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Frieda, Leonie 1957(?)–

Frieda, Leonie 1957(?)–

PERSONAL: Born c. 1957, in Sweden; married Nigel Frieda (divorced); children: Elisabeth, Jake.

ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Katie White, Publicity Director, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Orion House, 5 Upper St. Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9E2, England.

CAREER: Writer. Co-founder, Matrix (recording studio), London, England; worked variously as a model and translator.

WRITINGS:

Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, Weldenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2003.

Contributor of columns to London Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard.

Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France has been translated into Swedish.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A biography of World War I soldier Edward Horner.

SIDELIGHTS: A longtime reader of biographies, Leonie Frieda set out to research the notorious French queen Catherine de Medici after the break up of her own marriage and other personal problems. "Catherine never had a moment's happiness, she was so bloody brave, and she never was downcast," Frieda told Samantha Conti in an interview that appeared in W. "It kind of gave me the strength not to feel sorry for myself." The result of Frieda's research is her first book, Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, which has received wide critical recognition. "De Medici has always been a figure of horror in history, but Leonie sees her as a woman, a politician and a dynastic character," historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore was quoted as telling Conti in W.

A sixteenth-century historical villain known as the "Dark Queen," the Italian-born de Medici became queen of France when her husband, Henry II, assumed the throne after her brother-in-law's death. The queen's reputation as a Machiavellian schemer is largely based on her role in planning the assassination of French Huguenots in 1572, more than a decade after her husband's death in 1559. The assassinations led to a bloody revolt that spread throughout France, and de Medici's reputation grew over the years. She is suspected of numerous intrigues, even of poisoning her first husband's brother so Henry could assume the throne.

In her biography, Frieda recounts de Medici's life growing up in Italy and her betrothal to Henry, who was, at the time, duke of Orleans, as part of a power play orchestrated by her uncle, Pope Clement VII. Her marriage was essentially unhappy; others in the royal court looked down on her and her husband preferred spending time with his mistresses. After his death, however, de Medici became a key player in the political machinations within France through her position as regent, and she ensured that her children remain on the throne. Frieda shows that de Medici was adept at political intrigue, even using some of the most beautiful women of the court to seduce men and gather information for her. Her sons turned out to be ineffective rulers, however, and her royal line ended shortly after her own death in 1589, when her cross-dressing son Henry III was stabbed to death.

Writing in the Spectator, Anne Somerset commented that Freida "shows in this absorbing biography … [that] Catherine was a well-intentioned woman who resorted to extreme measures only under pressure." Somerset went on to note, "With its engaging style and deft handling of complex events, this accomplished account of Catherine's career is an engrossing tale, compellingly narrated." New Statesman contributor Caroline Murphy called Catherine de Medici a "sympathetic and gloriously detailed biography," while History Today contributor Glenn Richardson dubbed it "well written, though sometimes burdened with adjectives and asides which distract from the narrative." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "Frieda occasionally paints others with a too-broad brush," but went on to write that her "portrait of Catherine is multifaceted, and her presentation of the complicated narrative of five tumultuous reigns is compelling." Brad Hooper, writing in Booklist, called the biography "not a whitewash but a carefully nuanced portrait."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, December 15, 2004, Brad Hooper, review of Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, p. 702.

History Today, October, 2004, Glenn Richardson, review of Catherine de Medici, p. 61.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2004, review of Catherine de Medici, p. 1130.

New Criterion, February, 2005, Allen Brooke, review of Catherine de Medici, p. 71.

New Statesman, March 1, 2004, Caroline Murphy, review of Catherine de Medici, p. 53.

Publishers Weekly, December 13, 2004, review of Catherine de Medici, p. 58.

Spectator, January 24, 2004, Anne Somerset, review of Catherine de Medici, p. 34.

Times (London, England), February 12, 2004, Carolyn Asome, interview with Freida.

W, March, 2005, Samantha Conti, "History Lesson: Newly Minted Biographer Leonie Frieda Has Been a Model, a Music Bigwig, and a Drug Addict," p. 332.

ONLINE

Leonie Frieda Home Page, http://www.leoniefrieda.com (March 24, 2005).

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