A lady of the court, a woman of power, a manipulative queen –all this and more. Read the story of the famous Queen consort of France: Catherine de Medici, "The Devil's Queen."
By Jel Evon Pacheco
Would you like your history insights to appear in our website? Click here and send a 400 word article for the chance to be featured in CulturaColectiva+!
Catherine de Medici was born on April 13th, 1519 to Lorenzo II de Medici, Duke of Urbino, and French noblewoman Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne in Florence, Italy. She ascended to power by marrying the Duke of Orleans, who later became King Henri II of France. But what made this noblewoman, heiress of one of the most famous royal houses of Europe to be later called "the devil’s queen"? Here are three incidents that may have tainted her name and posthumous fame.
Murder by Poisoning
The Chateau de Blois, with all its 564 rooms and home to generation after generation of French monarchy, was the seat of power for Catherine de Medici, where she kept her array of cabinets filled with poisons and deadly toxins. Historians have described one of the rooms as her private apothecary complete with a cabinet of horrors.
Anyone who she took a dislike to, or who threatened her and her family’s legacy, or simply common people who did not seem to like her ambition, death by poisoning seemed the way to go. There were numerous rumors and speculation surrounding her activities as a poisoner, but there is one incident that stands out and that tied her name with poison. This incident would be known later as "Murder with Poisoned Gloves."
Jeanne d’Albret, mother to the heir of the kingdom of Navarre, Henry of Bourbon, was the victim of this incident. For the longest time, Catherine de Medici had been trying to moderate the religious wars happening under the reign of her sons; one of her attempts was to marry off her daughter -Marguerite de Valois- to the heir of Navarre.
She invited Henry of Bourbon and his mother, Jeanne d’Albret, into her home. At the time, wearing gloves was considered a symbol of prestige, and gifting them was a universal token of affection among the upper classes. Therefore, it was perfectly normal for the queen of France to give the mother of her future son-in-law a pair of perfumed gloves. Soon after, however, a perfectly healthy 43-year-old (or maybe not, since historians have since discovered evidence that she had tuberculosis) Jeanne d’Albret passed away. Catherine had already amassed a bad reputation for the strange tendency her enemies had to fall ill and die, and for centuries after that, Mme. d'Albret was believed to have died poisoned by perfumed gloves.
Queen vs. Whore
We all know that, back in the day, kings and other powerful men kept their own personal mistresses. Sometimes these were women who chose to keep the king company, and other times the king just took anyone he fancied for the night. King Henry II was no different, and Catherine de Medici had to share her husband with someone else.
Diane de Poitiers, 19 years older than King Henry II, went down in history as one of the King's most beloved mistresses. When King Henry was on his deathbed after a terrible jousting accident, he pleaded to his wife, Queen Catherine, to call for Diane de Poitiers to be by his side as his time was about to come. Queen Catherine, sensing an opportunity to avenge all the perceived humiliation suffered through the years because of her husband's mistress, refused his last wish. Not happy with denying a dying man his deathbed wish, she also had Diane banished from the kingdom and stripped of her jewels and her famous Chateau de Chenonceau, which she kept for herself as a matter of personal pride. She never hid the hatred she felt towards Diane and never regretted her actions.
St. Bartholomew’s Massacre Day
For years, France had been in the midst of several religious wars between Catholic extremists and Huguenots, who were at each other's throats for territory and riches. Catherine's second son, Charles IX was the ruler of France at the time, but he was of weak temperament and always hid behind his ruthless mother's skirt. The execution order that resulted in the infamous episode that history knows as St. Bartholomew's Massacre may have come from Charles, but it was Catherine who sanctioned it.
At dawn on August 24, 1572, a tragic day began for the protestants of France. When the ring of the bell of Saint Germain's Church echoed through the city, the slaughter of Huguenots began. Among the victims there was a famous protestant leader, Gaspard II de Coligny, whose death was ordered by Henry himself. All across France, protestants were murdered in a tragic event, which in turn led to an even bigger massacre that ended with at least 70 thousand dead. All because Catherine de Medici was keen on keeping the crown on her son's head.
All these events, tied to the figure of the Italian Queen consort of France, Catherine de Medici, would later feed the legend surrounding the figure of this female ruler.
Some of the stories were later embellished by her enemies and some others we will never know, but there is no doubt that Catherine de Medici was one of the most powerful, cunning, ruthless, and feared queens of the 16th century, with the well-earned nickname of "The Devil’s Queen."
Become part of our international team of collaborators! Click on this link and send a 400-word article for the chance to be read by our millions of followers.
For more articles like this, click here:
The King That Loved His Mistress So Much That He Made Her Queen After She'd Died
Ivan the Terrible: How A Broken Heart Led A King To Madness And Psychosis
5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Become A Better Writer