Real Housewives of the Renaissance Ep. 1

Portrait of Catherine de’ Medici, copy after François Clouet, c. 1580, oil on panel, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

No one can deny 2020 is definitely full of drama and weird relationships, but it is nothing in comparison to the 16th century all across Europe. The few ruling families continuously inter-married and extensive, so marrying cousins was commonplace. A lot of my research has revolved around familial relationships and the impacts of these complicated connections. As part of a new series, I am going to be diving into some of the more complicated families and relationships during the Renaissance. Who needs the reality TV when you’ve got Renaissance history?

Let’s dive right in. For the first episode, let’s introduce our cast of characters before we get to the juicy storylines. At the core of this Renaissance-era reality show, we have the matriarch, Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589), the last of the original line of the Medici family and Queen of France.

However, the Medici family in Florence did not end with Catherine, only the original line. The secondary line stemmed from the brother of Catherine’s 4 times great grandfather. When Catherine married into the French royal family, this secondary line emerged with Cosimo I (1519-1589), Catherine’s very distant cousin. Assuming the role left open by the end of the original Medici line, Cosimo became the first Grand Duke of Florence and one of Catherine’s main adversaries when she was Queen of France.

One of Cosimo’s granddaughters was Marie de’ Medici (1573-1642). She was therefore also Catherine’s very distant cousin, but we will return to her in a moment.

One of Catherine’s daughters was Margaret de Valois (1553-1615). She married the King of Navarre, Henri IV (1553-1610). Margaret and Henri’s marriage was not a happy one and they had it annulled in 1599. Margaret returned to France and followed in Catherine’s legacy.

In a very complicated turn of events, Margaret’s ex-husband, Henri became King of France in addition to King of Navarre. His marriage with Margaret was officially over and he needed to marry. He decided to marry Marie de’ Medici, who we just spoke about. Therefore, Marie de’ Medici, Catherine’s very distant cousin, was now married to Catherine’s daughter’s ex-husband, a complicated connection even for the Renaissance.

After Bronzino Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany probably before 1574 Oil on wood, National Gallery of Art, London.
Portrait of Marie de Medici, Peter Paul Rubens, circa 1622, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Another interesting marriage connection begins with Christine of Lorraine (1563-1637). She was Catherine’s granddaughter and was raised by Catherine prior to her marriage after her parents died. She married Ferdinando I de’ Medici (1549-1609), Cosimo I’s son and therefore Catherine’s very distant cousin. They became grand Duke and Duchess of Florence where Christine lived for the rest of her life.

Our final family member who really brings everything back is Francesco I (1541-1587). He was Cosimo I’s son and Ferdinando’s older brother. Marie de’ Medici was his daughter. He did not have any surviving male heirs so the Duchy of Florence went to his brother, Ferdinando, Christine of Lorraine’s husband.

Well if that didn’t confuse you, I am thoroughly impressed. Check back next month for our next episode of the Real Housewives of the Renaissance!


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