Two Renaissance queens—who also happened to be mother and daughter—receive a thorough treatment.
Goldstone certainly knows her queens (The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc, 2012, etc.). Through the story of this mother-daughter relationship of Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589) and her daughter, Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615), the author spins a tangled tale of rivalry, ambition, and, especially—for the rare women leaders of the time—sheer self-preservation. Catherine is the more well-documented monarch: married at age 14 to the French prince who became Henri II, she grew from a docile pawn of her wealthy family into a formidable player in the Catholic-Huguenot wars by acting as regent to one son and éminence grise to another. Indeed, Goldstone reveals her to be “an able disciple of Machiavelli” in her eagerness to play her children off one another. Marguerite is less known, but she was an extremely important component to the religious animosities roiling Europe and Britain at the time, as she was forced to marry the leader of the Huguenot party, her cousin Henry of Navarre (future Henri IV), as a way for her mother to neutralize the pesky Protestant element threatening the stability of France. Her marriage to Henry in 1572 precipitated the horrific Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre five days later and caused the spiritual grief of her life. Catherine and Marguerite were often at odds, but Marguerite proved no shrinking violet. While her mother manipulated the interests of her spoiled favorite son, Henri III, Marguerite managed to conduct her own love affairs and championed to her advantage the political maneuvering of her younger brother. Throughout the book, Goldstone has a remarkable handle on these often Byzantine royal machinations.
History brought to vivid life in the characters of these women of purpose.