The Confessions of
Catherine de Medici
The Tudor Secret
Ballantine Books, Random House (Trade paperback (432 pages)
Read C.W.'s Q&A
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Out now internationally
The ambitious, gripping tale of one of history’s most
misunderstood queens . . .
At the age of fourteen, Catherine de Medici, last legitimate descendant of the Medici blood, finds herself betrothed to the King Francois I’s son, Henri. Sent from her native Florence to France, humiliated and overshadowed by her husband’s life-long devotion to his mistress, when tragedy strikes her family Catherine rises from obscurity to become one of 16th century Europe’s most powerful women.
Patroness of Nostradamus and a seer in her own right, accused of witchcraft and murder by her foes, Catherine fights to save France and her children from savage religious conflict, unaware that her own fate looms before her—a fate that will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, reputation, and the passion of her own embattled heart. . .
From the splendors of the Loire palaces to the blood-soaked battles of the Wars of Religion and haunted halls of the Louvre, this is the story of Catherine’s dramatic life, told by the queen herself.
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“A remarkably thoughtful interpretation of an unapologetically ruthless queen.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Meticulously researched . . . Gortner breathes life into his queen.”— Library Journal
“A compelling and fascinating view of Catherine’s life and world . . . You will devour this read. Highly recommended!”— Historical Novels Review, Editors' Choice Title
“A fresh, well-researched and powerful portrait of a queen and mother . . .[This] is just what historical fiction is supposed to do: open our eyes to new possibilities.”— Kathe Robin, Romantic Times
“Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory fans will devour this smashing fictional biography.”— BookList
"Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Confessions of Catherine De Medici is a dazzling account of a brilliant woman."— Romance Reviews Today
"Draws the reader into the French court as if the protagonist herself was beckoning with her bejeweled hand."— New York Journal of Books
“An intriguing and provocative book about one of history’s most controversial queens and the turbulent world of 16th century France.”
— Sharon Penman, New York Times bestselling author of The Devil's Brood
“The notorious Catherine de Medici emerges as a flesh-and-blood woman in this masterful recounting of her life. C.W. Gortner has an uncanny ability to delve into the intense humanness of his characters.” — Margaret George, New York Times bestselling author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII
“Powerful and determined, Catherine de Medici strides across the treacherous glamour of 16th century France in this breathtaking novel . . . With an exquisite eye for detail and deep sensitivity, Gortner evokes a woman of immense personality and resolve, who never gave up on her children or country. You will not be able to put this book down!” — Michelle Moran, national bestselling author of Nefertiti
“A dramatic, epic novel of an all-too-human woman whose strength and passion propelled her into the center of grand events. Meticulously researched, this engrossing novel offers a fresh portrait of a queen who has too often been portrayed as a villain. Bravo Mr. Gortner!” — Sandra Gulland, international bestselling author of The Josephine B Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun
"Thrilling and original . . . a dramatic portrait of a brilliant queen and a realm divided by dissension" — Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille, and Marrying Mozart
Q: How did the idea for The Confessions of Catherine de Medici originate?
Anyone with an interest in famous women of history will have heard of Catherine de Medici: she’s that evil queen who allegedly poisoned her enemies and orchestrated a massacre. Or so the legend says. Initially, I wanted to search beyond the lurid accusations and hyperbole for the person she may have been. As I researched, I realized that as with most dark legends, there was far more to Catherine than popular history tells us. I thought how interesting it would be if she herself could tell the story of her life. If she had the chance to explain herself, what would she say? All stories have two sides; and Catherine’s is no exception.
Q: How long did it take you to write, and what special research was involved?
It took about three years to write; the research itself began several years before that. For the novel, I took several trips to France, including one in which I visited the beautiful Loire Valley châteaux where Catherine resided and followed in her footsteps on the long progress she undertook to visit her eldest daughter on the border with Spain (though of course I did my trip by rail and car!) I also read Catherine’s surviving letters, which offer particularly poignant glimpses into her personality, such as her impeachable love for her children, her despair over the chaos wrought by war, her pragmatism and discomfort with overt fanaticism, as well as her compassion for animals—unusual for her time. Her letters helped me to envision the flesh-and-blood woman behind the legend and understand the challenges she faced.
Q: What is one of the greatest misconceptions about Catherine de Medici?
Without doubt, it has to be the accusation that she nurtured a “passion for power.” Catherine was not raised to be a queen, true, and she did in fact rule as regent for her sons until they came of age; but it is unfair to accuse her of a ruthless drive to retain her power at any cost. Catherine faced a unique set of circumstances that would have challenged even the most skilled of rulers: it was her great misfortune. Her alleged passion for power was in truth an attempt to retain control over the destiny of her adopted realm. I find it quite sad that to this day Catherine remains tainted by actions that in essence she did not take of her own volition. While she made several serious errors in judgment, without a doubt, she was motivated most often by the urgent need to salvage a crisis, rather than some coldblooded urge to eliminate those who stood in her way.
Q: How do you strike a balance between depicting the reality of the times with modern day sensibilities? Do you think issues Catherine faced in her era still resonate today?
The balance is always a fine one to tread. It can even become tenuous, in particular when you are confronting issues of religion, race, sexuality, and gender. Many of the freedoms we take for granted today were unknown to people in the 16th century. Religious divisiveness in particular was a brutal part of daily life during Catherine’s time; Catholics and Protestants were willing to martyr themselves for their cause. This is something that many of us, much like Catherine, may find difficult to comprehend. Yet that type of extreme righteousness remains very much a part of our modern landscape, as evidenced by acts of terrorism and genocide in several parts of the world. While we are in many ways a more enlightened society, we still carry vestiges of the past with us, and leaders throughout the world grapple with some of the same issues that Catherine did, in terms of placating anger and restoring harmony among people whose lives have been affected by war.
That said, I always consider the needs of my reader to be engaged by my story. While historical accuracy remains a primary obligation—in that the writer should not deliberately alter or distort known facts or have characters behave in an overtly modernized way—I do sanitize certain aspects of the reality of life in the 16th century. My books are novels; their principal function is to entertain.
Q: What is one of the secrets that Catherine “confesses” in this novel?
For one, the truth about her relationship with the Protestant leader, Coligny. I find it intriguing that so few of Catherine’s biographers have looked more closely at this most enigmatic of friendships. Coligny and Catherine could not have been more different, both in upbringing and outlook, yet they shared for a time a united response to the conflict threatening France and a mutual desire to seek accord. In this novel, Catherine tells us what brought them together and what led to the tragedy between them.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work?
I seek in some small way restore humanity to people whose legends have overshadowed them. I also hope readers will come away from my work with the experience that they’ve been on an emotional journey. I want them to feel the way these people lived, their hardships and joys, and differences and similarities with us. Though a Renaissance queen faced issues we don’t, love, hatred, power, intolerance, passion, and the quest for personal liberty remain universal themes.
Q: What is your latest project?
I am currently working on a historical novel about Isabella of Castile, who has also suffered from her own dark legend. She’s been lauded as a saint by some and a fanatic by others; she set in motion the horrors of the Inquisition yet also financed Columbus’s vision of a new world and united Spain after centuries of internal strife. Isabella is truly the first queen of the Renaissance; yet few people know her incredible true story. I hope to bring to life her incredible vision and strength, as well as illuminate her intentions.