This book is awful. The author constantly changes the names she uses to refer to people in the book and gives way too much detail on silly stuff. The title is somewhat misleading since one of the "Rival Queens" was Queen of some small place I'd never heard of and didn't live there. The only reason I read it was it was my book club's pick. The ratings system makes you give it one star, it is really a 0.
Lovers of courtly drama who are finally bored with England’s Tudors can refresh themselves by crossing the Channel and following the travails of France’s contemporaneous Valois monarchs in Nancy Goldstone’s “The Rival Queens: Catherine de Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom.” Goldstone is not at all subtle in preferring the beautiful, intelligent, and constant Margot (Marguerite) to her mother Catherine de Medici who comes across as a malign nitwit, forever lurching from crisis to crisis, often of her own making. One of these crises was the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre which Catherine helped orchestrate using her daughter’s wedding as lure. Astonishingly enough, Catherine is not the most despicable person in the book, a dubious honor that belongs to her third and worst son Henri III who adds petty viciousness and voluptuous effeminacy to his inherited vices. Readers will thrill as Margot survives multiple attempts on her life and liberty, some of which were launched by her own mother and brother. I can easily imagine George R. R. Martin reading this book and taking notes.
Nancy Goldstone's account of the three-way struggle between the French monarchy, for many years led by the Queen Mother Catherine de'Medici ; the aristocratic leaders of the Protestant faction, including Prince "of the blood" Henry of Navarre; and the increasingly reactionary Catholic League is fascinating. I was taught about this time period only through the stories of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. I had no idea that while Catholic, Catherine's attempts to broker deals between the warring religious sects very nearly cost her son, Henri III, the throne. Goldstone's sympathies are largely with Marguerite de Valois who might easily have remained no more than a victim of her family's treachery and her husband's indifference. Instead she learned to fight for herself and a younger brother who attempted a daring plan to stop the civil war engulfing France.
This is a wonderfully interesting biography of these two queens, very well written by a great author. I highly recommended this book to anybody who is interested in the history of 16th century France.
I've always found the 1500s a fascinating period in history. Before moving on to learn more about the Habsbergs I discovered this wonderfully entertaining book on Catherine de' Medici and her own daughter the Queen of Navarre. (A fictionally compressed view of their relationship was made in France called La Reine Margot or Queen Margot which is available at the library. Bloody, sexy and virile.) The history of the civil wars is certainly fascinating but this is told by an author with a deliciously funny sense of humour. I cannot remember the last time I laughed reading a history book. Great fun.
The damage dysfunctional families cause can reverberate down the generations. That's bad enough. When the families are rulers, the reverberations are even more widespread. Catherine d' Medici was raised, more or less, by her uncle the Pope after her parents died. He sent her to France to marry the second son of the king. Barren Catherine couldn't compete with Henri's beloved mistress, which became important when the first son, the heir to the throne, died. When Catherine did have multiple children by her husband, now King Henri II, she made the mistake of choosing favorites. Her youngest, Marguerite de Valois, the family beauty, was on the bottom of the heap, never getting her mother's favorable attention. Catherine used all her children as political pawns, as she'd been used, none more than Marguerite. She married her off to her cousin Henry of Navarre, who was a Huguenot in a heavily Catholic country. Their wedding sparked the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in the mid 1500s, and the couple ended up hating each other. Goldstone's research is deep and sound. Catherine is clearly the heavy, and Marguerite the nearly blameless victim. Probably things were a bit more even than that, though Catherine had the upper hand in terms of power. Goldstone overstates her case in her titles; this is no exception. Still, a fascinating view of a difficult century for France.
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