Catherine de Medici
By: Christie N. Burke



During the time of Catherine de Medici, society’s views of women held them to be irrational, intellectually weak, and composed of verbal expression that was insufficient in being reasonable or even of significance. History, more often than none, portrays Catherine de Medici as being cold, untrustworthy, perfidious, and even go as far as blaming her for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre that occurred in 1572. I argue that despite society’s views of women during the time of Catherine’s de Medici’s reign being an obstacle and even possibly serving as a predilection of history’s accusations that she was responsible for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; her good is often overlooked as she was able to preserve unity for France through her non-compromising political dedication to the country.

Who is Catherine de Medici?

Catherine de Medici was born in Florence, Italy as Caterina Maria Romula de Lorenzo de Medici on April 13th, 1519 to Lorenzo II de’ Medici, who was the duke of Urbino and Madeline de La Tour d’ Auvergne, who was the Countess of Bouglogne. When Catherine’s parents ended up passing away within a month of her being born, she was taken into care by popes Leo X and Clement VII, who were two of her father's relatives. She ended up growing up in the center of the boisterous Italian wars in which popes Leo X and Clement VII were two central actors. In 1527, the citizens of Florence took 8 year old Catherine into hostage in order to reinstate their republic when a German army of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V desecrated Rome. Her uncle Clement VII escaped from Rome and hired a group of mercenaries to recapture Florence and rescued Catherine from refuge in a nunnery. In 1533 Catherine was married at the age of 14 years old to 14-year old Henry who was the duke of Orleans and also a son of King Francis I of France in the undertaking of dynastic aspiration by Pope Clement (“Catherine de Medici”). Catherine de’Medici spent her first twenty-six years in France in conditions that were supercilious. She was the wife of a dauphin, then king who did not make any attempt to disguise his connections with and preference for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers and also excluded Catherine from participating in any state affairs (Jenson 58). Henry and Catherine became heirs to the thrown when Henry’s older brother died in 1536; however, it was believed that Count Sebastian Montecuculi was suspected of poisoning him in the interest of promoting both Catherine and even Charles V who was one of France's enemies. This along with Catherine being without any children during the first ten years of marriage ended up making her unpopular within the French Court. She overcame her infertility and ended up birthing ten children beginning with the birth of her first child in 1543. Catherine & Henry’s fifteen year old son ended up taking the throne as a result of King Henry passing away in 1559 therefore as his mother, Catherine de Medici was placed into the political arena.When he died in 1560, on behalf of her ten year old son, King Charles IX she became regent and was granted sweeping powers. When Charles died in 1574, Catherine played a fundamental role of her third son Henry III's reign as king ("Catherine de Medici").


During the time of Catherine de’ Medici’s husband and all three of her son’s reigns as king, she had three big disadvantages that were constantly working against her. One was that she was of Italian paternity which resulted in her often being compared to the notorious Machiavelli (Sutherland 46). The second thing that was a disadvantage for Catherine was that she had the misfortune of being a woman because during the time of Catherine de Medici, woman were understood as naturally garrulous often engaging in undesirable speech such as gossip and slander, intellectually weak, and irrational (Brooks 419). The third was that she had all of the responsibilities that came with actually having the crown; however, did not get to actually enjoy the authority (Sutherland 46). According to De Lamar Jenson, in his article Catherine de Medici and Her Florentine Friends, he states that “The traditional portrayal of Catherine de Medici as a cunning and dissembling Italian, craftily pursuing her Machiavelian diplomacy against friend and foe, is a stereotype that has captivated many historians who see the Medici queen-mother as the personification of Italian political methods and immorality in French politics” (Jenson 57). Perhaps these three disadvantages still work against Catherine de Medici even today when it comes to who is responsible for the the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. This specific massacre has the historians of the sixteenth century France mesmerized. They not only try to gain an understanding of the actual even but also plant the blame for it. From historian to historian the actual portrayal of Catherine de Medici as a person and if she is responsible for the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre seems to vary(Sutherland 45). Whereas, most historians tend to blame Catherine for the massacre, there are some that defend her name. In N.M. Sutherland's article Catherine de Medici: The Legend of the Wicked Italian Queen he defends Catherine by stating "Catherine's career has therefore frequently been interpreted in terms of her supposed wickedness which, through primarily revealed by the massacre, was nevertheless related to her whole life" and "Historians to whom Catherine was still a living memory were mostly aware that, in so far as the crown was to blame for the state of France, the damage had been done before Catherine's emergence from obscurity about 1561" (Sutherland 46). I could go on and on about the many different portrayals of Catherine de Medici and whether or not she is to blame for the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre; however, I feel that it is important to take a look at some at some positive.

Contributions Catherine de Medici Made & Conclusion...

It is so easy somebody to only see the negative but I do believe that there is some good in every bad. Even though there is a lot negative that surrounds the name "Catherine de Medici", it is very important to keep in mind the violent pressures that Catherine de Medici was actually under and to also take a closer look at the principles that she had set in order to guide the kingdom along a path of moderation. Despite the weaknesses that come along with preserving monarchy, the only remaining principle of unity was preserved by Catherine herself (Sutherland 56). Despite the disadvantages that seemed to be constantly working against Catherine de Medici, and the historians that portray such a horrible image of her, Catherine de Medici did strive to provide positive things for the country of France although some of the good things that she has done and contributions she has made is often overlooked.
Catherine was inspired by King Francis I and strongly believed in the humanist ideal of the Renaissance. Since Catherine lived in a time when monarchy was disrespected, it was her goal to use lavish patronage of the arts in order to improve the overall royal prestige. Her main goal was to keep the French monarchy intact which she was able to do even though she had numerous disadvantages (Sutherland 51-56).

Article Analysis

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Brooks, J. Catherine de Medicis, nouvelle Artemise: Women’s Laments and the Virtue of Grief. Early Music,27.3,(August,2003): pp. 419- 495. Web. 04 Nov.2010.

"Catherine de' Medici." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. 8 Dec. 2010 <>.

Jackson, Kim. "Art and War: Catherine de Medici's Contributions To History." Examiner (2009): n. pag. Web. 10 November 2010. <>.

Jenson, D.L. Catherine de Medici and Her Florentine Friends. The Sixteenth Century Journal, 9.2, (July, 1978): pp. 57-54. Web. 10 Nov 2010.

Sutherland, N.M. Catherine de Medici: The Legend of the Wicked Italian Queen. The Sixteenth Century Journal, 9.2. (July,1978):pp. 45- 56.Web. 04 Nov. 2010.