Summary of: The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom
Set in magnificent Renaissance France, this is the story of two remarkable women, a mother and daughter driven into opposition by a terrible betrayal that threatened to destroy the realm.
Catherine de’ Medici was a ruthless pragmatist and power broker who dominated the throne for thirty years. Her youngest daughter Marguerite, the glamorous “Queen Margot,” was a passionate free spirit, the only adversary whom her mother could neither intimidate nor control.
When Catherine forces the Catholic Marguerite to marry her Protestant cousin Henry of Navarre against her will, and then uses her opulent Parisian wedding as a means of luring his followers to their deaths, she creates not only savage conflict within France but also a potent rival within her own family.
Rich in detail and vivid prose, Goldstone’s narrative unfolds as a thrilling historical epic. Treacherous court politics, poisonings, inter-national espionage, and adultery form the background to a story that includes such celebrated figures as Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Nostradamus. The Rival Queens is a dangerous tale of love, betrayal, ambition, and the true nature of courage, the echoes of which still resonate.
Review of: The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom
What really sets THE RIVAL QUEENS apart, is the readability. Far too many historical biographers write plodding, strictly chronological narratives that leave out nary a discovered fact. Not so with biographer Nancy Goldstone. Her introduction drops the reader immediately into the middle of 16th-Century French politics, by describing the arranged marriage of Marguerite de Valois, a devout Catholic, to Henry de Bourbon, a Huguenot; and by hinting at the assassinations of many members of the wedding party that are only days away.
This biography really explains–enjoyably–how court politics worked in the 16th century. It brings home to the reader just how hard it was, even for those of royal status (e.g., Queen of France Catherine de’ Medici; Princess Marguerite de Valois) to maintain any semblance of power, or even to stay alive, amidst the constant espionage and intrigues of the French wars of religion. Even members of the royal family–brothers and sisters, parents and children–spied on and turned against one another on the basis of spies’ reports, both true and false. Marguerite, in particular, suffered from a false report of her liaison with a courtier that ruined her reputation shortly after she left the royal nursery to attend the French court.
Despite the importance of religion (Catholic or Protestant) to the devout rulers and populace of France, the 16th century French court was quite permissive about morality. Thus this dual biography entertains with accounts of various influential royal mistresses. This biography also shows with clarity what it was like to be a female member of a ruling family, a woman whose only perceived value lay in her ability to be married off in an advantageous political union. Only the most extraordinary women, like Queen Catherine and Queen Marguerite, managed to escape that role and actually wield political power.
This is a biography that makes you care about the characters, and about the unfolding nonfiction “plot”. The writing is excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The fully-footnoted dual biography is supplemented by a useful map of France circa 1572, by a genealogical chart of the French royals, and by an excellent set of illustrations of paintings that depict the most important members of the French court, including the kings’ mistresses. This is a must read!