MEDICI, Catherine de'

(1519-1589)
Catherine de' Medici's childhood provided no indication of her later central position on the European stage as queen of France in the turbulent years of the Wars of Religion. The subject of controversy during her lifetime and thereafter, she worked tirelessly in her children's interests, to maintain monarchical au­thority, and to neutralize the sectarian strife that divided the country.
Catherine, the daughter of Lorenzo, duke of Urbino, and a French princess, was the first member of her Florentine family to be nobly born. Orphaned shortly after her birth, she grew up under the guardianship of relatives, sometimes living in convents. In 1533 her cousin, Pope Clement VII, arranged her marriage to Henri, duc d'Orleans, the second son of Francois I* of France. Although Cath­erine was supported by her Italophile father-in-law, her husband greatly favored his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.* Compounding Catherine's situation, the young couple had difficulty conceiving and produced no children during the first ten years of their marriage, although they eventually had ten, of whom seven sur­vived.
An improbable series of events brought—and kept—Catherine close to the throne. First, her husband's older brother died, leaving him heir apparent. Henri became king—and Catherine queen—in 1547. He was killed accidentally twelve years later and succeeded by Francois II, aged fourteen. In 1560 he too died, followed by Charles IX, who had not yet reached his majority. Catherine served as regent and began pacification efforts between opposing religious factions, but they failed, and in 1562 the first of the Wars of Religion broke out.
Catherine spent the rest of her seventy-year life working in her children's interests. She sought advantageous marriages for all and snared the crown of Poland for the future Henri III. She tried unsuccessfully to wage peace through mediation. This required constant travel, which she undertook even in advanced age. Catherine also staged lavish court entertainments that effected allegorical reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. One, celebrating the marriage of her youngest daughter, Marguerite de Valois,* a Catholic, to Henri de Na­varre, the Protestant heir to the throne, brought many Protestants to Paris. It turned into the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, during which over two thou­sand Huguenots were killed in Paris, and more in the provinces.
Catherine de' Medici has been painted as one of history's greatest villains, accused of any number of poisonings and masterminding the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, but some accounts are exaggerated due to gender bias and xen­ophobia. She can be credited with working to shore up French monarchical authority and to defuse religious strife. As an architectural patron, she built the Valois Chapel—the first independent tomb chapel to be appended to the Church of St. Denis, the French royal mausoleum—and two Parisian houses, the Tuil­eries and the Hotel de la Reine.
Bibliography
S. ffolliott, "The Ideal Queenly Patron of the Renaissance: Catherine de' Medici Defining Herself or Defined by Others?" in Women and Art in Early Modern Europe: Patrons, Collectors, and Connoisseurs, ed. Cynthia Lawrence, 1997.
M. P. Holt, The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629, 1995.
R. J. Knecht, Catherine de' Medici, 1998.
N. M. Sutherland, Catherine de' Medici and the Ancien Regime, 1966.
Sheila ffolliott

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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