Catherine de Medici

Catherine de Medici, Queen of France

Catherine de Medici is most well known for her part in the Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the killing of thousands of French Protestants, but her story is not one of a cruel and tyrannical ruler. Instead, she was a young woman whose many terrible experiences led her to become involved in dark magic and malicious deeds in an effort to alter the future and preserve her family.

Catherine was next in line to the Florentine throne when she was suddenly captured and held prisoner following a republic revolution in Italy. For nearly three years she was kept locked away before her uncle Pope Clement VII, calling on the aid of Charles V's imperial army, was able to quell the rebellion. Catherine was rescued and sent to live in Rome with her surviving relatives. Rather than allow her to obtain her rightful place as Duchess of Florence, however, her half-brother usurped the throne, and she was instead sent to France to be married to Prince Henry II, a marriage that was meant to bring great wealth and property to both powers. Shortly after the wedding, Pope Clement passed away suddenly, leaving the princess with no dowry, but, believing her husband to be in danger, she chose to stay at the French Court among the many who despised her. She loved Henry from the start of their marriage but did not see her feelings returned for many years, as her husband was more interested in his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Desperate for an heir to secure her place at court, both for her husband's well-being and her own preservation, Catherine concocted a black magic ritual that promised to preserve her family. Sure enough, she would later give birth to ten children, three of whom would briefly reign as king.

In 1548, Catherine's eldest son, Francis II, was wed to Mary, Queen of Scots. Sadly, Henry II did not live to see the end of the festivities but instead endured a slow, painful death when he was stabbed through the eye by a jousting lance. Francis, always a sickly child, passed away a short time later, leaving the throne to his younger brother Charles. While no longer legally queen since the death of her husband, Catherine felt her children were mentally and emotionally unfit to rule, and she remained in power behind the scenes during both of her sons' reign as kings. Desperate for a grandchild to continue her family's rule, Catherine married her second daughter to Henry of Navarre. Navarre was at the time a Protestant, and the French Catholics were outraged at the swarms of Huguenots that came to Paris for the royal wedding. Nervous about the tensions between the two parties, and particularly uneasy about her son's growing friendship with the Huguenot admiral Gaspard de Coligny, Catherine arranged to have the admiral assassinated in the hopes that it might ease her troubles. The attempt failed, however, and, growing more fearful for her family and her people, Catherine created a new plan, the attack and murder of several of the gathered Huguenot leaders. Given the order, however, the Catholic French soldiers went into a frenzy, killing what some estimate to be over 5000 innocents in Paris and the surrounding villages. This event, later termed the Bartholomew's Day Massacre, would forever stain Catherine's reputation as queen.

Key events during the life of Catherine de Medici:

Born in Florence, Italy
Medici family was overthrown by a republican faction opposed to the decisions of Pope Clement VII
Charles V's troop laid seige to Florence, restoring the Medici family to the throne; in return, Charles was crowned Holy Roman Emperor
Married Henry II of France
Becomes queen following death of Francis I
Death of Henry II
Charles IX became king of France, but Catherine was appointed governor of France and held jurisdiction over the new king
Bartholomew's Day Massacre
Died just prior to the assassination of her third son, Henry III

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
St. Bartholomew  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
House of Valois (cont 3)  in  France: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Catherine's Regency  in  The Story of Old France  by  H. A. Guerber
Prince of Conde Taken Prisoner  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
St. Bartholomew's Day  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
St. Bartholomew's Day  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Massacre of Bartholomew  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge
Eve of St. Bartholomew  in  Brave Men and Brave Deeds  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Catherine de Medici
 in The History of Russia

Catherine de Medici, Queen of Henry II.
 in France: Peeps at History

Short Biography
Henry IV Popular Huguenot King who converted to Catholicism, but decreed religious toleration.
Francis I of France King of France who was a patron of the arts, and was involved in the Italian Wars.