Catherine de Medici was half French, half Italian. Orphaned in infancy, she was the sole legitimate heiress to the Medici family fortune. Married at fourteen to the future Henri II of France, she was constantly humiliated by his influential mistress Diane de Poitiers. When her husband died as a result of a duelling accident in Paris - Leonie Frieda's magnificient, throat-grabbing opening chapter - Catherine was made queen regent during the short reign of her eldest son (married to Mary Queen of Scots and, like many of her children, he died young). When her second son became king she was the power behind the throne. Leonie Frieda has returned to original sources and re-read the thousands of letters left by Catherine. There has not been a biography in English of Catherine for many years and the time has come to show her as one of the most influential women in sixteenth-century Europe.
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Swedish by birth, but educated in Britain, Leonie Frieda speaks five languages and is a member of the Institute of Linguists. Her long interest in Catherine de Medici has taken her to archives in Paris, Florence, Rome and Madrid, as well as the chateaux of the Loire. She lives in London with her daughter Elisabeth and son Jake. Daughter of actors Raymond Massey and Adrienne Allen, Anna Massey is a respected actress of film, television and stage. She.made her own film debut in John Ford's Gideon's Day (1958). In the controversial Peeping Tom (1960) she was one of the few female cast members was not murdered, though she was the second victim in Hitchcock's Frenzy. Maturing into a versatile character actress in her 40s, she played Mrs. Danvers in the 1981 remake of Rebecca and Betsy in the 1985 remake of Anna Karenina. On television she won BAFTA and RTS Best Actress awards as the heroine of Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac. She starred most recently on television as maiden aunt Miss Stanbury in He Knew He Was Right.From Publishers Weekly:
In 1533, 14-year-old Catherine de Medici arrived in France to marry the future king Henri II; over the next 16 years, she endured the dominance of Henri's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the disdain of courtiers for her family's merchant background. The sudden death of Henri launched Catherine into three decades as regent and chief adviser to three sons who ruled in succession. Frieda navigates the twists and turns of the French royal court and family with particular attention to the formation of Catherine's political skills. From her lonely childhood as a tool in the diplomacy of her powerful uncles to her carefully cultivated relationship with her father-in-law and maneuvering through shifting family alliances, the queen learned self-possession, deception and strategy. While Catherine has been maligned for her role in France's wars of religion and in particular the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Frieda argues that Catherine attempted to reach compromise in the religious strife of her adopted country. While trying to flesh out Catherine, Frieda occasionally paints others with a too-broad brush. At times, her descriptions of Catherine's actions as emotionally or politically motivated seem arbitrary. But Frieda's portrait of Catherine is multifaceted, and her presentation of the complicated narrative of five tumultuous reigns is compelling.
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