My Writer's Journal

Behind the Books: Duchessina

July 18, 2013

A Novel of Catherine de' Medici
After writing the stories of Mary, Anne, Elizabeth, and Catherine, always with the maddening and magnificent Henry VIII as the driving force in each woman's life, I thought I was done with the Tudors. (I got some complaints about this; after all, there were four more of Henry's wives waiting for their stories to be told. But, to be honest, I was getting a little sick of old Henry.) However, I'd discovered that I really liked writing about those young women, before they became queens and their stories went off in other directions. I looked for a slightly different subject.

Then I thought of Catherine de' Medici. As usual, I knew next to nothing about her before I started the research--but I did know that she had a bad rap. Perhaps deservedly so, but I wanted to get to know her before she started dealing rather harshly with her enemies.

Duchessina (pronounced doo-kess-EE-na) means "Little Duchess" in Italian--Catherine's early nickname. She wasn't born a princess but the daughter of a very rich and well-connected family. Orphaned as an infant, she wound up living with her influential uncle in Rome who just happened to be pope--a very ambitious pope. When young Catherine fell in love with a boy her uncle knew would not improve his own political connections, he put an end to the romance. Now once again we have a girl of 14 shipped off to a foreign country to marry a total stranger, a French prince who had a mistress old enough to be his mother. It wasn't a happy beginning, but eventually Catherine achieved great power. Unfortunately, she did not use it well.

The best part of the research for this book was a trip to Italy, especially to Florence (Firenze) where Catherine grew up, walking the streets where she walked, visiting the church where she worshiped, staying in an apartment across from her palace. Writing her story was a challenge; how do you handle a scene where she watches her husband making love to his mistress? What about the extremes to which she went in order to get pregnant to provide the king with an heir? And I didn't make any of it up.

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