2016: 18. The Rival Queens

“Despite the oppresive heat, a vast crowd had gathered, pushing and sweating their way into the wife plaza in front of the entrance and spilling over into the boulevards leading to the venerable, centuries-old cathedral.”

The Rival Queens: Catherine de Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois and the Betrayel That Ignited a Kingdom, Nancy Goldstone

Well.  What a story!! This is the tale of the French royalty, on or around the time of Elizabeth I.  And while I know oodles and oodles about the Tudors (because that Henry VII/six wives/murdering everyone in sight stuff is interesting), I was heretofore unaware that the French court was equally batshit crazy.  But they were, and this nonfiction account of Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, and her totally bonkers relationship with her daughter Marguerite (aka Queen Margot) is great.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a work of serious popular history, written in proper tone with proper footnotes and such. But the story is so nuts! Everyone in the French royal family hated each other, and was constantly betraying each other, switching from Catholicism to Protestantism, and generally being horrible.  It’s great.  I didn’t really know that much about the French religious wars (again, my expertise being more your Bloody Marys and good Queen Besses), but it was equally as fraught and serious in France, and ultimately ended up with Margot’s husband taking over after everyone else died (and after he converted from Protestantism - this book did not contain his apocraphyl quote that “Paris is well worth a Mass” which is a shame, because that is basically all I knew about him).

Goldstone is absolutely partisan on behalf of Margot vis a vis Catherine - but she does a very good job of martialling the facts such that you, too, will think Catherine was a nightmare ruler as well as a nightmare mother, and that Margot, who had very little in the way of resources other than her intelligence, did a really good job not only staying alive (I mean, ask Anne Bolyen or Mary, Queen of Scots), but being politically savvy, and basically the only person in the book to happily die of old age.  If you have interest in history, or tough broads, or nutso families, I think you’d really enjoy this book.  And then call me so we can talk about the fact that all Royals basically hate their children, and how lucky we are not to live in the sixteenth century.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017