The Italian bride of Henri II. Lavished by her Medici relative, Pope Clement, he jumped at the chance to marry Catherine to Henri (then the Duke of Orléans). Despite her wealth, she was a commoner, and the marriage was a splendid match, celebrated in Marseilles. She saw little of her husband in first years of her marriage, and the death of Clement VII deprived her of a protector and guardian. His successor, Paul III broke the French alliance and refused to pay her huge dowry. François Ier, the King of France lamented: “This girl has come to me stark naked!” Her husband showed no interest in her; they were childless and he openly took mistresses. For ten years, she bore no children, while Henri’s mistress, Philippa Duci gave birth to a daughter, whom he publically acknowledge. Henri’s fertility was proved, putting extra pressure on Catherine, that it was her fault alone that they were childless. These problems were exacerbated in 1536, with the death of the Dauphin. Now Henri succeeded his brother as Dauphin, and would someday be King of France. As she was childless, many believed her to be barren and there was talk of divorce. She resorted to every ‘old trick’ to get pregnant, such as placing cow dung and ground stags’ antlers on her “source of life”, and drinking mule’s urine. On 1544, she finally gave birth to the first of nine children, a sickly son named after the King. After her first pregnancy, she had no further problems getting pregnant. It was probably attributed not to her ‘tricks’ but the doctor of the Dauphin and Dauphine, who noticed abnormalities in the couples sexual organs and advised how to fix the problem. Seven of her children survived to adulthood, including four sons. The Valois dynasty was secure. Yet her pregnancies did not fix her marriage; Henri was enchanted by the older Diane de Poiters, who was 19 years older than he. She had total influence over him, and actually encouraged him to sleep with his wife. When she was became Queen in 1547, her influence was limited; it was only with the accidental death of Henri II in 1559 that Catherine began her ascendency. She banished Diane, took her beloved Chateau that she had desired but the king had given to her. Although her son Francis was old enough to reign, he relied upon Catherine for advise. He died in 1560, and Catherine formally became regent for Charles IX. Catherine was a moderate Catholic; she had control over France during a difficult period when the Huguenot Bourbons feuded with the Ultra-Catholic Guises. Royal power was eroded in the provinces and the crown was broke; Catherine used art as propaganda to reinforce royal authority, and also flirted with an alliance with England against Spain: her son Charles IX was proposed as a husband for Elizabeth, and in the 1570s the younger Duke of Alençon courted her, and many believed that the Queen may have truly loved him and desired to marry him. None of her sons left surviving legitimate issue, and all but Alençon reigned, dying in the midst of the youth. The Valois dynasty which seemed so secure met it’s deluge under Catherine. Elizabeth’s execution of the Queen of Scots increased the power of the Catholic League, and Spain prepared to send an Armada to conquer the island country, leaving France powerless to intervene. By 1588, Catherine was pushed out of power. She died in 1589, and was joined shortly by her son. The Valois dynasty died with Henri III, and was succeed by the Huguenot Henri IV, of the House of Bourbon, who converted to Catholicism and later reunited the country. That king later remarked of Catherine: “I ask you, what could a woman do, left by the death of her husband with five little children on her arms, and two families of France who were thinking of grasping the crown—our own [the Bourbons] and the Guises? Was she not compelled to play strange parts to deceive first one and then the other, in order to guard, as she did, her sons, who successively reigned through the wise conduct of that shrewd woman? I am surprised that she never did worse.”

2 years ago on 15 June 2011 @ 2:18am 4 notes
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