This woman fascinates me

I have just finished reading a biography of Catherine de Medici and she fascinates me no end. Often derided as ‘The Black Queen’ or ‘Madame La Serpente’, Catherine has suffered throughout history with a reputation that she does not always deserve. She is largely blamed for the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, but its true story has long been forgotten beneath the pile of propaganda heaped upon her. What was intended as a small-scale surgical strike designed to excise the canker in the heart of French politics turned into a major bloodletting that spun out of her control. As wife to one king and mother to three, she witnessed her adopted country descend into the maelstrom of internecine conflict, fueled by the flames of opposing religious zeal amongst the Catholics and the Huguenots; between the Houses of Guise, Montmorency and Bourbon; sandwiched between the might of Spain and the Papacy and the conflagration raging in the nearby Netherlands and a newly-resurgent England. When all she desired was to maintain a peace in her land that seemed always just beyond her reach. The best valediction of her life is ironically given by her oft-enemy and sometimes-ally, Henri of Navarre (who became the charming and hugely popular King Henry IV of France) who said:

“What could the poor woman do, with five children in her arms, after the death of her husband, and with two families in France – ours and the Guise – attempting to encroach on the Crown? Was she not forced to play strange parts to deceive the one and other and yet, as she did, to protect her children, who reigned in succession by the wisdom of a woman so able? I wonder that she did not do worse!”


~ by irwin on January 24, 2009.

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