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Catherine De' Medici

1519-1589. French queen and regent. As a relative of Pope Clement VII she became a pawn of the rivalry between the Hapsburg and Valois monarchs, resulting in her marriage to Francis I's son, Henry. In 1547 she became queen of France. Widowed by 1559, Catherine, first as queen mother and after 1560 as regent of France, was deeply involved in the political intrigues associated with the Wars of Religion. Notable was her calling of the Colloquy of Poissy,* and her move toward toleration for the Huguenots* (whose support she even sought). This made the latter more militant and led to civil war. In 1568 she abandoned her policy of toleration and, partially due to her jealousy over Coligny's growing influence over her son, Charles IX, plotted the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day massacre* (1572), for which she accepted full responsibility. She was a typical woman of the Renaissance courts: desiring power, given to intrigue, ruthless, a great patron of the arts and letters, but with little understanding of religious conviction.

See J.E. Neale, The Age of Catherine de Medici (1943); and D. Stone, Jr., France in the Sixteenth Century (1969).