Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, July 3, 2017

Marie de' Medici and Politics in the French Court

Marie de' Medici, queen and regent of France (d. 3 July 1642)


When she became queen of France, Maria de' Medici was ridiculed as the descendant of rich merchants, but as with her Medici foremother, Catherine de' Medici, such was not entirely the case.*

Maria de' Medici
Maria's father, Francesco II de' Medici, was undoubtedly the descendant of wealthy merchants, but he was also related to powerful cardinals and popes and succeeded his brother as grand duke of Tuscany. 

Maria de' Medici's mother was Joanna of Austria, the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand and Anna Jagellion, queen of Hungary; through her mother, then, the young woman who would become queen of France was related to Habsburg royalty throughout Europe.

The young Maria was sixteen years old when she attended the burial of Catherine de' Medici in 1589, and legend has it that on this occasion her lifelong friend and companion Leonora Dori, later Leonora Galigai and later still Leonora Concini, said that there was no reason Marie should not occupy the French throne herself one day. As improbable as the prediction may have seemed, Marie did succeed her Medici cousin on the throne of France. 

The childless Henry III was assassinated soon after Catherine de' Medici's death, and Henry of Navarre became Henry IV of France. The new king already had a wife, Marguerite of Valois, from whom he was estranged, and a mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrées, to whom he was devoted. Nevertheless Maria's uncle Ferdinand, grand duke of Tuscany, offered the new king his political support against the Catholic League that opposed his accession--if Henry would accept his niece as a bride. 

Henry IV could not afford to reject the duke's offer, but neither did he accept it. He wanted to marry his mistress; his wife, however, refused to cooperate with the annulment of their marriage unless he accepted the offered Medici alliance. In 1594 Henry IV converted to Catholicism and entered Paris; by 1599, somewhat more secure on his throne, he announced his intention of marrying Gabrielle. Within a month, however, she died in childbirth, and Marguerite agreed to release him from their marriage; by the spring of 1600 the king was negotiating with Ferdinand of Tuscany for a match with Maria. They were married by proxy on 5 October. 

The forty-eight-year-old king had many illegitimate children, but Marguerite had "failed" to provide him a son, so Henry had no legitimate heir to follow him on the throne. His new bride arrived in France in November and quickly produced the requisite son. Louis, later King Louis XIII, was born on 27 September 1601. Five more children followed: Elizabeth, born in 1603; Christine, in 1606; Henry, in 1607; Gaston, in 1608; and Henrietta Maria, in 1609.
A portrait of Marie de' Medici
as queen of France

While fruitful, the marriage of Henry IV and Maria, now Marie, was not easy, but despite their frequent and public quarrels, it was not the disaster that so many historians claim. But successful or not, it did not last forever. On 14 May 1610 Henry IV was assassinated. 

Just the day before the king's death, Marie de' Medici had been crowned queen of France in a splendid ceremony. Despite his original "command" that his queen "not meddle in affairs of state," the coronation ceremony had taken place so that Marie's position as regent of France could be strengthened while the king undertook a military campaign in the Netherlands. 

Within two hours of her husband's assassination, Marie placed her children under guard to safeguard their security, secured the streets around the Louvre palace, and appeared before the Parlement of Paris to have her regency acknowledged.

In conducting herself as queen regent, Marie decided to model herself on her predecessor and cousin Catherine de' Medici; she aimed for conciliation and appeasement. "Her task," as A. Lloyd Moote defines it, was "avoiding internal turmoil and external danger." Her "success in achieving those twin aims must, in the immediate setting, be considered a major achievement." 

After the rivalries and tensions that had culminated in her husband's assassination, the queen's regency was at first welcomed by opposing factions and began peacefully. Marie herself approached her new role as regent with a measure of confidence and optimism; "I can call myself very fortunate and quite consoled because of the good order and great tranquility that begin to be seen in the affairs of this realm" she wrote to her sister three months after her husband's death. But her optimism proved to be ill-founded. 

Unlike her model, Marie was not a success as regent. Religious unrest continued to be a problem, and relationships with foreign powers were uneasy. To complicate matters further, her relationship with her son the king was tense. Resentful of the humiliations she had endured during her husband's life, she abandoned his counselors and friends, turning for support to her Italian courtiers, to Rome, and to her Habsburg relatives  

For her principal advisor she looked to her friend Leonora's husband Concino Concini, whom she arranged to have appointed maréchal of France, an appointment that "conferred [on him] the second-highest military honor in France."Unlike Henry IV, Louis XIII had been raised a Catholic, like Marie herself; to defuse religious tensions, Marie acted to "curb inflammatory rhetoric" on both sides of the relgious debate and "republished the agreement of Nantes in 1612, 1614, and twice in 1615." 

Marie as queen of France, 1606,
painting by Frans Pourbus the Younger
Among the most serious problems Marie faced was the external danger posed by Habsburg aggression. Accordingly, she "placed all her hopes" on the Franco-Spanish pact negotiated in 1612. To appease the increasingly rebellious nobility, Marie offered a number of concessions, but, as Louis' biographer Elizabeth Marvick notes, this "policy of appeasement" was "costly," and in spite of her efforts, "public tranquility continued to be disturbed by dissatisfied lords." 

In 1614 Louis XIII was fourteen years old, the age at which he could be proclaimed an adult, capable of ruling without a regent. Marie, under increasing pressure, was forced to summon a meeting of the Estates General. 

On 2 October Louis' majority was declared; during the ceremony marking the occasion, he announced his intention to assume his role as king: "Gentlemen, having arrived at the age of majority . . . I intend to govern my realm by good counsel, with piety and justice. I expect from all my subjects the obedience and respect that are due the sovereign power and royal authority which God has placed in my hands." 

But "he" did not intend to rule alone. He noted with gratitude the role his mother had played as regent in the preceding years and concluded with a request to her that she "continue" to "govern and command" as she had "heretofore." 

Gaining some recognition during the 1614-1615 meetings of the Estates was Armand de Richelieu, then bishop of Luçon. By the summer of 1615 Marie's pro-Spanish policy came to fruition with a double marriage: Her thirteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth was married to the ten-year-old Philip, son and heir of Philip III of Spain, while Louis XIII was married to the thirteen-year-old Anne of Austria, Philip's older sister. 

Although these alliances represented a personal success for the regent, they only increased the disaffection of the nobility, and despite a truce agreement reached in 1616, the resulting conflict culminated in the assassination of Concini on 24 April 1617. The next day, the fifteen-year-old Louis turned on his mother. He exiled her to the chateau of Blois: "Madame," he is quoted as saying to her, "I wish to relieve you now of the fatigue of state business." 

He continued: "It is time for me to take this burden from you for I do not intend to allow anyone else to do so. But I shall always treat you with the respect due to a mother. You will hear from me at Blois. Adieu, madame. Do not cease to love me and you will find me a good son." 

Marie responded: "Sire, I regret not having acted, as regent, in accordance with your wishes. But I did my best, and I beg you to consider me in future your humble and obedient mother and servant." 

Interestingly, Louis' harsh treatment of his mother and her friend Leonora Concini, who was tried for witchcraft and executed, encouraged support for the queen. After she was denied permission to attend the marriage of her daughter Christine to Victor Amadeus, heir to the duke of Savoy, in February 1619, her "rescue"--or escape--was arranged. 

With the aid of Richelieu, she traveled to Provence and raised a rebellion against her son. The king gathered an army to proceed against his mother, preparing for the first of the so-called Wars of the Mother and Son. Mother and son were reconciled, and by the terms of the treaty of Angoulême, signed on 30 April, he assigned her the governorship of Anjou. 

By 1620, mother and son were once more at odds, and the second "War of the Mother and Son" commenced. This time the king was determined not to surrender to his mother. Accordingly, he went to war against his mother's army, which he defeated. With a "face-saving acknowledgment" that "she had taken up arms only out of fear of being oppressed by the royal government," Marie signed the treaty of Angers in August. Within six weeks "the king's mother" had been restored to her son's good graces and rejoined his privy council.
Maarie de' Medici, 1616,
Frans Pourbus the Younger

In thanks to Richelieu, she arranged for his appointment as cardinal, and in 1624 Cardinal Richeliu also joined the king's council. Marie's restoration was so complete that in 1621 and 1622, while her son was engaged in a fight against the Huguenots, she often traveled with him. The king, for his part, turned increasingly to his mother for advice. "There was only one person who seemed cautious and sensible" to him, according to Tapié: 
The queen mother had lost none of her ambition of desire for power, but now she strove to avoid any upheaval. She confined herself to telling Louix XIII that his realm was badly governed, that his ministers were no longer achieving anything notable, that they were especially negligent in their conduct of foreign policy, and that in consequence French prestige was on the wane all over Europe.
But such "insight" was not her own, Tapié asserts; she was, in "reality," simply "obediently reciting something that she had been taught," in this case the advice of Richelieu.

Whatever the ultimate source of Marie's advice to her son, Louis nevertheless relied on her, appointing her as regent of France in 1627-28, when he joined his forces at the siege of La Rochelle, and again in 1629, when he was in Savoy. But when Richelieu advised the king to pursue a course of conciliation with the Huguenots and with Protestant Europe to balance Habsburg influence, 

Marie turned against her former adviser. On 10 November 1630, she demanded that her son dismiss Richelieu. She believed Louis would honor her demand, but she was wrong. Instead, her supporters were eliminated; by February 1631 she was exiled again, "escorted" to Compiègne. Louis seems to have considered sending her back to Florence; instead he allowed her to "escape" to Brussels. Her son "declared her a rebel against his authority, outlawed her person, and sequestrated her property."

Although her nephew Ferdinand II of Tuscany offered her asylum in Florence, Marie de' Medici refused. In June 1633 she was in Ghent and ill; Richelieu sent her a note of sympathy, which she rejected, but by February of 1634 she wrote him to ask him to ask for a reconciliation. When he answered, he advised her to go to Tuscany. 

Her younger son Gaston, whom she seems to have encouraged to think of gaining the throne of France for himself, had followed her to the Netherlands, but by 1635 he had reconciled to his brother and returned to France. Marie repeatedly asked Louis to allow her to return to Paris as well. 

When French troops threatened to invade the Netherlands in 1638, the exiled Marie de' Medici fled to England, where her daughter Henrietta Maria was queen, married to Charles I, and where the former queen consort and queen regent of France was decidedly unwelcome. Again Marie wrote to Richelieu: "I have forgotten the past. I only want to be friends with you. I should be so happy if you would deign to grant me the great favour of my return to France." Marie seems also to have been considering yet another regency, rumors of which reached Richelieu, but her efforts at reconciliation came to nothing. 

Meanwhile, England had been plunged into its own internal difficulties, and the increasingly unpopular king found that the presence of his Catholic mother-in-law only added to his problems. Attacked in parliament, she was finally forced to leave England in 1641, but where she would go was problematic. 

Her predicament is described by Cleugh: "England had rejected her. France declined to receive her. Even King Philip IV of Spain [her son-in-law] now refused to allow her to settle in . . . the Netherlands. Her pride would not allow her to return to Tuscany as a rejected Queen and mother." She was eventually allowed to travel to Cologne, where she died on 3 July 1642.