Catherine de' Medici (1519 - 1589) was born in Florence, Italy, to Lorenzo II de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne, Countess of Boulogne. Both parents died within weeks of her birth.
In 1533, aged 14, Catherine was married to Henri, the second son of François I, King of France. In 1547, Henri became King of France (as Henri II) and Catherine was Queen Consort from 1547 to 1559. On the death of Henri II, Catherine played a key role in the reigns of three of her sons as, in turn, each became King of France.
In this novel, Mr Gortner moves beyond the known historical facts to tell Catherine's story, in her own voice: from her difficult life in Florence; through the challenges of her marriage to Henri where she was largely overshadowed by Henri's long standing mistress Diane de Poitiers; and then her role in the reigns of her sons during an age of almost constant religious and civil war in France.
The Catherine de' Medici given life on these pages is tenacious and witty, is flexible and able to compromise, and is determined to save the Valois monarchy in France. She is a passionate woman, overshadowed, if not overawed, by Diane de Poitiers. After the death of Henri II, she tries to protect the Valois monarchy from the ambitions of the nobility and the conflict between the Catholics and the Huguenots leading to the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572.
I enjoyed this novel for its more positive portrayal of Catherine de' Medici and presentation of the challenges she faced. Catherine de' Medici is one of the most controversial, maligned and feared women ever to be queen, and most fiction portrays her in this light.
`The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess.'