Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blog Tour Guest Post: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

Today I am thrilled to welcome C.W. Gortner
to Let Them Read Books! To celebrate the paperback release of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, C.W. has written a fabulous guest post for us about the rivalry between the two powerful women at the heart of his gripping novel! Read on, and be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win your own copy, and stop by next week to read my review!

Two Women, One King:
The Love Triangle of Catherine de Medici, Henri II and Diane de Poitiers

“A woman stepped from the shadows . . . She glided as if her feet didn’t touch the ground, her silver-ash hair swept from her narrow brow, her slim figure set off to perfection by a dramatic gown of black and white . . . She wore no jewels save for the same crescent symbol on her breast, drawing every courtier’s stare as she came to stand beside my husband.

I stared at her, horrified . . . I’d imagined a plump, affectionate governess; a wanton with smeared lips and dyed hair; and as if she could hear my thoughts, she raised her eyes to me. A smile curved her mouth. It was a smile unlike any I’d seen, mocking and triumphant, exposing that dark place in my soul where fear and envy reigned.”Excerpt from The Confessions of Catherine de Medici © C.W. Gortner 2010.

We are fascinated by the ménage-a-trois, or love triangle. There’s something in our nature that finds voyeuristic satisfaction in the intertwining of three people, perhaps because such intertwining is often accompanied by passion, jealousy, and sometimes violence or death. Some of the most titillating scenarios come from the threesome, sexual and otherwise: Anais Nin, Henry and June Miller; Pablo Picasso, the poet Paul Eluard and his wife Maria Benz; and actress Marlene Deitrich, her spouse Rudi and the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque are just a few of history’s famous ménage a trios. We also have Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon—which, while certainly not a threesome in the carnal sense, certainly qualifies in the traditional one. And Princess Diana’s famous utterance can never be forgotten when discussing the unwilling threesome between her, Prince Charles and his mistress: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was crowded.”

In the above excerpt from my new novel The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, Catherine sees her rival, Diane de Poitiers, for the first time. The ménage-a-trois between Catherine, her husband Henri II, and Diane is one of the most notorious in history. It played out in full view of the court and their world; and was later used to blacken Catherine’s name. Of course, my scene is fictional; we have no idea how Catherine and Diane actually met, contrary to various fanciful accounts. The initial encounter between these two formidable, antithetical women—who loved the same man and shaped his adult life until the hour of his death—has been lost to time, though their rivalry and separate fates are fortunately not.

Who were they and how did they end up in this bizarre situation? It’s important to remember that the position of maîtresse-en-titre in France, or lead royal mistress, was one unique to that realm. Nowhere else in Europe had the mistress achieved such public recognition; a semi-official position with wealth and status, the mistress was a force to be reckoned with. While the title itself actually came into use during Henry IV’s reign, there had been lead royal mistresses in France since the 14th century, hundreds of years before Diane de Poitiers hit the scene. It was a precedent Diane herself witnessed under Henri’s father, François I, whose mistresses were always more important at court than his queens. Diane saw first-hand the influence a mistress could exert, if she played her cards right; and if there was anyone who knew how to play their cards, it was Madame de Poitiers.

Born in 1499, married at 15 and widowed by 32, Diane was already a mature woman by the standards of her era when François I commanded her to act as governess to his young second son Henri, recently returned from captivity in Spain due to a treaty the king had made with the Habsburg emperor. Enraged by the two years he’d spent under guard in a foreign country, Henri was 12, a vulnerable age for a boy; at odds with his father (indeed, as he would be for the rest of François’s life), lonely and secretly afraid, he must have cleaved to the sophisticated older woman in her signature black and white, whose comforting presence helped the young prince find his footing. When and how he first approached Diane in the physical sense cannot be known; but it’s generally established that by 1538, five years after his marriage to Catherine, Henri and Diane were lovers. Some historians believe they became lovers earlier; regardless, it seems fairly certain that even before Catherine arrived in France, Diane had Henri’s heart. He in turn would prove a remarkably faithful lover, give or take a few extra- maîtresse dalliances.

Catherine never stood a chance. Whether she loved Henri was beside the point, as she herself would painfully discover. Deemed an Italian parvenu from a mercantile family, albeit a powerful one, the French court looked down its collective nose at the thin, slightly protuberant-eyed, eager-to-please girl whom François had insisted on wedding to his son. Catherine was a political pawn who came from money; the Medici might no longer be the glorious patrons of Florence in its heyday, but her uncle Clement VII (who later denied Henry VIII his divorce and set another famous mistress on a reformist rampage) was the pope, and her mother had been Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne, a French noblewoman. Indeed, there is evidence she and Diane were distantly related through this family— a fact Catherine never admitted aloud and must have horrified her. Almost the same age as her husband, Catherine surely had illusions of her own concerning her marriage and the realization that a 34-year old woman was sleeping with her husband must have come as a shock. One can hardly blame her for loathing Diane, who never seemed to age a day and held Henri in an apparent thrall. And yet she ended up sharing her entire married life with Diane, consenting to Diane’s prominence at court and in Henri’s and their children’s lives, without a documented instance of public protest.

Because it looked to the world as though Catherine put up with it, the ménage-a-trois she was compelled to endure was later leveled against her during her time as queen-regent. It was said Catherine never did anything that did not advance her ‘passion for power’ and she suffered Diane because it suited her to have Henri otherwise occupied, while she prepared the path that would result in her ascendancy. Exactly how her detractors believed Catherine went about this path is unclear; certainly, she couldn’t have known Henri would die so tragically (despite her nascent second sight) and by all accounts his loss devastated her. She was left alone, a widow with children to protect, in a court torn apart by discord; if she did plan it, she didn’t do a very good job. Still, the sordid rumor that she’d sanctioned her husband’s infidelity clung to Catherine and added fuel to the legend of the ruthless queen. And while she was left battling for a country on the verge of annihilation, Diane floated back to her château to engage in charity work until her demise at age 66. In 2009, a chemical analysis of her hair indicated Diane’s habit of drinking gold—an elixir believed to preserve youth—contributed to her death. Thus, did Catherine’s nemesis meet her fate.

Catherine would have found it amusing. In a letter sent to a friend in 1583, long after Diane’s passing, she made this sole mention of her rival: “If I made good cheer it was the King whom I sought to please; for never did a woman who loved her husband succeed in loving his whore. One must call a spade a spade, though the term is an ugly one.”

Thank you so much for spending this time with me. To find out more about The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, as well as special features about me and my work, please visit:

Thank you, C.W.! That was great!

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici: A Novel

And now for the Giveaway!
C.W. has one copy to send to one of my lucky readers! Want it? Leave a comment with your email address by 11:59pm on Saturday, June 4. Winner will be selected at random and must have a U.S. mailing address.

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected!
Stay tuned for more great author posts and giveaways!

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is on a blog tour! Visit Historical Fiction Virtual Tours to view the full schedule, including more fabulous guest posts and giveaways!


  1. Thanks for the great guest post and giveaway! I just learned a lot about the historical topic of the book without even reading it...

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  2. Wonderful historical figure to base a novel on.

  3. Loved the post - It was very interesting. I never knew that Diane and Catherine were related.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  4. I would love this book.

    sassysasha817 at gmail dot com

  5. Please enter me. Thanks.

  6. A really stunning guest post -- shamefully, while vaguely aware of both women I don't think I realized how their lives overlapped. And so scandalously! Thanks for the giveaway!

  7. Oh wow, I am hooked from the excerpt at the beginning of the post! I find it fascinating that we do really thrill at reading about love triangles. Not only for the passion or violence of it all, but for the simple fact that we all love a good competition and, in the end, there can ever only be one winner if a winner emerges at all. Either the wife can win by the man refusing the divorce her and legitimize the "other woman" or the mistress can lure the husband away from the wife, either by divorce or in his heart. Just fascinating! Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!!!

  8. Great post :) I always did like Diane..*coughs* yes the book is not about her ;)

  9. I'd love to read The Confessions of Catherine de Medici :) *Thanks* for the giveaway!

  10. Fascinating guest post! The novel I'm writing cross-references the Medici family. It's not historical, though I adore a good historical novel. Thanks for the giveaway! :)

  11. I read every book I can get my hands on by C.W. Gortner! Definitely one of my favorite historical fiction authors, and this book looks great as well!


  12. Thank you for including me. I keep reading about this author, but haven't had a chance to read a book yet.

    tiredwkids at live dot com

  13. Enjoyed the post, would love to read this book!!!

    ctymice at gmail dot com

  14. Look interesting
    jennlovesed14 at gmail

  15. I'd love to read this book, I've always been interested in Catherine ever since La Reine Margot!


    Thank you!

  16. I loved this post and I would so love to read this book!

  17. Thanks for the giveaway
    jenhedger at hotmail dot com

  18. A book about two powerful women and their
    rivalry sounds very intriguing...
    Many thanks, Cindi

  19. Thanks bunches for the guest post and giveaway. I really enjoyed learning about the story. It made me all the more eager to read it. :)

    elfdrop AT gmail DOT com

  20. I would love to read this book, especially after reading the guest post. The cover is beautiful also. Good luck to me :)


  21. What a great giveaway! Thank you so much!!


  22. It looks like an interesting book.
    mce1011 AT aol DOT com

  23. Great giveaway. The book looks sooo interesting!


  24. Enjoyed the post, would love to read this book

    ctymice at gmail dot com

  25. I want it! I want it! I want it! :D Loved the post. Thank you for the giveaway.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com


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