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
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