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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Catherine de' Medici

Catherine de' Medici was born in Florence, Republic of Florence, as Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de' Medici on April 13, 1519. Catherine's father, Lorenzo II de' Medici, was made Duke of Urbino by his uncle Pope Leo X, and her mother, Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, the Countess of Boulogne, was from one of the most prominent and ancient French noble families.

Madeleine died 15 days after her daughter's birth of puerperal fever or plague and Lorenzo died from syphilis just 6 days later. Catherine was raised by her aunt, Clarice Strozzi.

At the age of 14, Catherine de' Medici married Henry duc d'Orléans, the son of the French King Francis I. The wedding took place in the Église Saint-Ferréol les Augustins in Marseille on October 28, 1533

Catherine and Henry's marriage, painted seventeen years after the event
When Catherine de' Medici married the future Henry II of France she brought with her a group of Florentine cooks from her native Italy. With their help, she introduced many new Italian dishes never seen before in France such as artichoke hearts, asparagus, macaroons, pasta, raspberry, lemon and orange sorbets, sweetbreads and truffles.

Catherine de' Medici brought forks with her to France, so these new foods were served using utensils instead of fingers or daggers. She introduced a new elegance and refinement to the French table.

As a wedding present, her uncle, Pope Clement VII presented to Catherine de' Medici a new bean, the haricot bean, which had been imported from the New World.

Catherine de' Medici introduced the art of lacemaking at the French court. In an inventory of her household goods were 381 squares of unmounted lace in one chest and 538 in another. She kept her waiting women constantly at work making lace to decorate her bedchamber.

Catherine de Medici declared 13-inch waists to be the height of fashion and banned women with thick waists from the French court.

On her visit to Rome, the Venetian envoy described Catherine as "small of stature, and thin, and without delicate features, but having the protruding eyes peculiar to the Medici family.”

Prince Henry showed no interest in Catherine as a wife; instead, he openly took mistresses.

For the first ten years of the marriage, Catherine failed to produce any children. Eventually she bore him five children, Francis II of France, Elizabeth of Valois, Charles IX of France, Henry III of France and Margaret of Valois.

When Catherine de' Medici was Queen of France she maintained about eighty alluring ladies-in-waiting at court, whom she used as tools to seduce courtiers for political ends. These women became known as her "flying squadron."

At the 1576 wedding of Marquis de Lomenie and Mlle de Martigues, Catherine de' Medici ate too many of her favorite cockerel kidneys and artichoke bottoms and for a time became so ill with diarrhea she thought she would die.

Queen Catherine de Medici lived in the Louvre. Certain rooms were said to be constructed with a network of listening tunnels, so that anything spoken in one room could be heard in another. That way the paranoid Queen could scupper any plots against her.

Catherine died at the age of sixty-nine on January 5, 1589 at her Château de Blois home, probably from pleurisy.

Effigies of Catherine de' Medici and Henry II by Germain Pilon (1583), Basilica of St Denis

Sources Daily Mail, Wikipedia,  Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc, Food For Thought by Ed Pearce,

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