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The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King Hardcover – August 31, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One scene sums up a major shortcoming of this otherwise impressive account of the life and times of King Henri II of France: Henri's queen, Catherine de' Medici is peering through a hole in the floor of her palace bedroom to watch her husband make love to his mistress, and Princess Michael writes, "A knife must have pierced fat little Catherine's heart." This is one of dozens of often cruel references to the physical attributes of Catherine and others at court. Fortunately, the author devotes more energy to creating a compelling image of Henri's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, 18 years his senior, who emerges as a fascinating character. Princess Michael is descended from both Diane and Catherine, but her sympathies appear to lie with Diane. Catherine is generally described as jealous, scheming and vindictive, while Diane is beautiful and well bred. Yet, as Princess Michael shows, Catherine was a quiet, dutiful wife who endured the indignity of his infidelity. Still, the author's comprehensive research ensures that readers will get a solid picture of the three main players and the complex negotiations required by life at court. 70 b&w and 16 pages color illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Hannah Pakula, author of "The Last Romantic" and "An Uncommon Woman"Catherine de' Medici and Diane de Poitiers -- the unattractive wife and the beautiful mistress of King Henri II of France -- were both ancestors of the author, H.R.H. Princess Michael of Kent, who has constructed a brightly colored, ever moving kaleidoscope of love, pomp, and politics in the fascinating courts of the Renaissance and Reformation.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (August 31, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743251040
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743251044
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #902,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Having had a long interest in the life of Catherine de Medici, I was looking forward to a new perspective in this book.

I was appalled--it is chock full of historical detail that make it a very entertaining read. But that entertainment is like reading Cosmopolitan magazine: Princess Michael of Kent has done a commendable job of her research and detail, but the blatant bias in favor of Diane de Poitiers, and the contempt for Catherine de Medici make the book, to put it plainly, rather creepy. And as objective history, it is mud.

Princess Michael makes no secret of her bias, as she refers to Diane in the introduction as her 'heroine.' Everything Diane does is applauded, and held up as graceful, ladylike, classy, mature, selfless, motherly, etc--the adjectives go on and on, becoming increasingly less plausible. Catherine is referred to in such catty terms that it sounds like the book was written by a nasty high-school girl. Catherine is ridiculed for her physical lack of charms, but also for being two-faced, a liar, duplicitous, etc. But when Diane does the same things, she is excused as being 'a woman of her time.'

Princess Michael doesn't trouble herself with historical fact: Diane de Poitiers was a major figure in French Renaissance history, but her avariciousness, greed and manipulation of Henri II are glossed over in this book. Catherine de Medici ruled France as regent for 3 of her sons, and managed to survive and secure the throne in a dangerous and ruthless age by being a highly skillful monarch. She was no more or less ruthless than any other successful ruler of that age, but Princess Michael portrays her as alternately sneaky and petty.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book because the author's noble title interested me. Normally I would stay away from a history book not written by an accredited historian, but the fact that she is royalty swayed that a bit as it gave hope that perhaps her insight into a world that only a few belong would be valuable.

At times this was true, perhaps, and there was some insight. But for the most part it was common knowledge that she reiterated, not really shedding any new light at all. Additionally, as other reviewers had stated, it seems that she really does not like Medici. Strange to take such a strong point of view when writing about history. History should be neutral, not judgemental. A point in her favor is that there probably was hate in Medici, but would this be any different than any other wife of the nobility who was affronted by a concubine and her husbund? No, there wouldn't be, so why put so much emphasis on Catherine?

As well, she focused way too much on the fashion of the time and what each woman was wearing. Certainly this should be included, perhaps as a side note, but not in every single chapter, sometimes going on for pages. Not to mention the fact that she repeated her description of the fashion and fabrics worn over and over again. This should be a history of the relationship of Henri II, Catherine and Diane (as the underlying stated premise of the book , not a rehashing of what they wore on a daily basis).

All in all, if you have free time and can't find a better history book to read, then give it a go. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a royal dud. Unbearably tedious accumulation of detail and a vicious treatment of Catherine de Medici mark this as an unworthy book of history. It's a surprising disappointment in that Princess Michael of Kent has generally seemed one of the more intellectually solid members of the British royal family. The pages are laden with imperial minutiae to the point of distraction, serving only to interrupt the telling of the beguiling tale of Henri II and the contest between his wife and mistress. When the author gets distracted you can bet so does the reader, and it happens over and over again. The author's writing style has no simplicity about it when simplicity is the very tool needed to bring sympathy, and with it a genuine understanding of the history it seeks to reveal. Catherine de Medici has rarely been treated so forlornly, yet the fascinated affection lavished on Diane de Poitiers in the end makes a shallow mess of her story. The book desperately needs an unflinching editor, and the author needs a new direction and maybe a change of heart. This is more fairytale land than it is a presentable history.
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Princess Michael of Kent takes a very romantic view of Diane De Poiters. Poor Catherine De Medici is in love with her husband, but is villified for being unattractive and infertile. Of course, even after giving birth to 10 children, she is still way down on the list of her husband's preferences. Diane, 19 years the senior of the King, takes full advantage of his adolescent favor and obtains perferments for her children and great riches for herself. I couldn't help feeling sorry for Catherine. The only reason that Diane didn't get rid of Catherine ( in her 10 years of infertility) was because Diane was afraid that a younger wife might be more attractive to the King and eclipse her. I came away not admiring Diane one bit.
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