The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis
“I need an ESCAPE!” I shouted to AdventureMan, at the end of my rope. So many things going on in my life that are out of my control, I just don’t want to deal with it any more, and I just want to run away and hide. “I’m going out to buy a BOOK!”
I found just the book, The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis.
I don’t know much about the late 1500’s in Europe, do you? At first, reading about this rich, spoiled little girl growing up in Florence, I felt a little impatient with her. All around her people are starving, and she hasn’t a clue. The plague strikes, and people are dying, but she survives. She starves, she suffers cold and fleas and is tossed by fate like a little cork on the water – all before she is 12 years old. Catherine de Medici learns early in life that she has no control over the forces of history and society swirling around her, over who she will love and who she will marry, even over whether she lives or dies. Surviving an attack on her family compound, held prisoner – alone – in nunneries until she is 12 years old – this girl’s life makes mine look peaceable!
I’m feeling better already.
Kalogridis is no Phillipa Gregory, but she has done her research, and draws us in. By the time Pope Clement betrothes Catherine to Henri of France, we are totally hooked. Thirteen years old, and off to live in a strange country as the bride of a man she has never met. She studies French as quickly as possible, but then again – this is a very bright young woman, who has been trained – by life and by education – to survive.
One of the paragraphs made me laugh out loud – as Catherine enters France, she is aware that her very fashionable Italian clothing is very unfashionable in France. She also notes that all the French women are painfully thin, thin to the point of gauntness, and are whispering behind their hands at her more normal size.
Lack of thinness is the least of her problems. She marries Henri, who is also 14, scared, and not in love with her, and they are expected to consummate their marriage under the eye of the King. Oh aargh! Catherine is on a steep learning curve, mastering French culture, diplomacy, the art of war, court politics and fighting the threat of repudiation the only way she can – with utter humility.
What I like the most about this book is that I feel like I was there with her. She is very human, and also very royal. People who are royal have different ideas than the rest of us, and are entitled in ways we can never imagine. They have obligations we can’t imagine. She makes choices I would never make, and yet the author convinced me that given her circumstances, she does the best she can with the resources at hand.
I also like it that Catherine of Medici was a brilliant and educated woman who held her own in a world where the balance was definitely in favor of being a man, and women were greatly at a disadvantage. While she made some horrifying choices, she had her reasons. This is not a book for the faint hearted; it is very earthy and it feels like an accurate portrayal of the times.
As I read these books, I think, too, how little we appreciate how free women are these days, and how recent that freedom is. Being able to choose our own mates – this is very recent. Being able to inherit and to manage our own money – this is very recent. As I talk with my friends who live in the Arabian Gulf, where marriages can still be based on family alliances, maintaining wealth and power, and where divorce can still equal personal disaster, it no longer seems so alien to me – we have this in our own history. We used to marry by contract, and our husbands had full use of our wealth. We used to be judged by whether we could bear children, how many, how many were sons, and how well we managed our households. We used to die in childbirth, and many of our children didn’t survive their infancy.
If you are looking for a good escape, this is a book that will take you there. It will make your own troubles look small in comparison. This book will keep you engrossed, horrified, and entertained, and, in the end, you might learn something, as I did.
You can find The Devil’s Queen at Amazon.com for a mere $10.40 plus shipping, and yes, I own stock in Amazon.com. LOL, we invest in that which we believe to lasting and important, and books play a large role in our lives. :-)