|Catherine Di Medici Anonymous (c. 1555)|
|Poster for the CW show Reign|
|Catherine di Medici is portrayed by Megan Fellows on Reign|
I wrote about Queen Margot, Catherine's fascinating daughter, in this post at an earlier time.
Today, I thought I'd talk about her mother and share with you some real historical facts on this fascinating woman.
Catherine was born in Florence, Italy in 1519 to Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino and Madaleine de la Tour d'Auvergne. Unfortunately, both of her parents passed within a year of her birth, leaving her an orphan, and the only heir. Because there were no close relatives around to take care of her, Cardinal Guilio de Medici, a distant relative, took control of the Florentine government and took Catherine into his care.
When she was eight, Florentine people rebelled against the government and attacked the Medici palace. Everyone fled the palace, but in order to save their lives, they were ordered to leave Catherine behind as a hostage. She spent the next years in various convents in Florence, where she received education that excelled and allowed her to become one of the best educated women of her time.
In 1529, Florence was conquered by Holy Roman Emperor Charles, and there calls for Catherine to be handed over to be exposed naked and chained to the city walls, or to be handed over to the troops for their sexual entertainment. When the city surrender in 1530, Pope Clement had Catherine come to Rome to live with him. Clement loved the little girl and wanted to make sure to arrange a good political marriage for her.
At 14, her looks were described as follows: "small and slender, with fair hair, thin and not pretty in face, but with the eyes peculiar to all the Medici" (Young 393).
|Wedding Of Catherine de Medici With Henri, Duke of Orleans by Vasari|
King Francis I, Catherine's new father-in-law, loved Catherine's wit an charm and she often accompanied him on trips around France. However, most others saw her as someone not "royal enough" for the France's dauphin and called her "the Italian woman" in derision. She had an extraordinarily hard time making friends in the French court. This especially became problematic when the king's oldest son, Francis, died and Henry of Orleans became the heir to the throne. There were many who did not want to see an Italian on the throne as the Queen.
|Catherine de Medicis bedroom at Chateau Chenonceau|
|Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, by an Unknown artist|
In April of 1559, Henry suffered a jousting incident, in which the lance of his opponent pierced his eye. He died in July of that year. After his death, Catherine's personal emblem became a broken lance, with the inscription "lacrymae hinc, hinc dolor" ("from this come my tears and my pain"). She wore black for the rest of her life. Diane was expelled from the court. The time of Catherine keeping her feelings and thoughts to herself was over.
Catherine's oldest son, Francis II, came to throne but was weak of mind and body. He died in 1560. Charles IX, who was only aged 10 at the time, became the next King. Since Charles was so young, Catherine became the Queen Regent of France, as she would again with her third son, Henry III.
|Henry III of France, Catherine's youngest son by Jean de Court (Louvre)|
Catherine was a great patron of the arts. She also believed in humanistic ideals and understood that princes have to wield the power of education and letters, not just force. Her name is also forever linked to the name of Nostradamus. She was a great admirer of the astrologer and summoned him to court in 1555, where he eventually became the Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to her young son, King Charles IX. She was also known and feared for her skills with poisons. It is often said that René le Florentin, Catherine's perfumer, was a master of poisons and often prepared them for her.
|Catherine de Medici, the widow by Jean de Court|
She died at the age of 69 in January of 1589.
Henry IV, King of Navarre at one time married to Catherine's daughter, Margot, and who inherited the French throne after the death of Henry III, Catherine's son, said this of her:
I ask you, what could a woman do, left by the death of her husband with five little children on her arms, and two families of France who were thinking of grasping the crown—our own [the Bourbons] and the Guises? Was she not compelled to play strange parts to deceive first one and then the other, in order to guard, as she did, her sons, who successively reigned through the wise conduct of that shrewd woman? I am surprised that she never did worse.
(Brantôme, p. 88.)
|The tomb and effigies of Catherine de Medici and Henry II Paris Saint Denis Basilica|
|Me in front of the tomb in Saint Denis Basilica in Paris in 2012|