Still, we can only speculate on what caused Clement’s death. Wikipedia reports that Clement died after accidentally eating death cap mushrooms. This is highly unlikely given the fact that the extremely potent death cap mushrooms, (even in small amounts) kill within a matter of days. Clement’s illness lasted over 5 months. More likely, his wine was flavored with a little “eternity powder,” a lethal mixture of henbane, water hemlock or mandragora. Eternity powder was usually administered in small doses over several months resulting in a slow death that looked like…gastric problems.
Catherine de Medici: Stark Naked and Alone
If Catherine shed any tears for her uncle, then she would have had few people to grieve with her. Florence mourned Clement's death by raiding and vandalizing his tomb. People did have reason to be angry. Clement had left behind a legacy of higher taxes and inflated grain prices. Most damaging for Catherine, he also left behind her unpaid dowry. Francis was now stuck with an unpopular, Italian daughter-in-law without a cent to her name, prompting him to make the remark, “the girl has come to me stark naked.”3 Three years after the marriage, Catherine was also failing at her sole purpose as wife to Henri II – she had yet to become pregnant. It was roughly during this time that Henri began his affair with the infamous Diane de Poitiers (shown here) more on her later...
A Damsel in Distress
So let’s recap. Catherine is stuck in France with no money, no blue blood, and no little Henri’s running around. Her husband has taken a mistress and her uncle has died. (But she does have great shoes.) How could Francis secure the Valois line if Catherine did not become pregnant? The logical solution would be for him to replace his daughter-in-law with a more fertile and politically advantageous bride. The Guise brothers began campaigning for Louise of Guise as the replacement wife. Years earlier in England, Henry VIII had kicked Queen Catherine of Aragon to the curb and swapped her for Anne Boleyn. What was to stop Francis from doing the same to Catherine?
Catherine knew her situation was doomed so she went to Francis begging him to at least let her serve the new queen as a lady-in-waiting. Luckily, Francis was a big softy for a damsel in distress. He said, “It is God’s will that you should be my daughter and the wife of the Dauphin. So be it.”4
Amen. So Catherine stayed put and set herself the task of becoming pregnant.
A Bitter Pill to Swallow
First, Catherine applied poultices of ground up stag antler and cow dung…a guaranteed remedy for infertility. When that didn’t work, she tried drinking large quantities of mule’s urine. (belch) Catherine even drilled holes in her chamber’s floor so that she could spy on her husband and his enigmatic mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Unfortunately, the peep show taught Catherine little in regards to fertility and much more than she needed to know about her husband’s passion for his mistress. After ten years of trying everything imaginable…time was running out.
The Fertility Doctors comes a Knockin’
Finally, the 16th century version of a fertility doctor, named Doctor Fernel was brought in and he diagnosed a slight irregularity in the couple’s reproductive organs. He prescribed a cure to which Henri and Catherine followed. I wish I could tell you more about this cure, but history doesn’t know what voodoo magic he used. All we know is that it worked fabulously. After 10 years of cow dung and sex education, Catherine gave birth to Francis II on January 19, 1544. Over the following years, she would give birth to 9 more children. Not too shabby for a mere "merchant's daughter."
Peace at last...Hardly
Although Catherine secured the succession, peace was still out of her reach. A royal cat fight was brewing between the two leading mistresses of the French court – Diane de Poitiers (mistress of the heir to the throne, Henri II) and the Duchess D’Etampes (mistress of King Francis I). Who will be the last strumpet standing??? I wouldn't put my gold coins on the aging king's mistress. All it takes is one kick of the bucket...and M. D'Etampes is out on her arse. Stay tuned for next post to see who comes out on top.
A full list of sources will be given at the end of Catherine de Medici's story
(1) Pope Alexander VI was poisoned in 1503 after drinking poisoned wine which had been intended for the Cardinal de Corneto. The Venetian ambassador reported that it was the"the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body that was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity” - de Rossa, p.151.
(2) The inscription on Clement's tomb read, 'To Clement the Seventh, Pontifex Maximus, whose invincible valour was only exceeded by his clemency.' The vandals changed the inscription to read, 'To Inclement, Pontifex Minimus whose conquered valour was only exceeded by his avarice.'
(3) p. 48. Frieda
(4) p. 58. Frieda
(3) p. 48. Frieda
(4) p. 58. Frieda