cover image Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine De Medici

Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine De Medici

Estelle Paranque. Hachette, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-306-83051-8

Political power and intrigue permeate this immersive dual biography of 16th-century queens by historian Paranque (Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes). Elizabeth I, the only daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, ascended to the English throne in 1558, while Catherine de Medici became “Gouvernante de France” two years later, exercising royal power on behalf of her nine-year-old son, King Charles IX. The book’s most fascinating sections reveal how the two queens’ efforts toto forge a strong French-English alliance and calm religious conflict through dynastic marriage, trade agreements, and peace treaties were complicated by their constant need to prove “their legitimacy and ability to rule in a male-dominated world.” After proposed marriages to King Charles IX and his brother Henry fell apart, Elizabeth was drawn to Catherine’s youngest son, Francis, Duke of Anjou, a supporter of French Protestants. Many of her ministers opposed the match, however, and Elizabeth eventually reneged on their engagement. Catherine’s power in France declined, and a few months after her death in 1589, her son King Henry III was murdered and Henry III of Navarre, a Protestant, became king, a succession backed by Elizabeth, who by then had become the most feared protector of her faith in Europe and one of the world’s most powerful monarchs. Paranque’s vivid character sketches and lucid explanations of the political and religious stakes involved result in a certifiable historical page-turner. (Dec.)