Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine De’Medici

Written by Carolyn Meyer
Review by C.W. Gortner

Carolyn Meyer’s “Young Royals” series offers its readers the opportunity to both learn and be entertained by history’s most fascinating personages. Though geared toward a female audience, her books are accessible to both boys and girls, and she does an excellent job of not deliberately omitting the less salutary aspects of life in a different age. In Duchessina, the fifth in the series, she brings to life young Catherine de’ Medici. Catherine became infamous for her alleged dark deeds in her later life; Meyer has elected to show us the forgotten duchessina in her formative years, which were full of tumult and drama.

From the deaths of her parents shortly after her birth, to the fall of the Medici in Florence and her captivity, followed by her arranged marriage to the son of François I of France, Catherine de Medici never knew a moment when her value as a political pawn was not integral to her survival. Meyer offers a touching look at Catherine in her childhood, when she spent two years as a hostage in besieged Florence, and illustrates her burgeoning attraction to an unattainable cousin as well as her awareness of her own importance and impotence when Pope Clement VII, a Medici relative, arranges her marriage and sends her to France. Her friendship with other girls in her retinue and candid maturity help carry the latter part of the book, which tackles the challenging subject of Catherine’s union to a man infatuated with his mistress.

This is an intelligent introduction to the life of a woman who became one of history’s most famous queens. Ages 14 and up.