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Historical Figure
Catherine de' Medici
History's Catherine de' Medici
Biographical Information
Title: Queen consort of France

Queen regent of France

Reign: 31 March 1547 –
10 July 1559
Coronation: 10 June 1549
Born: 13 April 1519
Died: 5 January 1589
Burial: Saint-Denis
Religion: Roman Catholic
House: Medici
Relationship Information
TV Character Information
Portrays: Queen Catherine
Portrayed by: Megan Follows

Catherine de' Medici (13 April 1519 - 5 January 1589) was a Florentine noblewoman born into the Medici family. She was Queen of France from 1547 to 1559 by marriage to King Henry II and the mother of French kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. The years during which her sons reigned have been called "the age of Catherine de' Medici" since she wielded great power over the political life of France.


Catherine de' Medici was born on 13 April 1519 in Florence, Italy to Lorenzo de' Medici and Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne. Within a month of her birth, both her parents succumbed to an illness believed to be syphilis.

In 1527, the Medicis were overthrown by the Florentine Republic, and Catherine was held hostage and placed in a series of convents. Threats were made against Catherine to rape her, which are implied to have been carried out at some point. After years of captivity, she was rescued by the forces of Pope Clement VII, who held her in his embrace as he greeted her, giving her back her freedom.

Being Queen of France[]

Years later, Pope Clement VII arranged the marriage of Catherine de' Medici to the second son of the French king, Prince Henry II. The marriage took place in France when they were both 14 years old. Catherine and Henry were very much in love, even if he had been seeing another woman before their marriage. However, Catherine was surprised when the other woman, Diane de Poitiers continued to stay in both their lives. Catherine was very hurt to hear that Diane was pregnant before she was. However, not long after, Catherine was pregnant and was thrilled when it was born a boy. Henry named him Francis, after his older brother and father. Soon after, she was pregnant with a second child, who she named Elisabeth.

Two years later, Henry's father died, and Henry became the new King of France, making Prince Francis the new heir to the throne. Years passed, and Catherine and Henry had two more sons and a daughter, even though they were no longer as close as they had been in the earlier years of their marriage.

Queen Mother[]

Prince Francis became king at the age of 15. In what has been called a coup d'état, the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise—whose niece, Mary, Queen of Scots, had married Francis the year before—seized power the day after King Henry II's death and quickly moved themselves into the Louvre Palace with the young couple.

Catherine worked with the Guises out of necessity. She was not strictly entitled to a role in Francis's government, he was deemed old enough to rule for himself. However, all his official acts began as: "This being the good pleasure of the Queen, my lady-mother, and I also approving of every opinion that she holdeth, am content and command that ..."

One of her first acts was to force Diane de Poitiers to hand over the crown jewels and return the Château de Chenonceau to the crown.

The Guise brothers set about persecuting the Protestants. Catherine spoke up against the Guise persecutions, though she had no particular sympathy for them, whose beliefs she never shared. The Protestants looked for leadership first to King Antoine and then, with more success, to his brother, Louis of Condé who backed a plot to overthrow the Guises by force.

In June 1560, Michel de l'Hôpital began working closely with Catherine to defend the law in the face of the growing anarchy. Neither saw the need to punish Protestants who worshiped in private and did not take up arms. Meanwhile, Condé raised an army and in autumn 1560 began attacking towns in the south. Catherine ordered him to court and had him imprisoned as soon as he arrived. He was tried in November, found guilty of offenses against the crown, and sentenced to death. His life was saved by the illness and death of the king.

When Catherine realized Francis was going to die, she made a pact with King Antoine he would renounce his right to the regency of the future King Charles, for the release of his brother Louis Condé. When Francis died on 5 December 1560, the Privy Council appointed Catherine as governor of France.

Reign of King Charles IX[]

At first Catherine kept the 9-year-old king, who cried at his coronation, close to her, and slept in his chamber. Presided over his council, decided policy, and controlled state business and patronage. However, was never in a position to control the country as a whole, which was on the brink of civil war.

On 1 March 1562, in an incident known as the Massacre of Vassy, the Duke of Guise and his men attacked worshipping Huguenots in a barn, killing 74 and wounding 104. Guise was cheered as a hero in the streets of Paris while the Huguenots called for revenge. The massacre lit the fuse that sparked the French Wars of Religion. For the next thirty years, France found itself in a state of either civil war or armed truce.

Within a month Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, and Admiral Gaspard raised an army of 1,800. They formed an alliance with England and seized town after town in France. Catherine met Coligny, but he refused to back down. She therefore, told him:

"Since you rely on your forces, we will show you ours."
—Catherine de' Medici

The royal army struck back quickly and laid siege. Catherine visited the deathbed of King Antoine after he was fatally wounded by an arquebus shot. On 18 February 1563, a spy fired an arquebus into the back of the Duke of Guise. The murder triggered an aristocratic blood feud that complicated the French civil wars for years to come. Catherine, however, was delighted with the death of her ally. One month later, the war was over.

At the end of September in 1567, Huguenot forces attempted to ambush the king, triggering renewed civil war.The court fled to Paris in disarray and was over in 6 months. but civil unrest and bloodshed continued.

The Huguenots retreated to the west coast, where Queen Jeanne and her fifteen-year-old son, Henry of Bourbon, joined them. The two queen angrily write each other.

Catherine looked to further Valois interests by grand dynastic marriages. In 1570, Prince Charles married Elisabeth of Austria.. Catherine was also eager for a match between one of her two youngest sons and Queen Elizabeth of England. After Catherine's daughter Elisabeth of Valois died in childbirth, she had touted her youngest daughter Princess Margaret as a bride for King Philip of Spain. Now she sought a marriage between Margaret and Henry de Bourbon, with the aim of uniting Valois and Bourbon interests. Margaret, however, was secretly involved with Henry of Guise, the son of the late Duke of Guise. When Catherine found out, she had her daughter brought from her bed. Catherine and King Charles then beat her, ripping her nightclothes and pulling out handfuls of her hair.

Catherine pressed Queen Jeanne to attend court. When Jeanne did come to court, Catherine pressured her hard, playing on her hopes for her beloved son. Jeanne finally agreed to the marriage between her son and Prince Henry III.

Princess Margaret, so long as Henry could remain a Huguenot. When Jeanne arrived in Paris to buy clothes for the wedding, she was taken ill and died, aged forty-four. Catherine was soon accused of murdering her with poisoned gloves. The wedding took place on 18 August 1572 at Notre-Dame, Paris.

The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, which began two days after the murder of Admiral Coligny stained Catherine's reputation. There is no reason to believe she was not party to the decision her son ordered, "Then kill them all! Kill them all!" Allegedly to avenge the attack on Admiral Coligny. They wiped out the Huguenot leaders while they were still in Paris after the wedding.

The slaughter in Paris lasted for almost a week. It spread to many parts of France, where it persisted into the autumn. In the words of historian Jules Michelet, "St Bartholomew was not a day, but a season".

Reign of King Henry III[]

Two years later, Catherine faced a new crisis with the death of King Charles at the age of twenty-three. The day before he died, he named his mother regent, since his brother Prince Henry, was ruling as King of Poland for the last year. Three months after his coronation, Henry abandoned that throne and returned become king of France.

Henry was Catherine's favourite son. Unlike his brothers, he came to the throne as a grown man. He was also healthier, though he suffered from weak lungs and constant fatigue. He depended on Catherine and her team of secretaries until the last few weeks of her life and often hid from state affairs.

Henry married Louise of Lorraine in February 1575, two days after his coronation. His choice thwarted Catherine's plans for a political marriage to a foreign princess. Rumors of Henry's inability to produce children were by that time in wide circulation. As time passed and the likelihood of children from the marriage receded, Catherine's youngest son, Francis, played upon his role as heir to the throne. Catherine did all in her power to bring Francis back into the fold. On one occasion, in March 1578, she lectured him for six hours about his dangerously subversive behavior.

In 1576, in a move that endangered Henry's throne, Francis allied with the Protestant princes against the crown. On 6 May 1576, Catherine gave in to almost all Huguenot demands in the Edict of Beaulieu. The treaty became known as the Peace of Monsieur because it was thought that Francis had forced it on the crown. Francis died of consumption one year later, after a disastrous intervention in the Low Countries during which his army had been massacred. Catherine wrote, the next day:

"I am so wretched to live long enough to see so many people die before me, although I realize that God's will must be obeyed, that He owns everything, and that he lends us only for as long as He likes the children whom He gives us."
—Catherine de' Medici

The death of her youngest son was a calamity for Catherine's dynastic dreams. Under Salic law, only males could ascend the throne, Henry of Bourbon who was the first born son of King Antoine and Queen Jeanne had now became the new Dauphin of France.

Catherine had at least taken the precaution of marrying Princess Margaret, her youngest daughter to Henry de Bourbon. Margaret became almost as much of a thorn in Catherine's side as Francis and in 1582, she returned to the French Court without her husband. Catherine was heard yelling at her for taking lovers. After running away numerous times, Catherine asked her son to act before Margaret brought shame to the family. OnOctober 1586 he looked his sister up in the Château d'Usson. Her latest lover was executed, and Catherine cut Margaret out of her will and never saw her again.

Catherine was unable to control Henry in the way she had Francis and Charles. Her role in his government was chief executive and roving diplomat. She traveled widely across the kingdom, enforcing his authority and trying to head off war. At the age of 59, she embarked on an eighteen-month journey around the south of France to meet Huguenot leaders face to face. Her efforts won Catherine new respect from the French people.

By 1587, Catholic backlash against the Protestants become a campaign across Europe. Queen Elizabeth's execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, on 8 February 1587 outraged the Catholic world. King Philip of Spain even prepared for an invasion of England.


King Henry hired Swiss Guards to help him defend himself in Paris. When Catherine tried to go to mass, she found her way barred, though she was allowed through the barricades. As usual, Catherine advised the king, who had fled the city in the nick of time, to compromise and live to fight another day.

On 8 September 1588 King Henry dismissed all his ministers without warning. Catherine, in bed with a lung infection, was kept in the dark. Henry's actions effectively ended her days of power. At the meeting of the Estates, Henry thanked Catherine for all she had done. Calling her the Mother of the King, and Mother of the State.

On 23 December 1588, he asked the Duke of Guise to call on him and as her entered the king's chamber was murdered and died at the foot of the king's bed. At the same moment, eight members of the Guise family were rounded up and murdered the next day in the dungeons. Immediately after the murder of Duke of Guise, Henry entered his mother's room and told her what happened, insisting the Duke'd had the same fate in store for him.

On 5 January 1589, Catherine died at sixty-nine, probably from pleurisy. Because Paris was held by enemies of the crown, Catherine was buried provisionally at Blois. Eight months later her son, King Henry III was stabbed to death. At the time, he'd been in Paris with Henry of Bourbon, who would succeed him as King Henry IV. Her son's assassination ended nearly three centuries of Valois rule and brought the Bourbon Dynasty into power.

Years later, Diane de France, Catherine's husband illegitimate daughter, had her remains returned to Paris. In 1793, a revolutionary mob tossed her bones into a mass grave with those of other kings and queens.


  • Catherine's full name is Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de' Medici.
  • Catherine's parents did die not long after she was born; however, it was from separate sicknesses.
  • Pope Clement VII not only saved her from being held hostage and raped when she was a child, but prior to that, he had raised and housed her after the death of her parents and grandparents when she was 4. He was also in attendance for her wedding.
  • Mary, Queen of Scots' father, King James V, inquired about a marriage to Catherine twice before she married the future King Henry II.
  • She was considered a possible bride for Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII
  • Lucrezia de' Medici opposed Pope Clement VII's decision to marry her grand-niece Catherine to the future King Henry II of France, wanting such an important Medici heir to marry within Italy.
  • King Francis I and Catherine were very close, and he actually preferred her over his own son, Prince Henry.
  • King Francis I's cousin, Princess Madeleine, was the mother of his beloved daughter-in-law, Catherine.
  • She was called the "Duchess of Urbino", but she was never officially given the title. 
  • The future King Henry II and Catherine were married when they were both 14. At the time, Henry was Duke of Orleans and second in-line next to his brother, Prince Francis, while Catherine was a noble woman.
  • Henry knew Diane de Poitiers prior to their marriage, and openly had an affair during the whole marriage.
  • Catherine and Diane de Poitiers were cousins. Diane encouraged King Henry II to share Catherine's bed more often to produce children.
  • She is Lucrezia de' Medici's grand-niece.
  • Lucrezia de' Medici's son Bernardo Salviati establishing himself in France, he rebuilt the Château de Talcy, and became Grand Almoner to Catherine.
  • Diane stayed with Catherine when she was sick with scarlet fever and helped nursed her back to health.
  • Catherine and Henry had 10 children together, 7 of whom made it to adulthood.
  • Henry allowed Catherine almost no political influence as Queen.
  • Princess Claude was her favorite daughter.
  • Met King Philip II of Spain's chief minister Duke of Alba in hopes of arranging a marriage between Princess Margaret and Philip's son Don Carlos However, Alba refused any consideration of a dynastic marriage.
  • Her daughter, Princess Margaret, was secretly involved with Henry of Guise, Duke of Guise's son.
  • Accused of killing Queen Jeanne via poison before the marriage of their children in 1572.
  • Catherine did receive Château de Chenonceau, but not until after King Henry II's death in 1559.
  • Throughout her time as Queen, and Queen Mother she enjoyed throwing banquettes so much, and creating such extravagant parties the Kingdom of France annually held Catherine de' Medici's Court Festivals. She did from 1547 to 1559 as Queen, and Queen Mother from 1559 until her death in 1589.
  • She is alleged to have poisoned Jeanne d'Albret, the wife of King Antoine of Navarre.
  • Her husband's illegitimate daughter Diane de France had her remains brought back to Paris.

Family Tree[]

Lorenzo de' Medici
Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne
Henry II of France
Catherine de' Medici
Mary, Queen of Scots
Francis II of France
Elisabeth of Valois
Philip II of Spain
Claude of Calois
Charles IX of France
Henry III of France
Isabella Clara Eugenia
Catherine Michelle
Henry II, Duke of Lorraine
Christina of Lorraine
Marie Elisabeth

Related Pages[]

Historical Figure

Pages: Historical Events | Historical References | Historical Timeline |
Kings: Antoine of Navarre | Edward VI of England | Henry II of France | Henry VIII of England | James V of Scotland | Francis I of France | Francis II of France | Charles IX of France | Philip II of Spain | James VI and I of Scotland and England |
Queens: Catherine of Aragon | Catherine de' Medici | Mary, Queen of Scots | Anne Boleyn | Elizabeth I of England | Jane Grey | Mary I of England | Jeanne of Navarre | Elisabeth de Valois | Marie de Guise |
Princes: Louis of Condé | Don Carlos of Spain | Henry of France | Henry de Bourbon | Francis de Valois |
Princesses: Claude de Valois | Margaret de Valois | Catherine de Bourbon |
Noblemen: Robert Dudley | William Cecil | Henry Stuart | Matthew Lennox | Patrick Ruthven | James Stuart |
Noblewomen: Amy Dudley | Diane de Poitiers | Lucrezia de' Medici | Mary Beaton | Mary Boleyn | Mary Fleming | Mary Livingston | Mary Seton | Margaret Lennox |
Others: David Rizzio | John Knox | Nostradamus | Pope Clement VII |