• Catherine de Medici

  • Renaissance Queen of France
  • By: Leonie Frieda
  • Narrated by: Sarah Le Fevre
  • Length: 21 hrs and 36 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (302 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Poisoner, despot, necromancer - the dark legend of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this critically hailed biography, Leonie Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen to reveal a skilled ruler battling extraordinary political and personal odds - from a troubled childhood in Florence to her marriage to Henry, son of King Francis I of France; from her transformation of French culture to her fight to protect her throne and her sons' birthright. Based on thousands of private letters, it is a remarkable account of one of the most influential women ever to wear a crown.

©2018 Leonie Frieda (P)2018 Orion Publishing Group

What listeners say about Catherine de Medici

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Narrator didn't get one name right

I am halfway into this audiobook and found the text very good. It's a pity that the narrator botches the pronunciation of 80% of the names of persons and places. You would think that this being a book mainly about French and Italian people somebody would take care of assuring that the narrator pronounce the foreign names and words correctly.

28 people found this helpful

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A little bias, easily recognized

It is a very nice deep dive into the life of Catherine de Medici. You can easily pick up the author’s personal dislike of Henry II’s mistress, and attempts to downplay the major disaster in Catherine’s multiple regencies with the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre. The narrator is good, but her strange pronunciation of a few words pulled me out a few times, but I can’t say ‘soot’ properly, so who am I to judge.

26 people found this helpful

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An Excellent Biography, With Excellent Narration

This is an excellent work. I learned a great deal. I purchased a hard copy of this book and also the audiobook. The narration is excellent, however for me as an American, there are a lot of foreign names that I really needed a hard copy in order to read. The hard copy also has maps, family lines, and many notes that really added to the reading and learning experience. However this audiobook is about as good as it can be considering the complicated nature of the work. I suppose I should add that this book is really detailed and may be more than some readers will want. But speaking for myself, I am really glad that I purchased it. Thank You...

18 people found this helpful

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Great story but marred by mispronunciations

The narrator’s French is Impeccable but I found her English mispronunciations distracting beginning with the name De Medici. The accent is on Med not di. Another example was the word “adhere” which she kept reading as adeer. Silent h I guess.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Thoroughly research ed

I've read four or five books on this subject and this one had more personal information on Catherine Dr Medici than the others; such as, her creating a side saddle for woman and, among many other more personal tidbits, she established the wearing of petticoats so she won't expose her privates when dismounting a horse, etc.
The author's opinion of Diane De Poitier was overly biased, I thought, against her and in favor of Catherine. There is definitely an argument to be made for both sides but I don't agree with her assessment of Diane as overly venal and overall disinterest in sex. She and Henry II had a passionate sex life where they genuinely made love to both of their intense satisfaction.
Overall, i loved this book and would highly recommend it to any person interested in this subject as it was detailed and the authors perspective was far ranging and meticulous research. I will definitely read this author's books again.

7 people found this helpful

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  • 11-16-20

Factual, but often lackluster

It’s a great report on Catherine but what makes it hard to listen to is that at times, Frieda uses insanely lofty and pretentious words. I’m not talking about the direct quotes from historical sources- I mean her own choice of vocabulary in places. I get that long pieces of writing may end up overusing some words and require a trip to the thesaurus, but this book reads as if Frieda consulted hers on the regular. As if it were a young kid struggling to reach the assigned word amount or page length, looking for long and fancy words. It’s an issue of accessibility, and a personal preference for plain speaking. Clearly Frieda is very educated and knowledgeable and I am always up for a historical biography of a strong woman and therefore I’m grateful for her book but man oh man, I really hope that in her future books she will dial down on the embellishment. It’s fun to toss out a $100 word but I feel like they don’t need to be the backbone of the lexicon.

5 people found this helpful

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Excellent

Very comprehensive and detailed. Thoroughly researched. Excellent narration. Long but worth every minute. If you love history this is for you.

4 people found this helpful

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I wish MY mother had read this book!!

Other than the monotone narration, I would however stay for the conclusion of a revelatory testament of one of histories most intriguing sovereigns, Catherine DeMedici.

2 people found this helpful

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Another look

Catherine de Medici is mostly known as the ruthless queen who instituted the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the Protestant Huguenots. She was also rumored to have been a serial poisoner of political foes and many other things. Leonie Frieda tries to straighten the record out, at least a bit. 

With the name de Medici, we immediately think of the powerful Italian family who was such a patron of the arts and strong supporters of Catholicism. Catherine was born in 1589 and orphaned when she was just three weeks old. She was sent to be raised in a convent and was regularly moved from one to another. She experienced a life of privation as a child with no home or family life, even nearly murdered by opponents of her cousin Pope Clement VII. This childhood affected her both positively and negatively. 

At the 14 a political marriage was arranged by the same uncle with a French prince (who became Henri II) who was second in line for the throne. The fact that she was not of royal birth but just of a wealthy merchant family meant that she was scorned in Paris and, as her husband was not expected to become king, she became a nonentity. Added to this, when her uncle died shortly after her marriage, her dowry had yet to be paid and the next Pope refused to do so. However, from all indications, she truly loved Henri, and her ability to always appear cheerful and her unquestioned submission to Henri and King Francis I strengthened her position. 

Henri scorned her and had a very public mistress, Diane de Poitiers, that he showered jewels and castles on. Catherine was not beautiful but she had learned how to charm others and to know when to speak and when to be silent. But, to add to her troubles, she failed to get pregnant for the first 10 years of her marriage, failing at the number one duty of a queen, despite trying many and various strange remedies, many of them that must have made her quite repulsive.  It turns out that the problem lay with her husband who had some sort of genital defect that was, obviously, not described in the book, but which a physician helped him learn to overcome.  After that, she gave birth to 10 children–five boys and five girls–seven of whom lived to adulthood. Three of her sons ruled as King of France, one daughter ruled as Queen of Spain, and another as Queen of Navarre. 

When her husband, Henri II became king in 1547, she adapted well to the routine of royal and motherly duties. When Henri II died as the result of a jousting injury, she assumed the first of three regencies for her sons, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henri III, none of whom ever developed the ability to rule and therefore depended on her even after coming of age. Not only that, she lived at an especially tumultuous time with the spread of Protestantism and with two other noble families, the Catholic Guises and Protestant Bourbons, always competing for influence if not for the throne itself. 

But, Frieda demonstrates clearly that Catherine’s reputation was not completely deserved. It is true that she was ruthless in her defense of France and the throne, and even more, of her children. She was a contemporary of England’s Elizabeth I (and mother-in-law of Mary, Queen of Scots) but not as successful as Elizabeth. However, she was actually a religious moderate who repeatedly offered toleration to the Huguenots despite great pressure from King Philip of Spain and the Pope to rid her kingdom of all vestiges of that radical new religion. Her battles against the Huguenots were political and not religious and she battled against the Catholic Guises as well. She repeatedly tried to bring the two sides together to iron out their differences but Frieda shows that she failed to understand that the obstacle was the commitment of both sides to deeply held beliefs and not just political gains that could be open to compromise. She did initiate what became known as the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre but meant it as an effort to get rid of a few troublemakers who she felt were leading her son into dangerous wars and never meant it to turn into such a massacre. Only near the end of her life did she finally declare the Huguenots to be traitors, but again, the issue was not heresy but politics. 

But, none of her sons produced an heir and the Valois Dynasty was to end with her third son who died only seven months after she did. Ironically, Protestant Henri of the house of Bourbon was the next in line and ascended the throne despite the opposition of the Catholics but when he was unable to rule he converted to Catholicism and, with the 1598 Edict of Nantes, ended the religious wars. 

This book paints a different picture of Catherine than what we read in most history books, although it’s still not a pretty picture. Frieda doesn’t try to present her as good, only that she was not ruthless in the same way as we usually hear. She was politically astute and held the country together during a tumultuous time, but didn’t have the ability to go beyond that. I felt that the book was well-researched and well-written. I enjoyed reading it. 

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating Piece of History

I appreciate that this book explains the political landscape as well as the cultural landscape during the time of Catherine de Medici. Whenever the political scene becomes monotonous, Leonie Frieda throws in some family history that livens things up. Everything seems to be well researched.
The narrator has a pleasant voice but I do not understand why the producer of the audiobook did not insist that she familiarize herself with how to pronounce the French words and names, even some English words, like scion and adversary.
Many geographic names, for example Reims and Compiègne, are almost unrecognizable. She also pronounces the French word fils like the female form fille and the Spanish word infante like its female form infanta, and even the de Medici name is pronounced wrong. The list is long and the reason why I can't give her high marks. But I blame the producers! This is like letting Benedict Cumberbatch go on with saying 'pengwings' instead of penguins when he narrated a BBC documentary.

1 person found this helpful