Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
I found this dual biography that sheds light on the fraught relationship between misused, determined power-seeker Catherine de Medici and her equally misused, more idealistic daughter Marguerite fascinating and its tone just right. Rich with historical detail and compelling personalities, it’s as engaging as a novel but more substantial, and it’s backed up by 24 pages of notes and an extensive bibliography.
Taking place in France during the reign of Elizabeth I, the book helped expand my knowledge of that era beyond the borders of England. Its eloquent but hair-raising accounts of arranged marriages, shifting alliances, deadly power struggles, disfiguring diseases, royal family dysfunction, and religious wars between Catholics and Huguenots kept me reading late into the night, and many interesting people of the time, including Mary Queen of Scots, Philip II of Spain, and Nostradamus make appearances on its pages.
Daughter Marguerite was forced by Catherine to marry her Huguenot kinsman Henry, King of Navarre, which went against Marguerite's strongly held Catholic beliefs, only to have her wedding celebration turn into a Huguenot slaughter orchestrated by her mother. Later Marguerite was imprisoned by her mother and her brother the king of France under circumstances that could have led her to a fate similar to that of Mary Queen of Scots, who had just been executed by Elizabeth I accross the channel, but Marguerite’s good sense, good negotiating skills, and good luck saved her neck.
One of my favorite facts from the book: Marguerite and Henry’s court at Navarre was parodied by Shakespeare in Love’s Labor’s Lost--though it wasn’t Marguerite he was poking fun at. In a time of religious power struggles, Protestant England was tired of Huguenot King Henry’s compromises with French Catholics.
Marguerite comes across as romantic but devout, as well as intelligent, self-educated, and compassionate. Her diplomacy skills helped changed the course of French history and promoted religious tolerance. Catherine was treated shoddily by her husband Henri II--his blatant affair with Diane de Poitiers humiliated her--but after his death she herself was often opportunistic, ruthless, and cruel making her unpopular during her lifetime. Her daughter Marguerite lived and died mostly beloved by the French people, but according to this author the two reputations have been somewhat reversed in the minds of many modern historians, with Catherine being portrayed as pragmatic in a difficult time and Marguerite not given credit for her achievements. Goldstone’s book succeeds at tipping the balance back a little.