Catherine de Medici: The Black Queen. The Rare English Edition

CATHERINE DE MEDICI (1519-1589). Estienne, Henri, the Elder (1531-1598)

A mervaylous discourse vpon the lyfe, deedes, and behaviours of Katherine de Medicis, Queene mother: vvherin are displayed the meanes vvhich she hath practised to atteyne vnto the vsurping of the kingedome of France, and to the bringing of the estate of the same vnto vtter ruine and destruction.

At Heydelberge [i.e. London : Printed by H. Middleton?], 1575


Octavo: 13.4 x 9 cm. 196 pp. A-M8, N2


Bound in 19th c. calf, light wear to hinges. A nice, complete copy, the outer margin of the first two leaves restored with no loss. Small stain in margin of final three leaves, a little (very) light staining. Early signature on title. VERY RARE. STC and OCLC locate only 6 copies in the U.S.: Folger, Huntington, Harvard, Newberry, Yale and Illinois.

An anonymous English translation of “Discours merveilleux de la vie, actions, et déportemens de Catherine de Médicis”, here attributed to Henri Estienne but still of doubtful authorship. The work is sometimes attributed to Théodore de Bèze, Jean de Serres, and Pierre Pithou.

The work offers "broad criticism of Catherine de Medici, the half-French scion of the Medici dynasty who married Henri II and who would ultimately see three of her sons rule France as François II, Charles IX, and Henri III. Catherine was a long serving and formidable force at the heart of French political life for the latter half of the sixteenth-century. The 'Mervaylous Discourse' offers no words of praise for her contribution, but rather fear and loathing for a woman it perceived as a dangerous usurper of (male) royal power whose actions were interpreted accordingly. What is primarily at issue for the work's author(s) is the illegitimate participation of women, perhaps the wrong kind of women, in high political life at the French court. Indeed, these concerns are foregrounded in the work's subtitle."(Broomhall, p. 356)

Catherine is blamed for, among other things, the four civil wars that took place during her reign and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (August 23-24 1572).

“The “Discours Merveilleux de la vie, actions et deportements de Catherine de Medicis Royne” attracted enormous attention immediately upon its publication. Issued soon after the death of Charles IX (1574), it was to all appearances written by an author who lived in Paris at the time and was thus witness to the political and religious upheavals that agitated the capital during the first half the 1570s. Conventionally attributed to Henri Estienne – scion of the Estienne printing dynasty in Paris, Hellenist, and a reformist – the earliest extant versions of the Discours Merveilleuxbear an imprint date of 1575, but the text may have been circulated in print as early as 1574. Between 1575 and 1579, at least 9 French editions were published, and the text appeared in English, Latin, and German versions as early as 1575.

Modeled satirically on a Latin “Saint’s life” or legenda, the Discours Merveilleuxpurports to expose the devious and perverse character of Catherine de Medici, which threatens to lead to the destruction of the French kingdom. At once an anti-Italian and misogynist assault on the Queen Mother, the Discours Merveilleuxrepresents one of the foundational texts behind the notorious image of Catherine as the Black Queen.”(Gordon Collection Catalogue, University of Virginia Special Collections)

STC 10550