History’s Black Widow: The Legend of Catherine de Medici

By C. W. Gortner

Catherine de Medici is known as the evil queen who masterminded a massacre. Or so the legend says. In truth, Catherine has been the target of a smear campaign that began in her lifetime and culminated with Alexander Dumas’s famous depiction of her in his novel La Reine Margot. Dumas exalted the queen we love to hate and enshrined her as history’s black widow.

Of Italian birth, Catherine came to France as a teenager to wed Henri II. To this day, she is not considered French; her background as a Medici made her a parvenu and prejudice against her because of her nationality haunted her throughout her life. Italians were despised as experts in the black arts; Catherine’s natural inclination toward her fellow countrymen was thus often used against her.

One of the greatest misconceptions is that Catherine nurtured a “passion for power”—another Italian trait. Though not raised to rule, she became regent for her sons in a kingdom torn apart by war. Her alleged ambition was in fact an effort to defend her adopted realm. While she made serious errors, she was usually motivated by the urgency to salvage a crisis than any cold-blooded urge to destroy her foes.

In the end, she is best revealed by her own words: “It is great suffering to be always fearful.”

C.W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici: A Novel, holds an MFA in Writing, with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. Half Spanish by birth, he was raised in southern Spain and has traveled extensively to research his books. He is currently at work on The Princess Isabella, a novel about the early reign of Isabella of Castile, as well as The Tudor Secret, Book One in The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. C.W. is available to chat with book groups via speaker phone or Skype. To book a chat and learn more about his work, please click here.

IMAGE: Portrait of Catherine De Medici and her children

Congratulations to the following W & M winners of this book:

Jennifer, Kitty, and Dana


  1. librarypat says

    Several sites I follow just did a series of reviews on this book. In addition, they had wonderful articles on this woman and her family. Best of all were interviews with and articles by Mr. Gortner himself. It sounds like this book gives a very different view of this woman. I look forward to reading it.

  2. Kimberly says

    I always think of the French film Queen Margot when I think of Catherine…she was crazy scary in that movie. I would love to read this book!

  3. Stace says

    As usual, those in power create history. We learn only what those powerful enough to control information wish us to learn, until many years later, if we are lucky. I wonder how the increase in media scrutiny on all levels will affect this in the future. Sure, there are still a more powerful few controlling much of the media, but every day there are more and more independent voices recording their versions of events. Could a smear campaign like this work as well today?

  4. Laura S. says

    :::”Could a smear campaign like this work as well today?”:::
    You know, when I read this, at first I thought, no way it could. Then I thought, hang on, there are persons and groups getting smeared every single day in the media. But, I think that the smearings (read: smear campaigns) are so frequent and so expected anymore that in a way we’ve become oblivious to them and, we use any preconceived feelings or ideas that we have (depending on which media sources we submit ourselves to) to decide which smear to believe and dismiss the others that are contrary to what we want them to be. That being said, aside of smear campaigns, it’s very tough for anyone in the spotlight to get away with much anymore. Not for long, anyway.

  5. says

    I really don’t know anything about Catherine or her family and would like to learn. My experience with historical fiction has been mainly British, but I try to stretch out from time to time. I’ve read wonderful reviews of Mr. Gortner’s novels and have enjoyed his guest posts around the blogosphere. I think I would enjoy this book a lot. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of my own!

  6. Dana W says

    I read historical fiction voraciously. I enjoy reading especially about women and their roles in the societies in which they lived.

    I would love to read this book!

  7. Cheryl Smith says

    I have always equated the name Medici with poisoning and political intrigue?? This looks like a good read and very informative. The smear campaign (aka: “investigative” journalism) is obviously not a new thing!

  8. Angie D says

    I love historical fiction books and would love to read this! Thanks for the great giveaway!

  9. Terchil says

    Please enter me in this contest. I really want to read it. I love historicals, both fiction and romance. Love the cover too!

    tradingaddress at gmail dot com

  10. Dawn says

    I recently discovered reader blogs this month and can’t believe how much I have been missing out on!

    I loved, loved, loved his last book on Queen Juana (just ordered a paperback copy so I didn’t have to loan out my hardback) and have been anticipating the Catherine De Medici book since hearing it was coming out last year. I would consider myself very fortunate to win a copy!

    Thank you

  11. says

    Thank you for all your interesting comments. I appreciate your enthusiasm for Catherine. In response to the comment about the Italian reputation for poison, in the Renaissance the use of poison became intinsically linked with Italy due in great part to legends attached to various Italian rulers, including the infamous Borgia. Poison did seem to be a preferred means in noble circles as a preferred means to rid oneself of enemies; though not easy to adminster and probably not nearly as prevalent as movies make it seem, treatises on the use of poison published in Italy were distributed abroad and the reputation that later dogged Catherine was born. Of course poison was not unique to Italian society.
    Best of luck to everyone with the giveaway!
    With my warm regards, C.W. Gortner

  12. says

    Thanks for the wonderful comments everyone. A special thanks the C. W for joining in the conversation! The winners of this book are: Jennifer, Kitty, and Dana!

  13. Maria says

    I have much sympathy for Catherine, because of her extremely unhappy life, especially traumatic childhood and humiliating marriage. She was very patient and even generous person, but at some point probably wanted to feel some power. Unfortunatelly started to use dark power and went more and more into it. But, I am sure that she also had bright side, like all of us, especially love for her husband and more. And in some way, I think history is not fair to her, seeing mostly her bad side, although she also did positive things. And, in some way, history is glorifing her husband and his nany lover as a great romance or something like that. But, I really don’t see anything great in it, he was such a weak personality, so unhappy and insecure and Diane was a cold person, just using him and the whole situation for her own purposes, manipulating not only with him, but also with Catherine in some way. And about their beauty, there are many different pictures of Catherine and some of them are really nice and some not, and mostly those are used, when she is old or so. And for Diane, there are also not all pictures beautiful, especially when she was in her 60s, but she is always presented with pictures from her 40s or so. Even that is not fair enough and regardin all this, have much sympathy for Catherine…

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