Henry II had an illegitimate son

Historical female figures: Catherine de Medici

Here comes another representative of the women who have left their mark on history: Catherine de Medici. She was born into the influential Florence family in 1519. The Medicis ruled the city with a few interruptions from 1434 to 1737. Katharina's life is very closely connected to the diplomatic tricks and intrigues of that time.

A childhood without parents

Catherine de Medici was the daughter of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Florence and the French Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne. Both parents died within just two weeks of their birth. The mother is still in childbed and the father is likely to have syphilis or tuberculosis.

The little girl was first placed in the care of a great-uncle - none other than Pope Leo X. She was later looked after by another uncle - again a Pope: Clement VII. He had ambitious plans for his niece.

The wealthy Medici heiress had excellent marriage prospects

Katharina von Medici was a wealthy heiress and several Italian princes had already applied for her hand. Also discussed were the Duke of Richmond, illegitimate son of Henry VIII. As well as the Scottish King James V. The German Emperor Charles V wanted a marriage between Catherine and Francesco II Sforza, the Duke of Milan.

Uncle Klemens was more interested in an alliance with the French royal family. So I thought of marrying Henry, the Duke of Orleans, the second-born son of the French king. Since the older brother was the designated heir to the throne, there were few concerns about marrying the wealthy "Italian grocer's daughter".

The marriage of the young girl

The wedding of the two 14-year-olds took place in Nice in October 1533 with great pomp. Catherine de Medici brought a truly rich dowry into the marriage. Valuable robes, jewelry and jewels.

Among them were a few earrings made from unusually large pearls. Katharina later gave it to her daughter-in-law Maria Stuart. And after their execution, the pearl earrings were worn by Elizabeth I.

Pope Clement VII and the French king spent ten days negotiating the marriage contract. It was mainly about the territorial claims of the French in Italy.

All of this happened behind the back of the German Kaiser. He had heard rumors about the marriage. But he didn't want to believe that a son from a royal family really wanted to marry a merchant's daughter. As high as the dowry would be. And so in the end he was presented with a fait accompli.

Intrigues and problems at the French court

Life at the French court posed a number of challenges for Katharina. Her young husband had a mistress. Diana of Poitiers was an important figure. And much more practiced in the intrigues of the court than the merchant's daughter from Italy. How much his husband valued his lover is shown by a precious gift he gave Diana: Chenonceau Castle in the Loire Valley. You can find out more about this wonderful property and the women who shaped its history at burgen.de

Ultimately, Diana was probably a supporter of the continuation of the marriage with Henri II, because she feared a younger, more attractive rival. Katharina's problems: Pope Clement VII died a year after the wedding and her dowry was never paid. In addition, Katharina gave birth to her first child three years after the marriage. After that, however, other offspring quickly followed. They should play an important role in the mother's later plans.

Queen of France

Fate had other plans for Katharina: After the death of her husband's older brother and father-in-law, Henry II inherited the French throne - and Katharina became queen. But even Henry II could not wear the crown for long, he was wounded at a tournament and died in June 1559. He was succeeded by the eldest son Franz II, who was married to Maria Stuart. She was Queen of Scotland from December 14, 1542 to July 24, 1567. Impressive family ties, right?

The 15-year-old Franz II was already of legal age, but was physically and mentally not particularly fit, so that his ambitious mother took over the business of government. Only a year later, the young king died of tuberculosis.

His successor was the younger brother Charles IX. Once again, Catherine de Medici took matters into her own hands and sent the widowed daughter-in-law Maria back to Scotland. She also made sure that a 13-year-old was declared of legal age and could take over the business of government.

Officially, she was no longer the regent, but in fact continued to lead the government. It wasn't so difficult either, since the son showed no interest in it and suffered from a nervous disease.

Traveling with an impressive entourage

As a quasi-regent, she toured the country with her sons and a court of no less than 15,000 people from the end of 1564 to the beginning of 1566, to get to know it and at the same time to demonstrate royal power to the people.

Just accommodating and feeding the entourage must have been an unbelievable logistical achievement at the time.

On her travels, Katharina probably always wore black clothes and mostly stayed in the background. The only scandal came when she found out about her daughter Margarete's affair with Heinrich von Guise. Eyewitnesses reported that she pounced on the girl, tore her clothes, tore her hair and beat her.

Another wedding to keep power

Thereafter, the young woman was married to Henry of Navarre in order to ensure good relations between the Catholics and the Huguenots. Another young girl sacrificed to the dynasty.

Katharina also did not shrink from having political opponents cleared out of the way. One example is the Huguenot Admiral Coligny, who campaigned for improved relations with England. However, the attack failed and the admiral was only injured in the arm.

Cruel killing to preserve the dynasty

To prevent further complications, Catherine persuaded the king to have the Huguenot guests who had come to her daughter's wedding killed. She justified the bloody act by preventing a riot.

Thousands of Huguenots fell victim to the murder on the so-called Batholomäus Night and only a few guests survived the days of slaughter - including the new son-in-law, who was now under house arrest and had to renounce his faith. Margarete, however, never forgave her mother for the tricks and hated her husband.

Extension of power to Poland

Another goal of Katharina's ambitions was the Polish crown for her son Heinrich. Indeed, he was elected regent over Poland. However, his mother ordered him back quite quickly because his brother, King of France, was seriously ill with tuberculosis. Apparently Heinrich was neither interested in the French crown, nor did he want to be at the mercy of his domineering mother.

One night he snuck out of his castle in Warsaw down secret stairs and traveled to Venice, where he spent weeks having fun and going to balls. As a result, he met his mother, who had traveled to meet him, late. From then on he was at the mercy of her strong will. Because she continued to hold the strings in her hand.

Assassination of political opponents

However, as a result there were incidents on which Katharina no longer had any influence. The position of Catholics in France has been extremely endangered. The captured son-in-law Heinrich von Navarra managed to escape on a hunt in 1576. And there were arguments that forced the king to flee to Chartres. The weakening of Spain by the fall of the Armada in 1588 also had negative consequences. In order not to weaken his position further, the king, to the horror of his mother, had political opponents like the Duke of Guise killed on December 23, 1588.

Katharina only survived the deed by a few days and died on January 5, 1589. Heinrich III. stood impassively at her deathbed and because of the unrest in Paris she had to be temporarily buried in Blois.

Her son only survived by a few months and was murdered by a Dominican monk on August 2, 1589 at the age of 38.

With him the Valoi house went out. And with that, all of Katharina's political plans came to an end.

She had devoted her entire existence and her strength to the continuation and expansion of her family. And then it all came to an end so quickly.

Impressive legacy

Katharina left clear traces on the French court and brought some things back with her from her Italian homeland.

It is said that she was the one who took part in side saddle rides and made them known in France. Before that, the ladies were out and about in a kind of sedan chair that did not allow them to take part in hunts, for example.

In addition, it is believed that Katharina was one of the first women to wear a pair of underpants under all the skirts that were part of her wardrobe.

It is also said that, although Italian, she was the mother of the famous French cuisine. Your Italian chefs spoiled the French court with many new delicacies and specialties. We owe it to new table manners, which for example make it illegal to blow your nose on the tablecloth.


Small treasures from the Baronissima's antique shop, which noble ladies like Katharina would certainly have enjoyed