Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici (1519-1589) was a Machiavellian politician, wife of Henry II of France, and later regent for her three feeble sons at the twilight of the Valois dynasty, who authorized the killing of French Protestants in the notorious Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572.
Catherine de' Medici was never able to rule France as its monarch because the Salic Law restricted the succession solely to men. But this Machiavellian—whose father was Machiavelli's patron—ruled it as regent for nearly 30 years, and did everything she could to strengthen the position of her three weak sons on its throne. She presided over, and was partly responsible for, many of the horrors of the French Wars of Religion in the 1560s and 1570s, of which the worst was the massacre of Protestants gathered in Paris to witness the marriage of her daughter Marguerite Valois to Duke Henry of Navarre in 1572. Her calculating policies yielded short-term victories, but when she died in 1589 her hopes for her family's long-term future lay in ruins.
Catherine was born in 1519, daughter of a powerful Italian prince from the Medici family. Her mother died within a few days from puerperal fever and her father succumbed to consumption a week later at the age of 27, leaving her an orphan after less than one month of life. Her father's relatives, among them popes Leo X and Clement VII, took over her care, and she grew up in the midst of the stormy Italian Wars in which they were central actors. When a German army of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, the citizens of Florence took advantage of this eclipse of Medici power to restore their republic, and took the eight-year-old Catherine hostage. Escaping from Rome and hiring a group of mercenaries to recapture Florence, her uncle Clement VII was able to rescue her from her refuge in a nunnery.
In pursuit of Pope Clement's dynastic ambitions, 14-year-old Catherine was married in 1533 to 14-year-old Henry, duke of Orleans, younger son of King Francis I of France. The elaborate ceremony at Marseilles Cathedral was conducted by the pope himself, but her childlessness for the first ten years of marriage made her unpopular in the French court. With the help, as she believed, of astrologers—she was patroness of the seer Nostradamus and a lifelong dabbler in necromancy, astronomy, and astrology—she overcame this early infertility and gave birth to ten children, beginning in 1543. Few of them were healthy, however, and she, enjoying an iron constitution and great powers of recovery, would outlive all but one, Henry III, who would follow her to the grave in a matter of months. The death of her husband's older brother in 1536 made Henry and Catherine heirs to the throne, but the circumstances of his death increased Catherine's unpopularity. One of her retinue, Count Sebastian Montecuculi, was suspected of poisoning him to promote the interests of Catherine and, possibly, of France's enemy Charles V.
Catherine's husband, now Henry II, had spent several childhood years as a hostage at the Spanish court in Madrid. On his return, at the age of 11, he had been cared for by Diane de Poitiers, who was 20 years his senior. Despite this age difference, they became lovers, and throughout most of Henry's reign, which began in 1547, Diane completely eclipsed Catherine in influence over the king, though her age and her lack of beauty made Henry's attraction and loyalty to her something of a mystery at court. Diane was even given responsibility for raising Catherine's children, and she and Henry arranged the betrothal of the oldest son, Francis, to Mary, Queen of Scots in 1548. But in 1557, Catherine's coolness in an emergency won her new respect from Henry. He had lost the battle of St. Quentin to Philip II of Spain; when Paris itself was jeopardized, Catherine made a patriotic speech to the Parlement, persuaded it to raise more troops and money to continue the fight, and put to rest the old suspicion that she was more an Italian schemer than a true queen of France.
At the time of Catherine's birth in 1519 the Reformation was beginning with Martin Luther's criticism of the Catholic Church. The challenge to Rome's religious hegemony (dominance) began in Germany but soon spread throughout Europe. The French lawyer and theologian John Calvin, living and writing in Geneva, Switzerland, was particularly inspiring to many French men and women, who saw in his version of Christianity a truer form of their faith than that offered by a politicized and often corrupt Catholic Church. In France, for example, appointments and promotions in the Catholic Church were all at the king's disposal; political cronyism rather than piety and administrative skill led to advancement. French Protestants were known as Huguenots, and the rapid growth of their numbers among the nobility and upper classes as well as among ordinary folk soon made them a politically significant force; the Huguenots held their first general French assembly in 1559.
This was an era in which monarchs assumed that the integrity of their kingdoms depended on the religious uniformity of their peoples; religious schism of the kind which beset France by mid-century was unprecedented. The Catholic monarchs of France and Spain made peace at Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559 partly because they were bankrupt but also so that they could unite their forces against Protestantism. The treaty was sealed by the marriage of Philip II of Spain to Elisabeth, the teenaged daughter of Catherine and King Henry. At the joust held to mark the wedding celebrations, however, King Henry was fatally injured by a lance wielded by a Calvinist nobleman, the Comte de Montgomery. It shattered his helmet, pierced his eye, and entered his brain. Henry's death a few days later brought their oldest son, 16-year-old Francis II, to the throne.
France was full of demobilized soldiers, many of them unpaid for months. Tax burdens on the peasants were heavy, and Calvinist preachers with their message of an uncorrupted faith found a receptive audience. Huguenot noblemen took action almost at once, organizing a conspiracy to overthrow or at least dominate the court of Francis II, and winning the active support of England's new Protestant queen, Elizabeth I. Then, at the city of Amboise, their military uprising failed, and the royal army arrested the leaders. In the presence of Catherine, her children, and Mary, Queen of Scots, 57 of the Huguenot leaders were hanged or beheaded. This retribution did not end the religious-political conflicts besetting France, however; from this time forward, the Huguenot Navarre family and the Catholic Guises led rival religious and court factions. The death of 16-year-old Francis II the following year made Catherine regent for her second son Charles, who now became King Charles IX at the age of ten.
Herself a lifelong Catholic but always with a degree of religious cynicism, Catherine appears never to have understood the passion with which many of her contemporaries lived their religious lives. For her, religious differences seemed at first to be bargaining chips in court intrigues, which might be smoothed away by tactful diplomacy. She permitted Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, an influential Huguenot, to act as Charles's chief advisor for awhile, provoking three powerful noblemen, the duke of Guise, the cardinal of Lorraine, and the constable of France, to sink their own differences and make a three-way alliance, a triumvirate, for the defense of Catholicism against Coligny.
Catherine's miscalculation of the Reformation's impact on France was evident at the Colloquy of Poissy, 1561, when she tried to conciliate the Catholic faction, under the cardinal of Lorraine, with the Huguenots, under the reform theologian and friend of Calvin, Theodore Beza. Far from coming to an understanding with one another, the two parties hardened their differences. In the poisoned atmosphere of broken negotiation, open hostilities began, marking the first of a succession of religious wars. Interrupted by truces, but marked by fierce vendettas, the conflict raged for a decade.
Charles IX was an unstable character, and as he matured he came to dislike his mother and her favorite, younger son Henry. Charles, says the lively historian Henri Nogueres:
had the figure of a sickly adolescent, too thin for its size, hollow-chested and with drooping shoulder…. his sallow complexion and bilious eyes betrayed liver trouble; he had a bitter twist at the corners of his mouth and feverish eyes…. He hunted in order to kill, for he soon acquired a taste for blood, and almost every day he needed the bitter sensation, the uneasy satisfaction of seeing the pulsating entrails and the hounds on the quarry.
Catherine found it relatively easy to dominate Charles, despite his growing resentment, and in the face of constant warfare she also tried to carve some order out of the fiscal and administrative chaos of the kingdom, to strengthen it for her sons' reigns. She took Charles on a long royal journey through his kingdom. She incorporated in 1565 a meeting with her son-in-law, Philip II of Spain, to discuss the continuing religious crisis. Philip disliked her apparent willingness to play off Catholics and Protestants against one another; in his view, she should have been doing more to advance the Counter-Reformation. But he also knew that France's weakness was a strategic benefit for Spain. It made French intervention to aid troublesome Dutch rebels against Spain far less likely. When Philip's wife and Catherine's favorite daughter Elisabeth died in childbirth in 1568, Catherine hoped he might marry her younger daughter Marguerite, but Philip was determined to take his French connection no further. Another blow to Catherine's politicking came the same year when her daughter-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots, was captured by her English enemies and imprisoned, leaving Scotland open to Protestant domination and effectively ending a Franco-Scottish Catholic encirclement of Elizabethan England.
Through much of the 1560s, the two religious factions were at war while Catherine and Charles tried to avoid falling too heavily into either camp. The religious warfare was complicated further by English incursions into France itself, ostensibly in alliance with the Huguenots, but largely in pursuit of traditional English designs on northern France. The war was also complicated by a blood feud among the major families, brought on when the Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny ordered the assassination of the duke of Guise in 1563. As the fighting continued, especially in the third religious war, from 1568 to 1570, Huguenot armies attacked convents and monasteries, torturing and massacring their inhabitants, while Catholic forces, equally merciless, slew the Huguenots of several districts indiscriminately.
After a decade of war, the Peace of St. Germain in 1570 reconciled the two sides temporarily and led to Admiral Coligny's return to court. Among the treaty's provisions was the specification that Catherine's daughter Marguerite should marry Henry of Navarre, the Huguenot leader, that the Huguenots should be given several strongholds throughout France, and that Coligny could resume his position as a royal councillor. Catherine hoped that, as a moderate Huguenot, he might act to mollify his fellow Huguenots while she played the same role among Catholics. But Coligny quickly and tactlessly reasserted himself at court, becoming a friend and confidante of King Charles IX but arousing suspicions among Catholic courtiers that he was planning another coup. When Coligny discovered that Charles and his mother were at odds, he miscalculated and chose the king's side rather than Catherine's, provoking her furious resentment.
The city of Paris had remained friendly to the ultra-Catholic Guise party throughout these years of war, and most Parisians resented the concessions to Huguenots made at the Treaty of St. Germain. The population was, accordingly, restless and angry when a large Huguenot assembly entered their city in the summer of 1572 to celebrate the wedding. Marguerite Valois, the bride, was herself a stormy personality and an inveterate intriguer. When Catherine had discovered earlier that Marguerite was having an affair with the duke of Guise, she and Charles IX had beaten her senseless. The motive for this marriage alliance was that Henry of Navarre, though a Huguenot, would have a strong claim to the French throne if neither Charles IX nor Catherine's younger son Henry had a living heir. A connection to the Valois family would strengthen Navarre's claim as well as Catherine's prospects of continued influence. Marguerite, still in love with Guise, resisted the planned marriage, says historian Hugh Williamson:
she and Henry of Navarre had known each other during their growing up at least well enough to be aware that they had no glimmer of sexual attraction for each other and even domestic accommodation was imperilled by such differences as her liking for at least one bath a day and his aversion to more than one a year. Also he always stank of garlic.
She refused to give up her Catholic faith for this marriage, which was in any case imperiled when Henry's mother Jeanne of Navarre died suddenly during the negotiations which preceded it. In the fevered atmosphere of the time, many Huguenots were ready to believe that Catherine de' Medici had poisoned Jeanne, although that seems unlikely.
Catherine decided to dispose of Gaspard de Coligny once and for all. She accepted an offer from the Guise party to assassinate him, hoping that the outcome would be revived power for her own party. The assassin shot Coligny but failed to kill him, and Charles IX rushed to his side, promising a full inquiry and retribution against the assassins. But under interrogation from Catherine and his younger brother Henry, Charles finally accepted their claim that Coligny was manipulating him, that Coligny planned to overthrow the whole Catholic court, and that he and the other Huguenot leaders should now be finished off in a preemptive strike. According to his brother Henry's diary, Charles at last shouted; "Kill the Admiral if you wish; but you must also kill all the Huguenots, so that not one is left alive to reproach me. Kill them all!"
By careful prearrangement, church bells began to ring at two in the morning of August 24, Saint Bartholomew's Day, 1572. The bells signaled Catholic troops to begin, and at once they moved to kill the injured Coligny and other Huguenot leaders. The attacks became indiscriminate; all sense of order broke down. As widespread looting and fighting broke out across Paris, over 2,000 men, women, and children (including many people uninvolved in political and religious controversy) were shot or hacked to death. Similar massacres followed in the provinces, as Catholics seized the initiative against their local Huguenot rivals. King Charles feared that he had unleashed a revolution, but Catherine, according to one onlooker, "looks a younger woman by ten years and gives the impression of one who has recovered from a serious illness or escaped a great danger." A fourth civil war at once began, but by a strange turn of circumstances, leadership of the Huguenot party now fell to Catherine's youngest and most unscrupulous son Francis, duke of Alençon. Placing himself at the head of the Protestant forces and dreaming of a crown, he declared that his older brother Henry, who had just been elected to the throne of Poland, was no longer available as heir of France.
Henry, this third son of Catherine, was less easily dominated and manipulated than Charles. He was homosexual and had had a long succession of lovers. His mother tried to "correct" this propensity by ordering a banquet at which the food was served by naked women, but she could not succeed. Henry had spent the 1560s garnering the laurels of a successful general in the wars against the Huguenots. His victories won him the envy of King Charles IX, whose physical frailty forbade campaigning. Catherine tried to marry Henry to Elizabeth I of England, but the "Virgin Queen" tactfully declined the offer and was equally obdurate against the wooing of the pathetic fourth brother, Alençon, whom she called her "frog." The only woman to excite Henry's interest, and to whom he sent ardent love letters signed in his own blood, was already married to the prince of Conde. Henry did not relish the prospect of going to Poland, even though his mother's judicious distribution of bribes to the electors there had secured the throne for him, but at last he set out. His departure prompted another Huguenot uprising, in which Alençon, Henry of Navarre, and Marguerite Valois were all implicated as conspirators. With her usual energy, Catherine coordinated forces to quell it, and with her usual decisiveness, she witnessed the executions of the ringleaders Montgomery, La Mole, and Coconnas. She also witnessed the death of her son King Charles, aged 24. She now recalled her favorite, Henry, to his hereditary kingdom.
Henry III was crowned in 1575 and married in the same year to Louise of Lorraine, but they had no children to carry on the Valois line. From this time on, Catherine entrusted family fortunes more wholeheartedly to the Catholic Guise family, and approved the formation of the Catholic League in 1576 which marched to triumph against the Huguenots. Henry's homosexual favorites predominated at court. When the Guise provoked a duel and killed two of them, Quelus and Saint-Megrim, Henry conceived an implacable hatred against them. Another round of blood feuding began despite Catherine's continued urging that Henry must settle his differences with the Guise for the sake of national and Catholic security.
Catherine remained politically active until the end of her life, touring France on Henry's behalf and trying to assure the loyalty of its many fractured and war-torn provinces. She also amassed a huge collection of books and paintings, built or enlarged some of Paris's finest buildings, including the Tuileries Palace, and carried on to the end her fascination with astrology. She was fat and gouty by 1589 and was taken ill that year from the exertion of dancing at the marriage of one of her granddaughters. She lived just long enough to hear that Henry's bodyguards had murdered Guise; this news, writes Williamson, "destroyed her will to live, for it epitomized her failure. Her idolized son, for whom she had spent her whole life, had destroyed all that she had built and rejected everything she had taught him." Later that year, Henry III in turn died, assassinated by a Dominican friar, Jacques Clement, who regarded him a traitor to the faith for joining Henry of Navarre against the Catholic League. In this way, the Valois dynasty came to an end. Ironically it was the Huguenot prince Henry of Navarre who succeeded to the throne, though he was unable to sit upon it until 1593 when he cynically adopted the Catholic faith with the famous remark, "Paris is worth a Mass."
The most satisfactory study of Catherine de' Médici is Paul VanDyke, Catherine de' Médici (2 vols., 1992). The short pamphlet by N. M. Sutherland, Catherine de' Médici and the Ancien Régime (1966), provides an excellent introduction to the major problems in interpreting the political role of the queen mother. Sutherland also wrote The French Secretaries of State in the Age of Catherine de Medici (1962), a study of Catherine's closest administrative assistants. On Catherine's religious policy see H. Outram Evennett, The Cardinal of Lorraine and the Council of Trent: A Study in the Counter Reformation (1930), and the relevant portion of Joseph Lecler, Toleration and the Reformation (trans., 2 vols., 1960). An example of Catherine's use of art in support of her political program is described by Francis A. Yates, The Valois Tapestries (1959).
There is considerable historical literature on the wars of religion in France. Recommended are James Westfall Thompson, The Wars of Religion in France, 1559-1576 (1909); Franklin Charles Palm, Politics and Religion in Sixteenth-Century France (1927); J. E. Neale, The Age of Catherine de Medici (1943; new ed. 1957); Robert M. Kingdom, Geneva and the Coming of the Wars of Religion in France, 1555-1563 (1956); and Philippe Erlanger, St. Bartholomew's Night: The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew (trans. 1962). The French wars of religion are placed in the context of European politics in J. H. Elliot, Europe Divided: 1559-1598 (1968).
Heritier, Jean, Catherine de Medici. St. Martin's Press, 1963.
Mahoney, Irene, Madame Catherine, New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, 1975.
Nogueres, Henri, The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Macmillan, 1962.
Soman, Alfred, The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew: Reappraisals and Documents. Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974.
Strage, Mark, Women of Power: The, Life and Times of Catherine de Medici. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.
Williamson, Hugh Ros, Catherine de Medici. Viking, 1973. □
Catherine De Médicis (1519-1589)
CATHERINE DE MÉDICIS (1519-1589)
CATHERINE DE MÉDICIS (1519-1589), queen of France. Wife of King Henry II, mother of Kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, Catherine de Médicis, the power behind the throne in France for three decades, has generated passionate opinions among contemporaries and historians alike. She was born in 1519 into one of the greatest Italian princely families: her father, Lorenzo de' Medici, was duke of Urbino, and her uncle was Pope Clement VII. Her mother, Madeleine de La Tour, was daughter of Jean, comte d'Auvergne, and Jeanne de Bourbon-Vendôme, both related to the French royal family.
Her marriage in 1533 to Henry, the younger son of Francis I, was a product of French dynastic ambitions in Italy. But the death of the second Medici pope, Clement VII, a year later, negated the political advantage of the match, and Catherine's isolation at court was increased by her husband's devotion to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. When Henry acceded to the throne on his father's death in 1547, it was Diane who ruled as queen in all but name. Catherine's political role was limited to the production of children: four sons and a daughter survived into adulthood. Her husband's accidental death in 1559 did not at first usher her into the front rank of politics, but the weak Guise-dominated regime of her eldest son, Francis II, increasingly involved her in policy making in order to widen its base of support. Her real political career began at the age of forty-one with the death of Francis II on 5 December 1560 and her elevation as regent on the accession of the ten-year-old Charles IX.
Catherine faced the problem of combating Protestantism while monarchical authority was weak. She appointed Anthony of Bourbon, king of Navarre, as lieutenant-general of the kingdom and promoted a group of moderates to the royal council who were led by the chancellor, Michel de L'Hôpital. Under her aegis, they embarked on a policy of compromise, toning down the repression of heresy and promoting the cause of doctrinal reconciliation between the faiths, most notably at the Colloquy of Poissy (August 1561). When it was clear that doctrinal compromise was impossible, she hoped to foster stability and peace by establishing limited legal toleration of Protestantism, enshrined in the edict of January 1562. Her policies were anathema to many Catholics and as early as Easter 1561 a group of magnates, led by the duke of Guise and the constable of Montmorency, formed the Triumvirate to resist change. The king of Navarre's defection to the Triumvirate following the Edict of Toleration and the outbreak of civil war were a serious blow to Catherine's policy and left her at the mercy of the factions. The assassination of the duke of Guise by a Huguenot in March 1563 allowed her to broker peace anew and recommence the policy of compromise. During the four years of peace that followed, Catherine dominated government and worked hard to rebuild royal authority. To this end she embarked on a tour of France (1564–1566) with her son Charles. Yet during this period Catherine's commitment to toleration was put into question by her growing reliance on a group of Ultra-Catholic Italian advisors. Protestant suspicions of her motives at a meeting in 1566 with the Spanish envoy, the duke of Alba, were partly responsible for the recommencement of civil war in 1567.
Catherine was once again instrumental in negotiating peace in 1570, and to ensure its durability she arranged the marriage of her daughter, Marguerite, to the leader of the Protestants, Henri de Navarre. Her policy began to unravel when French Protestant intervention in the Low Countries threatened to reignite civil war. Her role in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre is contentious, but it seems likely that while she sanctioned the murder of the Protestant leader, Gaspard de Coligny, her responsibility for the popular massacre that followed is less certain. She now lost all credit with the Protestants and though her hold on power at court was as great as ever, the fortunes of the monarchy sank to ever lower depths. Until her death in 1589, Catherine continued to enjoy influence during the reign of her favorite son, Henry III, who came to the throne in 1574, most notably brokering a peace with the Protestants in 1578–1579 and attempting to reconcile her son with the rebel duke of Guise in 1585 and 1588. Catherine realized that civil war undermined royal authority, and she worked to reconcile factions, but her methods and motives were not always trusted, leaving her with the mostly unfair reputation of a Machiavellian plotter and conspirator.
See also Coligny Family ; France ; Guise Family ; Poissy, Colloquy of ; St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre ; Valois Dynasty ; Wars of Religion, French .
Diefendorf, Barbara. Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris. New York and Oxford 1991. Chapter 6 is the most reliable account in English of the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew.
Knecht, Robert. Catherine de' Medici. London, 1998.
Nugent, Donald. Ecumenism in the Age of Reformation: The Colloquy of Poissy. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
Soman, Alfred, ed. The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew: Reappraisals and Documents. The Hague, 1974.
Sutherland, N. M. Catherine de Medici and the Ancien Régime. London 1966.
——. The French Secretaries of State in the Age of Catherine de Medici. London, 1962.
——. "The Legend of the Wicked Queen." In Princes, Politics and Religion, 1547–1589. London, 1984.
——. The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew and the European Conflict, 1559–1572. London. 1973.
Medici, Catherine de'
Catherine de' Medici
Born: April 13, 1519
Died: January 5, 1589
Catherine de' Medici was married to the French King Henry II (1519– 1559) and was mother and regent (one who governs a kingdom in the absence of the real ruler) of three other kings—Francis II (1544–1560), Charles IX (1550–1574), and Henry III (1551–1589). She had great influence over her sons and is thought by some to have authorized the famous Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572.
Catherine was born in 1519 to a powerful Italian prince from the Medici family. Her mother died a few days after giving birth, and her father died a week later. Her father's relatives, among them popes Leo X (1475–1521) and Clement VII (1478–1534), took over her care. At the time of her birth, the Reformation was beginning with Martin Luther's (1483–1546) criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. It soon spread throughout Europe. Protestants, as they came to be called, sought a truer form of their faith than that offered by the political and often corrupt (engaging in unlawful activity) Catholic Church. French Protestants were known as Huguenots, and the rapid growth of their numbers soon made them a powerful force in French affairs.
In 1533 Pope Clement arranged the marriage of fourteen-year-old Catherine to fourteen-year-old Henry, the duke of Orleans and younger son of King Francis I (1494–1547) of France. Catherine eventually gave birth to ten children, beginning in 1543. The death of her husband's older brother in 1536 made Henry and Catherine next in line for the throne. Catherine's husband, now Henry II, had been cared for at age eleven by Diane de Poitiers, who was twenty years his senior. Despite this age difference, they became lovers, and throughout most of Henry's reign as king of France, which began in 1547, Diane had more influence over him than Catherine did. Diane was even given responsibility for raising Catherine's children.
The Catholic leaders of France and Spain made peace in 1559 partly because they needed money but also so they could unite against Protestantism. The treaty was sealed by the marriage of Philip II (1527–1598) of Spain to Elisabeth, the teenage daughter of Catherine and King Henry. At the joust (a fight on horseback) held during the wedding celebrations, however, King Henry was injured by a lance that pierced his eye and entered his brain. Henry's death a few days later brought his and Catherine's oldest son, sixteen-year-old Francis II, to the throne.
Sensing an opportunity, Huguenot leaders quickly organized a plot to take over the court of Francis II. Their plan failed, and the royal army arrested the leaders, executing fifty-seven of them. This did not end the conflicts in France; from this time forward, the Huguenot Navarre family and the Catholic Guise family began a long struggle. The death of Francis II the following year made Catherine regent for her second son Charles, who became King Charles IX at the age of ten. Through much of the 1560s, the two religious groups were at war while Catherine and Charles tried to avoid siding completely with either camp. Catherine tried to keep the country running smoothly in the face of this constant tension. The feud between the Navarre and Guise families became worse when the Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny (1519–1572) ordered the assassination of the duke of Guise in 1563.
The Peace of St. Germain
The signing of the Peace of St. Germain in 1570 brought a temporary end to a decade of war. Among the treaty's provisions were the decisions that Catherine's daughter Marguerite would marry Henry of Navarre (1553–1610), the Huguenot leader, that the Huguenots would be given several territories throughout France, and that Coligny would return to his position in the royal court. Catherine hoped he might act to calm his fellow Huguenots while she played the same role among Catholics. But Coligny quickly moved to become a friend and adviser of King Charles IX, leading many to believe he was planning another takeover.
Catherine decided to dispose of Gaspard de Coligny once and for all. She accepted an offer from the Guise party to have him assassinated, hoping that it would lead to revived power for her own party. The assassin shot Coligny but failed to kill him. After talking to Catherine and his younger brother Henry, Charles finally accepted their claim that Coligny was using him, that Coligny planned to overthrow the whole Catholic court, and he and the other Huguenot leaders should now be finished off. According to his brother Henry's diary, Charles at last shouted, "Kill the Admiral if you wish; but you must also kill all the Huguenots, so that not one is left alive to reproach (oppose) me. Kill them all!"
Massacre and more conflict
At two in the morning on August 24, Saint Bartholomew's Day, 1572, Catholic troops moved to kill the injured Coligny and other Huguenot leaders. Eventually all sense of order broke down; looting and fighting broke out across Paris, and over two thousand men, women, and children wound up dead. Catherine was reported to have ordered the attacks, but this has never been completely proved. Another civil war began, but by a strange turn of events, leadership of the Huguenot party now fell to Catherine's youngest son Francis, duke of Alençon. Placing himself at the head of the Protestant forces and dreaming of a crown, he declared that his older brother Henry, who had just been elected to the throne of Poland, was no longer available to rule France.
The departure of Catherine's third son, Henry, to take over the throne of Poland prompted another Huguenot uprising. With her usual energy, Catherine organized forces to stop it, and with her usual decisiveness, she witnessed the executions of its leaders. She also witnessed the death of her son King Charles, aged twenty-four. She recalled her favorite, Henry, to take over as king. Henry III was crowned in 1575 and married, but he had no children who might eventually assume the throne. He also had disagreements with the Guise family, which complicated things. Catherine urged Henry to settle his differences with the Guise family for the sake of national and Catholic security.
Catherine remained politically active until the end of her life, touring France on Henry's behalf and trying to maintain the loyalty of its many war-torn territories. She also built up a huge collection of books and paintings, and she built or enlarged some of Paris's finest buildings. In 1589 she became ill while dancing at the marriage of one of her granddaughters. She died on January 5, living just long enough to hear that Henry's bodyguards had murdered Guise, which she saw as a rejection by her son of all that she had worked for. Later that year, Henry III was assassinated. In another twist, it was the Huguenot prince Henry of Navarre who took over the throne; he was unable to sit upon it until he adopted the Catholic faith in 1593 with the famous remark, "Paris is worth a Mass."
For More Information
Knecht, R. K. Catherine de' Medici. New York: Longman, 1998.
Mahoney, Irene. Madame Catherine. New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, 1975.
Paulson, Michael G. Catherine de' Médici: Five Portraits. New York: P. Lang, 2002.
Strage, Mark. Women of Power: The Life and Times of Catherine de' Medici. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.
Médicis, Catherine de (1519–1589)
Médicis, Catherine de (1519–1589)
Queen of France as the wife of King Henry II, and a woman who wielded a powerful influence on French politics and on the violent religious conflict that was dividing the realm into hostile camps of Protestants and Catholics. Born in Florence as the daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici and a French princess, Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, she was orphaned soon after her birth and then raised in the midst of stormy conflict between France, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the popes over control of Italy's wealthy cities and principalities. In 1527 the Medici dynasty in Florence was overthrown, and Catherine was taken hostage for the good behavior of her family. She was freed by her uncle, Pope Clement VII, who was temporarily dethroned before being restored by Emperor Charles V.
Clement arranged the marriage of his niece to Henry, the Duke of Orléans, in 1533. A member of the Valois dynasty, Henry became King Henry II in 1547. Although Catherine remained his wife, her influence over him was overshadowed by Diane de Poitiers, who became the king's confidante and mistress. As a foreigner, Catherine's loyalty to France came under suspicion, and she had little influence to match that of her rival Diane. At a festival to celebrate the betrothal of their daughter Elizabeth, however, Henry was severely injured in a joust, and soon afterward died. Catherine had Diane banished from the court and then saw her son succeed to the throne as Francis II. At this time French Protestants were gaining strength and allying with the Protestant monarch of England, Elizabeth I, raising suspicion of treason among them by Catholic nobles and ministers. In 1560, after the death of Francis, Catherine served as regent for her son Charles IX. Catholics and Protestants were unable to reconcile their differences and in the 1560s their disagreements brewed into open warfare.
Catherine took the Catholic side in the Wars of Religion and conspired endlessly against the French Protestants, known as the Huguenots, as a way of strengthening her family's position at the royal court. In the countryside, Huguenot armies ravaged Catholic towns, raided convents and monasteries, and committed atrocities, while the Catholic forces staged bloody reprisals in northern France, a Huguenot heartland. By the Peace of Saint Germain in 1570, she arranged the marriage of her daughter Marguerite to Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot leader. In 1572, on the occasion of the wedding, Catherine plotted at a wholesale massacre of Protestants in the kingdom, known as the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Four years later she helped to form the Catholic League, an anti-Huguenot army, and worked tirelessly to garner support for her son, King Henry III. Shortly after her death, this king was assassinated by a Dominican monk, and Catherine's ambitious dreams for the Valois dynasty came to an end when the Protestant Henry of Navarre came to the throne (after converting to Catholicism) as King Henry IV.
See Also: Henry IV
Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici
Queen of France
Catherine de' Medici was one of the most powerful women of the sixteenth century. She was the daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, duke of the Italian city of Urbino, and the French princess Madeleine de la Tour D'Avergne, but was completely orphaned by the age of one. Her upbringing was entrusted to nuns in the city of Florence and later in Rome. Her marriage to the heir to the French throne, Henri, the duke of Orléans (king of France from 1547–1559), was negotiated by her uncle, Pope Clement VII. This wedding took place in Paris in October 1533. According to long-standing legend, Catherine made a sensation in her first appearance at the wedding ball by wearing a new style of high-heeled shoe that gave a swaying undulation and grace to her dance steps. Shoes with soles and heels were just coming into use in the early sixteenth century, and they had a definite effect on dancing, since they allowed performers to stomp and stamp their feet and to perform more intricate steps than was possible in the older fifteenth-century styles. Whether or not Catherine introduced these shoes to France cannot be determined, but she has long been credited with raising the standards of civility and culture in France's noble courts. Her cuisine was widely admired, and noble families searched for Italian cooks that could make the kinds of dishes that Catherine served at state festivities. Italians have long been fond of crediting the subsequent glories of French cooking to the advances that this Italian princess introduced into the royal kitchens in the sixteenth century.
Catherine's years in political life were tumultuous ones, dominated by the ongoing controversies and civil conflicts between French Protestants, known as Huguenots, and Catholics. One way in which Catherine escaped the stress of these difficulties was through the development of the genteel and ordered art of dance in her court. Like dance enthusiasts elsewhere in Renaissance Europe, Catherine saw in the art a way of teaching the harmony and order that should prevail in the social and political world. Dance was, in her mind and in the minds of other cultivated Europeans, a model for properly ordered social relationships. In the many festivities she staged at court during the troubled years of her reign, she relied upon dance to express these ideas. She staged a series of "magnificences," grander than any that had yet been seen in France. These costly spectacles were attacked at the time as a source of ruination and poverty to the French crown, although Catherine saw them as an essential way to unify the French monarchy's quarrelling noble factions. As Catherine wooed other European kings and states and as she tried to mediate between her restive nobles, she imported ideas from the Italian dances and intermedi of the day. The "magnificences" relied extensively on dance choreography to express the faith in dance's powers to teach peaceful and harmonious living. Out of her efforts the ballet de cour emerged, a royal art form that joined together artistic stage designs, poetry, music, and dance. This genre influenced both the rise of the opera and the seventeenth-century ballet. Thus although Catherine's years as regent of France were troubled, her political career has long been credited with being an important stimulus to the development of the beaux arts, or "fine arts" in France.
J. Héritier, Catherine de' Medici. Trans. C. Haldane (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1963).
M. M. McGowan, L'art du ballet de cour en France, 1581–1643 (Paris: CNRS, 1963).
R. Strong, Spectacle at Court: Renaissance Spectacle and the Theater of Power (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).
R. Williamson, Catherine de' Medici (New York: Viking Press, 1973).
Medici, Catherine De'
MEDICI, CATHERINE DE'
MEDICI, CATHERINE DE'. Orphaned soon after her birth in Florence, Catherine de' Medici (1519–1589) inherited the wealth and theatrical style of her grandfather, Lorenzo the Magnificent, the most notable of the Florentine family who made the name of Medici synonymous with quattrocento (Italian fifteenth-century) art and power. At age fourteen Catherine was sent to France to marry Henry of Orleans (Henry II), who inherited the French throne in 1547 at the death of his father Francis I. Catherine bore ten children. After the death of Henry II in 1559, three of Catherine's sons successively became kings of France, and Catherine served as queen regent.
The thirty-year length of her reign and the horrific religious wars of her time have given Catherine a symbolic identity that stretches historical fact. Popular myth has long named her the Italian queen mother of France's high cuisine, for she is often presumed to have imported new notions of cooking as refined as the other civilized arts reborn in the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth century. But in fact Catherine's innovations were not culinary but theatric and were geared to politics rather than to gastronomy.
Regent of a weak government during the conflicts between Catholics and Huguenots that culminated in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, Catherine used spectacle to create an image of stability and order when reality denied it. In 1564 she displayed the virtual power of monarchy in a grand tour through the countryside with her son Charles IX. Throughout her regency she staged court festivals or masques that used food as the excuse for lavish theatrical happenings, which combined drama with dance, music, sculpture, and the decorative arts. In France she created a new style for royal banqueting that achieved its apotheosis in the court of Louis XIV at Versailles.
See also France; Italy.
Heritier, Jean. Catherine de Medici. Translated by Charlotte Haldane. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1963.
Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham. Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.