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January 2011: Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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boswellbaxter
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January 2011: Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France

Post by boswellbaxter » Sat January 1st, 2011, 1:57 am

Discuss Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda here.
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat January 8th, 2011, 2:53 am

I got this recently and have been reading it, Maybe it's because I already know so much around all the peripherals and this book is connecting the dots, but I find it fascinating. I'm about 100 pages in -- anybody else reading it?

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Sat January 8th, 2011, 5:18 pm

It just arrived yesterday. I'm taking it on a "ski" trip next week. My hubby and daughter will be skiing--I'll be reading by the fire!
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Post by fljustice » Mon January 24th, 2011, 4:50 pm

I finished Catherine a week ago and was waiting for the discussion to begin. Since this is my first BOTM, I wasn't sure what the protocol was for when people post, and what is allowed when. Not much in the way of spoilers in a biography! So, unless waved off, I'll come back and leave some comments tomorrow.
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boswellbaxter
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Post by boswellbaxter » Mon January 24th, 2011, 5:20 pm

[quote=""fljustice""]I finished Catherine a week ago and was waiting for the discussion to begin. Since this is my first BOTM, I wasn't sure what the protocol was for when people post, and what is allowed when. Not much in the way of spoilers in a biography! So, unless waved off, I'll come back and leave some comments tomorrow.[/quote]

Please do! There's no protocol, except for warning people of spoilers (when the book is fiction), and even that's entirely informal.
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Tue January 25th, 2011, 5:02 pm

Long, long ago in a youth far, far away, I read a biography of Catherine de Medici; so I was already familiar with her story. I have to admit, the details I remember, were extremely hazy: mostly that she was a very powerful woman and Mary, Queen of Scots' mother-in-law. Then a couple of years ago, my husband and I took a biking vacation in the Loire valley and visited numerous castles and gardens along way, several associated with Catherine and her rival Diane de Poitiers; so I was reacquainted with the general outlines of her story. Which brings me to the BOTM: Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda

I found the story of Catherine's life fascinating. She was one of the most powerful people (man or woman) of her times--and those times were fraught with religious divisions, territorial wars and internecine politics (I guess things don't change much!) She was an enormously complex woman: well educated, sophisticated, erudite, and tremendously superstitious; politically astute, a fanatically hard worker and a glutton; ruthless with enemies, generous with friends and blind with her family. In a time when women legally couldn't rule because of the Salic law, Catherine did rule as regent during her sons' minorities and as their agent and representative during their majorities. She prosecuted war, negotiated peace, arranged treaties and marriages, raised money, placed ministers and oversaw intelligence gathering.

Catherine's life was also marked with sadness and tragedy: orphaned as a baby, threatened with murder as a child and a political pawn of the Pope (her uncle.) She made a place for herself at the French court, in spite of being publicly shamed by a husband she deeply loved. It was only because of her husband's accidental death, she could come into her own. And finally, although she enjoyed excellent health, all her sons were sickly and none could be the king the times needed. Of her ten children, she outlived all but two and one of those followed her within months. Of course, if her children had been healthy, Catherine's life would have been quite different (maybe.)

As to the author's purpose: Frieda in her forward talks about how Catherine's reputation was blackened during her life and after death; particularly her culpability in the St. Bartholomew's day Massacre and how the author wanted to shed some light on this woman and reassess her place in history. I believe Frieda did a good job. The research seemed rock solid, the story progressed and the analysis was logical. The author laid out a story of a family enmeshed in turbulent times. The politics of France and the surrounding countries were deftly woven into the narrative. Others with more expertise in this time period might have a different assessment.

The writing worked for me, as well. As with any biography covering a long-lived person in a huge political theater, the cast of characters can become overwhelming. It helped to have the genealogies in the front and the pictures of several of the main actors; but I have to admit, after a while they blurred into "the Guises" and "the Huguenots" and I lost track of some of the individual people over generations. However the language was accessible to the lay reader and not at all "scholarly."

In summary, I enjoyed this book. I felt entertained and educated about a woman who deserves to be as well known as her contemporaries: the Tudors and Phillip of Spain.
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Post by Jemidar » Sun January 30th, 2011, 9:01 am

I'm currently reading this and am enjoying it very much :) .

I didn't know very much about Catherine and what I did know was thanks to CW's wonderful novel, which whetted my appetite to find out more about this fascinating woman and her family. And I agree that she deserves more recognition because she was an important player of her times and not just Mary, Queen of Scots mother-in-law which was all I knew about her before reading The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and this bio.

So far I've found this bio very accessible and readable (though not gossipy) while still having footnotes for the people who want them. I'm just starting the bit about the Wars of Religion which is confusing me a little, but I think that is because it was pretty confusing to begin with! And yes, there is a cast of thousands (or it feels like it at times!) but I'm hoping by the end of the book I will have everyone straight :p .


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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun January 30th, 2011, 3:44 pm

I am about two-thirds through this, not quite to the death of son #2. I must say that although I have researched England, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, and Italy, France is a country I always seem to avoid. So Catherine is sort of the black hole in the middle.

It does seem to me that the author slants things in Catherine's favor at every opportunity. I'm starting to take her 'spin' on events with a grain of salt. This isn't because I've read the bad stuff about the woman -- I tend to avoid books set in Renaissance France, and the only ones I can now remember are the Lymond series --it's just that, as a skeptic to the core, I have an automatic BS radar and the writer is tripping it a little. Of course, it does make the book more readable.

I stopped mid-book to go re-read a couple of biographies of Emperor Charles' and Philip II's movers and shakers, just to place them beside what was happening in France and re-orient myself, so to speak. Then I'll finish.

I've always wanted to read a book on Jeanne d'Albret, so perhaps my sympathies are against Catherine from the get-go.

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Post by fljustice » Sun January 30th, 2011, 6:24 pm

[quote=""MLE""]It does seem to me that the author slants things in Catherine's favor at every opportunity. I'm starting to take her 'spin' on events with a grain of salt. This isn't because I've read the bad stuff about the woman -- I tend to avoid books set in Renaissance France, and the only ones I can now remember are the Lymond series --it's just that, as a skeptic to the core, I have an automatic BS radar and the writer is tripping it a little. Of course, it does make the book more readable.[/quote]

I agree that Freida takes a definite pro-Catherine stance, but she says she's going to do that in her introduction. No "hidden" agenda, but an agenda. I also don't think she let Catherine off the hook on a few key elements: her absolute dedication to keeping the Valois family in power in spite of the unfitness of her sons to rule (but in an age where it's bloodlines first and foremost rather than ability, this was natural); her vengefulness toward those she considered enemies including the man who accidentally killed her husband in a tournament; and the fact that she triggered the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre with her plans to assassinate the leading Protestants. Frieda felt that it was a "surgical strike" that went wrong, but puts the onus squarely on Catherine for the instigation.
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Post by Ludmilla » Tue February 8th, 2011, 7:06 pm

Okay, I admit it. I've been bad. I nominated the book, I own it, I need to read it, but I haven't been a NF mood lately. I will eventually read this and come back. It just may take me awhile. I find I do much better with my reading if I just follow my moods.

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