Vast scholarship and years of intensive research have gone into this long and detailed study by a French author of the ""frail and threatened"" Florentine child who became Queen of France, and of the turbulent and bloodstained era in which she lived. From her birth in Florence in 1519 to her death in Blois in 1589, Catherine de Medici's life was enmeshed in danger, intrigue, massacres, torture and never-ending wars. Married at 14 to the future French King, Henri II, Catherine, a woman of no beauty but much charm, was the mother of ten children, of whom seven survived. Her daughters married kings and her four sons, who hated each other, in turn became Kings of France, debauched, incompetent and dominated by Mother. Viewing Catherine in the light of her own times, the author presents her as a great Queen, prudent, compassionate, humble, patient, ""a woman and a mother"" who tried to bring peace to France. Opposed to this picture is that of another woman, ""a genius at dissimulation and deceit"", scheming, implacable and domineering, with a passion for power, who used her ""Flying Squadron"" of court beauties as her spies and seducers. Even the author's bias wavers before St. Bartholomew's Day, Aug. 24, 1572, when Catherine, hoping to avert a Protestant uprising, ordered the murder of the leading Huguenots; the killing got out of hand, helped by the King, Charles IX; thousands were butchered, and Catherine's powers crumbled under universal horror. Competently translated from the French by Charlotte Haldane, this biography of a Queen and an era will appeal largely to readers with a basic knowledge of the period; amateurs in French history may be lost in its maze of wars, intrigue and personalities.