Catherine de Medici was born Caterina de' Medici in Florence, Italy to Lorenzo II de' Medici and his wife, a French
princess, Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne on April 13, 1519. By the time she was 1, both of her parents had died and Catherine
was sent to be brought up in an Italian convent. In 1533, at the age of 14, Catherine was betrothed to the Duc d'Orleans,
Henri, and married at Marseilles, France.
Catherine came from a very powerful family. The de'
Medicis were a line of dukes and popes and were great sponsors of art, literature, and science, becoming symbols of the Renaissance.
Catherine's uncle, Clement VII, was the Pope at the time and he was the one who arranged for Catherine to marry Henri. Henri's
father, King Francis I of France, was long in battle with his foe, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the king saw the
marriage opportunity as fortunate, should he achieve ties in the Italian peninsula that could aide him against Charles. Clement
was also in need of protection, and he knew he would catch Francis with his bait.
Catherine was not a traditional French queen. She was
a foreigner, often rudely called 'the merchant's daughter'. She had no interest in politics, nor did she have many abilities.
When she did not produce children after ten years of marriage to Francis, divorce was whispered of. Francis could not bear
to watch the extinction of the de Valois dynasty, and deeply considered divorcing. However, Catherine gave birth to a young
boy, an heir, named Francis, in 1544.
In 1547, Henri became the King of France. Catherine
lived a quiet and mysterious life secluded with her Italian maids. She took a deep interest in science and often called astronomers
and thinkers to her rooms. Even the famous Nostramadus visited the queen, and she had an observatory built in the Palais de
Louvre in Paris. It was also rumored that Catherine began to find an interest in her Italian origins and poisons. The French
people had always judged Italians as poisoners and murderers, and Catherine was reputed to keep her poisons in her 200 cabinets.
Catherine suffered many miscarriages, but did give birth to a son after Francis, named Charles, and seven other children.
Henri had a mistress, the famous and mysterious Diane
d'Poitiers. Her relationship with Catherine was not a friendly one. Diane attempted to please the queen, but Catherine disliked
Diane not only for her reputation as a mistress, but also for her deep beliefs and praisings of the Greek and Roman
myths. Diane modeled herself after the goddess of the hunt, Diane, and her palace at Anet was a sumptuous gift from Henri
loaded with statues and paintings of Greek gods and goddesses.
Catherine also had a rocky relationship with Mary,
Queen of Scots, who came to France when she was 6 after being betrothed to Francis, the dauphin. Mary's father died only a
few days after her birth, and Mary therefore became the Queen of Scotland. Her mother, Marie de Guise, whose brothers (the
Duc d'Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine) lived at the French court and had some influence over King Henri, acted as her regents
while Mary went to live with her future husband and family. Everyone, especially Henry, loved Mary and Catherine was deeply
jealous. Mary was beautiful and highly intelligent. Catherine never meant harm to Mary, but many were weary that the
'Italian woman', as Catherine was also called, would poison their beloved princess.
In 1552, King Henri left France for a campaign in Metz.
Catherine was nominated regent, and continued to handle French affairs even after Henri died in 1559 and Francis and Mary
became King and Queen of France. Mary's uncles, the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duc d'Guise, were still very power-hungry
and the two's control over Francis and Mary threatened Catherine. She began to secretly plot and on April 1, 1650, Catherine
named Michel de l'Hopital chancellor and advocated a policy of conciliation.
On December 5, 1560, Francis died at the age of 16.
Charles, Catherine's second son, was now king, and Catherine became his regent, as Charles was only 10. She was 41, but was
very active in politics after years of silence during Henri's reign. She began to take a role in the French Wars of Religion,
between the Huguenots and the Catholics in France. Although she did not fully support either party, she refused to let the
Huguenots (Protestants) get the upper hand, being a devout Catholic herself. She also refused to let them be crushed, so that
they could be used as a counterpoise against the de Guises. However, fury and suspicion plagued the party leaders and civil
war after civil war mounted. In 1567, Catherine signed the Enterprise of Meaux, dismissing l'Hopital and becoming a member
of the Catholic party. She failed to crush the Huguenots, and returned to politics. She attempted to have her third and favorite
son, the Duc d'Anjou, married to Queen Elizabeth I of England, but the marriage failed.