Each week an episode of the popular TV show Reign
is not complete without conniving Queen Catherine scheming and plotting against
We have seen her threaten Mary, lure he son's ex-mistress to
Court to discourage Mary, and mix up poisons to be used on her enemies, and
send an assassin to kill her husband's bastard son. It's easy for
people to see her as the villainess of the show, but is she?
We have learned throughout the season some facts about Queen Catherine's earlier life.She was left alone as a child, supposedly gang raped, and then married for her money by Henry, who was already involved with Diane, his beloved mistress.
In addition, despite all her efforts to stop Mary from marrying her son, Francis, she has also repeatedly offered Mary advice on power and being a Queen in every episode. To me she is offering Mary the "tough love" of her own hard-won experience as a ruler and woman in a man's age.
In real life Catherine de Medici was born a commoner despite being a member of the wealthy Medici family. Both of Catherine de Medici's parents died within weeks of her birth and she was raised by various relatives until the Medici's were overthrown and Catherine was taken hostage. Soldiers who were part of the siege of Florence forced the young girl to ride a donkey through the streets while hostile crowds verbally assaulted her.
She was married to the Prince of France, Henry, at the age of fourteen. Henry deliberately excluded Catherine from involvement in state affairs despite the fact that Catherine was an extremely well-educated woman for her time, having been taught in the convents she was hidden in after the Medicis lost power. It was also said that Henry never loved Catherine, though she deeply loved him, instead preferring to lavish attention on his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, he even gave Diane the crown jewels! Diane was known to sit on his lap at state dinners while Catherine was present for the humiliation, and Henry took many other mistresses as well during his marriage to Catherine. In addition, Catherine was not highly regarded by her subjects who referred to her as "that Italian woman" and looked down on her for being a commoner, albeit from a rich family.
During the first ten years of their marriage, Catherine did not get pregnant and when Henry became King after the death of his brother, she was under enormous pressure to produce an heir or Henry would divorce her, or worse. She gave birth to Francis, and then proceeded to have nine more children, at a time when giving birth was highly dangerous to mothers. Three of her children died as infants, and in addition to her own children, Catherine raised Mary of Scots who was sent to live at the French Court at the age of five.
Getting back to the fictional Catherine of CW's Reign, imagine the trauma of Catherine's childhood and it's hard not to feel sympathy for the little orphan girl who was taken hostage and threatened while still only a young child. This kind of trauma either makes you weak and fearful, or a fierce person, and Catherine took the latter route, you go girl! King Henry is a complete tool who mistreated and humiliated Catherine. How many women who have been publicly humiliated and cheated on by their husbands haven't lashed out in frustration?
Catherine loves her children and is fiercely protective of them, and when you look at her actions in light of her reasons, she appears to be less of a monster than she seems at first glance.She was kind to Mary when Mary was a little girl visiting Court, but now she is worried that Mary will be the cause of her beloved son's death, so her scheming to get Mary out of the picture by threatening her and bringing Francis' ex to court seem logical in light of the fact she really believes in the predictions of Nostradamus. Should she sacrifice her beloved son for a girl who is not even family?
In real life, when King Henry died Catherine was left alone with several small children, her oldest son Francis was only a teen.She lived during a time of constant civil and religious wars which threatened her ruling sons, without Catherine's intervention, historians think it would have been unlikely for her sons to have retained their positions.
One must remember that Catherine was born a commoner and looked down for being so, is it any wonder that Reign's version of Queen Catherine would be furious at the idea of Bash, the son of her hated rival, ruling France instead of her legitimate son? Yes, sending an assassin is pretty cold, but in the violent context of the times this type of thing was not unusual, it's not like she could just file a lawsuit to sue for the rights of her children.
Catherine is intelligent and strong; in modern times those same qualities would more likely be seen as admirable traits, though the time she lived in was a very misogynistic society, and a strong woman was seen as undesirable or a threat. The challenges she faced as a woman and a ruler were complex, as was her behavior.
Let's face it, in Reign things are weighted toward making Catherine seem like a villain, but when you look past the scheming and drama, and think about the person behind the character, I see a woman who is doing her best to survive and protect her family from a variety of dangers. Villainess or Victim, Catherine is certainly one of the most watchable characters on TV.
Reign airs Thursdays at 9pm on the CW.
(Image courtesy of the CW)