Catherine de Medici, the wife of King Henry II, was the Queen of France from 1547 until 1559. Born as the daughter of Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, the ruler of Florence, and his wife Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, the Countess of Boulogne, she lost both her parents at an early age. After being cared for by a series of relatives, she was finally housed in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, by her uncle Cardinal Giulio de' Medici who was elected Pope Clement VII in 1523. She received a good education and grew up to be an artistic, intelligent, and extroverted girl. Concerned about the girl’s future, her uncle started looking for a husband for her and accepted joyfully when he received a marriage proposal from Francis I of France for his second son, Henry, Duke of Orléans. The young couple was married in an extravagant affair in 1533. The marriage ran into trouble when Catherine was unable to bear children for several years, though she eventually went on to bear ten children. She became the Queen of France when her husband ascended the throne in 1547 though she started enjoying real power only after the death of King Henry II in 1559. As the queen mother, she exercised considerable political control and emerged as one of the most powerful woman in 16th century Europe
- She was born as Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de' Medici on 13 April 1519 to Lorenzo II de' Medici and Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne. Her father was the Duke of Urbino and the ruler of Florence while her mother hailed from a prominent and ancient French noble family.Her parents rejoiced at her birth but the family’s happiness was short-lived as both her parents expired when Catherine was a little baby. Initially raised by her paternal grandmother, she went to live with her aunt upon her grandmother’s death.Eventually her uncle, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici who was elected Pope Clement VII in 1523, arranged for her to live in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.In 1527, the Medici were overthrown in Florence and Catherine spent the next few years in a series of convents before being summoned by Clement to join him in Rome.Later Years
- Clement received a proposal for Catherine from Francis I of France who asked for her hand for his second son, Henry, Duke of Orléans. Clement agreed, and Henry and Catherine, both 14 at that time, were married in a grand wedding ceremony on 28 October 1533.In 1536 Henry’s elder brother died, making Henry the heir apparent. Years later, when King Francis I died in 1547, Henry became King Henry II and Catherine became queen consort of France.She however enjoyed no powers as the queen because she was always overshadowed by her husband’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. King Henry II showered Diane with attention and gifts and made no secret of his love for her.In June 1559, the king took part in the martial game of jousting in which he was severely wounded. He failed to recover in spite of the best efforts of the physicians and his condition deteriorated over a period of days. He finally died on 10 July 1559.King Henry II was succeeded by his sickly 15 year old son, Francis II, and Catherine now had to shoulder great responsibilities as the queen mother. She now enjoyed more power than she had as the queen and quickly started exercising her authority.She became the queen mother at a very turbulent time and another great crisis befell her when Francis II died prematurely on 5 December 1560. Upon his death, his nine year old brother, Charles IX, was made the king and Catherine was appointed as governor of France (gouvernante de France) by the Privy Council.Acting as a regent on behalf of the young king, Catherine presided over the council, formulated the policies and managed state business. Even after coming of age, Charles IX did not show much interest in the government, and Catherine continued yielding great powers.Another tragedy befell upon Catherine when Charles IX died on 30 May 1574 at the age of 23. He was succeeded by his brother Henry III who now became the king.Henry III was Catherine’s favorite son and came to the throne as a grown man. However, he displayed little interest in the administration of the government and depended upon his mother for advice regarding the affairs of the state. His dependence on Catherine continued till the very end of her life.Major Work
- Even though Catherine de Medici was never able to rule France as its monarch because of the Salic Law which did not allow women to succeed to the throne, she ruled the nation as its regent for nearly 30 years. Two of her sons—Francis II and Charles IX—were still very young when they became the kings and she, as the queen mother, ruled the kingdom on their behalf. Even though King Henry III was an adult when he became the king, he too was dependent upon his mother for advice on politics and administration.Personal Life & Legacy
- Catherine de Medici married Henry, Duke of Orléans in October 1533. She was childless for the first ten years of her marriage though she eventually gave birth to ten children. Many of her children died young.She died on 5 January 1589 at the age of 69. The cause of her death is believed to be pleurisy.
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