The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 2010
Source: ARC from Bookbrowse
The Short Version:
Fictionalized memoir of a powerful woman, who was the last of a famous Italian dynasty, became Queen of France and spent the rest of her life keeping her children on the throne of her adopted country
Why I Read It:
I’d had C.W. Gortner’s first book (The Last Queen) on my TBR list after reading so many positive reviews but hadn’t read it yet. When I had the opportunity to get this new book through Bookbrowse, I jumped at the chance.
Orphaned at a young age, Catherine was the last of the famous Medici family of Florence. She was raised by relatives until the Medici were thrown out of Florence, at which time she lived in a convent during the siege of Florence. Her uncle, Pope Clement II brought her to Rome and then began the process of marrying her off in a way that was to his benefit.
As a teenager, she was married to the Dauphin of France. Her marriage was complicated by the presence and influence of her husband’s long term mistress. Nevertheless, she managed to perform her duty as a royal spouse and produce heirs. When Henri died at a relatively young age Catherine moved into her most well known role of Queen Mother. Three of her sons ruled as king of France and she either served as regent or influential advisor to all of them.
During Catherine’s lifetime the conflict between French Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots was a long standing and continually simmering battle. At times she supported religious tolerance and at others supported the ouster of the Huguenots. This ongoing religious and civil war was the dominant problem in France but Catherine’s focus was always on making decisions based on what would keep the Valois Monarchy on the throne.
Although Catherine de Medici has been a peripheral character in almost any 16th century European historical fiction I’ve read, I’ve never read any book focused on her. I’d already heard good things about C.W Gortner’s first book (The Last Queen), and was very happy to have been able to read an ARC of this book. It would have been a wonderful book to just totally immerse myself in over a short time, but circumstances interfered with that so it took me longer than originally anticipated to read this. Gortner’s storytelling is such that I never felt like I had to become reacquainted with the book or characters when I was able to return to it despite the large number of people and events to track. Certain things were either left out or slightly altered but I think it made the story more readable.
Catherine is such an interesting character and despite what is known of her, there is also much speculation and guesswork regarding her motives and methods. I thoroughly enjoyed the way that the author presented Catherine as a young girl eager to fulfill her expected role, a mother and politically savvy monarch. The opposing sides of her nature and actions are all present in the story and make it difficult to decide whether to love, despise or sympathize with her. I think that I ended up with somewhat mixed feelings about Catherine. She knew that as the daughter of noblemen, her life was not her own, but after the death of her husband she became a power to be reckoned with as she did everything she could to secure the throne for her children. Whether what was necessary was right or moral may not have always been what determined her actions, but perhaps her ultimate motivation was right. She was clearly a complex woman in a complex time.
I was very impressed with the character, the story and the writing. I’m looking forward to reading The Last Queen and am eagerly awaiting Gortner’s next book. I’d been heading for a return to historical fiction in my reading mix and this was just an excellent one with which to kick that off.