Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, the House of Medici blossomed into one of the most powerful houses in Europe through its sprawling business empire that was facilitated by its ownership of The Bank Of Medici. The vast economic interest of the family spread throughout Europe over the years and culminated in political influence. As a result, the family’s tentacles were able to spread into the royal houses of France and England and even produced four famous 16th-century popes; Pope Leo X (1513–1521), Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), Pope Pius IV (1559–1565), and Pope Leo XI (1605).
Catherine de’ Medici is another famous member of the Italian banking family and political dynasty. She played such a significant role in history that the influence and political might of women in ancient Europe cannot be discussed without the mention of her name. She became such a huge influence following her marriage to King Henry II of France and her subsequent long regency to her minor sons; kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. During the reign of her sons, Catherine had the last say and was thus a major player in the Catholic-Huguenot war that lasted all through the reign of her sons.
Catherine de’ Medici Had a Rough Start to Life
Catherine de’ Medici was born to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici and Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne on April 13, 1519, in Florence, Italy. Her father’s official title was Duke of Urbino whereas her mother was Countess of Boulogne.
Less than a month after she was born, Catherine lost both of her parents. This left her in the care of her relatives, last of which was Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici who was elected Pope Clement VII in 1523. Clement moved Catherine to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence where she was properly cared for. She went on to blossom into a young lady of repute, receiving the best of education as she was described as artistic, intelligent, and extroverted.
Things were however not all rosy as Catherine de’ Medici was for a few years held hostage after the Medici were overthrown in Florence. The city was later recaptured and Catherine was able to reunite with her uncle who then began to look for the right husband for his dear niece. After more than a few worthy suitors lined up for her hand in marriage, Clement joyfully accepted the marriage proposal from Francis I of France for his second son Henry who at the time had the official title of Duke of Orleans.
Her Marriage To Henry was Rocky and She Initially Had Difficulties Having Children
On 28 October 1533, at the age of fourteen, Catherine de’ Medici was married off to Henry, the second son of King Francis I and Queen Claude of France. The wedding was a grand affair that took place in Eglise Saint-Ferreol Les Augustins in Marseille, France.
While Catherine barely saw her husband in their first year of marriage, all was believed to have been going well between the couple until her husband began openly taking mistresses. This was bolstered by the fact that she was unable to conceive.
Prince Henry’s interest in her waned further as he proved he was fertile by publicly acknowledging a child he had with his mistress. Catherine was left with no option but to try every means possible for getting pregnant. This included drinking mule’s urine, putting cow dung and ground antlers of stags on her reproductive organ. None of these methods worked for her until she met physician Jean Fernel who had noticed slight abnormalities in the couple’s sexual organs and proffered a remedy that they adhered to.
Catherine de’ Medici was then able to conceive and she gave birth to a son who was named after King Francis on the 19th of January, 1544. She conceived a second time and had a daughter named Elisabeth on the 2nd of April, 1545. She would go on to have a total of ten children, including Charles IX, Henry III, and Francis, Duke of Anjou.
Life as a Queen and Queen Mother
King Henry allowed Catherine de’ Medici almost no political influence as queen. When he was absent from the country, she was sometimes able to act as regent but her powers were strictly nominal. This continued until King Henry passed away from injuries suffered during a jousting accident in July 1559.
Catherine’s influence only began to rise after her son Francis became king at the age of fifteen. While he was old enough to be king, he was inexperienced and so he relied heavily on his mother among other advisors. His mother was further able to rule the nation as regent when Francis II died and his successor, Charles IX who was still very young, became king. Her role as a regent was also visible in the reign of King Henry III even though he was already an adult when he took up the crown.
After the untimely demise of Francis II who died without an heir, the throne passed down to the ten-year-old Charles. Due to his infancy, the Privy Council appointed Catherine de’ Medici as governor of France, officially giving her sweeping powers to act as regent on behalf of her young son. She would, however, soon suffer the ill fortune of losing Charles who died at the age of 23 after battling Tuberculosis.
After his death, Catherine’s third son and reported favorite Henry III ascended to the throne of France. Henry III was much healthier and older than his brothers when he became king, meaning that he had a more hands-on approach in the affairs of the state although his mother still wielded some influence.
Catherine de’ Medici Died While the Country was Still at War
Catherine de’ Medici remained politically active until the end of her life. She toured France on Henry III’s behalf and tried to maintain the loyalty of the country’s many war-torn territories. After many months of managing the excesses and ambitions of her son, she was fast succumbing to ill health.
In 1588, she was reported to have battled lung infection. The following year, she noticeably became ill while dancing at the marriage of one of her granddaughters. It was believed that she had pleurisy. She fought but was unable to continue as she gave up and died on the 5th of January, 1589 at the age of sixty-nine. Except from Henry III who died seven months after and her daughter Margaret, Catherine outlived all her children.
As a result of the conflict that was ongoing at the time, Catherine was initially buried at the Château de Blois. Years later, however, her remains were reinterred in the Saint-Denis basilica in Paris but her bones and that of other kings and queens of France have since been buried in a mass grave by a revolutionary mob in 1793.