Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by Christopher Gortner - Book Review

A most maligned and misunderstood queen, Catherine de Medici has captured the fascination of countless of generations of men and women over numerous centuries. Rumours of her manipulations, which may have involved murder, sorcery, and poisonings circulate about her to this day. But who was Catherine de Medici and what is her true story? In a novel that spans her entire life, from 1519 to 1589, historical fiction author, Christopher Gortner unravels some of the mystery surrounding fascinating, incredible woman of history.

Catherine de Medici

Catherine de Medicia was born in Florence Italy in the year 1519; the daughter of Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne and Lorenzo de Medici II, the Duke of Urbino.   

Madeleine                         Lorenzo  

Catherine had a very troubled, difficult childhood. At the age of one, both of her parents died suddenly from a disease.  After Florence rebelled against the Medici family, she was placed in a convent to be raised and educated by the nuns. At the age of thirteen, her uncle, Pope Clement VII, began to seek a husband for her.

Pope Clement VII

He settled on Henry II, the second son of Francis I, King of France. Ever dutiful, Catherine accepted her fate and travelled to France to begin her new life. She could not realize how difficult life would be for her there. From the moment she arrived, those in the French court held her Italian background against her and she never truly gained acceptance.

Henry II

When her uncle the pope died, any political influence she may have brought to the French Court also perished with him. Because he sent her to her marriage with a poor dowry of 100,000 ├ęcus, she was relegated to the background of the French court, where she remained even when her husband's elder brother died and she attained the dignity of Dauphiness. 

Due to her failure to conceive an heir, she was obliged to continue in her distant obscurity. She faced numerous challenges and confrontations by her husband's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the King's mistress, Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly, the Duchesse d'Etampes. Of the two, Diane, a beauty of middle age and far older than either Catherine or her husband, was Catherine's greatest nemesis.  

After eleven years of marriage, Catherine conceived the first of ten children. Upon the death of her husband, her son became king, and Catherine found herself suddenly thrust onto the political arena as his regent. The novel encompasses her life through several wars, religious battles, political intrigues, and the death of several of her children.

Catherine could prohesize the future through her dreams and she employed Nostradamus to aid her in predicting what was to come. Christopher Gortner depicted these scenes with care and credibility and without sensationalism.

Biographical historical novels are one of the most challengng genres to produce. It requires years of research and a deep understanding of the political and environmental climate of the era. Christopher Gortner has pieced together Catherine de Medici's entire life, and he did so in a clear, unbiased, and neutral manner. His thorough and skilful writing accurately portrayed the times, which makes his depiction of Catherine de Medici believable and enduring.

From start to finish, with its beautiful prose and brilliant historical detail, this novel satisfied in every manner. In biographical historical novels, it is a fine line that divides fiction and fact, and authors strive for accuracy. Christopher Gortner excelled at this. He seamlessly weaved centuries of historical occurrences into a smooth, easy to read novel. Catherine's life filled with intrigue and suspense, love and loyalty, wars and betrayal literally exploded on every page. A complex story indeed, one that Christopher wrote with great heart and zealous panache.

I can't speak enough good words about this novel. It was a truly enjoyable story, well told, and carefully crafted. As an avid reader and collector of Italian biographical fiction, this novel was one that I anxiously awaited. And because I've read all of the author's previous books, I knew it would make a terrific summer novel. Coming fast on the heels of his previous successful novel, The Last Queen, I eagerly await his next work.


Madame Minuet said...

Fascinating woman! Undoubtfully one of my favourite characters. I have studied her for about 15 years, and there's always so much more to learn. She's complicated.

Good evening, madame


naida said...

I just stumbled upon your blog, it's wonderful!

I've seen this book around and it does sound great, I enjoy a good historical.
Great review.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Ifirst want to thank you for visiting me today and leaving a comment! Many people come to look but leave no trace...I really appreciate that....and I also enjoy coming back to see who's who! I see you are a writer and a lover of women's history....fascinating! I am especially enamored with of royalty and their private sufferings and triumphs. Beautiful posts!! Anita

Anonymous said...

I just started researching her for a school presentation and I already honk she is a very fascinating woman and character as a person I think her story is very different from others but in good way it is very interesting every little thing I have found out about her so far