Difference between revisions of "Catherine de 'Medici"

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{{Infobox Siefar
{{Infobox Siefar
| image =  
| image = image:Catherinedemedicis-cesr.jpg
| fr = Catherine de Médicis
| fr = Catherine de Médicis
| title(s )= Queen of France<br/>Regent of France
| title(s )= Queen of France<br/>Regent of France

Latest revision as of 18:12, 14 May 2012

Catherine de 'Medici
Spouses Henri II, King of France
Birth date 1519
Death 1589
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
Dictionnaire Marguerite Buffet
Dictionnaire Fortunée Briquet
Dictionnaire Hilarion de Coste

Entry by Robert J. Knecht, 2003

Catherine de' Medici, who was born in Florence on 13 April 1519 and died in Blois on 5 January 1589, was the daughter of Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, countess of Boulogne, and of Lorenzo de' Medici, the nephew of Pope Leo X. Little is known about her education. Both of her parents having died soon after her birth, she was successively incarcerated in the convents of Santa Lucia and of the Murate. In 1530, three years after the expulsion of the Medici from Florence, she moved to Rome under the protection of her uncle, Pope Clement VII. In 1532 he arranged her marriage with Henri, duke of Orleans, the second son of Francois I, whom she wed in Marseille in October 1533. Catherine rapidly adjusted to living at the French court and was on good terms with her father-in-law who defended her against her critics (her marriage was seen by some as a misalliance and she was barren for ten years). However, she became dauphine in 1536 following the death of the king's eldest son, then queen in 1547 when François I died and was succeeded by her husband, Henri II. She long had to endure his infidelities with Diane de Poitiers, but as from 1544 she gave birth to ten children, seven of whom survived: François (II), Elisabeth (of Spain) Claude (of Lorraine), Charles (IX), Henri (III), Marguerite (of Valois) and François (of Anjou and of Alençon). The death of Henri II (10.7.59) prompted the banishment from court of Diane de Poitiers and the accession of François II, who, aged only fifteen, entrusted the government to the uncles of his wife Mary Stuart (François, duke of Guise and Charles, cardinal of Lorraine), whose financial policy and religious intransigence in the face of the rise of Calvinism provoked a strong resistance.
The death of François II (5.12.60) allowed Catherine to seize power, for Charles IX was only ten years old. With the help of her chancellor, Michel de L'Hôpital, the regent tried to get the rival churches to co-exist, yet was unable to prevent three wars (1561, 1567, 1568) which were played out against a background of change on the European chess-board (anti-Spanish revolts in the Low Countries; restoration of Anglicanism in England by Elizabeth I). Abandoning her understanding with Spain, Catherine brought Admiral Coligny into the government and entered into talks with Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre, with a view to marrying their children, Marguerite and Henri (the future Henri IV). The wedding (18.8.72) drew to Paris a crowd of nobles of the rival camps. A failed assassination attempt against Coligny was the prelude to the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day (24.8). Catherine was accused by the Huguenots of having planned their destruction, but her role in that affair, however suspect, has never been elucidated. In May 1573 she managed to get her third son, Henri, elected to the throne of Poland, but Charles IX died on 30 May 1574. Pending Henri's return from Poland, Catherine resumed the regency after foiling several attempted coups d'état. Henri III's reign was troubled by wars between the Huguenots and the Holy League, a movement of Catholic extremists largely controlled by the Guises and exacerbated by a crisis over the royal succession which began in 1584 (Catherine's youngest son died without heir, Henri III remained childless, and the Protestant leader, Henri of Navarre, became heir presumptive to the throne). Catherine tried to assist her son by using her diplomatic skills, but late in 1588 she failed to prevent him from instigating the assassination of Henri of Guise and his brother, Louis. After many years of poor health, a few weeks later she died in Blois.
During her reign Catherine was a notable patron of the arts. She built several country houses and palaces (Saint-Maur-les-Fossés, Chenonceau, the Hôtel de la Reine and the Tuileries in Paris) and organized remarkable court festivities. Bitterly attacked by xenophobes, by critics of women in power, by Protestants (who saw her as a butcher), by Catholic zealots (who found her too slack), the mother of the last Valois king, from her own lifetime onwards, has been the object of a black legend which has lasted into the twenty-first century. Despite the efforts of a few historians to clear her name, to ascribe to the Guises the prime responsibility for the massacre of St.Bartholomew's Day and to emphasize the originality of her policy of religious toleration, many continue to regard her as the "Italian" with "bloodstained hands".


- Lettres de Catherine de Médicis. éd. Hector de la Ferrière et Baguenault de Puchesse, 10 vol., Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1880-1909.

Selected bibliography

- Cloulas, Ivan. Catherine de Médicis. Paris, Fayard, 1979.
- Garrisson, Janine. Catherine de Médicis. L'impossible harmonie. Paris, Payot, 2002.
- Knecht,Robert J. Catherine de' Medici. Londres, Longman, 1998. Traduction française sous le titre de Catherine de Médicis. Pouvoir royal, amour maternel. Bruxelles, Le Cri, 2003.
- Marièjol, Jean-H. Catherine de Médicis (1519-1589). Paris, Hachette, 1920.
- Sutherland,Nicola M. Catherine de' Medici and the Ancien Régime. Londres, Historical Association, 1966.

Selected bibliography of images

- Anonyme. Portrait en grand de Catherine de Médicis jeune. Musée des Offices, Florence.
- Anonyme. Portrait de Catherine (figurant dans une des tapisseries des Valois). Musée des Offices, Florence.
- Clouet,François. Catherine de Médicis (miniature). Victoria and Albert Museum, Londres.
- Clouet, François. Catherine de Médicis, reine mère du roi (crayon pierre noire et sanguine). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des estampes (No. 22 rés. Boîte 4 No. 8).
- Tombeau de Henri II et de Catherine de Médicis: en prière et gisant. Basilique de Saint-Denis.


- "Vous voyez comme le pays de sa naissance, sa race, les actions de ses plus proches nous doivent faire attendre de terribles choses d'elle" (Discours merveilleux de la vie, actions et déportements de Catherine de Médicis, Royne-mère [1575], éd. Nicole Cazauran et al., Genève, Droz, 1995, p.140).
- "Que si sa fortune fut grande, aussi fut cette Dame douée de plusieurs louables parties; d'autant qu'elle estoit debonnaire, accessible, liberale le possible; Dame qui ne s'avoit que c'estoit d'offenser personne en son particulier, & moins de s'offenser d'autruy" (Etienne Pasquier [1589], in D. Thickett (éd.), Lettres Historiques pour les années 1556-1594, Genève, Droz, 1966, p.388).
- "Nos historiens ont été si honnêtes, tranchons le mot, si innocents, que tous ont pris au sérieux Catherine de Médicis. Pas un n'a sondé ce néant. Ravalée et domptée, avilie dès l'enfance, brisée du mépris d'Henri II, servante de Diane, naguère encore gardée, terrorisée par la petite reine d'écosse, elle eut enfin l'entracte de la première année de Charles IX où elle posa comme régente [...] Guise fut très poli, lui laissa l'extérieur, l'appareil de la royauté: paraître, pour elle, était plus qu'être, dans le vide absolu qu'une si grande pourriture avait fait en dedans. Elle prit patiemment le rôle de théâtre qu'on lui faisait, de reine pacificatrice qui, aux entrevues solennelles, trénait avec sa jolie cour, entre les amours et les grâces. Ce qui, en bonne langue du temps, veut dire dame d'un mauvais lieu, et maquerelle au profit de Guise" (Jules Michelet, Histoire de France au XVIe siècle [1855], Paris, Bouquins, 1982, p.543).
- "La raison d'Etat l'a ainsi entraînée à recourir au meurtre quand elle s'est trouvée à bout d'arguments pour détruire l'influence de Coligny qu'elle jugeait néfaste. De tels gestes sont cependant l'exception. La plupart du temps, alors que les Français s'entre-déchiraient férocement, elle a cherché à imposer des solutions de convivialité aussi satisfaisantes que possible" (Ivan Cloulas, Catherine de Médicis, voir supra, p.612).
- "Elle est femme, elle est étrangère, elle est épouse délaissée, elle est au-devant de la scène politique durant la période la plus noire de notre histoire. La mauvaise conscience collective ne pouvait trouver meilleur bouc émissaire..." (Janine Garrisson, Catherine de Médicis..., voir supra, p.158).

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