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Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France Paperback – March 14, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 2.12.2006 edition (March 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060744936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060744939
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1533, 14-year-old Catherine de Medici arrived in France to marry the future king Henri II; over the next 16 years, she endured the dominance of Henri's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the disdain of courtiers for her family's merchant background. The sudden death of Henri launched Catherine into three decades as regent and chief adviser to three sons who ruled in succession. Frieda navigates the twists and turns of the French royal court and family with particular attention to the formation of Catherine's political skills. From her lonely childhood as a tool in the diplomacy of her powerful uncles to her carefully cultivated relationship with her father-in-law and maneuvering through shifting family alliances, the queen learned self-possession, deception and strategy. While Catherine has been maligned for her role in France's wars of religion and in particular the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Frieda argues that Catherine attempted to reach compromise in the religious strife of her adopted country. While trying to flesh out Catherine, Frieda occasionally paints others with a too-broad brush. At times, her descriptions of Catherine's actions as emotionally or politically motivated seem arbitrary. But Frieda's portrait of Catherine is multifaceted, and her presentation of the complicated narrative of five tumultuous reigns is compelling.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The sixteenth century was an exceptionally dramatic period in European history. A series of colorful kings and queens performed as power players, rendering those decades not only a bloody battleground but also an exciting pageant of dynastic intrigue. One of the most (in)famous royal players of the time was Queen Catherine de Medici of France, the Italian-born consort of the exciting and effective Henry II and the power behind the throne for her three weak king sons. The author of this revealing biography achieves remarkable balance as she freshly interprets Catherine, whose hands have usually seemed to historians to be forever stained by the religious wars that sent France into frenzies during her watch. Frieda, resisting the easy picture of Catherine--one of despicable complicity in those horrors--puts Catherine's involvement in the episodes into context; what emerges is a woman of "intelligence, courage and indefatigable spirit who did her best for her beloved if adopted country." Not a whitewash but a carefully nuanced portrait. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Leonie Frieda is the author of Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, which was a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic and was translated into eight languages. She lives in London.

Customer Reviews

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The book is extremely well written.
Tim McM
Some minor annoyances, including dates written day-month-year and the occasional untranslated French phrase didn't help either.
K. Wilkins
If you are interested in learning about Catherine de Medici, buy this.
Joe Hill

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Jorge I. Villanueva on June 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
When i picked up this book my expectations were not that high but from the moment i started reading i was captivated by the authors way of telling the story.The author does a very good job in describing Catherine and her struggles from an early childhood until she became the Queen of France. The author's style is flawless and goes straight to the point in describing all the plots and treaties that happened in that time and their importance towards Italy,France and Spain.This is a great book that not only highlights Catherine struggles to keep the dinasty afloat but also because she makes us undestand all the main characters and their problems.Excellent work!!
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By pyramidcvv on December 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I highly recommend this book to people who want to know more about the Medici family and its illustrious member who became the Queen of France.

Catherine de Medici had 10 children: three became French kings, one became Queen of Spain (as wife of Philip II). Her youngest son was a serious candidate to wed England's Queen Elizabeth.

The Queen Mother was a lavish spender who insisted on mounting extravagant "magnificences" in total disregard for France's precarious financial state. She would even impose taxes on the ever-suffering populace to finance her exercises of excess. She formed her own company of scantily clad dancing girls ("the flying squadron") which proved quite popular.

Catherine was not a hardcore religious type (like Spain's Philip II) but attended Mass regularly. She was not threatened by the rise of Protestantism and sought to meet their demands by peaceful means. She was superstitious: when a seer predicted the death of her husband King Henry II at a tournament, she begged him not to compete (he did anyway and was killed in an accident).

She presided over eight Wars of Religion: civil wars between Protestants fighting for their right to worship freely, and Catholics trying to keep the country from splitting apart. The author discusses Catherine's many diplomatic efforts to resolve the difficulties peacefully. But treacherous behavior among hardcore Huguenots eventually hardened her attitude, culminating in the disastrous Massacre of St Bartholomew of 1572, which killed as many as 30,000 men, women, and children all over France.

Catherine loved architecture, ate heartily (she was fat), and was an enthusiastic horseback rider. She adored her husband Henry II even though he preferred to spend his time with a mistress.
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75 of 93 people found the following review helpful By John W. Chuckman on February 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is an interesting failure. It is well worth reading and contains many interesting passages, but Ms. Frieda fails in her stated aim of creating a more sympathetic understanding of Catherine de Medici and the difficulties under which she labored.

Catherine is widely seen as a talented, scheming and ruthless power-behind-the-throne figure, doing almost anything to promote and protect her children which included two Kings of France. Catherine's era overlaps that of a truly great queen, England's Elizabeth I, so her story includes figures such as Mary Queen of Scots and Philip II of Spain and includes the great waves of violence that crashed across Europe following the Reformation. You just can't come up with better historical material.

Ms. Frieda does a creditable job of telling her story, at times rising to gripping narrative as when she describes events around the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, an orgy of killing in which something on the order of ten to twenty thousand Huguenots were slaughtered, many having their throats cut in their beds.

Ms. Frieda's explanation of Catherine's role in the Massacre is that she only wanted to have a small group of leaders killed while conveniently gathered for the wedding of Henri of Navarre, a Protestant of Valois blood, and Catherine's daughter, Margot. Ms. Frieda's thesis is that what was to be a small "surgical operation" got completely out of hand with Paris mobs taking to killing anyone even suspected of being a Protestant, as though killing a group of guests at a royal wedding, had it gone no further, would have been just fine.

Ms. Frieda is not the first to put the thesis forward, but it fails utterly to soften our view of Catherine.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Crowley on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
Catherine de Medici has been called many things over the centuries: Madame La Serpente, The Black Queen, The Maggot from Italy's Tomb, but one thing she hasn't been called is boring. Leonie Frieda has crafted an engrossing biography of a much maligned Queen. Catherine de Medici came to France at the age of fourteen to marry Henri, Duke of Orleans, later known as King Henri II. She was not a princess, in fact she not of royal blood at all. Instead, Catherine was the daughter of wealthy Italian merchants. Her father was Lorenzo II de Medici and her mother was named Madeleine de la Tour d' Auvergne. Shortly after her birth, Catherine lost both her parents and became a pawn (and prisoner) of her powerful Medici relatives.

Frieda's biography is intended to provide a sympathetic and diverse view of a woman that history has branded a poisoner and murderer. Far from straying from Catherine flaws, the author openly discusses the events that helped cast the Italian-French Queen as a villain. To better understand Catherine's later disasterous actions, one has to follow Catherine's history from her tragic childhood to her fortunate but unfulfilling (to Henri anyway) marriage to Henri II. The author does a superb job at identifying the key events that helped form this courageous and powerhouse Queen.

The gist of the author's argument is that Catherine's greatest fault was loving her children to the extreme. She writes "No mother has done more to promote her children at whatever cost to herself, themselves, and their times." Even before conceiving a child, Catherine was going to the extreme for her unborn children. Barren for a decade, Catherine subjected herself to dangerous and bizarre treatments to increase fertility.
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