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Catherine de' Medici

Catherine de' Medici (dĕ mĕdˈĭchē, Ital. dā mĕˈdēchē) [key], 1519–89, queen of France, daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, duke of Urbino. She was married (1533) to the duc d'Orléans, later King Henry II. Neglected during the reign of her husband and that of her eldest son, Francis II, she became (1560) regent for her son Charles IX, who succeeded Francis. She remained Charles's adviser until his death (1574). Concerned primarily with preserving the power of the king in the religious conflicts of the time, with the aid of her chancellor Michel de L'Hôpital, she at first adopted a conciliatory policy toward the Huguenots, or French Protestants. The outbreak (1562) of the Wars of Religion (see Religion, Wars of), however, led her to an alliance with the Catholic party under François de Guise (see under Guise, family). After the defeat of royal troops by the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny, Catherine agreed (1570) to the peace of St. Germain. Subsequently Coligny gained considerable influence over Charles IX. Fearing for her own power, and opposed to Coligny's schemes for expansion in the Low Countries which might lead to war with Spain, Catherine and Henri de Guise arranged Coligny's assassination. When the first attempt failed, she took part in planning the massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day (1572) in which Coligny and hundreds of other Protestants were murdered. After the accession of her third son, Henry III, she vainly tried to revive her old conciliatory policy.

See E. Sichel, Catherine de' Medici and the French Reformation (1905, repr. 1969) and The Later Years of Catherine de' Medici (1908, repr. 1969); P. Van Dyke, Catherine de Médicis (1922); R. Roeder, Catherine de' Medici and the Lost Revolution (1937); Sir J. E. Neale, The Age of Catherine de Medici (1962); W. H. Ross, Catherine de' Medici (1973).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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