Catherine d' Medici, 
Queen of France

Throughout the ages, many women have tried to make an impact on the world, many without success. There are those, however, who are able to break the bonds that held women to certain positions in society. Some of these women who were able to break from tradition made an immense impact on the society of their time and upon history in general. One of these amazing women is Catherine de' Medici, an Italian woman who eventually became Queen of France.

Catherine de' Medici was born to the Medici family of Florence in 1519. Her parents were Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino and Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne. Both of her parents died shortly after her birth leaving her as the sole heiress to all of the possessions and holdings of the Medici family. After her parents' deaths, she had no close relatives to care for her. Her father's distant relative Cardinal Guilio de' Medici came to Florence to take control of the Florentine government and to care for the young Catherine.

In 1527, when Catherine was eight years old, the Medici palace in Florence was attacked by an angry mob of Florentines. Her relatives who lived in the palace with her decided to flee the palace but they were ordered by the rebellion leaders to leave young Catherine behind, so that they would have a valuable hostage in the future. After young Catherine was taken hostage she was placed in various convents in and around the city. While in these convents she received an education that allowed her to be one of the best-educated women of her time.

When the Florentine rebellion was finally crushed by Guilio d'Medici, now Pope Clement VII, she was sent to Rome to reside with him. Once there, her marriage arrangements were made. Clement and King Francis I of France arranged that Catherine was to be married to his second eldest son, Henry of Orleans. Now at age 14, she was described as, "small and slender, with fair hair, thin and not pretty in face, but with the eyes peculiar to all the Medici" (Young 393).

Her arrival at the palace in France for the wedding ceremonies was supposedly a time of great celebration. Catherine wanted a great impression on the Royal Court of France. Although short in stature, she wanted to make a grand entrance. In order to do this she consulted a Florentine artisan for help, who had presented her with the first example of the modern high-heeled shoe. Her arrival in France, while wearing these shoes, caused quite a stir.

After her marriage to Henry of Orleans, she traveled and saw much of France. King Francis I, now her father-in-law soon realized what a wonderful traveling companion his new daughter-in-law was. Other than Francis, Catherine had not a friend in all of France and was not looked highly upon by the French people, especially the nobles, who called her "the Italian woman".

King Francis' eldest son, the Dauphin Francis, died in 1536, leaving Henry of Orleans as the heir to the French throne. This caused quite a commotion throughout France. The French did not want an Italian woman to become their queen. Many French hoped for Catherine to do something wrong to keep her from ever reaching the throne. Many thought that she would never have children and that her time in there would be short, but between the years 1543 and 1555 Catherine had ten children, three of which died in infancy. Of those that survived three of them, Francis, Charles, and Henry, would later serve as Kings of France.

In 1547, Catherine's beloved father in law, Francis I died.  Her husband of 14 years became King Henry II of France, and Catherine was now the Queen. Catherine's severe unpopularity with the French people became greater than ever. Their new queen was not of royal blood and she was Italian-- not a good combination according to the French.

Catherine's marriage was also not very pleasant. Although she loved him deeply, Henry was more in love with his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, with whom he spent much of his time. What made matters worse, Diane had almost complete control over the weak-minded Henry. Through Henry, Diane de Poitiers gained much influence in the governing of France. This severely bothered Catherine, but she did not cause problems or create a stir. She kept her personal feelings and attitudes to herself.

In 1559, Catherine's husband died in a tournament accident and her eldest son Francis II came to the throne. Like his father, he was weak of mind. Francis II only ruled for 17 months and upon his death in 1560, Catherine's second son, Charles IX came to the throne at age ten. This allowed Catherine to become Queen Regent of France, and she served as such until Charles IX's death. She also served as Queen Regent for her third son, Henry III.

During her reign, Catherine de' Medici faced many problems including the religious wars involving the Huguenots in France and the French hatred toward her. She overcame such obstacles, managed to uphold the power of the monarchy, and protected the claims of the Valois dynasty.

Annotated Bibliography

Baumgartner, Frederic J. Henry II. Durham: Duke University Press, 1988.
This book gives a detailed historiography of the life of Henry II, King of France. It also gives some useful information regarding his wife, Catherine de' Medici. The book is easy to read and comprehend.

"Catherine de' Medici." University of Washington School of Drama. Accessed 20 March 1998/ available from
This site provided a solid information source. The content was short but accurate. The material was suitable for all and easy to understand.

Ffolliott, Sheila. "Casting a Rival into the Shade: Catherine de' Medici and Diane de Poitiers." Art Journal, Summer 1989, 138-143.
This essay gives an account of the rivalry between Catherine de' Medici, Henry II's wife, and Diane de Poitiers, Henry II's mistress. The article is moderate reading and understanding it requires prior knowledge of the subject matter.

"The First Ladies' High-Heeled Shoe." Accessed 20 March 1998/ available from:
This site provides a brief yet descriptive account of Catherine de' Medici's involvement in the development of the modern high-heeled shoe. The site is entertaining and easy to read.

"Henri II." University of Washington School of Drama. Accessed 20 March 1998/ available from
This site gave a good yet basic overview of Henri II, Catherine de' Medici's husband. The information was generally encyclopedic, but provided good information. 

Heritier, Jean. Catherine de Medici. New York.: St. Martin's Press, 1963.
A detailed biography about Catherine's life with a plethora of information that was at times overwhelming. A useful source of information with a style that was well thought out and organized.

Hibbert, Christopher. The House of Medici, its Rise and Fall. New York, N.Y.: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1875.
Hibbert, a leading popular historian, gives a history of the Medici in Florence. The book had some useful information regarding Catherine's birth, family history, and marriage to Henry II. Easy to read and informative.

Joel, Lydia. "Discovering Catherine de' Medici." Dance Magazine, July 1990, 40-44.
This article focuses on Catherine's contributions to, and her patronage of the arts, especially ballet. The article is easy to read and is quite informative.

"The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, Aug. 24, 1572." Juniata. Accessed 20 March 1998/ URL: <>.  Link dead?
This information in the site is as it was recorded by the historian, De Thou, who gives his account of the events on St. Bartholomew's Day. The information is generally easy to read although some prior knowledge is helpful.

Neale, J.E. The Age of Catherine de Medici. New York, N.Y.: Branes & Noble, Inc., 1959.
This rather short book gives rather good biographical information and is not very difficult to read. This book gives information that was not found in many other books, such as some of the facts regarding her personal taste and interests of Catherine.

Roeder, Ralph. Catherine de' Medici and the Lost Revolution. New York, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., 1939.
This book offers a very detailed description of Catherine's life. The book is broken down into the periods of her husband's reign and the reigns of her three sons. It is interesting, in-depth, but requires interest in the subject matter..

"The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre." Accessed 20 March1998/ available from
This site describes the events leading to, and on the day of the massacre. The reader must have a prior knowledge of the subject matter.

Schevill, Ferdinand. History of Florence. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1961.
Schevill gives a broad yet detailed account of the history of Florence. He gives a brief yet useful description of Catherine de' Medici's life, but overall does not provide much useful information regarding her. The reading is in-depth and extensive.

Schevill, Ferdinand. The Medici. New York: Harper and Row, 1949.
Schevill details the lives of many noted members of the Medici including brief yet useful descriptions of Catherine de' Medici's life. This book was useful for a general history of Catherine's life.

Strage, Mark. Women of Power, the Life and Times of Catherine de' Medici. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.
This book focuses of three women of power including Catherine de' Medici, Diane de Poitiers, and Marguerite, Queen of Navarre. It gives good information on Catherine while showing relations and interactions between the women in the book. It is rather academic in nature and in style.

Thompson, James Westfall. The Wars of Religion in France 1559-1576. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.
Thompson, a noted historian, offers an overview of the wars and conflicts in France between the years 1559-1576. He gives some interesting details of Catherine's involvement in these conflicts.

Williamson, Hugh Ross. Catherine de' Medici. New York: The Viking Press, 1973.
Williamson, a noted historian and critic, wrote this interesting depiction of Catherine's life. The information is interesting, informative, and entertaining and includes many color pictures and paintings. Interesting for the casual reader.

Young, Col. G.F. The Medici. New York: The Modern Library, 1930.
Young, a Medici biographer, gives one of the first details accounts of the Medici family. It includes a very detailed and objective view of the Medici in a rather complicated writing style.


"Catherine de Medicis." Microsoft Encarta. <>.
This article gives a rather detailed biography of Catherine d' Medici. It discusses her early life, her political role in preserving royal power, her struggle in maintaining a balance between the Protestants and the Huguenots, and discusses her role in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Besides her role in politics, it briefly describes her as a patron of the arts. The overall information it provides is not in-depth but serves to be rather informative.

"Catherine de' Medici." Infoplease.
This brief biography of Catherine d' Medici provides general information about her and concentrates mostly on her political role, and her efforts to preserve the King's power. It is useful for general information but not for in-depth research. It includes links to other topics and people relevant to her era.

"Catherine De Medicis." Encyclopedia Britannica.
This biography gives more in depth information on Catherine d' Medici including her early life, her political crises, the civil wars during her reign, the Massacre on St. Bartholomew's Day, and the last years of her life. It is useful in obtaining more thorough information on her life and her role.

Knight, Kevin. "Catherine de' Medici." The Catholic Encyclopedia.
This article provided rather in-depth information about the life of Catherine d' Medici and her role in power. Although it does discuss the events throughout her life, it concentrates mostly on her struggle in the religious wars. It comes across as viewing Catherine as more negative in character by suggesting her policy was dictatorial, unscrupulous, and crafty.


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Original written by Brandon Case, 1998
Revised by Tricia Tait, November 2000
Last Revision: 9 April 2003
Copyright MMV Prof. Pavlac's Women's History Site
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