Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici

The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici is a 2009 novel by Jeanne Karlogridis on the life of Catherine de Medici from the Medici's fall from power in Florence in 1527 to the death of King Charles IX of France.

In the care of her Aunt, Clarice de Medici, Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de Medici bears witness to the fall of the Medici from power in Florence in 1527 with the sacking of Rome by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.  In Florence, she befriends an astrologer by the name of Cosimo Ruggieri, who has promised to always be there for protect her. She is captured by the rebels and held hostage at nunneries while her family struggle to regained their grip on the city. When she is miraculously released, she learns that it is due to Ruggieri and from then on he is indispensable to her.

When the city falls back into Medici hands,Caterina returns triumphant. During her stay in Florence, she begins a torrid love affair with her cousin, Ippolito de Medici. When Alessandro de Medici catches them in an intimate embrace, he warns Caterina of Ippolito's lecherous ways. Caterina and Ippolito go their separate ways. Ippolito becomes a cardinal and Caterina leaves Florence for Rome where she is greeted by her Uncle, Pope Clement VII. He then sets about finding her a husband.

On October 28, 1533, Caterina de Medici marries Prince Henri, Duke of Orleans, the second son of Francois I of France. The marriage's consummation is witnessed by the King who said that "each has shown valor in the joust". Caterina, now called Catherine in France, is a hit with her new family especially with her father-in-law but her relations with her husband are somewhat colder. When Pope Clement dies in 1534, his successor, Pope Paul III, refuses to pay the rest of Catherine's large dowry, causing King Francois to say, "She has come to me stark naked."

In 1536, the Dauphin, Francois, dies from a chill he got after a vigorous game of tennis. Henri is now the heir to the french throne. During this time of grief, Henri takes Diane de Poitiers as his mistress - she would maintain this position for the entirety of Henri's life. Catherine is reunited with Ruggieri who informs her that Henri will die soon unless they intervene with the help of the supernatural. Together they murder a pregnant prostitute carrying triplets in hopes to give Henri extra time. Catherine promises that they will never do such sordid acts again even if it's to save a life.

For ten years the couple have no children causing some at Court to advise King Francois to repudiate her. In 1544, Catherine gives birth to her first child, the future Francois II. From then on, she has no trouble conceiving again.Eventually giving birth to nine more children.

King Francois, Catherine's great protector, dies in 1547 and Henri ascends to the throne as Henri II of France with Catherine as his queen. At the age of five and a half, Mary, Queen of Scots, is sent to France as the future bride of their eldest son. She is a favorite of everyone except the Queen. When Henri impregnates Mary's governess, Lady Janet Fleming, it is revealed that Henri is cast away from Diane's affections and he slowly turns to his long suffering wife for comfort. The two fall in love. In 1556, Catherine nearly dies giving birth to twins daughters. The surgeons were require to break the limbs of one twins in order to save the Queen's life - the other dies only seven weeks after her birth.She never conceives again.

On April 3, 1559, Henri signs the treaty of Peace of Cateau-Cambersis thus ending a long period of Italian wars. The treaty was sealed by the betrothal of their eldest daughter, Elisabeth, to King Phillip II of Spain. Henri took part in the festivities for the betrothal by entering in the jousting tournament. He is stuck in the eye by a lance and dies in complete agony on July 10, 1559. Catherine would forever wear widow's black.

Their son becomes Francois II at the age of fifteen. The Guises' capitalize on their connection to the royal couple, Mary's Mother being a Guise herself, and move into the room adjoining the royal couple. The zealously Catholic Guise family begun persecuting Protestants with a passion. The Protestants turn to Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre and later to his brother Louis, Prince of Conde. The Guise was attacked the Chateau of Ambroise and Louis is captured. He is sentenced to death but it only saved by the King's illness and eventual death in 1560. Mary is sent back to Scotland.

The nine year old King Charles IX is King in name only as Catherine now wields complete power behind the throne. In 1572, Princess Margaret of France marries Prince Henri of Navarre, Catherine sees this as an attempt to appease the Protestants and Charles approves of the match as a way to curve Maragaret's licentiousness. A week after the wedding, is the event that will forever stain Catherine's reputation; the St. Batholomew's Massacre.  The slaughter in Paris lasted a week.

Finally broken, Catherine returns to the one person that has been with her from the very beginning. She returns to Rugigeri.

I give this book a 3.5/5. Karlogridis really draws the line here between interpretation and actual facts especially in conjunction to the relationship between Catherine de Medici and her husband. Now I understand that I was lenient on Anchee Min with her interpretation (albeit she was docked marks on inaccuracies), however, in such a case the interpretation is viable. "The Devil's Queen" walks on a much thinner line as there is much evidence that supports that Henri's love for Diane de Poitier rather than his love for Catherine. It completely skips some of the more scintillating aspects of Henri's life with his mistress and she is never mentioned after Henri's death (Catherine sought revenge on Diane for all her years in the shadows)/ In this book, he seems rather nice to Catherine and it seems forced in my opinion. 

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