Catharine De Medici (3 April 1519 5 January 1589) was Queen Consort of France and acted as Regent of France several times.
Catharine was born in Florence and part of the powerful family De Medici. Both her parents died soon after her birth.When her family lost power, she was sent to convents during her childhood. Her uncle Clement became pope and arranged for her to be married to Henry, the second son of King Francis I of France.
The French court looked down on her, as a daughter of merchants, but she got along well with her father-in-law. Though she gave birth to several children, her husband preferred the company of his much older mistress, Diane De Poitiers. After Francis died in 1547, she became Queen of France. Diane's influence remained, and though she acted as nominal regent when Henry was absent, she was not a powerful political player. This changed after Henry died in 1559.
Her oldest son became Francis II of France. His Queen was Mary of Scotland, of whom it was also said that she made disparaging remarks about Catharine's family. Mary was related to the de Guise family, who were strongly Catholic. This family was at odds with the protestants in France. This conflict would dominate the reigns of all Catharine's sons. Francis died in 1560 and Catharine became regent for the young Charles IX. When Jeanne III of Navarre, one of the leaders of the Protestants, died, Catharine was rumoured to have poisoned her.
In an attempt to make peace, a marriage was arranged between Catharine's daughter Marguerite and the King of Navarre, who was protestant. Protestants flocked to Paris for the wedding and their presence was greatly resented. On the night of 23-24 August, Catholics started killing Protestants by the thousands. The violence moved to other French cities as well. Catharine was blamed for this, though her role in it is not entirely clear. Charles died of tuberculosis in 1574, but was also said to have blamed himself for the massacre.
Her favorite son took the throne of France as Henry III. France went into chaos during his reign. Both the protestant and the ultra-Catholic De Guise faction were hostile. When Catharine's youngest son died, Henry of Navarre became heir to the throne, as none of her sons had produced legitimate male heirs. This further fueled the conflict between the different factions. In 1588, Henry had the Duke of Guise murdered. She died not long after, a few days into 1589. Henry III would be murdered in the same year.
Portrayals of Catharine de Medici in fiction:
- Appears in La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas (1845)
- Appears in Jean Plaidy's Catharine De Medici trilogy
- Played by Virna Lisi in La Reine Margot (1994)
- Played by Megan Follows in Reign (2013 - 2017)
Tropes associated with Catharine de Medici:
- A Child Shall Lead Them: Downplayed. Though Charles IX was a child when he came to the throne, Catharine acted as regent.
- Arranged Marriage: Her own marriage to Henry II was an alliance between her uncle the pope and Francis I of France.
- She also had a hand in arranging the marriage of her children.
- Astrologer: Was known to consult them. She was a supporter of Nostradamus.
- Balance of Power: Tried to play off the Protestant and Catholic factions against each other.
- Blue Blood: Though she was made fun of as a shop keeper's daughter, Catharine had blue blood as well as De Medici had married nobility for generations. Through her mother, she descended from Louis IX of France.
- Decadent Court: Francis I was already somewhat known for it. It was taken Up to Eleven during the reign of Henry III.
- Dysfunctional Family: Her husband had little interest in her, preferring his much older mistress, who sometimes had to encourage him to sleep with Catharine. Her son Charles was wrecked with guilt after the St. Bartholomew Day's Massacre. Her favorite son Henry III was known for being decadent and warred with her son-in-law, Henry of Navarre. She was at odds with her daughter Marguerite as well. To her daughter Elizabeth, who was married to Philip II of Spain, she remarked that she had grown very Spanish, when Elizabeth defended Spanish interests during negotiations. This is lampshaded in La Reine Margot, where Henry of Navarre bursts into laughter thinking about how this family treats each other.
- An interesting aversion in that her daughter Elizabeth was the only one of Philip II's four wives who was not very closely related to him and they got along very well. Unlike many of Philip's other descedents, their two daughters were capable and didn't suffer from the birth defects that resulted from continuous intermarriage of Habsburg relatives.
- Lineage Comes from the Father: In some ways this trope was more downplayed in real life as is sometimes expected. This because connections with relatives through the female line were very important when making alliances or when requesting aid. In Catherine's case, however, this trope was very much at play. She was an orphan from a family that looked down upon by the French nobility, let alone royalty. When her uncle the pope died, she lost her importance. To her children, her family was of little importance compared to their descendency from the French royal house.
- The Mistress: Though Catharine was cordeal to Diane de Poitiers during her husband's lifetime, she took away some of her posessions after her death.
- Mother Makes You King: In some of the fiction about her, she is portrayed as killing Charles IX to free the the throne for her favourite Henry.
- Offing the Offspring: Is sometimes portrayed as dabbling in this.
- Parental Favouritism: Was known to favour Henry III out of her children.
- Parent-Child Team: With her son Henry III in particular.
- Poison Is Evil: Was rumoured to poison her enemies, particularly Jeanne III of Navarre. This rumour existed during her lifetime and is partly the result of the stereotype of Italians using poison a lot.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: She definitely did things, but they didn't always work out well.
- Smug Snake: Is often portrayed as such. One of Jean Plaidy's books about her is even called Madame Serpent.