Catherine de Medicis wasn’t beautiful, and not even charming. Her great-grandfather, now dead for about forty years, was the great Lorenzo, known as The Magnificent, Lord of Florence.
She had very little to be happy about. Her mother died a few days after her birth and her father, Lorenzo II, also died two weeks later. Little Caterina, at nineteen days old, was already alone.
Her wedding was decided when she was only 13 years old. Catherine of course was not even consulted, as was the custom in those days.
At the French court, the announcement of the news caused a certain sensation:
“a descendant of merchants and bankers is too modest a ‘bride’ for the king’s son …”
She was married in 1533, she was 14 years old.
Florentine Culture in France
Catherine brought with her not only money and her trousseau, but also her trusted astrologer, tailors, embroiderers, jewelers, perfumers and a large number of cooks, confectioners and sommeliers, chosen from among the best in Florence.
Not bad for a fourteen-year-old girl who lived in a convent!
Catherine in addition to having brought sauces, olive oil, and crepes to France also had the intuition to propose and make fashionable the use of an object that in Florence was already in use by that time, but unknown in Paris: the fork.
Catherine de ‘Medici and Henry of Valois
Henry of France never-ever loved her because he was in love with his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, 20 years older than him (her toy-boy, really). In addition to the sumptuous clothes, Henry gave his lover Diane the crown jewels, which poor Catherine had never worn, and the grandiose Château de Chenonceau.
Catherine gave birth to children and endured an unruly daughter-in-law like Mary Stuart, but took the satisfaction of taking power as Queen Mother, since both her husband and children had the characteristic of dying like flies, leaving her to rule France.
After King Henry II died in 1559, the strong-willed widow and regent Catherine forced Diane out and then made Château de Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.
Got that Diane?
Catherine faced religious crises, unfortunate wars, with the insights of the Medici family, because after all, she was the smartest among the descendants of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Catherine de ‘Medici carries a bad reputation even though over time she has been largely acquitted by history and is considered one of the greatest Queens of France.