Although THE RIVAL QUEENS appears to be a story about the relationship between mother (Catherine de Medici) and daughter (Marguerite de Valois) it is much more a general history of a particular period of French history, focused much more on the struggle between Catholics and Protestants.
Catherine de Medici was the wealthy Italian merchant’s daughter who married Henri II of France, who in turn, demonstrated a marked preference for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, throughout his lifetime, humiliating his wife. After Henri’s death, shortly followed by the death of Henry’s first son — Catherine steps into the power void, acting as Regent for her underage son, Charles IX.
As the power behind the throne for nearly 30 years (Charles IX is eventually succeeded by another of Catherine’s sons, Henri III) Catherine uses her daughter Marguerite as one of many tools to try to balance the enmity between French Catholics and Protestant Hugenots. Marguerite, forced into a loveless marriage with Henry of Navarre, in turn finds outlets for her lively personality and intelligence in books and with a series of lovers.
Unfortunately, though readable, I found this biography plodding. And wound up skimming sections. There are only so many religious assassinations I’m interested in. What clearly comes across is how dysfunctional Catherine’s family truly was — with everyone involved in rivalries, jealousies, and internal struggles for power.