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Catherine de Medici

When you examine the life of Queen Catherine de Medici, you'll notice that there are some similarities between her and her former daughter-in-law Mary Queen of Scots. Both queens were devout Catholics, they moved from their native countries to marry foreign kings as teens for the political advancement of their royal relatives, they both ruled during an era where there was tremendous religious strife in the countries they ruled over, they weren't loved by their spouses, and their reigns came to unfortunate ends.

Catherine de Medici
Portrait of Catherine de Medici

This is probably why Catherine of Medici particularly grieved when Mary Queen of Scots was executed by Queen Elizabeth, because she saw this as the end of Catholicism's influence over not only Scotland, but also the end of Catholicism in various parts of Europe. But despite her tough circumstances, Catherine de Medici maintained a firm grip over the affairs of her country due to the fact that her three sons were both too young and incapable of ruling France. Finally, Catherine de Medici was a queen who tried to be a peacemaker when the political climate in her country was in turmoil.

Catherine de Medici was born to the Medici family of Florence in 1519. Her parents were Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and Madeleine de la Tour d'Avergne. When Catherine was a baby, both of her parents died and she became the sole heiress to the Medici fortune. But in 1527 when Catherine was eight years old, a mob attacked the Medici palace and while her relatives fled, the rebellion's leader demanded that Catherine stay at the palace and the hostage takers took her to different convents as a child.

When Catherine was a teen, her uncle Gullio de Medici, who was now Pope Clement VII, brought Catherine to Rome and along with King Francis I of France, arranged for her to marry Henry II, his second eldest son. After the marriage happened, King Francis I became impressed with his new daughter-in-law but the French people never liked her despite the fact that she was Catholic like them. The French distrusted and disliked Catherine of Medici because she didn't come from the French royal bloodline but rather from Italy.

But Catherine also struggled to get love from her husband Henry II. During the first ten years of their marriage, Henry spent a great deal of time with his mistress Diane de Poitiers, who was a few years older than him. But because he knew he needed an heir to continue the royal bloodline, he finally started to pay more attention to Catherine and she bore ten children, three of who would become kings of France. When her husband Henry II died, Catherine's ten-year-old son Francis II became king but since he was still a child, she served as a regent for him over the country and she held this same role with her other two sons; Charles IX and Henry III.

During the time of both Catherine's birth, marriage and reign, the Protestant Reformation took place beginning with Martin Luther's criticism of the Catholic church, and it spread from Germany to other European nations, including France. The French Protestants, also known as Huguenots, were inspired by John Calvin's teaching about Christianity, which they believed was more accurate than the teachings of the Catholic church.

In 1559 the French Huguenots held their first assembly, and they later decided to take action against Francis II and overthrow him, but then Catherine found out about this and she had 57 of them murdered. After Francis II's death at age 16, Catherine became the regent for her son Charles, who became king at age ten. It was also during this time that she began the tough process of trying to bring peace between the Huguenots and French Catholics. Catherine let Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny become an advisor to her son Charles.

This upset many French Catholics and Phillip II of Spain also didn't like her tactics because he felt that she was giving too many concessions to the Protestant cause in France. But Catherine suffered another blow to her efforts for peace between Protestants and Catholics in France when her former daughter-in-law Mary Queen of Scots was executed by Queen Elizabeth due to allegations that Mary conspired with some English Catholics to overthrow Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.

In 1570, Catherine de Medici signed the Peace of St. Germain treaty, and in this agreement her Catholic daughter Marguerite would marry Huguenot leader Henry of Navarre. Also in this agreement the Huguenots would receive various territories in France. The French Catholics were disappointed by this, and in 1572 thousands of Huguenots were killed by some Catholic troops in France. Catherine de Medici died in 1589.

There is a secret you don't know …

Besides the factual Catherine de Medici biography presented above there is a tiny little secret that no one has known about up until now. And that secret is when everyone was away, Catherine would dress up in rubber duck feet, dance around and sing robustly, "I'm Henry the VIII I am, Henry the VIII I am, I am …"


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