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Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  6,388 ratings  ·  197 reviews
Poisoner, despot, necromancer -- the dark legend of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this critically hailed biography, Leonie Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen to reveal a skilled ruler battling extraordinary political and personal odds -- from a troubled childhood in Florence to her marriage to Henry, son of King Francis I of France; from h ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 14th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2002)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  6,388 ratings  ·  197 reviews

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Apr 12, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jennifer (JC-S)
Feb 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Timothy Urban
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
One thing I can say after reading this - Catherine had seen a LOT of shit. Like so many women in her time - and before that time, and after that time - she was seen as a power-hungry bitch, and so on and so forth. Any history buff is well aware how women with power often got the shaft in history due to a patriarchal/macho mind-set.

I do not claim that Catherine did nothing wrong. Back then, sometimes you just had to stab someone in the back or get stabbed yourself, or have to do something questio
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
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Nov 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction

The start of this had me HOOK LINE & SINKER, and I found myself eager to read on and delve into the complex and rich life/history of Catherine de Medici, who has been called 'The Maggot from Italy's Tomb', 'The Black Queen' and 'Madame La Serpente'. To many she [was and] is the very incarnation of evil’. Whilst there were some interesting points in this, the rich tapestry telling the tale of Catherine de Medici’s life as a woman, mother, queen etc didn’t manifest and I found myself lo
Elizabeth Sulzby
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-politics
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
Apr 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: from-shelfari
3.75 stars

In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici came to France from Italy to marry the future king of France, Henri II. She loved him, but had to share him with a mistress, the woman he loved, Diane de Poitiers. Over the years, Catherine and Henri had ten children and Catherine outlived all except two of them. Three of her sons became kings of France, and Catherine was always there to help them rule. There were a number of religious wars in France over the years she ruled.

I’ve only read a li
This is well researched and interesting.
It's not a biography of Catherine de Medici though. Catherine is not the center of this very interesting narrative. The men in her life are.
This is a detailed account of the politics that led to Catherine becoming queen and what happened during her reign.
I gave this one star because the author makes a bizarre reference to 'white slaves'. Slavery is not tied to black skin or west african ancestry. White people do not even exist in the time period in which
Kiesha ~ 1Cheekylass
I enjoy learning about Catherine de Medici... The wife of one King and the mother of 3. My only gripe about this book is it's too short as it's Abridged (eww). Great narration by Anna Massey...She has the raspy voice like Davina Porter but not quiet as talented. ♥ ...more
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whew! This was a bit of a doozy to read. Frieda definitely did her research and it shows. While this is a long read I do appreciate the effort Frieda put into telling Catherine's story. I also appreciate her perspective on Catherine. I could still be smarting from The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom (where I did not like Catherine's portrayal at all) which could be making me a bit more generous than if I hadn't read t ...more
Alenka of Bohemia
Dec 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating woman for whom I still have little sympathy, even after understanding her childhood traumas, her personal humiliation and dedication to her children. This book is well-researched, but sometimes the mess of the 16th century France gets simply too much to read. I had to take long breaks to get through some of the chapters.
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Lady of the Lake
Jul 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 witchcraft. I ...more
H. P. Reed
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographical, history
Leonie Frieda wrote a very even-handed bio of one of the Renaissance's least understood women, Catherine de Medici. Catherine married Henri II of France and, after a slow start, gave him 10 children all of whom (but one) died before her. Described down the centuries as an evil, conniving, ruthless sorceress, she was both less and more than her reputation. She did dabble in the occult, especially when trying to conceive, yet her faith in the Roman Catholic Church taught her to act selflessly for ...more
I love this re-telling of the life of Catherine de Medici - this was my third reading - and still happy to indulge my interest.
Abby Goldsmith
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
A comprehensive biography of one of the most influential monarchs of Renaissance Europe.

Since Catherine de Medici was an influencer, her story cannot be told without also exploring the interpersonal relationships between her children and children-in-laws, and their opponents, and their marriage prospects, and ... what a complicated family! What a complex period of history!

She decorated a room with stuffed crocodiles hanging from the ceiling, she hung out with dwarfs, and she consulted Nostrada
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
Faith Justice
Jan 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Christy S
Nov 01, 2009 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
Aug 23, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Aug 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elena by: Marita
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
Katie/Doing Dewey
Jun 22, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Megan Edgar
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Having done my dissertation on Catherine de'Medici, this book was not only extremely informative, but written in a way that engaged me, unlike some of the other books that I read surrounding Catherine de' Medici's life. The book paints Catherine in a much more favourable light, and has definite hints of showing the female POV that is seriously lacking in some of the other accounts of her life. If you are ever interested in reading about 'The Black Queen', I would definitely recommend this book. ...more
Robbert Voges
Apr 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
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.
Jen Noble
Jan 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting but a bit difficult to read with all the footnotes.
Kristin Strong
Jun 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've had this on my bookshelf for years, and as our county libraries are closed to the public, I figured it was time to pull it out and get to work.

Catherine de Medici is known to history as a conniver, a climber full of ambition for her children, a woman suspected of doing away with troublesome associates, and possibly a force behind the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. She is -- at least to some degree -- all of these, except probably for the doing away with people thing. Catherine was far too
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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.

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Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
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