Medici, Marie de (c. 1573–1642)

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Medici, Marie de (c. 1573–1642)

Member of the powerful Florentine family who became a queen of France, hungered for power in the tradition of her blood, and achieved it but only fleetingly, more for lack of wisdom than of spirit . Name variations: (French with the "s" and accent) Marie de Médicis; (Italian without the "s" and accent) Maria de Medici or Marie de' Medici; also Mary de Medici. Pronunciation: MEH-de-chee. Born on April 26, 1573 or 1574 in Florence, Italy; died on July 3, 1642, in poverty and exile, in Cologne, Germany; youngest child of Francis or Francesco I de Medici (1541–1587), grand duke of Tuscany (r. 1574–1587), a scholar and patronof the arts, and Joanna of Austria (1546–1578); married Henri also known as Henry IV the Great (1553–1610), king of France (r. 1589–1610) and Navarre, on October 5, 1600; children: Louis XIII (1601–1643), king of France (r. 1610–1643); Elizabeth Valois (1602–1644, who married Philip IV, king of Spain); Christine of France (1606–1663); Philippe (b. 1607); Gaston d'Orléans (1608–1660), duke of Orléans; Henrietta Maria (1609–1669, who married Charles I, king of England).

Married by proxy to King Henry IV of France and set out from Italy to meet her new husband (1600); became regent to her nine-year-old son, Louis XIII, the day after Henry's assassination (1610); after murder and execution of her court favorites, placed under house arrest at Blois (1617); escaped from Blois and reconciled to the king by Cardinal Richelieu (1619); exiled again, after another confrontation with Cardinal Richelieu, followed by another escape (1630); exiled finally to Cologne, where her remains were held for a year after her death until her debts were paid.

The many dramatic and tragic events in the life of Marie de Medici revolved largely around her relationships to powerful men, including her father and her uncle, the grand dukes of Tuscany Francesco I de Medici and Ferdinand I de Medici; her husband, King Henry IV of France; the wily French minister Cardinal Richelieu; and her son, France's King Louis XIII.

Her childhood in Italy was far from happy. The youngest of four children, she was five years old when her mother Joanna of Austria died, and she was sent along with her brother and sisters to live at the grandiose Pitti Palace in Florence. Soon after her mother's death, her father, then the grand duke, married his mistress, Bianca Cappello . According to Marie de Medici's biographer Louis Battifol, Marie was never to forget the humiliation of being forced to take her lessons with Antonio, her father's illegitimate child. In 1583, she was ten when her only brother died, followed the next year by her lively 15-year-old sister Caterina ; that same year her other sister, Eleonora de Medici (1567–1611), left to marry the duke of Mantua.

The life of the little princess of Tuscany seemed dogged by physical disasters as well as personal tragedies. Twice the ducal palace was rocked by earthquakes, and lightning struck her bedroom three times. For years, the only bright presence in her life was Leonora Galigaï , a girl three years younger than Marie, with a quick wit and a desire to please, who could make the princess laugh. Lonely survivors in an unfriendly world, the two became close companions, and out of this innocent friendship formed in difficult times would develop repercussions of catastrophic proportions in later years.

Educated by tutors appointed by her father, Marie de Medici proved to be good at mathematics, and to excel at lapidary, or the evaluation of precious stones, which would prove to be an expensive hobby. She also did well in drawing, engraving, architecture, and sculpture, and acquired a lifelong love of art that would lead her to become an important patron for artists. She was not taught French and seemed uninterested in learning the language even after she moved to France. Raised as she was in guarded isolation, she also had limited knowledge of the social workings of the world.

Marie had reached her teens when her father Grand Duke Francesco died. In the absence of a legitimate male heir, his brother, Cardinal Ferdinand, gave up the religious life to take up the family title in Tuscany. Ferdinand married Christine of Lorraine , the granddaughter of French queen Catherine de Medici ; at age 16, Marie's new aunt was her senior by two years. The young women became good friends, and the Pitti changed from a stern but luxurious prison into a festive palace, where Marie's uncle now gave her the affection she had never known from her own father.

Ferdinand, meanwhile, became concerned with elevating the Medici name and arranged the best possible marriage for his niece. The effort lasted 13 years. Some negotiations, involving absurd political maneuvering, led nowhere; others were stopped by Marie herself. Ferdinand did not force Marie to marry against her will. Many said that it was the extremely ambitious Leonora Galigaï who made Marie hold out for a king. When Marie was still a small girl, however, a nun had predicted that she would be queen of France, and the childhood companions now waited together for the fulfillment of the prophecy.

When negotiations began between the houses of Medici and Navarre, neither party was blind to the circumstances of the union. For Henry IV, the marriage would be a merger due to necessity, and for Marie, it promised a glorious opportunity. At age 27, she was tall and blonde with her father's broad forehead and direct gaze. From her Austrian mother, she had inherited the Habsburg chin and, some said, a meager intelligence. But her bearing was regal, and she had a radiant complexion and good health—important attributes for Henry IV, as she was untried from the standpoint of giving

birth, and his marriage to Margaret of Valois had recently been annulled because of her failure to provide an heir to the throne.

Henry's fertility had been proved many times over with illegitimate births, and the fact that he had recently proposed to two of his mistresses—Gabrielle d'Estrées and Henriette d'Entragues —was no secret. Had the court of France not been deeply in debt to the Medici family, the marriage to Marie would not even have been considered. As it was, when Henry IV had last borrowed money from the Medicis, 17 wagons had been required to transport the 100,000 crowns from Florence to Paris, with five companies of cavalry and 200 foot soldiers hired to guard the convoy. While Henry was frantically pleading with one mistress to buy back his written marriage proposal, his councilors were negotiating for an enormous dowry from the Medici.

Ferdinand, whose income equaled almost the entire revenue of France, drew up the final marriage terms. In the contract, signed on April 25, 1600, the grand duke agreed to give France 600,000 crowns, about half of which would come as a cash dowry with the bride, with the rest to be remitted from the king's debt. The wedding took place by proxy in the Duomo of Florence, since the groom was detained by war. For the first time in her life, Marie de Medici was the center of attention, at festivities that lasted for ten days. One who witnessed the extravagance was the artist Peter Paul Rubens, who worked for Marie's brother-in-law, the duke of Mantua.

She is desirous of honour, and vain-glorious through excess of courage.

—Henry IV

A small fleet debarked, carrying the queen, her jewels, and the dowry to France, and after 23 days of rough sailing landed safely in Marseilles. The Florentines were greeted with pomp, and another reception took place at Lyons, where the queen saw her new husband for the first time. After all the ceremonial build-up, this first encounter must have been a terrible disappointment for the bride. Henry IV was due on December 10, but arrived at Lyons the night before. Because the city gate was closed, he waited in the rain for an hour to be let in. Marie had already retired when he knocked at her door and presented himself, still in wet clothes, and began to cover her with caresses, saying that he hoped to spend the night there, as no bed had been prepared for him. Marie replied to the king that she was his humblest servant, although nothing in her severe upbringing could have prepared her for such informality. The next day, Marie and Henry were married in a second ceremony, and the word that reached the grand duke was that his niece, instead of showing joy, "did nothing but weep and lament."

A worse incident was in store to deeply wound the new bride soon after her arrival in Paris. At an official function, when Henriette d'Entragues was presented to the queen, Henry IV turned to explain, "Mademoiselle has been my mistress. She will be your most obedient servant." While the queen froze, the mistress bowed, and the king, usually known for his gallantry, suddenly placed a hand on Henriette's head, pushing her to her knees, and forcing her to kiss the hem of the queen's gown. Neither woman ever forgot the incident and less than a year later, when both gave birth to sons within days of each other, their relationship did not improve.

After the shock of introduction to her new life, Marie de Medici experienced a period of contentment. She submitted willingly to the health regimen Henry imposed, which involved a physic and bleeding at regular intervals as a preventive measure. She wrote letters crediting the French doctors with curing a stomach ailment she had endured for years, and declared that she had never felt better. Her first pregnancy was the easiest, and the birth of the dauphin, the future Louis XIII, filled the king with uncontrollable joy. Writers celebrated the queen as a lily among flowers, the public found her beautiful and gracious, and Marie wrote to her uncle that Henry treated her with honor and surrounded her with kindness upon every occasion.

Unaccustomed to consideration from her childhood, however, Marie did not know how to respond to it. Her contemporaries described her as distant, reserved and even cold, and Cardinal Richelieu wrote that she was grave and not very affectionate. With the exception of her third son, Gaston, she seemed indifferent to her children, who did not live with her at the Louvre, although she showed concern when they were sick and asked for reports of their behavior. Henry IV differed from her in that he adored all his children, made them call him Papa, and legitimized the offspring of his mistresses, insisting that five of them be raised with the five royal children. Marie vehemently opposed this coexistence, and young Louis resented the proximity of his half-siblings, playing with them and protecting them but allowing them no familiarities.

Entragues, Henriette d' (1579–1633)

Marquise de Verneuil . Name variations: Henriette d'Estraigues. Born Catherine Henriette de Balzac d'Entragues in 1579; died in 1633; daughter of Charles Balzac d'Entragues and Marie Touchet (who was the mistress of Charles IX); mistress of Henry IV, king of France.

Ambitious and somewhat conniving, Henriette d'Entragues was the mistress of Henry IV, king of France, and succeeded in inducing Henry to promise to marry her after the death of his other mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées , a promise which led to bitter scenes at court when shortly afterwards Henry married Marie de Medici . Henriette d'Entragues carried her spite so far as to be deeply compromised in a plot with Marshal Biron against the king in 1606. Though Biron was convicted of treason and conspiracy with Spain, Henriette escaped with only a slight punishment. In 1608, Henry returned her to favor. She seems then to have been involved in the Spanish intrigues which preceded the assassination of the king in 1610.

Marie was very strict with her oldest son, who proved to be as willful as his mother. On one occasion, when he refused to take medicine, six people were required to administer it. To curb his rebellious outbursts, Marie ordered him to be whipped regularly. Louis fought back, sometimes

punching his governess, and occasionally became so angered that he would faint. When attendants complained that the floggings threatened the boy's health, the queen relented to the extent of advising that the whip be used more cautiously. Henry warned his wife that there would be trouble ahead, because her son was as opinionated and obstinate as she was. Once, in fact, after the king's death, when the queen had ordered Louis flogged, he entered her room following the beating. As required by court etiquette, the queen rose in his presence, to which young Louis responded, "I would be better pleased with less obeissance and less whipping."

Marie's main concern with her three daughters was to provide them with advantageous marriages: Elizabeth Valois was married to Philip IV of Spain, Christine of France to Victor Amadeus I, duke of Savoy, and Henrietta Maria to the ill-fated Charles I of England, who would later be executed by order of Parliament.

At the French court, the queen never felt completely secure, in part because Henry IV's life was constantly threatened. Raised a Protestant Huguenot and a convert to Catholicism, the king believed in religious tolerance and tried to maintain a balance between the two factions, but remained hated by extremists on both sides. Plots against his person were constantly brewing. Because the marriage proposal written to Henriette d'Entragues in Henry's hand had never been retrieved, Marie also feared a threat to the royal succession, and became obsessed with the necessity of a formal coronation. The opportunity came in 1610, when Henry IV was about to engage in a military campaign, requiring that he leave the capital. During his absence, Marie would be designated to act as regent, but prior to his departure she sought to secure her position more firmly through a sanctified ceremony. Henry agreed, but reluctantly, feeling that the event might bring him bad luck.

The coronation took place on May 13, 1610. The following day, Henry IV seemed filled with foreboding, and before leaving the palace he repeatedly kissed the queen goodbye, asking her several times if he should go. He was on his way, and passing through a narrow street, when a religious fanatic who felt that Henry had been too lenient toward the Protestants stepped out and stabbed him.

The news of the king's death was kept secret until his body could be brought back to the Louvre. Marie heard a great noise in the royal chamber, rushed in, and found her husband's body laid out on his bed. Within hours of the tragedy, the Parlement had met to declare her regent of the new king of France, her nine-year-old son LouisXIII. Some said that she had awaited this moment all her life, and that the meters of black crepe she wore enhanced her radiant look. Others described her as genuinely devastated when she addressed the Parlement with the little king beside her.

Marie de Medici, who had always seemed bored when she attended sessions of the Parlement with Henry, now participated willingly. Given genuine responsibility, she proved reasonable at making decisions and continuing Henry's policies, even when they were contrary to her own convictions. At the time of his death, for instance, the war he had undertaken favored the Protestant cause against Catholic interests with which she aligned herself. Nevertheless, she sent a large army to Julich, a Protestant dukedom seized by the Habsburgs, and after a siege of one month, the Austrian imperial garrison capitulated. The French, in league with the Protestant Dutch, English, and German forces, had thus regained territory taken by a Catholic power, thereby antagonizing the pope and Spain—a politically dangerous position for a Catholic queen to be in. It was to appease the Catholic elements at this time that she negotiated a double marriage between her son Louis XIII and Anne of Austria (1601–1666), and between her daughter Elizabeth Valois and the future Philip IV of Spain. At the very beginning of her regency, the queen whom many had thought to be dull-witted thus accomplished a remarkable coup.

Had she been more insightful, however, she might have recognized that her childhood companion, Leonora Galigaï, who had accompanied her to the French court, and Leonora's husband, Concino Concini, were now vying to become the virtual rulers of France. From the time she set foot on French soil, Leonora Galigaï's main concern had been to elevate her own position. Concini was a Florentine adventurer who had come to France to avoid being expelled from Tuscany, and in their marriage, combining greed, ambition, deviousness and lack of scruples, the couple formed a deadly team. Henry IV had seen the threat well enough to try to banish them, but Marie had stubbornly continued to support them and to lavish money and offices on them.

By 1614, the Concinis had enough influence to be held responsible for depleting the treasury, and several powerful dukes, accusing the queen of squandering money, demanded a session of the Estates General, which had not taken place in 60 years.

The three estates represented at the gathering were the clergy, the nobility, and the commons. The king, now aged 13, attended with his mother. Richelieu was a new delegate from the clergy, and when the queen's power was challenged, he defended her eloquently, thereby saving the regency. Had the queen chosen at this point to distance herself from the Concinis, she might have retained her position. Instead, she outraged the court by allowing Concini to become a marechal de France, a move that would lead to his assassination and the loss of her own power.

The murder was initiated by the king's falconer, Charles d'Albert de Luynes, a courtly and witty man in his 30s. Luynes filled Louis' need for affection and fun, and the two had developed a strong attachment, riding horses together, hunting and training hawks. When Louis XIII ordered the arrest of Concini, a group of conspirators took it upon themselves to kill him instead, and on the morning of April 24, 1617, while Concini was on his way to the Louvre, he was stopped by three bullets fired by men with loaded pistols concealed under their cloaks. Leonora Galigaï was dragged off to the Bastille, and Richelieu passed a frenzied Paris mob as it was hacking the body of Concini to pieces on the Pont Neuf. In a trumped-up trial, Leonora was convicted of witchcraft and executed at the guillotine, while Louis XIII kept his mother confined in the castle of Blois. At age 16, he had, due to his mother, been married for two years to Anne of Austria, whom he disliked.

After two years under house arrest, Marie de Medici and her supporters choreographed a bizarre escape. At midnight, in February, the 46-year-old queen, by then a corpulent mother of six, climbed down a rope ladder carrying only her jewel case. Two men assisted her descent from her bedroom window (one account describes it as 25 feet, another as 120 feet above ground). One man held her around the middle while the other guided her feet, which were bare to assure a better grip. Upon reaching a sloping rampart, she lost her nerve and refused to proceed to a second ladder, and the conspirators had to use ropes and a cloak to assemble a makeshift hammock to lower her the rest of the way.

Through adroit negotiations, Richelieu eventually brought about a reconciliation between mother and son, and Marie returned to Paris undaunted. Instead of playing the role of a subdued and repentant mother, she undertook a monumental project of self-aggrandizement through art. What she had not achieved on a political scale, she now intended to create by ushering in a golden age of baroque extravagance. Throughout her reign, she had patronized the visual arts as well as music, the theater, and architecture. In 1622, she invited Rubens to the French court and embarked on a tremendous project, commissioning 24 huge allegorical paintings to commemorate "the illustrious life and heroic deeds" of her reign. The purpose of the work was to make the queen look sublime, even if history had to be rearranged, and she insisted on having final approval. Because of its propagandistic nature, the work is not considered Rubens' best, but it is fascinating to see how he turned her pathetic escape from Blois into a glorious event. When Louis XIII visited the Luxembourg Palace to see the new works, Rubens became the queen's accomplice in giving her son convoluted explanations of the paintings, so that he had no idea of their real significance.

After the death of his falconer Luynes, Louis began to rely on Richelieu, who was now prime minister. On November 11, 1630, a stormy scene between Marie, Louis, and Richelieu resulted in the king's siding with his minister to exclude the queen from affairs of state. Banished a second time, she escaped, this time on horseback, at age 58, and sought refuge in the Spanish Netherlands.

Alienated from her children and subjects, the spirited exile was not even informed officially of the birth of the future Louis XIV, born to his parents after 23 years of childless marriage. Marie de Medici, princess of Tuscany and queen of France, died in poverty, at age 67, in Cologne, in a house placed at her disposal by Rubens. Ironically, she left her last possession, a pet parrot, to Richelieu, the man whose assassination she had been planning during the last years of her life.


Battifol, Louis. Marie de Medicis and the French Court. 1908. Translated by Mary King. Edited by H.W. Carless Davis. NY: Books for Library Press, 1970.

Hibbert, Christopher. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall. NY: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1980.

Millen, Ronald F., and Robert E. Wolf. Heroic Deeds and Mystic Figures: A New Reading of Rubens' Life of Maria De' Medici. NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

O'Connell, D.P. Richelieu. Cleveland: World, 1968.

Pearson, Hesketh. Henry of Navarre: The King Who Dared. NY: Harper and Row, 1963.

Saward, Susan. The Golden Age of Marie de' Medici. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1982.

Tapie, Victor Lucien. France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu. Translated and edited by D. McN. Lockie. NY: Praeger, 1975.

suggested reading:

Hibbert, Christopher. The Pen and the Sword. Vol. 6 of the "Milestones of History" series. NY: Newsweek Books, 1974.

Claire Hsu Accomando , author of Love and Rutabaga: A Remembrance of the War Years, Bonita, California

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Medici, Marie de (c. 1573–1642)

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