Henry VIII,the Reign
Catherine de' Medici
13 April 1519 – 5 January 1589
Catherine de' Medici Profile
Catherine was born on 13 April 1519 in Florence, Republic of Florence, the only child of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, and his wife, Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, Countess de Boulogne. They had been married the year before at Amboise as part of the alliance between King Francis I of France and Lorenzo's uncle Pope Leo X against the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.
Within a month of Catherine's birth, both her parents died. Madeleine died on 28 April of puerperal fever or plague, and Lorenzo died on 4 May.
Catherine was first cared for by her paternal grandmother, Alfonsina Orsini, wife of Piero de' Medici. After Alfonsina's death in 1520, Catherine joined her cousins and was raised by her aunt, Clarice Strozzi. The death of Pope Leo in 1521 interrupted Medici power briefly, until Cardinal Giulio de' Medici was elected Pope Clement VII in 1523. Clement housed Catherine in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, where she lived in state. The Florentine people called her duchessina, in deference to her unrecognised claim to the Duchy of Urbino.
In 1527, the Medici were overthrown in Florence by a faction opposed to the regime of Clement's representative, Cardinal Silvio Passerini, and Catherine was taken hostage and placed in a series of convents. The final convent, the Santissima Annuziata delle Murate was her home for three years.
Suitors, however, lined up for her hand, including James V of Scotland who sent the Duke of Albany to Clement to conclude a marriage in April and November 1530. When Francis I of France proposed his second son, Henry, Duke of Orléans, in early 1533, Clement accepted the offer.
The wedding, a grand affair marked by extravagant display and gift-giving,took place in the Église Saint-Ferréol les Augustins in Marseille on 28 October 1533.
Catherine saw little of her husband in their first year of marriage, but the ladies of the court treated her well, impressed with her intelligence. The death of Pope Clement VII on 25 September 1534, however, undermined Catherine's standing in the French court. The next pope, Paul III, broke the alliance with France and refused to pay her huge dowry. King Francis lamented, "The girl has come to me stark naked."
Prince Henry showed no interest in Catherine as a wife; instead, he openly took mistresses. For the first ten years of the marriage, Catherine did not have any children. In 1537, Philippa Duci, one of Henry's mistresses, gave birth to a daughter, whom he publicly acknowledged. This proved that Henry was fertile and added to the pressure on Catherine to produce a child.
In 1536, Henry's older brother, Francis, died after a game of tennis, leaving Henry the heir. As Dauphine, Catherine was now expected to provide a future heir to the throne. According to the court chronicler Brantôme, "many people advised the king and the Dauphin to repudiate her, since it was necessary to continue the line of France". Divorce was discussed. On 19 January 1544, she at last gave birth to a son, named after King Francis.
After becoming pregnant once, Catherine conceived again and on 2 April 1545 she bore a daughter, Elisabeth. She went on to bear Henry a further eight children.
Catherine's ability to bear children, however, did not improve her marriage. In 1534, at the age of fifteen, Henry had taken as his mistress the thirty-eight-year-old Diane de Poitiers, whom he adored for the rest of his life.] Notwithstanding he honoured Catherine's status as his consort. When King Francis I died on 31 March 1547, Catherine became queen consort of France. She was crowned in the basilica of Saint-Denis on 10 June 1549.