Follow Us @burtonreview

May 9, 2010

Book Review: The Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner

The Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 25, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0345501868
Review Copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:FourStars!


The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess.

So reveals Catherine de Medici in this brilliantly imagined novel about one of history’s most powerful and controversial women. To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner brings Catherine to life in her own voice, allowing us to enter into the intimate world of a woman whose determination to protect her family’s throne and realm plunged her into a lethal struggle for power.
From the fairy-tale châteaux of the Loire Valley to the battlefields of the wars of religion to the mob-filled streets of Paris, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is the extraordinary untold journey of one of the most maligned and misunderstood women ever to be queen.

In this long awaited novel from the author of The Last Queen, C.W. Gortner brings to life another female queen who has perhaps been maligned by history. As this is my first novel primarily focused on Catherine de Medici, she has previously been a figure shrouded in the superstition that she was a witch, as she was known to have embraced Nostradamus' teachings. She was a woman scorned by her husband as she was forced to stand by and allow her royal husband have a mistress who helped rule France. In Gortner's telling, he begins Catherine's story from when she was an orphan in Florence, Italy, who was caught between the political strife of the Medici and the Hapsburgs. Catherine is immediately portrayed as a strong character who recognized the need for self perseverance in times of political turmoil.

She is finally sent to France to wed Henry, the Duke of Orleans and the second son to King Francis of France. It is not apparent until later on that Catherine herself would eventually become Queen of France, but when that happened she enjoyed little from the title as she was seen only as a means to beget heirs. Catherine's life at this point is written to be pretty dull as she gives the king many children in rapid succession in this story. When her husband King Henry suddenly dies Catherine's life and her story turns into something more interesting as she is finally in control of some of her fate. She seeks the knowledge of the likes of Nostradamus to help aid her with the decisions of the future. Her son Francois is betrothed to Mary Queen of Scots, but she spends little time with them. The tensions increase as she finds herself Regent after her eldest son's death, and she sends the young Mary Queen of Scots back home to Scotland.

The story then focuses on the pressures on Catherine as she is trying to balance the battles that began brewing between the Catholics and the Protestants. She tries to show leniency to the Huguenots, but her nobles will not hear of it. Eventually when her son Charles takes the throne he exhibits some of Catherine's tolerance but welcomes a known traitor back into the courts. Catherine would rather not call attention to the leniency towards the Huguenots at this time, especially when the person is Coligny, a previous lover of Catherine's. This is where the novel started to take off for me, the previous events did not show dramatic flair until at this point when Catherine is struggling to save France from unnecessary trouble.

Catherine is about fifty at this point in the novel, and it is here that we see more of the relationships between Catherine and her children. Although this is probably a novel that shows Catherine in a much more tender light than other authors tend to show, Catherine is not portrayed as an overly loving mother; though earlier on at the birth of one of her sons, she doted on him more than her others. But I felt that not much else was given to specifically characterize that Catherine truly cared for them as other than pawns for power. When the time comes for her sons to take the throne, she is more in a battle with the nobles to maintain control of the governmental issues. When Charles is in his twenties, she had to let go of the idea that she was in control, yet she relinquishes it unwillingly for the purpose to not cause friction.When she betroths her favored daughter Margot to Henri of Navarre is when we feel Catherine's pain of being a mother to royal children; bemoaning the idea that princesses cannot marry for love but only for the good of the realm, although this empathy is quickly dispensed with, as the relationship between mother and daughter is made irreparable.

The title suggests murderous secrets and enlightening confessions are to be made by Catherine, but for the most part that would be misleading. I had envisioned more scandals and prophecy-type focus, but this was more humanizing rather than taking advantage of the Medici reputation. Being told in first person, it definitely gives a more personal slant on Catherine's character, therefore it seems to take away some of the intrigues that are generally perceived of her. Gortner plays down the liaisons with the likes of Nostradamus, but does have Catherine fingering amulets with unholy thoughts. All in all, if you are looking for the same old same old on the scandals of Catherine, you may be disappointed. If you want what actually could be an accurate depiction of Catherine's life, this would be a great start.
Encompassing a large period of time, Gortner also touches on some of the important issues that France experienced and tries not to confuse us with too many characters at once. The author's note wraps everything up nicely for the politics of France, of which it seemed was Catherine's driving force throughout her life. Instead of being portrayed as being in the eternal quest for ultimate power, Catherine is depicted as being the protector of France, and regardless of the dastardly deeds she may have done, they were for the good of the realm. This is a great read for those who would like to know more about the possible reality of how Catherine saw herself, and I am always intrigued at how well Gortner displays his heroines as he does it in such an effortless and comprehensive way. Although the book does not release for another few weeks, Goodreads is already showing a 4.45 average rating among 11 raters, with 7 reviews.


Stay tuned for the rest of the events at the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table that continue for the rest of this week! A beautiful necklace is just one of the giveaways being held at the main site, so please go check it out!