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on 23 January 2004
Leonie Frieda has written a truly fascinating account of the swirling maelstrom of murder, assassination, betrayal, religious schism and premeditated massacre that was politics in the Age of the Valois Kings of France. I was gripped from the first sentence when Catherine de Medici's husband King Henry II, was killed horribly in a freak jousting accident. Although it's very scholarly and well researched, this book reads like a thriller. I can't recommend it enough.
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on 21 January 2004
Witty, incisive and as exciting as any thriller, I found 'Catherine de Medici' impossible to put down. For half the book I admired the heroine for the way she fought for her three sons who became Kings of France after her husband died in a jousting accident, for the other half I despised the ruthless, manipulative monster she'd become after the King's gory death. Certainly it's brought the Renaissance alive for me better than any book I've read before, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in a true story of assassination, betrayal, high politics and maternal love.
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on 25 February 2005
I was looking forward very much to reading this book as I had read several sparkling reviews praising the author's writing skills. I had also read about her personal struggle against drugs and was impressed by her honesty and courage. The story is indeed well written, but (and this is only a personal view) I do not believe that the author ranks up there with people like Barbara Tuchman or William Manchester. The content is interesting but sometimes the text reads like a news narrative, and there are a few places in which an introductory phrase would have made the text flow more smoothly.
Also, I am not utterly convinced that the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre can simply be dismissed by the author as "a surgical operation that went wrong". To be sure, Catholic and Protestant propaganda writers may have exaggerated her evilness, but the author's own obvious liking for this remarkable woman must also have coloured her interpretation.
I would still recommend this book highly to any prospective reader if merely for the immense amount of interesting detail about the period, which is based on scholarly and meticulous research. The book starts off with a very vivid account of the death of Henry II of France in a jousting accident and is worth purchasing for this chapter alone.
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on 18 April 2006
Unlike the other reviewers of this book I have to say that I thought this book was rather flawed. Frieda has assembled a wealth of material and some of what she says is very interesting- I especially liked her portrayal of the complex, and somewhat contradictory Henri III. Also despite the fact that she is not English Frieda does generally write very well. However her attempts to portray Catherine not as the Machiavellian and ruthless creature history remembers her to be but instead as a committed wife, loving mother and tolerant ruler do not entirely ring true. Frieda is obviously trying to avoid the hackneyed portrayal of Catherine mentioned above. I believe though that she over states her case. I also disliked some of the conclusions she drew on the more peripheral characters. I thought it was especially harsh to describe Antoinne de Bourbon as "bird brained," and that maybe Frieda was a little to uncritical on his brother Condé. Despite this Frieda does offer a very detailed account of the period, gives interesting pictures of many of the figures of Catherine's life and comes up with a different, if debatable conclusion.
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A superb book that demands and rewards careful reading. Catherine di Medici is one of history's most fascinating and confusing characters. Leonie Frieda is to be congratulated on this fine effort in separating fact from fiction. Wife to one king of France, mother to three more, in her widowhood Catherine was the power behind the throne in a particularly turbulent period of French which encompassed nine religious civil wars. Her story is complex because of the almost daily changes of policies and alliances, plots and intrigue. Leonie Frieda pulls this all together in a convincing narrative which is only complicated where events were played out by characters in the French court which, even at the time, must have defied logic even to the participants. An amazing insight into the sixteenth century French royal house of Valois, which I will read several more time in order to fully absorb all its intricate detail. Without doubt one of the very best historical biographies I have read, an epic volume.
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on 7 July 2010
Although she was one of the most powerful women of the 16th Century, Catherine de Medici remains a mystery to most English speaking readers who, if they know her at all, would probably only do so because her involvement in the infamous St Bartholomew's Day massacre. But like many other figures of history, Catherine's life was multi-layered and full of personal tragedy. This biography does much to bring her closer to the modern reader and allows us some insight into events which shaped her life. It is well written and readable, though admittedly, I would have liked a little more detail of her early life in Italy.
Whether you come away liking or loathing her, it has to be admitted that she was a survivor, clawing her way to power in much the same way as our own Queen Elizabeth I. Her story is both fascinating and repugnant at the same time and this book will certainly please anyone who has an interest in European history.
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VINE VOICEon 25 February 2006
I enjoyed this book. It's a lively and generally clear account of a complex period of French history but it's really that and not a biography of Catherine de' Medici. There is, for example, a section all about Henri III's time in Poland before becoming king of France which is not part of Catherine's biography. There are occassions where it feels like Frieda suddenly 'remembers' that this is supposed to be a book about Catherine & so she jumps back to that rather abruptly.
There are also occassions where I felt she revealed a lack of historical training. She judges Catherine's actions with the benefit of hindsight, forgetting that Catherine did not have the luxury of knowing exactly what the repercussions of each action would be.
These complaints aside, it's a very good read & reliably accurate. It's obviously well-researched and she has made a very good job of making a subject which can get bogged down in tedious details about one faction or another into a vivid read without over-simplifying. I'd recommend it as a stand-alone read or as a starting point to more detailed study of the late Valois monarchy.
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on 14 February 2016
This book kept me busy for quite a long time. It is very very interesting, but it takes some time to work out who exactly her ten children were.. 3 evidently survived either not at all or for a very short time. The sixteenth century was just as turbulent in France as it was in England (possibly more so) and the same problems of Protestant versus Catholic existed there, though I am not sure that England suffered anything as violent as the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Well worth reading if you have been enthralled by the Tudors, because this book will give you insight into the general European scene.
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on 26 August 2013
What a superb & witty book! This is history how it should be written. Nothing but praise for this absolute pageturner. Here is a book that educates the reader on an interesting period in French history, from the good times of her father in law Francis I to the bloody mess that followed the accidental death of her husband Henry II (who was pierced through the head with a lance during a tournament), and over which she and various of her disfunctional children presided. Striking exactly the right balance between good narrative and real history, with the right amount of understanding for the main character but without being overly apologetic, I cannot commend this book highly enough.
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on 9 May 2015
This is a learned and hefty tome which most members of my book group (it was my choice) either didn't attempt or only read part of it before giving up. I got to the end and enjoyed it in many ways. The most notable finding for me was that Catherine de Medici was not Lucrezia Borgia. My brain getting at cross purposes again. The worst thing about it is the huge numbers of dramatis personae - really difficult to keep tabs on. I will read it again and see if I can get a better handle on the people - however it is a hard-hitting account not only of the politics of the time, but also of the horrible health issues that marred Catherine's family and which must have held for virtually all the population of Europe at the time. Interesting.
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