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Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,793 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
Poisoner, besotted mother, despot, necromancer, engineer of a massacre: the stain on the name of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this critically hailed biography, Leonie Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen of France to reveal a skilled ruler battling against extraordinary political and personal odds.

Orphaned in infancy, imprisoned in childhoo
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Hardcover, 464 pages
Published January 18th 2005 by Harper (first published January 1st 2002)
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41st out of 257 books — 96 voters
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Jennifer (JC-S)
Mar 14, 2009 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarybooks
‘I wonder that she did not do worse’

I very much enjoyed this biography. Catherine deMedici is so often painted in the blackest of terms that it is actually a delight to read a more balanced account.


This is a biography of Catherine de Medici (1519 -1589). Her husband became King Henri II of France, and three of their sons in their turn became Kings of France after Henri’s death in 1559. As Queen Mother, Catherine was both important and powerful in France for thirty years.
Catherine was orphaned as
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Madeline
Catherine de Medici has always had a pretty bad historical reputation. Like pretty much all women who wielded even a little bit of power, she has been often portrayed as greedy, power-hungry, manipulative, and a general psycho bitch. Add that to the fact that she came from a family known for their Machiavellian power grabs (Machiavelli literally wrote the book on despotism for the Medici family), and then there's the little detail of one of the worst religious massacres in history happening on h ...more
Orsolya
There is much more to Catherine de Medici than just her adversity to her husband’s popular mistress (Diane de Poitiers) or her involvement with the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. Not only was she an important political figure for over 30 years; but she also has “fun facts” (such as introducing and popularizing nicotine, handkerchiefs, female pantaloons, forks, and side saddles) and had two VERY interesting children amongst her 10 (transvestite –tendency induced Henri III and independent but scand ...more
Brittany
Jun 02, 2011 Brittany rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
This book was really rough for me to get through which, given the reviews and my fondness for historical biographies, was a surprise. It may be one of those cases that it just wasn't the right time for me to read this book. However, there was also a sort of bloodlessness and pedantry about the way the text read that was off-putting. The events were quite exciting, and sometimes even scandalous, but the dry tone of the narration put them at a remove and made them read like a textbook. Frieda also ...more
Timothy Urban
Jan 04, 2014 Timothy Urban rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd read somewhere that Catherine de Medici introduced France to the concept of eating food with a fork. This was a detail I was hoping to learn more about when I started reading this rather huge and thorough book.

There was little mention of forks, it turned out, but there were so many other rich and absorbing details, historical and personal, that this turned into an unexpectedly gripping read. History really came to life for me with this one, especially as it gave context to the Protestant mo
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Ivana
May 27, 2016 Ivana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Jeden z najlepších (ak nie najlepší) a zároveň jeden z mála životopisov Kataríny Medicejskej v dostupnom jazyku. Komplexný, vychádza z prameňov, s dobrým poznámkovým aparátom, ktorý podľa mňa spĺňa to, čo poznámkový aparát spĺňať má - keď chcete vedieť viac, podľa odkazov sa viete dopátrať k ďalším textom či priamo prameňom (ja som to počas diplomky rozhodne robila :-)).
Napriek tomu, že je to odborná kniha, číta sa veľmi dobre, pamätám si, že ma tešilo si ju prečítať od začiatku do konca, nielen
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Emilie
Apr 18, 2013 Emilie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd read a little about Catherine de Medici in passing when she was mentioned in other historical works, but I'd never read an entire biography. I'd read about her dark reputation and the whispers of her using witchcraft and poison but it was incredibly interesting to read about her as a person, not just a dark figure. She is painted in as dark a light as Richard III has been to English history, and it is refreshing to read a work that presents her in a more realistic way.
Frieda accepts that Ca
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Elizabeth Sulzby
This is a real history, full of facts, relationships, and events that filled the long life of Catherine de Medici who became queen (consort) of France's Henri II and then was the queen regent of three of their sons during the era of France's Religious Wars. Fortunately, there are numerous records, letters, and memoirs from this era. This Italian descendant of the de Medici family was hard to "marry off" in France because she was not of royal lineage, but from a "merchant family." The book begins ...more
Lady of the Lake
I read this in its paper form and then again recently I listened to an excellent narration by Anna Massey. I liked the audio version better... As this read well enough I felt Anna Massey had a wonderful pleasant voice with just enough lilt & inflections where it was as she was telling me personally the life of Catherine. The information in this bio was much more favorable to Catherine than many other bios leave out. So many paint her as a dark cold woman who even may have practiced witchcraf ...more
Melisende d'Outremer
I love this re-telling of the life of Catherine de Medici - this was my third reading - and still happy to indulge my interest.
Elena
A solid biography about Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II of France, and mostly remembered for the part she played in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.

Catherine is definitely a controversial figure, but Frieda always shows her in a very positive light (and sometimes she is too biased), focusing on her best qualities, like a lively intelligence and a strong resourcefulness. Despite how you feel about Catherine, you cannot deny she possessed formidable strenght and bravely faced many hard ch
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Christy S
Nov 01, 2009 Christy S rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully written history and biography, this book was a highly entertaining presentation of the life of Catherine de Medici and her significance in French and European history. Frieda has taken an enormous body of research and used it to confirm and deny various pieces of the Queen’s reputation and record. In doing so, she reveals not only dates and lineages, but eccentricities of various royal personalities, the reality and cultural significance of their relationships, and the relevance of ...more
Sarai
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 atten
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Susan
I have been drawn to Catherine de Medici's story for some time. After reading Susan Carroll's fictional account of her in her Cheney Sisters books, I became even more interested in her. Catherine was a fascinating sixteenth century woman. She was the Italian-born Queen of France, wife of Henri II.

Catherine Maria Romola di Lorenzo de Medici was born in Italy in 1519. She endured a lonely childhood, isolated in convents most of the time, exiled from her rightful place in her own country. Like many
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Daisy
Feb 28, 2009 Daisy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Catherine de Medici was the daughter of a rich merchant, not born very rich since her parents were died. She was also of no royal blood. She was no beauty either. However, she did end up being one of the most famous Queens of France. She understood that she's no beauty and there was nothing she could do to change that,so she practiced on her manner, her elegancy, her way of speaking. All of those made it up for her. Moreover, she always acted humble. During the reign of her husband Henri II, she ...more
Katie
Aug 23, 2009 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has more drama than Us Weekly and Star combined---and all of it is true. (Well, I am sure in the next life we'll discover parts that were not true, but that's for another day.)

Catherine Medici, wife of a cheating king (who dies after a large splinter enters his eye) and mother of three kings of France, is best known for her involvement or lack of involvement (it's a complicated situation, especially since all of her solutions were for the moment) in the St. Bartholmew's Day Massacre in
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Faith Justice
Jan 28, 2011 Faith Justice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc-early-reader
Long, long ago in a youth far, far away, I read a biography of Catherine de Medici; so I was already familiar with her story. I have to admit, the details were hazy: I remembered something about poison, religious wars and that she was Mary, Queen of Scots’ mother-in-law. Then a couple of years ago, my husband and I took a biking vacation in the Loire valley and visited numerous castles and gardens along way, several associated with Catherine and her rival Diane de Poitiers; so I was reacquainted ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
After reading The Dark Queen, a historical fiction novel in which Catherine de Medici is portrayed as the titular dark queen and an evil witch, I was left wanting to know more about the historical basis for the story. In The Dark Queen Catherine is accused of everything from poisoning her rivals to employing beautiful seductresses to control her courtiers to engineering a massacre. This non-fiction account is largely intended to dispel such rumors and show what an impressive woman Catherine de M ...more
Robbert Voges
Poignant, funny, at times a little bit chaotic. Spent reading all Summer on the beach of Sardegna and dreamt lazily of the brushes of velvet, dripping Huguenot blood and court intrigue. Reads a bit like a mix between Kitty Kell(e?)y and Alison Weir.
Grace
Jan 25, 2016 Grace rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating history about one of Europe's most interesting historical figures to be sure, but I felt Leonie Frieda was confused about what story she was trying to tell. The whole narrative is trying to convince us that Catherine was misunderstood and slandered by history. At the same time Frieda acknowledges Catherine's ruthlessness, toeing that fine line between presenting a much-maligned historical figure sympathetically while also admitting they were maligned for a reason. That said, Frieda ...more
Donald
Nov 28, 2014 Donald rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gone is my impression of Catherine de Medici as a scheming, embittered wife and widow thanks to this exhaustive biographical work by Leonie Frieda. Although the scope of this biography is ambitious and very well presented, I hesitate to give it four stars because it lacks some personable charms, wit, and more intimate detail of one of France's greatest regents and monarchs.

Nevertheless, Frieda did Catherine a great justice by following her youth, her true intentions; showing her dynamic but als
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Dmitriy
Sep 27, 2014 Dmitriy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts

Words of the late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan perfectly illustrates attitudes towards controversial historical figures such as Pope Alexander VI, Ivan IV, Talleyrand, Catherine de Medici and so on, and so on.

Alexander Dumas has portrayed Catherine de Medici as evil, merciless and cunning puppeteer, who is ready to kill anyone in order to advance her interests. In La Reine Margot, 1994 French film, loosely based on the novel
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DubaiReader
A strong French ruler.

I have graded this book according to my enjoyment of it, but I do feel that under different circumstances I might have been giving it a higher rating. There were two problems; firstly my complete lack of knowledge of French history, which meant that all the names were new to me and I had nothing to relate the events to, other than English history of the time. Secondly, I was listening to the abridged audiobook which, I would assume, includes all the dry facts, without the b
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Simon Binning
Apr 24, 2016 Simon Binning rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is everything a historical biography should be. Reading such a book, I want three things: firstly, a real understanding of the character and personality of the subject; second, a clear view of the events surrounding the subject, and their involvement in them; and thirdly - like any book - something that is well written, well constructed and lucid, with ample detail without getting bogged down in trivia.
This biography of Catherine de Medici satisfies on all counts. It gives a very clea
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Sarah Garber
Catherine de Medici is a fascinating women, strong and determined with a political savvy that nevertheless failed her at key moments in history. I enjoyed reading this book and learning more about her. Unfortunately Frieda's writing style made this book difficult to get to at times. She had a tendency to jump from one topic to another with no transitions or explanations of how one incident related to the rest. There was also several references to how Catherine has been painted as evil sine her d ...more
Lauren Chong Sng
Jan 02, 2015 Lauren Chong Sng rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well researched books give totally different points of view. As the author wrote, "Her courage was extraordinary, her wiliness and cunning legendary. Her optimism and energy defied the dark realities that surrounded her." Catherine was one tough bird, willing to go far in support of her French offspring. I would not have wanted to cross her. Read the book to know all the details. Well worth the time it took me to get to the end. Not used to reading 400+ page books, so it took forever, plus I rea ...more
Jen Noble
Interesting but a bit difficult to read with all the footnotes.
Linda
Dec 22, 2014 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This Audiobook came strongly recommended by a friend, who wasn't wrong - this is a superbly written Biography. I really enjoyed it, I found it to be well balanced, thorough and very accessible - everything a good Biography should be. I wanted to be introduced to Catherine De Medici The Woman, not the Historical Reputation. I felt that Leonie Frieda's book did this without question, by examining Catherine's life and career thoroughly, whilst being sympathetic at the same time. A great book, that ...more
Sara
Sep 20, 2015 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tudor-biography
Well-written and informative. However, there were many moments when I wished for more information from the author. In particular, I consistently wanted to know more about what evidence/sources she used to form some of her conclusions. Too often she would assert a fact without any discussion about where she got that information or how she came to that conclusion. It seemed to me that she would occasionally draw her conclusions on the basis of a single event, or based on the authority a single acc ...more
Christie
On the late afternoon of Friday, 30 June 1559 a long splinter of wood from a jousting lance pierced the eye and brain of King Henry II of France.

Catherine de Medici has quite the reputation as a woman who would stop at nothing, not even murder or dark magic, to achieve her ends. In this biography, Leonie Frieda tries to get to the heart of the woman behind the myth showing Catherine's journey from a child caught up in Italy's territorial wars to her marriage with Henry II and her struggle to b
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Swedish by birth, but educated in Britain, Germany and France, Leonie Frieda speaks five languages. Her researches on Catherine de Medici has taken her to Paris, Florence and Rome, as well as the châteaux of the Loire. Her next book is a biography of the Great War soldier and letter-writer Edward Horner. She lives in London with her daughter Elisabeth and son Jake.
More about Leonie Frieda...

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