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Catherine de Medici (April 13, 1519- January 5, 1589) was Queen Consort of France from (March 31, 1547-July 10, 1559).
Early Life & childhood Edit
Caterina Maria Romula de Lorenzo de Medici was born on April 13, 1519 in the Republic of Florence, Italy to Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, Countess of Boulogne. Her parents were very pleased to welcome their baby girl; however sadly on April 28, 1519 less than two weeks after giving birth Madeline died of puerperal fever when she was only 21, and less than a month later Lorenzo was dead as well from syphilis at the age of only 26 leaving Catherine an orphan when she was still an infant.
Catherine was first cared for by her paternal grandmother, Alfonsina Orsini. After Alfonsina's death in 1520, Catherine joined her cousins and was raised by her aunt, Clarice Strozzi. The death of Pope Leo in 1521 interrupted Medici power briefly, until Cardinal Giulio de' Medici was elected Pope Clement VII in 1523. Clement housed Catherine in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, where she lived in state. The Florentine people called her "the little duchess", in deference to her unrecognized claim to the Duchy of Urbino.
In 1527, the Medici were overthrown in Florence by a faction opposed to the regime of Cardinal Silvio Passerini, and Catherine at the age of 8 was taken hostage and placed in a series of convents. The final one, the Santissima Annuziata delle Murate was her home for three years. These years were described as "the happiest of her entire life". In October 1529, troops laid siege to Florence, and voices called for Catherine to be killed and exposed naked and chained to the city walls. Some even suggested that she be handed over to the troops to be used for their sexual gratification. The city finally surrendered on August 12, 1530. Clement summoned 11 year old Catherine from her beloved convent to join him in Rome where he greeted her with open arms and tears in his eyes. Pope Clement set about the business of finding her a husband.
Marriage Negotiations Edit
On her visit to Rome Catherine was described as: short, thin with a beautiful figure, no really delicate features, but with the large eyes of the Medici family, she was also said to have exquisite hands. Suitors however were lining up for her hand including King James V of Scotland, who sent John Stewart, Duke of Albany to conclude a marriage contract in April and November 1530. King Francis I proposed a match with his son Henry, Duke of Orleans, and Pope Clement jumped at the offer. This was a prize catch for the young Duchess, because despite her extraordinary wealth she was still considered to be from commoner origins.
A Royal Wedding Edit
The wedding of Henry and Catherine was a grand affair celebrated by extravagant displays and gift giving on October 28, 1533 in the Église Saint-Ferréol les Augustins in Marseille. The bride and groom were both 14, and Henry danced and jousted for his new bride before the couple left at midnight for their highly successful wedding night which Henry’s father is said to have witnessed.
Baby Pressure Edit
Life at French Court was somewhat enjoyable for the new Princess Catherine, Duchess of Orleans; her ladies at court treated her well, and they were impressed with her as she was highly intelligent with a keenness to please. Unfortunately she not only saw little of her new husband in the first year of their marriage, she continued to fall deeper in love with Henry who wasn't very interested in her as a wife...so he openly took mistresses. There was much pressure on the young Princess to have a child, but she had difficulty conceiving. However in 1537 when Henry’s mistress Philippa Duci gave birth to a daughter whom he publicly acknowledged it proved that he was more than fertile which put greater pressure on Catherine to finally get pregnant.
Dauphine of France Edit
In 1536 17 year old Catherine became Dauphine of France when her brother in law Francis died of a fever leaving Henry as the new Dauphin. With this new position putting them in line to one day rule France the stress that fell on her to produce a child became so great that rumors began to circulate that Henry would divorce his wife because she had trouble getting pregnant.
A New Queen Edit
In 1538 Catherine watched as her husband took Diane de Poitiers as his mistress…he was but 19 and she was 38. Their affair went on for the rest of his life, though Henry respected Catherine’s status as his wife. When Francis I died on March 28, 1547 Henry and Catherine became the new King and Queen Consort of France: Henry was crowned on July 25, 1547 in the Reims Cathedral, and Catherine was crowned on June 10, 1549 in the Basilica of Saint Denis at the age of 30; she had recently given birth to a son.
Babies & Heartache Edit
The immense pressure for children from the young Princess Catherine led her to consult a doctor who advised her to literally try every trick in the book for getting pregnant, some of which were quite unpleasant such as: putting cow dung mixed with ground stag antlers on her “source of life”, and drinking mule’s urine.
Tired of these unsuccessful remedies, Henry and Catherine soon sought the advice of another doctor; and by either excellent advice or sheer luck; Catherine finally received the news she had been praying for in April 1543 when she discovered she was pregnant at last. On January 19, 1544 the 24 year old Princess gave birth to her first child: a son the Dauphin Francis. Thanks to consulting the court physician she had no trouble getting pregnant again, and on April 2, 1545 she gave birth to her first daughter Princess Elisabeth of Valois. 6 more children would follow: Princess Claude of Valois (born November 12, 1547), Prince Louis, Duke of Orleans (born February 3, 1549), Prince Charles Maximilian (born June 27, 1550), Prince Edward Alexander (born September 19, 1551), Princess Margaret of Valois (born May 14, 1553), Prince Hercule Francois, Duke of Anjou (born March 18, 1555)
Her last pregnancy at 36 was a set of twins: Princess Joanna and Princess Victoria of Valois (born June 24, 1556); being in labor with them almost killed her: Joanna was to be born first but she lay dead in utero for several hours and the doctors had to break one of the baby’s legs to get her out or else Catherine would have bled to death, Victoria survived but died only 7 weeks later. Since this pregnancy nearly cost the Queen her very life, the doctor's advised her not to try for more children; King Henry as a result of hearing this, then ceased to visit his Queen's bedchambers and spent all of his time with his main mistress Diane de Poitiers.
The Intrusive Cousin Edit
The new Queen unfortunately had very little power at court as Henry gave that power and influence to the highly intelligent, confidant Diane which included bringing up Catherine’s children as if they were her own; the two women were cousins as they were descended from the same family. Catherine indeed regarded Diane as an intrusive older cousin and rival; however when she contracted scarlet fever Diane helped nurse her back to health. Though the Queen acted as Regent when the King was absent her powers were strictly nominal; Diane never regarded her as a threat and in fact she encouraged Henry to visit his wife’s bedchamber and sleep with her so that they could have children.
Losing a Husband Edit
On April 3-4, 1559, Henry signed the Peace of Chateau-Cambrésis with the Holy Roman Empire and England, ending a long period of Italian wars. The treaty was sealed by the betrothal their thirteen-year-old daughter Elisabeth to Philip II of Spain. Their proxy wedding in Paris on June 22, 1559 was celebrated with festivities, balls, masques, and five days of jousting.
The Queen watched as her husband took part in the joust sporting Diane’s black and white colors, and defeated the Dukes of Guise, but Gabriel Montgomery knocked the king off his saddle once before shattering his lance through Henry’s face shield. The King fell to the ground reeling from the pain with huge splinters sticking out of his eye and head, upon seeing this Catherine, her son Francis and Diane all fainted. Henry was taken to the Château de Tournelles, where 5 large splinters were removed from his head. Queen Catherine stayed by her husband and never left his side; however she forbid Diane from entering the king’s sickroom and over the next 10 days Henry’s condition fluctuated until he lost his sight, speech, and will to live. Henry died on July 10, 1559 from septicemia caused by his injuries at the age of 40.
Queen Catherine was crushed by the death of her husband…at 40 she was a widow with young children to raise and she had to keep the throne secure for her sons. Her first act as Queen Regent was to banish Diane from court, and force her to return the chateau and jewels Henry had given her. In memory of her husband the Queen wore black mourning for the rest of her life, and kept a piece of the broken lance inscribed in Latin with the words: "from this come my tears and my pain".
Raising Kings & Arranging Marriages Edit
Queen Catherine lived to see three of her surviving sons become king, marry, and some cases have children of their own.
On September 21, 1559 her eldest son Francis ascended the throne at the age of 15 and he gave his mother rights and power at court though he was deemed old enough to rule on his own. Having gotten married the year before to Mary, Queen of Scotland, he was on the throne for only 17 months before falling ill due to an abscess in his ear which led to an infection causing his death on December 5, 1560 at the age of only 16.
The next King was her 9 year old son Charles Maximilian, who was crowned King Charles IX on May 15, 1561 at the age of 10 in the Reims Cathedral. The young King cried at his coronation, his mother comforted him and slept in his chamber for a short time. However Catherine took most of the control during this reign, because though Charles was declared of age on August 17, 1563 he showed little interest in government affairs which left his mother to try and tend to France. The St. Bartholomew’s day Massacre was a major stain on her reputation as many Huguenot’s were killed after being suspected of planning an attack of revenge.
The Queen looked to further the House of Valois by dynastic marriages and on November 26, 1570 Charles married Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria daughter of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, and Maria of Spain. The couple had 1 daughter; Princess Marie Elisabeth of Valois, and Charles had a son by his mistress Marie Touchet. After the deaths of both Charles and his wife, Catherine took in and raised her 3 year old granddaughter.
Queen Catherine wanted one of her youngest sons to be a match for Elizabeth I of England after her daughter Elisabeth died in childbirth in 1568. Eventually, she proposed a match between her daughter Margaret and Henry III of Navarre in order to unite the Houses of Valois and Bourbon; however young Margaret was secretly involved with Henry of Guise who was the son of the late Duke of Guise, and when Catherine discovered this she was furious and she and Charles punished her with a severe beating. Margaret and Henry were eventually married on August 18, 1572.
Less than 2 years later, Queen Catherine was faced with another tragedy: On May 30, 1574 she received word that her son Charles was dead from tuberculosis at the age of 23, and his dying words were “Oh my mother”. The day before he died he named his mother Regent since his brother Henry, Duke of Anjou was in Poland where he had been elected King; however he abandoned this when he heard of his brother’s death and returned to France to take his place as King. When Catherine saw her son she was overjoyed that he was in good health she wrote “I am grief-stricken to have witnessed such a scene and the love which he showed me at the end ... My only consolation is to see you here soon, as your kingdom requires, and in good health, for if I were to lose you, I would have myself buried alive with you."
The next King, Prince Edward Alexander was crowned King Henry III of France on February 13, 1575 at Reims Cathedral. Henry was Catherine’s favorite son and unlike his brothers he was already an adult when he came to the throne, and he was much healthier though he suffered from weak lungs and fatigue. Henry’s interest in tasks in government proved fitful and he depended on his mother and her team of secretaries until the last weeks of his life.
Henry was famous for his circle of mistresses though he married Princess Louise of Lorraine on February 15, 1572 2 days after his coronation, and the couple had no children. On August 1, 1589 Henry was stationed at Saint Cloud when a Dominican Friar named Jacques Clement arrived with false papers when he saw the king he whispered in his ear and plunged a knife into his stomach, and he was killed on the spot by Henry’s guards. Henry died the next day on August 2, 1589 at the age of 37.
Catherine & her children Edit
Queen Catherine is usually said to have been an indulgent & distant mother; however this could not be farther from the truth, because despite them being raised mostly by Diane, Catherine loved her children deeply and tried to help them in whatever ways she could, and sadly she suffered tragedy with her children: she lost 3 of them while married to Henry: Louis died age 11 months, and she lost her twins soon after birth, her eldest son and daughter died (aged 16 and 23 respectively), her favorite daughter Claude was dead at 27, and her son Henry was murdered.
In addition to these heart breaking tragedies she also experienced further heartache with her 2 youngest children: her youngest daughter Margaret was: quite promiscuous, cheated on her husband, became an embarrassment at court, became broke and was eventually banished from court by her brother Henry.
Her youngest son Francis repeatedly exploited the anarchy of the civil wars, which were by now as much about noble power struggles as religion. Catherine did all in her power to bring Francis back into the fold. On one occasion, in March 1578, she lectured him for six hours about his dangerously subversive behavior; also in 1576 Francis allied Protestant Princes against the Crown which forced Catherine to give in to the Huguenots and sign the treaty Peace of Monsieur so named because it was thought Francis forced it on the crown. Sadly Francis died from malaria on June 10, 1584 at the age of 29 after a battle in which his army was slaughtered and he barely escaped with his life.
The downside of her relationships with her children was that with Francis II and Charles she tried to wield at times much more power than she was allowed; however for her son Henry her role in his government became that of roving diplomat and chief executive. She traveled widely across the kingdom, enforcing his authority and trying to head off war. In 1578, she took on the task of pacifying the south. At the age of fifty-nine, she embarked on an eighteen-month journey around the south of France to meet Huguenot leaders face to face. Her efforts won Catherine new respect from the French people.
On her return to Paris in 1579, she was greeted outside the city by the Parliament and crowds. The Venetian ambassador, Gerolamo Lipomanno, wrote: "She is an indefatigable princess, born to tame and govern a people as unruly as the French: they now recognize her merits, her concern for unity and are sorry not to have appreciated her sooner." She was under no illusions, however. On November 25, 1579, she wrote to the king, "You are on the eve of a general revolt. Anyone who tells you differently is a liar."
Queen Catherine de Medici died from pleurisy on January 5, 1589 at the age of 69. She is buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis with her husband, several of their children, and some of their grandchildren: Francis II, Henry III, Charles IX, Louis, Margaret, and their granddaughter Marie Elisabeth. Those closest to her suspected that her declining health and eventual death was caused by knowing that her son Henry III was responsible for the death of Louis III, Cardinal of Guise.
Queen Catherine de Medici is said to have been the most powerful woman in Europe in the 16th century, because without her it's unlikely her children would have remained in power as she was trying to keep the House of Valois on the French Throne for as long as possible. The Queen is also remembered for her patronage of the arts of architecture, ballet, musical plays etc. She also had many creative gifts and set to preserve her husband's memory through the arts.
See also Edit