Challenging the Image of the Villain: Catherine De Medici's Politics for Peace

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Grace Parker, North Carolina State University
Catherine de Medici is often portrayed as a villain in French religious history. In 16th century France she went through several significant public image changes with the final one as the woman who had orchestrated the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of the French Huguenots in 1572. However, this predominant view of her disregards her political work during the decades before the Massacre. These evolving changes in her image are the main focus of this proposal. Before the massacre she strategically used her gendered role as a queen, a widow, and a queen mother in an attempt to be viewed in a positive way which can be gathered from official portraits of her throughout her life. Unlike some of her contemporaries, such as Queen Elizabeth I in England who broke from the typical “ideal” woman by never marrying, Catherine gained power and respect by conforming to the contemporary expectations of her gender. She portrayed herself as a devoted wife and mother and sometimes used extreme measures to encourage people to see her as such. In my broader research, I am exploring what tools Catherine used to show her conforming gender performance that was expected at the time and how this resulted in gaining significant freedom and power. Focusing on her political work before the Massacre illuminates how she succeeded in negotiations and the different ways she tried to establish peace during the feud of Catholics vs. Protestants. This might question the common narrative that Catherine manipulated her son, King Louis XXX, into ordering the murder of those Huguenot leaders. Basing my research on the comprehensive collection of her (edited) letters allows further understanding of her use of personal networks for political goals. The poster will focus on change in visual portrayals of Catherine de Medici both before and after the massacre. Using a timeline and these depictions of Catherine over time, it will explore the downward spiral of her reputation as reflected in her visual representation, ultimately becoming an icon of fierce Catholic oppression and violence. The poster will especially question the gendered dimension of these representations. Challenging the evolving visual narrative will be embedded in the broader reframing of her political work.
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