Catherine de Medici was Queen of France despite her distinguished Italian name. She was born in 1519 and became the wife of Henry II of France in one of those dynastic marriages that litter the Middle Ages. Henry (or Henri) is supposed to have died of septicaemia following a jousting accident.
Catherine was still very young when Henry her royal husband ceased to breathe and Catherine became Queen Regent during the minority reign of three of her sons, Francis II (one year only), Charles IX, and Henry III. It is difficult to find out what exactly happened to Henry II, but some historians believe that Catherine and her councillors were not too far away when he died. Septicaemia means doctors and they can be bribed. The Medicis did not, after all, become so extraordinary powerful because they were unable to make up their minds. They were action men and women.
During the confusing and uncontrollable French Wars of Religion (q.v.) however, Catherine as Regent was confused and could do little to control the mayhem. The Huguenots were the French version of Lutherans, and it was Catherine de Medici, in liaison with Henry IV (once Protestant himself before accepting the French throne – ‘Paris is worth a Mass’), who suggested and planned the mass murder of Huguenot men, women and children in Paris known to us as ‘The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’ (q.v.). Queen Elizabeth of England was shocked. Philip II of Spain was delighted. Protestantism in England was strengthened. Catherine de Medici died at 70 in 1589.
Cosimo de Medici (to go back in time) was born in 1389. He was the first of his clan to rule Florence, where the struggle for power between the great merchant and aristocratic families was not dissimilar (except in the choice of weapons) to the conflict between the great mafia families in Chicago, New York and Florida in the United States of the ‘Roaring’ Twenties. Este, Pazzi, Visconti, Colonna, Cancellieri, Donati, Manfredi and Borgia (and others) were at each other’s and Medici throats, mostly in the cutting sense. Shakespeare wrote about these stirring times in his Romeo and Juliet.
At one stage in the running street battles Cosimo found himself expelled from Florence itself (1433) but only a year later he was back in power after a series of victories. His source of power was of course the famous Medici bank, which helped most European monarchs with finance, at very high interest. He died at seventy in 1464.
Lorenzo de Medici, doubtless the most famous of them all, was born in 1449. He is still referred to by historians as ‘Lorenzo the Magnificent’. At twenty years old he was joint ruler of Florence with his brother Giuliano. In 1478 Lorenzo and his brother became targets for the rival family of Pazzi, which joined forces with the current Pope in a plot to murder the Medicis. It was planned to assassinate both brothers while they were in church for Mass. The plot worked in so far as the fact that poor Giuliano was indeed eliminated, but Lorenzo survived. He then set about the business of promoting his family even more, and dealing appropriately with the Pazzi and any other merchant family which got in his way. One presumes this is why he is called ‘Magnificent’.
Lorenzo was so magnificent that he saw his second son throned as Pope Leo X. Meanwhile he became a leading authority in art and culture, making a collection of fine art and sculpture that still exists. He was also the first serious patron of a then unknown artist and genius called Michelangelo. Lorenzo died at only 43 in 1492.