Weird History The Enduring Legend Of The French Queen Who Commanded An Army Of Prostitute Spies  

Melissa Sartore
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Catherine de Medici was her father's daughter - a patron of the arts with a strong personality, a penchant for luxury, and an air of controversy and intrigue around her. Catherine was actually orphaned at a young age and raised by nuns before being married off to Henry, later King Henry II of France, in 1533. Catherine gave birth to three kings of France and served as regent for two of them, including Francis, who was briefly married to Mary, Queen of Scots

As regent, Catherine controlled France and its people - beauties and beasts alike - through personal manipulation, political maneuvering, lavish court festivals designed to distract rival factions, and her ladies-in-waiting, or "flying squadron" as they were later called, who used their bodies to get information. She faced an uphill battle when she got to France but used sex well to get her way. 

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Catherine Was Disliked In France Because She Was Not A Royal And Was Italian

The marriage of Catherine de Medici and Henry II of France in 1533 was arranged by Pope Clement VII, Catherine's uncle, and King Francis I, Henry's father. Catherine was viewed as an outsider thanks in part to a general distrust of Italians in France at the time.

When Henry II became heir-apparent in 1536, the French were alarmed. Up until this point, Henry's older brother Francis III had been the future king, and the likelihood of Catherine becoming queen was minimal. But that all changed when the prince suddenly passed and Catherine found herself thrust into the spotlight. She had yet to produce an heir, so much of the country hoped the marriage would fail and Catherine would be sent back to Italy. Public dislike of Catherine only grew when Henry became king in 1547 and Catherine became queen.

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Catherine's Husband Preferred To Spend Time With His Lover, Diane de Poitiers

Soon after his marriage to Catherine, Henry took a mistress named Diane de Poitiers. Diane was 19 years older than Henry, from an aristocratic family, and, according to Henry, the love of his life. Catherine competed with Diane for her husband's attention and affection, but to no avail, as Diane became a permanent presence at the royal court. 

It would take years before Catherine was finally able to ouster Diane, which happened after Henry sustained a critical would at a tournament in 1559. The king suffered for 10 days after being struck. He asked to see Diane, but Catherine denied him the request. Once the king perished, Diane was banished from court. 

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Desperate To Get Pregnant, Catherine Experimented With Potions

Knowing she was disliked and that she needed to produce an heir, Catherine was desperate to get pregnant. For the first years of her marriage, Catherine's husband was not interested in having sex with her, despite even his mistress encouraging him to produce an heir. Even after they had sex on numerous occasions, Catherine still did not become pregnant.

Catherine tried to remedy her "infertility" by drinking the urine of pregnant animals, eating powdered sex organs of boars and stags, trying recipes that combined various animal parts and fluids, and surrounding herself with runes, charms, and anything else doctors, diviners, and magicians recommended. After 10 years, doctors examined the king and found that he had a penile deformity called hypospadias. With this information, doctors offered advice about sexual positions, and the couple went on to produce 10 children. Seven of them lived to adulthood.

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Once Her Husband Passed, Catherine Was Able To Wield Real Power

It wasn't until her husband's demise that Catherine was able to exhibit real influence in France. Her oldest son Francis, who became King Francis II, was a sickly boy who was easily manipulated by his wife - Mary, Queen of Scots - and her ultra-Catholic family, the House of Guise, until his passing the following year.

During his reign, Catherine did her best to manipulate the political scene and lessen the power of the Guise family and keep religious peace in France. Part of her strategy was to entertain at court and distract the fighting factions with parties and beautiful women. She was not afraid to use sex in the process, holding lavish banquets with food served off topless women.