part of Catherine's life, molded a lot of her personality. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew had me engrossed. I love historical fiction, but I expect the authors to leave the facts and weave the parts we do not know. I feel, from my studies, he changed history here throughout alot of the book. Due to spolier alerts I won't mention what parts.
MsDollie 3 months ago
Confessions of Catherine de Medici was a fantastic read! C W Gartner representation of Catherine de Medici was both entertaining and believable. Goes in my to read again category.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jeaniCT More than 1 year ago
I am especially interested in Catherine de Medici as she is one of my ancestors! The book is well written and historical, a subject I have always loved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AngieJG More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed learning about Catherine Medici, and I am inspired to read some factual books about her. I was not thrilled with this novel. There seem to be something missing. I never felt a connection to Catherine. I felt I never really got to know the other characters as well. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love historical fiction books this one left me flat. Catherine was written to be so full of herself. She was written as if it was current times. Too much religious and political bias. The historical value was too disjointed. It truly was a fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tina8317 More than 1 year ago
I am an avid historical fiction reader and I have read two previous books by Gortner- The Last Queen and The Tudor Secret. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is written in a first person narrative and she is telling you her life in her perspective. Between the trials she encountered as a young child to competing with King Henri's mistress to the religous factions between the Catholic faith and the Huguenots, this book was hard to put down. You begin to understand the actions Catherine needed to do to secure herself and her children on the french throne. It was written in a simple manner and I give Gortner props for condensing the story so it's easy to follow, moves quickly and keeps you interested. A must read for fiction fans
sirensong47 More than 1 year ago
nice take on Catherine de Medici- the author did a great job of humanizing this controversial woman.
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