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Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  3,280 ratings  ·  116 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
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published January 18th 2005 by Harper (first published January 1st 2002)
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39th out of 244 books — 86 voters
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Jennifer (JC-S)
‘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
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
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
Timothy Urban
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
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
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.
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
Christy S
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Lauren Chong Sng
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.
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
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
Faith Justice
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
Yvette Kinney
I chose to read this book after a trip to Italy. Our tour guide at the Uffizi in Florence waxed eloquent about the "wonderful" de Medici family. Everything I'd read about the family to date painted a very different picture from the one our tour guide painted, so I thought perhaps I should read more about the family. As the author of this book is European, I thought I might get a more favorable view from this book. I did not. Nothing here changed my perception of the de Medici family.

I did learn
Very interesting biography of famous "black queen" who was remembered chiefly as a mean and manipulative influence from the backstage on her family of rulers (three of her sons were kings).

Leonie Frieda did some excellent research all over the France and came up with slightly different modern view on this fascinating subject - as expected,she places Catherine de Medici right into proper historical surrounding and by explaining situation around her makes her motives and deeds somehow understandab
Kathy Hay
A sympathetic, but not over so, biography of Catherine de Medici. The author did an excellent job of pulling in the varied and complex political and historical framework this period in order to give weight and meaning to the actions of the subject. Historically informative yet most often read with the ease of a novel. A fascinating subject written in a very accessible way. My only criticisms: I think the author could have done a better job with the complicated genealogies as the beginning of the ...more
Because the life of Catherine de Medici overlapped with so many current events of 16th-century France, it is hard to tell if this is a biography or a history book. Daughter of a wealthy Italian merchant, disdained by many for her lack of noble blood, she took hold of the reins of power at the premature death of her husband (Henri II, killed in a tournament) and guided three successive sons as kings through a precarious time in French history. After the assassination of her last son, the kingdom ...more
Always fascinated by the Medicis and Borgias with their central role in not only Italian but also French and German history, I found this particular biography interesting. The research was so thorough and the biography contained a great deal of information and actual letters. Catherine was the mother of 10 children, 3 of whom ruled as Kings of France, but at her death there were only two still living. Like most casual readers, I was surprised that Catherine was not the "Black Queen" as popularly ...more
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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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