Marie de Médicis, The Queen Mother (La Reine Mère)

Les memoires de la regence de la reyne Marie de Medicis.

Marie de Médicis (1575 – 1642) was the sixth daughter of Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and his wife, the Archduchess Joanna of Austria. Half Italian and half Austrian, this gave her ties to two of the most powerful dynasties in Europe: the Medicis and the Habsburgs.

She was the second wife of Henri IV, chosen for the hope that she would provide him many healthy sons to ensure the continuation of his line on the French throne, but also for the substantial purse string that her father brought to the union. The day after she was crowned Queen, Henri IV was assassinated on 14 May 1610. As her firstborn son, Louis XIII, was eight years old at the time, she became regent of France.

Historians generally agree that she was not particularly suited to the role of Queen due in large part to her limited knowledge of political matters and a diminished intellect [1]. She was also quite stubborn and could be very difficult to reason with. As a result, she relied on her maid, Leonora Dori, and her husband, Concino Concini, who, at the time, the Queen believed protected her from black magic and sorcery as well as performing “exorcisms.” The first ill-advised move Marie embraced was to reverse years of anti-Habsburg policies in France and the biggest way she did this was to marry off her daughter Elisabeth to the monarch who would go on to become Philip IV of Spain.

The nobles did not take her seriously as a monarch, nor did the so-called “princes of the blood” who Henri III had designated as holding the highest rank at court after the king’s immediate family during the ancien régime. Recognizing her as a weak monarch, they threatened to overthrow her, so she paid them large sums of money to get them to retreat. As a result, Marie knew she needed better royal advisors. In 1616, Armand Jean du Plessis, the man who would become Cardinal Richelieu in six years, became a member of her councils. Marie, having remembered that Henri IV had approved of the young man, ushered him into the fold. The future cardinal and Marie became close during this time as can be seen from the letters he wrote to her.

This loyalty, however, was to come at a price. The next year, in 1617, Marie’s son, Louis XIII, came of age and took power as King Louis XIII. The first thing he did, after years of poor decisions and mismanagement of ruling France, was to exile his mother. Louis followed this by giving the order to execute Concini—one of his mother’s favourites.   Richelieu was sent into exile along with Marie at the suggestion of Louis XIII’s royal advisors, most notably Charles d’Albert, duc de Luynes (1578 – 1621), who told the young king that Richelieu would not have his best interests at heart and could not be trusted [2]. Ironically, when it became incumbent upon King Louis XIII to reconcile with his mother to solidify the power of the French crown, Luynes knew that the only person who could possibly have a chance of facilitating a reunion was Richelieu. Thus, Luynes approached his rival and reluctantly asked for his help.

Richelieu had no doubts that he could convince the Queen Mother to do as he said. She had blindly followed his suggestions for years, having no real way of knowing whether his advice would lead her astray or to the right path. However, in his quest to damage his rival, Luynes, while trying to broker peace between the Queen Mother and Louis XIII, the Queen Mother had to reproach Richelieu for his demeanour, which had become unreliable and untrustworthy. In other words, it was unclear who held his true loyalties [3]. Nonetheless, Richelieu also knew that he had to be very strategic about the kind of peace he negotiated because if he were to facilitate the kind of peace that would allow Marie to move back permanently to court, he would sacrifice his ability to secure a permanent foothold into the inner circle of the Royal Family as a minister.

Meanwhile, Marie escaped from her confinements in Blois in 1619, two years after her banishment, and returned to court. Jaded and angry, Marie did not hesitate to join the resistance movement that sought to overthrow her son from the throne. The ringleader was none other than her other son, Gaston D’Orléans. The King’s forces quickly dispatched these rebels and Richelieu facilitated another attempted reconciliation between mother and son. Marie joined the royal council in 1621 and made her new project the renovation of the Luxembourg Palace in Paris.

The tide turned against Marie that same year when Luynes—Louis’s favourite advisor—passed away, leaving a vacant position for a most trusted royal advisor. Richelieu, a Cardinal since 1622, had taken great pains to ascend to his role as an influencer of the royal council, and he fought tooth and nail to win this coveted spot. He became Chief Minister of France, and Louis’s main advisor. This, in turn, earned the rage of Marie, who on 30 November 1630, orchestrated what scholars have referred to as the Day of the Dupes. This involved her barging into court and shrieking for hours about how Cardinal Richelieu should be overthrown and that he was evil. Although she seemed to be successful at first, Marie exiled herself to Compiègne, and followed this with a departure to Brussels in 1631, then Amsterdam in 1638. Although she never returned to France again, she plotted until the very end against her bitter rival, Cardinal Richelieu, until she passed away in July 1642, a scant 5 months before he himself died.

Les memoires de la regence de la reyne Marie de Medicis

Although the title suggests that this book is a journal or diary of Marie de Médicis, it is closer to a compilation of court documents from her life at court. The dedication mentions Cardinal Richelieu gave the author documents summarizing the things that happened (s’eſtoient paſſées) during the rule (regence) of the Queen Mother of this king (seu Roy, referring to King Louis XIII), and that the Cardinal was forced to choose between the two, ultimately choosing Louis. In addition, the dedication mentions that Cardinal Richelieu believed himself to be the most well-informed and the most capable as well as the most loyal and most sincere. Further, the author mentions that Richelieu composed this summary of documents in 5 or 6 days with much ease but also after careful thought and consideration. The author suggests that the manuscript for thisbook arrived to him from a notable person at court, and a friend of the author, although neither is explicity identified. One possible clue as to the author's identity is an indication in the dedication that mentions the memoirs were published under the author name of Monſieur de Monthreſor.


[1] G.R.R. Treasure, Cardinal Richelieu and the Development of Absolutism (London, England: Adam & Charles Black, 1972), 19: “This self-indulgent Florentine…was incapable of imposing her will upon the great nobles who had an interest in weak government.”

[2] Henry Bertram Hill, The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1961), vii.

[3] Carl J. Burckhardt, Richelieu: his rise to power, trans. Edwin and Willa Muir (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 75.  

Marie de Médicis, The Queen Mother (La Reine Mère)