Madame Serpent: Catherine de Medici, #1 — Jean Plaidy

So.  Madame Serpent.

Catherine de Medici, according to this novel, was, like pretty much every other girl from a prominent family in this period¹:  she was raised to be a bargaining chip.  So she was trained, at a very young age, in the art of the poker face.

According to Jean Plaidy, that calm exterior hid a heart and mind that were willing to love, passionately passionate, and desperately unhappy.

The verdict: Fascinating lady, fascinating people, fascinating times.  The actual action sequences — and by action sequences, I mean the parts WHERE STUFF ACTUALLY HAPPENED, not, like, explosions and such — were really entertaining.


I suspect that, before the death of her husband, not a whole lot was really known about Catherine’s machinations — because, other than the aforementioned action, this book was about 250 pages of Catherine thinking OH, WOE, I CARRY SO MUCH LOVE FOR MY HUSBAND, WHO DOESN’T LOVE ME BECAUSE HE LOVES THAT BITCH DIANE DE POITIERS.  I WILL POISON HER.  NO, NO I WON’T.  NOT OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF MY HEART, BUT BECAUSE EVERYONE WILL KNOW I WAS BEHIND IT EVEN THOUGH EVERYONE THINKS I AM STUPID.  NOW I WILL WATCH THEM HAVE THEIR SEXY TIME THROUGH THIS HOLE I HAVE DRILLED INTO MY BEDROOM FLOOR.

Seriously.  250 pages.  While it had to’ve been hell to live through, it didn’t make for very entertaining reading.

I do, however, have high hopes for the next two books in the trilogy — because, from what I understand, that’s when Catherine really starts throwing her weight around.

A few other thoughts:

•  I loved Francis, and would like to read more about him.  He was apparently a legendary charmer, and that came through.  Even at the end of his life, he was all romantic and dreamy:

To be old when you have been so gloriously young, to have no love of life when you have worshipped it with every breath in your body — that, thought Francis, was a sad plight for a man to come to.  (186)

•  And I’d never thought about the fact that, you know, there was way more intrigue going on in the world at this time than stupid Henry Tudor.  I mean, there are, like, 47 bazillion books about Anne Boleyn and that whole crew, but this crowd is just as bananas.  The mistresses were heavy-hitters and had SERIOUS rivalries and there were duels and once religion got thrown into the mix… WELL.  A lot went on.

Francis apparently (according to this book) had a pretty high regard for women — in that he respected their opinions AND he figured that since he wasn’t faithful, they shouldn’t have to be, either.  Why is everything always about Henry the Eighth and the Tudors?  Is it because of the six wives?  Is it because that was all in England, and that’s easier for the English-speaking world to identify with?  Is it the sex and violence combo?  Anyway, this was the bit that made me think about all of that:

Henry, the king across the water — what would he have done in like case?  Would he have been so deceived?  Never!  Francis remembered another Anne with whom, in the days of his youth, he had flirted and whom he had sought to seduce; he remembered her later at Calais — black-eyed and beautiful, proud with the promise of queenship.  That Anne had lost her head because the King of England believed — or pretended to believe — that she had deceived him.  Then there had been little Catherine Howard on whom that King had doted, and yet she too had been unable to keep her head.  Now, had the King of France been such another as the King of England, his Anne might have feared to take lovers as she did.  But alas! — or should he rejoice because of it? — Francis the First of France was not Henry the Eighth of England.  There were two things they had in common nowadays — old age and sickness.  (194)

Wikipedia (I know, I know) says that Francis may have actually had an affair with Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister.  And now that I think about it, I do think there was a reference to it in one of the early episodes of The Tudors.

•  I want to read about the earlier Medicis — crazy, crazy events were mentioned, but never in much depth, because Catherine always got back to her INNER DISTRESS.

•  Speaking of pieces of work:  The young Mary Stuart.  WHEW.  If I hadn’t already known how she died², I’d have wondered if Catherine was going to Do Her In.



¹  That I’ve read about, at any rate.  Which is, granted, a very limited pool.

²  Thank you, Anne of Avonlea.


Book source:  Library copy.


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4 Responses to Madame Serpent: Catherine de Medici, #1 — Jean Plaidy

  1. tanita says:

    SHEEEESH! 250 pages of that!?

    On the other hand, this sounds like a great reference read; I need to know about her time period and her mad poisoning skillz… I want to very much use that for another historical fiction idea I’m bouncing about…

    • There are a few trilogies (by different authors) about Catherine — I’m thinking I might have to hit those up, too.

      And while 250 pages were annoying, there were 150 pages that were really engaging — so that’s almost half of the book!

  2. Lan says:

    I’ve always wanted to know more about the Medicis. I figured they’d be a crazy bunch since they’re just as famous for poisoning and killing each other off as Henry was for switching wives and having their heads cut off. I think I’ll skip this book because I can’t handle 250 pages of WOE IS ME to get to maybe 50 pages of plot. Gotta admit the book’s got an awesome title though.

    • You might want to reserve judgement until you read The Younger’s review — even though the WOE colored the whole novel for me, after talking to her, I realized exactly how much actually happened in the book!

      Also, I just got the second one through my library’s ILL, and WHOA NELLIE, it looks like a lot is going to happen.

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