Marie De Médicis (1573–1642)

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MARIE DE MÉDICIS (15731642), queen of France (16001610) and regent (16101617) for her son, Louis XIII. Marie de Médicis, the daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Archduchess of Austria, was born in Florence. Though her upbringing was marred by the early death of her mother and her father's neglect, she received an excellent education, which, in keeping with family tradition, gave her a sound foundation in the fine arts. In 1600 she was married to Henry IV of France (ruled 15891610) and took up residence in the Louvre the following year. She bore five children; a daughter, Henrietta-Maria, married Charles I of England; a son succeeded his father to the throne as Louis XIII. She is remembered in part as one of the most troublesome queen mothers in historya lightning rod for discontent with her son's reign and especially with his chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu. But she also should be noted for her considerable patronage of the arts and her extensive building projects that still grace Paris.

After the assassination of her husband in 1610, Marie was made regent by the Parlement of Paris. Though politically inexperienced, she was not lacking in ambition: she was after all a Medici and confidently seized control of royal authority. Seeking peace to ensure tranquillity at home, she reversed Henry's anti-Habsburg policy, withdrew France's armies from Europe, and struck up an alliance with Spain that was sealed with the marriage of the fifteen-year-old Louis XIII to the Spanish Infanta, Anne of Austria. Her regency, however, was marked by instability. The weakness of royal authority invited a resurgence of aristocratic expectations of power sharing, and ultimately led to the calling of the Estates-General in 1614. The distribution of pensions and other spoils to great noblemen drained the treasury but did not prevent their mounting discontent. Several princes of the realm abandoned the court and threatened open revolt, the Huguenots grew restive at the prospect of royal wavering from the guarantees of the Edict of Nantes, and the prince of Condé was eventually arrested for challenging the queen's authority. Some of this discontent was really disguised opportunism in the face of a weakened royal authority under the regency. But some can be blamed on Marie's own poor judgment, in particular the promotion of her favorite, Concino Concini, to the point where this Italian outsider dominated both the court and the royal council. Indignation against Concini was compounded by the dubious reputation of his wife, Leonora Galigai, Marie's childhood friend.

The reign of the favorite and Marie's regency came dramatically to an end with the intervention of her son. In 1617 the fifteen-year-old Louis XIII instigated a veritable coup d'état against the favorite, which ended with the arrest of Marie and the deaths of the Concinis. Thus began nearly fifteen years of contretemps between Marie and her son, adding to the instability of Louis XIII's early reign. With the aid of her younger son, Gaston d'Orléans, Marie managed to escape from her captivity in 1619 and raised her standard against the king. Beaten in battle, she was reconciled with Louis through the good graces of Bishop Richelieu of Luçon, who soon entered the royal council. Though initially allied to Marie, Richelieu became the king's loyal servant and was instrumental in once again setting France on a course of opposition to Habsburg domination of Europe. Aided by Gaston, Marie actively conspired against Richelieu, hoping to depose him as chief minister. On the night of 1011 November 1630, the so-called Day of Dupes, she nearly got her way. The king led her to believe that he was acceding to her demand to have Richelieu dismissed, but then in a dramatic turnaround backed his chief minister, arrested Marie, and subsequently put on trial those ministers most closely associated with her. Once again Marie managed to escape from her imprisonment in Compiègne and sought refuge in the Low Countries.

Marie's exile lasted until her death in Cologne in 1642. Though her political power was certainly diminished, she continued to exert influence as a rallying point for Richelieu's opponents. Mathieu de Morgues, a writer formerly in service to Richelieu, joined her entourage in Brussels and launched a barrage of pamphlets that attacked both the cardinal-minister's "tyranny" and France's anti-Habsburg policies and defended Marie de Médicis.

Beyond her political legacy, Marie played a role as a major patron of the arts. Shortly after Henry IV's assassination, she engaged Salomon de Brosse to begin work on a new palace, one that would prove more suitable than the dour, somewhat medieval Louvre as the residence of a queen. Completed in 1623, the Luxembourg Palace combined French tastes with Italian splendor. Its interior, the "Medici Gallery," was graced with a series of enormous paintings (now in the Louvre in Paris) executed by Peter Paul Rubens depicting "The Life of Marie de' Medici" from her birth to her reconciliation with the king in 1619.

See also Henry IV (France) ; Louis XIII (France) ; Medici Family ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal ; Rubens, Peter Paul .


Carmona, Michel. Marie de Médicis. Paris, 1981.

Castelot, André. Marie de Médicis. Les désordres de la passion. Paris, 1995.

Millen, Ronald Forsyth, and Robert Erich Wolf. Heroic Deeds and Mystic Figures: A New Reading of Rubens' Life of Maria De' Medici. Princeton, 1999.

Robert A. Schneider

Marie de' Medici

views updated Jun 27 2018

Marie de' Medici


Queen of France

Art and Fashion.

The propulsion of Marie de' Medici into the arena of high politics arose from the crisis of the French monarchy at the end of the sixteenth century. With the kingdom of France under a heavy burden of debt after more than thirty years of civil war, the country's new king, Henry of Navarre, divorced his wife, Marguerite de Valois, and married his niece, Marie de' Medici, in 1599. Henry owed Marie's father a lot of money, and as part of these marriage negotiations much of this debt was forgiven in exchange for a large portion of Marie's dowry. While Henry tried to introduce greater economy into the French court, particularly concerning matters of dress, Marie was from the first one of the most fashionable women of Europe. Her early portraits show her obviously sumptuous style. In contrast to the relatively restrained Spanish tailoring that was popular in the late sixteenth century, Marie favored ermine, gem-embroidered gowns, and luxurious high ruffed collars. Her taste for lavish clothes was immortalized in a series of portraits and paintings on royal themes painted by the French artist Pourbus and eventually by the great seventeenth-century Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. During Rubens' time as Marie de' Medici's court painter, he completed a series of 25 canvasses that glorified the history of her life and royal mission. The relationship that developed between Rubens and Marie was a close one and gave rise to a correspondence. During her last period of exile Marie also stayed with her artist for a time in Flanders. In short, Marie de' Medici's life shows the close relationship that developed between fashion, art, and political power during the late Renaissance. Marie may have been a woman who played a high stakes political game and lost, but she astutely understood the necessity of fashioning an imposing royal image while she was involved in royal pursuits. Since the seventeenth century, though, the lavish face that she presented to her world has often been used to lend credence to the charge that she was but a mere fashion plate, instead of a woman against whom the forces of her times conspired.

Rise to Power.

Marie de' Medici's rise to power began with the assassination of her husband, Henri IV, in 1610. On the day following his death, Marie convened a royal assembly, installing her son, the heir to the throne, beside her to show that she intended to exercise power in his name. This disregard for the traditional mourning period that followed a monarch's death scandalized the French court, but Marie persisted all the same in her attempts to dominate French politics. In the years immediately following the death of her husband, Marie recruited Rubens to glorify her role in French politics. In these paintings, which were originally housed in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, the queen regent was elegantly displayed in all her finery. In her office she continued to pursue many of the same policies of her late husband, although her involvement in state affairs eventually resulted in her own exile from France in 1630, as she fell afoul of her son and his powerful minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Even in exile, though, Marie de' Medici continued to present herself in royal style, making imposing entries into cities in Flanders and Holland, clad in her royal finery. During this bleak period of her life, she spent time in her daughter's court in England, but as the crisis of royal government worsened in that country she moved on to Cologne in 1641. She died not soon after, impoverished. Her application to her son, the king of France, for permission to be buried in the royal gravesite at St. Denis had been ignored during her life, but in the months following her death, Louis XIII granted her wish.


D. Marrow, The Art Patronage of Maria de' Medici (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1982).

Peter Paul Rubens, Life of Marie de' Medici (New York: Abrams, 1967).

S. Sarrow, The Golden Age of Marie de' Medici (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Press, 1973).

Médicis, Marie de (1573–1642)

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Médicis, Marie de (15731642)

The queen consort of King Henry IV of France. The daughter of Francesco de' Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, and the Archduchess Joanna of Austria, she married Henry in 1600. When Henry was assassinated in 1610, she served as regent for their son and successor, Louis XIII. She made a truce with the Habsburg dynasty, the traditional enemies of France, and allied with Spain through the marriage of her son Louis to Anne, a princess of the Habsburg clan. In control of the royal treasury, she squandered vast sums on court festivities and on bribes to nobles hostile to the crown. She also ordered important building projects in the capital of Paris, gracing the city with imposing monuments and palaces, including the Luxembourg Palace on the city's formerly neglected Left Bank. This palace was decorated with an important series of paintings describing her life, by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens.

Marie's regency saw trouble brewing among the French nobility, which was asserting ancient rights to balance the authority of the king. A general assembly known as the Estates General was convened in 1614; at the same time Marie promoted an Italian friend, Concino Concini, to a powerful position within the government over the capable Duc de Sully. Resentment at the meddling of this outsider hardened opposition to the monarchy. Louis came to the throne in 1617, three years after his age of majority. Concini was assassinated on Louis' orders in the same year and the young king soon exiled his mother to the castle of Blois, fearing conspiracies on her part against him. In 1619 Marie escaped her virtual captivity and raised an open revolt against her son, but her forces were defeated. The son and his mother were reconciled in 1622, with Marie advancing her ally Cardinal Richelieu to the position of the king's chief minister. Within a few years Richelieu and Marie de' Médicis were adversaries, with the king eventually siding with Richelieu and again banishing Marie. After she mounted a foiled coup against the king, she was exiled by the king, this time to the city of Compiegne and then out of the kingdom permanently. Marie fled to the Netherlands, where she continued to rally opponents of Richelieu in hopes of returning to Paris in control of the royal court. She failed, however, and lived a shadowy life as an exile until her death in 1642.

See Also: Bourbon dynasty

Marie de Médicis

views updated Jun 11 2018

Marie de Médicis (1573–1642) Queen of France. A member of the Medici family, daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, she married Henry IV of France in 1600. He was assassinated the day after she was crowned queen in 1610, possibly with her connivance. As regent for her son, Louis XIII, she relied on Italian advisers and reversed Henry's anti-Habsburg policy. She was constantly at odds with Louis after 1614, and antagonized Cardinal Richelieu. Failing to have Richelieu dismissed in 1630, she was forced into exile in Brussels (1631).

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Marie de Medici