The Serpent Queen

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781399614207

Price: £14.99

ON SALE: 5th January 2023

Genre: Biography & True Stories / Biography: General

Disclosure: If you buy products using the retailer buttons above, we may earn a commission from the retailers you visit.


The bestselling revisionist biography of one of the great women of the 16th century

Orphaned in infancy, Catherine de Medici was the sole legitimate heiress to the Medici family fortune. Married at fourteen to the future Henri II of France, she was constantly humiliated by his influential mistress Diane de Poitiers. When her husband died as a result of a duelling accident in Paris, Catherine was made queen regent during the short reign of her eldest son (married to Mary Queen of Scots and like many of her children he died young). When her second son became king she was the power behind the throne.

She nursed dynastic ambitions, but was continually drawn into political and religious intrigues between Catholics and Protestants that plagued France for much of the later part of her life. It had always been said that she was implicated in the notorious Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, together with the king and her third son who succeeded to the throne in 1574, but was murdered. Her political influence waned, but she survived long enough to ensure the succession of her son-in-law who had married her daughter Margaret.

What's Inside

Read More Read Less


In this splendid, detailed and gripping biography, Frieda does Catherine ample justice
Munro Price, BBC History Magazine
A biography of scrupulous detail
Irish Times
Sympathetic and gloriously detailed
New Statesman
A triumph . . . she succeeds where some historical biographers fail: she takes an interesting story and makes it live with her writing where the bland prose of others would kill our interest stone dead
Birmingham Post
Leonie Frieda does this remarkable woman full justice. Refusing to play judge, she reveals her to us through the best of means, which is narrative. The skill with which Frieda finds her way through the maze of this confusing period is exemplary. You read on eagerly. An enthralling book
Allan Massie, Literary Review
Leonie Frieda has handled the history of this complex period with skill. Without skimping on the drama and debauchery of the court of the Valois, she has defended, but not whitewashed, Catherine and produced a fascinating picture of a remarkable woman
Sarah Bradford, Evening Standard
As Leonie Frieda shows in this absorbing biography, Catherine was a well-intentioned woman who resorted to extreme measures only under pressure. With its engaging style and deft handling of complex events, this accomplished account of Catherine's career is an engrossing tale, compellingly narrated
Anne Somerset, The Spectator
Frieda's richly detailed account . . . paints a most fascinating picture of French court life. The political complexities are kept mercifully clear, the main lines of rivalry sharp, the characters vivid
Ann Wroe, Daily Telegraph
Interesting and well-written . . . enlightens the reader about a turbulent and fascinating period which still arouses debate and disagreement
The Tablet
A rich and insightful piece of biographical and historical writing, which not only brings to life the famed Machiavellian queen but also the dramatic events and colourful courtiers (and courtesans) who shaped French history during her reign . . . must-read
Richard Foreman, Waterstones Leadenhall Market
Frieda is passionate about her subject, and her prose is lyrical and exacting. Like a polished stone, it reveals the character depths beneath mere historical detail as she brings to brilliant life one of the most fascinating women of the 16th century. What raises this biography into a tour de force is Frieda's ability to reframe completely our views about Catherine de Medici. This book is a remarkable achievement for Frieda, who has given us a marvellously compelling glimpse into a life led passionately
Toronto Globe and Mail
As Leonie Frieda relates in this well-researched and immensely readable first biography, from her turbulent home in Florence Catherine found herself presiding over perhaps the nastiest period in all French history. Frieda is much to be praised for painting a wonderfully rich canvas
Sir Alistair Horne, The Times
Frieda succeeds in making her subject interesting and coherent, and shows her operating in a political context that left no room for squeamishness or scruple
Sunday Times
Dramatic and fascinating - a real page-turner. Thoroughly recommended
Military Illustrated
Frieda's confidence in her mission permeates the book, raising what is in any case a fascinating narrative to the level of cogent and powerful argument . . . This intelligent and well-researched biography is a worthy testament to Catherine's formidable strength. Catherine de Medici reveals Frieda, a first-time biographer, to be a writer of tremendous skill and talent
Dr Amanda Foreman, Observer
Gorgeous detail and remarkable anecdotes....There is no mistaking the abiding pleasure of this smart and stylish book
Carol Herman, Washington Times
A stunning biography, which brings to life a heroic woman and the tumultuous, cruel and gaudy times in which she lived
Paul Johnson
Leonie Frieda has produced an absorbing, entertaining study of a time when the luxury and depravity of princes went hand-in-hand with power-plotting, assassination and bloody vengeance
Peter Lewis, Daily Mail
[Catherine de Medici] has often been portrayed as the devil incarnate, but this gripping biography argues that she was actually a skilful politician who brokered peace in France during turbulent times. A real historical treat
Sainsbury’s Magazine
Leonie Frieda is clearly already a very professional writer, but this is her first major work of history. It is a most excellent book that should be read by everybody who believes that education for its own sake has value, and that history in particular has cautionary tales to offer. Leonie Frieda, happily for us, manifests an Actonian sense of humour in her writing. The author paints a brilliant picture of the French court and of her subject's private life
Catholic Herald
This masterful and compelling biography delivers a beautifully written portrait of a ruthless, subtle and fearless woman fighting for survival and power in a world of gangsterish brutality, routine assassination and religious mania. I quickly found I could not stop reading. This is narrative history at its best, both scholarly and as captivating as a thriller. Leonie Frieda has brought a largely forgotten heroine-villainess and a whole sumptuously vicious era back to life again. She is equally at home in the royal court as she is in the blood-reeking gutters of Paris: this is The Godfather meets Elizabeth
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Mail on Sunday
In Frieda's scholarly tome, Catherine de Medici is painted not in the dark hues of her critics but using a more colourful palate. Through a prodigious amount of research, that was assisted by the author's versatility in five European languages, all the colour and splendour of Catherine's court is recreated
Stephen McGinty, Scotsman
A well-written and colourful journey through 16th century France, entertaining to read as well as frequently illuminating
Country Life
An assured and genuinely gripping tale of a woman - 'the Black Queen' - who ruthlessly conspired in 16th-century France and battled against more adversities in a day than most of us have had in a lifetime
ES Magazine
This is a masterly biography and a fascinating one
John Jolliffe, Independent
Leonie Frieda has produced a formidable book. Meticulously researched and extremely well-written, this surely will be the definitive biography of Catherine de Medici for many years to come
Medieval History Magazine
Frieda's enjoyable and skilfully written biography ... conveys, vividly at times, the outsize style of Renaissance rule: the Loire châteaux, the feasts and balls and masques, the exotic costumes, the elaborate needlework, the pioneering attempts at ballet and opera, the bizarre collection of stuffed objects that ranged from stuffed crocodiles to priceless manuscripts. Catherine's supreme command of the political display is adroitly brought out
Prof. Blair Worden, Sunday Telegraph