Catherine de' Medici was one of the most influential woman at French court and declared the most powerful woman in sixteenth century Europe next to Elizabeth I of England. Many legends have risen after her death, and she is often being displayed as a black widow, a royal poisoner and a tyrant - the latter because people blame her for having initiated the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. In Alexandre Dumas' novel 'La Reine Margot', Catherine plays the role of an intrigeous mother that skillfully gets rid of everyone that comes in her way.
As the wife of king Henry II, she was Queen of France for twelve years and Queen Mother and advisor to her three sons Francis II, Charles IX (who was only ten years old when he heired the crown, so Catherine ruled France as its regent during his minority) and Henry III. She was born a daughter of the rich and influential Medici clan from Florence. Her father, Lorenzo, was the prince to whom Machiavelli had written in his political treatise The Prince, and pope Clement VII was her uncle. At the age of 14, she was betrothed to marry Henry of Bourbon by an arrangement of Clement and Henry's father. During her husband's reign as king, Catherine lived a quiet life together with her maids that had moved to France with her. As queen mother and regent she gathered several Italian advisers around her. She obviously found an interest in her Italian roots, and rumors had it that she was interested in poisons, as the French believed that Italians were ruthless practicers of the black arts. It was believed until long after her death that she had kept poisons in the more than two hundred beautiful woodcut cabinets that stood in her room in Chateau de Blois.