The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici
I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis.
The job of women in the realm of historical fiction, as we’ve learned, is to keep their mouths shut and have lots of sons. Um… what else? Inspire artists, be wealthy widows with creamy bosoms, be as beautiful and silent as the moon, gaze adoring up at their king, and have lots of sons. The women who broke out of that pretty box are the ones whose names we remember for good and bad. One name we remember is Catherine de Medici. Was she a beauty? Creamy bosoms? By all accounts, not really. Did she inspire passion in her king? (Henry, if you’re scoring at home. Catherine’s rival was widely regarded as the most beautiful woman in Europe, Diane De Poitiers. I’d have been home on the couch with the Ben and Jerry’s.) Not so much. But she was certainly wealthy the Medicis were the medieval Rockefellers: bankers, patrons of the arts, and ruthless in the dispensation of their beneficence, their money, and their daughters. It made sense for a lesser daughter to be shipped off from her native Florence to the hostile court of France, it made sense to keep the money flowing and avoid war. But there would be war, there always is, and Catherine herself undoubtedly had a hand in it. She had a hand in everything else she had one of the great political minds of her time but she also had a couple of blind spots. She believed in magic, that Henry would eventually love her, and that her unfortunately diseased and malformed troop of sons would make great rulers. She wasn’t a particularly nice lady maybe that’s why we still say her name.
Jeanne Kalogridis leans in her writing towards those names that make us say, “Wait, how am I suppose to feel about that person? Were they good or evil?” Catnip to an author, those shades of grey. From the Borgias to the Medicis, she’s written about the not-nice, the clever, the ill-used by history. What would Catherine say in her own defense, to set her record straight? The Devil’s Queen is an excellent place to hear her voice and decide how to remember her.