Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Biography - Cunning Catherine de' Medici 1519-89, Queen of France 1547-59

1550s Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59) after Clouet

Catherine was the daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, duke of Urbino, & Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, a Bourbon princess of the French nobility. Orphaned within days of her birth, the infant Catherine was highly educated as she matured, trained by nuns in Florence & Rome. When she was just 14, she was married in 1533, by her uncle, Pope Clement VII, to Henry, duc d’Orléans, who would inherit the French crown from his father, Francis I, in April 1547.

1550s Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59) by Corneille de Lyon studio

During the years before the death of her husband's father, the French court came to know the artistic, energetic, & extraverted, as well as discreet, courageous, & gay, Catherine. She easily fit into the dazzling court of Francis I, from whom she learned her political attitudes & her passion for building. Of the chateaus she designed herself—including the Tuileries—Chenonceaux was her unfinished masterpiece.

1530-35 Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59) attributed to Francois Clouet

Despite her husband Henry’s abiding attachment to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, Catherine’s marriage was not unsuccessful. 

Henri II and Catherine de' Medici surrounded by members of their families, by François Clouet (c. 1510 – 1572)

Although she delivered no children during the first anxious 10 years of their union, eventually she did have 10 children, of whom 4 boys & 3 girls survived. She supervised their education.

1555 Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59) possibly by Agnolo Bronzino

Deeply involved with her children, Catherine lived privately, though she was appointed regent in 1552, during Henry’s absence at the siege of Metz. Her ability & eloquence were acclaimed after the Spanish victory of Saint-Quentin in Picardy in 1557, a battle which possibly was the origin of her perpetual fear of Spain.

1550s Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59) by Tito di Santi

Catherine’s 1st political crisis came in July 1559, upon the accidental death of Henry II.  Her son, Francis II, gained the throne, but political & financial power was retained by the Guise brothers.

Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59) by François Clouet 1555

Catherine’s next political crisis came with the premature death on Dec. 5, 1560, of Francis II, whose royal authority the Guises had already completely monopolized. Catherine succeeded in obtaining the regency for Charles IX, with Antoine de Bourbon, king of Navarre, as lieutenant general, during the civil wars.

Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59) by François Clouet 1560

Upon the death of Charles IX in 1574, she briefly assumed the regency with the support of the Parliament, until the return from Poland of Henry III a few months later.  Catherine did not retain the regency, but she continued to use court intrigues & affairs to sway the politics of France.  Catherine formed the notorious Flying Squadron (Escadron Volant), a group of beautiful female spies & informants, recruited to seduce powerful men of the French Court to extract information & manipulate them; so that the Queen Mother could retain her political power.

1565 Francois Clouet Catherine de' Medici (1519-89), Queen of France (1547-59)

Catherine was the mother of the last 3 Valois kings of France.  She was a major force in French politics during the 30 years of Roman Catholic-Huguenot wars & was an instigator of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.