The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, her daughter Marguerite de Valois and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom

Written by Nancy Goldstone
Review by Charlotte Wightwick

Goldstone paints an enjoyable account of the lives of two queens of her title: Catherine de Medici of France and her daughter Marguerite, who became Queen of Navarre through marriage to her cousin Henry. Marguerite is perhaps most familiar to modern readers as La Reine Margot, the eponymous heroine of Dumas’ 1845 novel. Her wedding was the occasion of the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which thousands of Protestants died, believed to be at the instigation of Catherine and the bride’s brother, King Charles IX.

Goldstone’s book rightly goes into some detail of the massacre, but also ranges much more widely. She investigates how Catherine transformed herself from a politically insignificant and overlooked wife at her husband’s court, to a force who dominated French politics for decades. And she explores Marguerite’s attempts to make a political and personal life for herself despite multiple betrayals by her mother, brothers and husband.

Goldstone’s style is witty and informal, although at times her habit of inferring particular emotions and motivations to historical figures can lend the book more of the air of a novel than non-fiction. However, overall it is an entertaining read and fascinating account of two intriguing women.