Catherine de Medici, Queen of France

Catherine de Medici (1519 to 1589)

Born to wealthy parents, Caterina de’ Medici (1519 to 1589) was orphaned within the first month of life. Although her father was of common origins, her mother was from an ancient French noble family, so a number of European royal families were interested in arranging a marriage with her, and the decision was up to Pope Clement VII, Giulio de’ Medici. Although James V of Scotland thought he was successful in arranging for her hand, Clement jumped at an offer from Francis I of France for his second son, Henry. Henry took little interest in Catherine, openly associating with mistresses, and even publicly acknowledging their offspring. Five years into the marriage, at the age of 19, Henry took 38-year-old Diane de Poitiers as his mistress. She would remain with him for the remainder of his life.

With the accidental death of Francis I, Henry became King of France as Henry II, with Catherine as his consort, the couple still childless. Henry’s older brother, Francis, died a few years earlier at the age of 18, leaving the second son as heir to the throne. But it increased pressure for Catherine to bear an heir for Henry, who would spend months away from his consort, preferring his mistresses. After some desperate moves, Catherine did eventually become pregnant, and went on to have 10 children, of whom seven survived infancy.

Henry did not allow Catherine to be involved in government, or even live near the seat of power (Diane was resident there). When Henry died in 1559, her oldest son, Francis, was only 15. He only reigned for 18 months, succeeded by Charles IX, then only 10. Catherine needed to learn how to handle the governing of the state for her young sons. Charles was succeeded by Henry III.

Catherine made mistakes, particularly regarding the Huguenots and other religious conflicts. However, the years in which her sons reigned have been called the “Age of Catherine de Medici” for the incredible influence she wielded.

Information courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc.

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