Catherine de Medici is renowned for her cultural contributions and obsessions with sorcery, astrology and toxicology as well as her machiavellian political intrigues. Catherine leveraged these pursuits as effective weapons in her political ambitions.
Catherine's contributions to French culture were many, though overshadowed by her cunning cruelty and bloody acts. She was the first to champion ballet as an art form in France. On the eve of the St. Bartholomew massacre the six hour 'Ballet Comique de la Reine' was performed at a banquet which was written by Catherine herself, based on the story of Circe.
Catherine's culinary introductions were also numerous. She was the first to introduce the fork to the French court, even though it didn't really catch on until Louis XVI. She brought her own cooks with her from Florence, and introduced veal, broccoli, green beans, parsley, peas, truffles and artichokes. She also introduced the use of sauces with meats as opposed to the highly-spiced dry rubs of medieval times. Catherine also used snuff sent to her from Jean Nicot to aide her in her migraine headaches by applying it to the nose and forehead. Apparently this worked well for her and as a result, she named it 'Herba Regina', the queen's herb.
Catherine was also a noted toxicologist and herbalist. Under the guise of aiding the ill and unfortunate, Catherine tested her poisons on unwitting degenerates for use in her experiments. Carefully measuring the toxic response, potentcy, degree of response to the parts of the body and clinical signs and symptoms, she refined her use of poison and utilized it to great success. Many have been purported to be her victims. Nicknames she gained during her lifetime were Madame Snake and Jezebel. She also did not reserve her poisons only to herbal concoctions. It is said that at one point she dispatched her priest to Egypt to retrieve mummy remains for incorporation in her experiments. Her interests were note limited solely to destructive poisons, but in herbal remedies as well.
The first ten years of her marriage did not produce any offspring, and it is said that she used herbal remedies, astrology and sorcery to conceive her children, three of whom became kings.
Catherine's enthusiasm for mysticism resulted in the use of mirror divination and astrology, and she consulted such noted astrologers as Nostradamus and Cosimo Ruggieri. Nostradamus predicted that her husband would be killed jousting, and that she would outlive each of her sons, though each would become king. Catherine was a patron and protector of Nostradamus, which allowed him the freedom in his pursuits in a climate that was less than hospitable due to the Catholic church's general disdain of astronomers (basically synonymous with astrologers at this time). Catherine had him appointed as the personal physician and royal advisor to Henry II.
When she was born, Catherine's parents consulted an astrologer and it is said that it was predicted that she would have 'a life of sorrow, trouble and storms, and said that she would be the cause, if she lived, of very great calamities and finally the total ruin of the house into which she married. It was suggested that she be put in a basket and hung from the city wall in the hope that a cannonball would kill her, or that she be placed in an enclosed order of nuns, or that she be put in a bordello.' The wife of a second son, Catherine de Medici was initially considered as an inconsequential daughter of a merchant, despite her family's power and Florence as her dowry. History proved, however, that she was indeed a complicated, formidable and powerful female force in the French court as princess, dauphine, queen and regent.
Works by Alexander Dumas