The Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner
Catherine de Medici’s early life was rocky. She was orphaned mere weeks after her birth, then at 8 was forcibly placed in a hostile convent when Medici power was overthrown in Florence. Finally, at 11, she was able to go live with her uncle, Pope Clement VII. Rome having recently been sacked by the troops of King Charles of Spain, Clement saw Catherine as an opportunity to cement an alliance with France by wedding her to Henry, second son of King Francois.
Unfortunately, Catherine and Henry didn’t exactly have a fairy tale marriage, since he was far more interested in his nursemaid-turned-mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Catherine’s early denigration at Henry’s neglectful hands require her to become politically savvy and crafty, a trait that will serve her well when she has to advise her son the King – or will it.
I’ve loved C.W. Gortner’s writing since his debut novel, “The Last Queen.” One of my favorite things about him is that he does not simply write the same story that is already dominating the shelves, but chooses amazingly strong and misunderstood women in history, women whose stories are still fresh to the reader. Catherine de Medici is no exception. A patron of Nostradamus, Catherine’s mythology includes a woman who practices dark magic and planned the massacre of France’s Huguenots in the St. Bartolomew’s Day Massacre.
Gortner’s Catherine knows what it is to be persecuted for who you are from the days when the Medicis were overthrown in Florence, and accordingly she actually has a good deal of sympathy for the plight of the Huguenots and advocates a measure of religious tolerance. When conflict between the Catholics and Protestants begins to threaten her familys reign, however, she is forced to take action.
A good half of “Confessions of Catherine de Medici” focused on the conflict between the Catholics and Huguenots, leading up to and following the St. Bartolomew’s Day Massacre. This could have perhaps been overkill, but Gortner made it work very well. I never felt that I’d been reading the same thing over and over, but he kept the story moving forward, even though it was progressing through one main source of conflict.
I highly recommend “The Confessions of Catherine de Medici,” and I can only hope that Gortner is hard at work on another book!