Friday, December 3, 2010

Review: Catherine de Medici by Leonie Frieda

Dewey No 923.144
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003

Orphaned in infancy, imprisoned in childhood, heiress to an ancient name and vast fortune, Catherine de Medici grew up to become one of the most important figures in European history. Three of her sons became kings of France, including the eldest who married Mary, Queen of Scots. It is a story of incest, vicious religious wars, assassination, poison, the occult and in Catherine's own words.........

'passion, hatred and vengeance'.

The opening paragraph of the prologue is an example of how easy to read Leonie Frieda's narrative is .......
" On the late afternoon of Friday, 30 June 1559 a long splinter of wood from a jousting lance pierced the eye and brain of King Henri II of France. The poisonous wound bloated his face, slowly robbing him of sight, speech and reason, and after ten days of suffering he died...."
......and is the moment that would change Catherine's life from that of a Queen Consort living in the shadow of her husband's long-time mistress Diane de Poitiers, to Regent of France. Her eldest son died soon after his father leaving a 10-year-old as king and Catherine at the helm of a country torn apart by civil and religious conflicts.
While one can't overlook the part she played in the of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre it's not so well known that from the beginning of her regency she attempted to implement a policy of religious toleration but was unable to reconcile the fanaticism of both Catholics and Protestants. The mere fact of her being a hated Italian gave both sides a target and a scapegoat .

Catherine's achilles heel would prove to be her children. Everything she did was for them and to keep the throne of France securely in Valois hands. Unfortunately they were rather a pathetic brood.......unhealthy and constantly at each other's throats , their behaviour and sexual deviancy alienated the court and did little to gain popular support . Catherine would see three sons become king before she died .......her death spared her from the murder of her favourite son, Henri III and the knowledge that the Valois dynasty was no more.

It took me a while to read this book because it is so much more than a biography . Leonie Frieda provides a fascinating and detailed account of a complex time and to understand these events and sort out the participants takes slow reading at times. I enjoyed it very much and would recommend to anyone wanting a balanced and well researched study of this remarkable and much-maligned woman.

Includes illustrations, maps, family trees, a list of principal characters, authors note , source notes, bibliography and index.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked this one as well - and you're right about it being easy to read.