*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 5th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Suppose you’ve listened to this show for some time. In that case, you might be able to guess that my historical wheelhouse- in terms of courses and length of study is 20th-century American history and 16th-century European history- and of course, with a particular eye towards how the church and state interact with one another.
It is also likely that sometimes I might be so familiar with someone I assume that same familiarity with my listeners. And sometimes, I might jump past some real blue-chip, gold star names and ideas.
Today is the anniversary of the death of Catherine De Medici in 1589. I can’t think of many people in the 16th century who had both the lengthy and complicated careers as Queen and Queen Regent (that is, she was taking care of the crown for her underaged sons). Unlike Elizabeth or Mary in England, Catherine was never able to be the “actual” Queen as French law did not allow it.
Let’s break down the big beats from her life that will directly affect the church, the country, and posthumous reputation.
Catherine was born in Italy in 1519 to Lorenzo De’Medici and his Bourbon princess wife. Lorenzo was, for a time, the De Medici. If you remember Machiavelli and his book “The Prince,” it was written for Lorenzo. He patronized the great names of the Italian Renaissance, from Da Vinci to Botticelli. Also, this is the era of De Medici’s, and it just so happens that her Uncle was Pope Clement.
Unfortunately, her parents died within weeks of her birth- some have suggested the plague, others have suggested that her Father’s amorous lifestyle led to a disease that doomed the couple.
She was raised in a convent; there was little evidence she was headed towards anything of note. Until her uncle, the Pope decided to marry his Italian niece to a French nobleman (France was Catholic, but not super keen on the Italians and Rome, so this could help that).
She married Henry the Duke of Orlean, son of King Francis I (the king whom Calvin addressed his Institutes of the Christian Religion). X Henry succeeded his father, making Catherine the Queen. Putting an Italian on the French throne was not a popular move. Henry could not have a child, and it was assumed that it was Catherine’s fault. (It turns out it was his… you can look that part of the story up, but they could have seven kids).
Henry would die in a foolish jousting match (he had heard that a famous jouster had let him win, so he rechallenged him and got a lance in the face. So now Francis II, their son, was king. But as a child, Catherine would run the palace as regent. And then he died, and Charles IX- another one of their sons became king. He too was young, and so Catherine stayed on as Queen regent.
But by now, the troubles that would become the French Wars of Religion were simmering. She wanted to be a moderate, which upset the radicals (of whom there were many). She married her daughter Marguerite to Henry of Navarre (a Protestant). While she may have authorized a few tactical poisonings around the time of the marriage, the tensions would break and lead to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
Charles would die, and another son would come to the throne- Henry III was not a child but was soon embroiled in the War of the Three Henry’s (a story for another time). He was murdered, and Catherine died shortly after in 1589.
A few critical points about Catherine:
Her legacy is a mess. This is mainly due to angry French folk who detested a foreign queen. Protestants reviled her, despite her being at times a moderate. The picture of her as an evil queen who poisoned her enemies with perfumed gloves, invented the black mass, and had an amulet of human blood around her neck made by Nostradamus are inventions. Alexander Dumas wrote “La Reine Margot,” which paints her as evil as Christopher Marlowe’s play is still performed.
She wrote extensively- her correspondence is an excellent look into her time through her eyes.
She should also be noted for her part in the Edict of Romorantin that separated heresy from sedition. Courts that could send people to their death n longer ruled on individual cases of heresy- thus leading to the end of capital punishment based on one’s private beliefs.
She introduced Italian cuisine to France, which is now thought of as French. You might see her as having introduced artichokes, forks, and frequent bathing. Those stories, well… today we remember Catherine DeMedici on the anniversary of her death at the age of 69 on this day in 1589.
The last word for today comes from John 12
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who has a great story involving a fork, artichoke, and bath- I’ll leave it to him to tell you. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who thanked OU for sending us Riley, but how about the pokes beating Notre Dame! Thanks, guys! I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.