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Marie was born in Florence, on 26 April, 1573, into an upwardly mobile Tuscan family who ruled Florence between 1434 and 1737. The Medici's were to produce two Popes1 and two Queens of France2. Her father, Francis I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany had married into the Habsburg family3 when he took the Archduchess Joan as his wife.
On 5 October, 1600, she became the second wife of King Henry IV of France4; their marriage was the subject of a series of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. She was to bear him two sons - Louis5 and Gaston - and three daughters - Elizabeth6, Marie Christine and Henrietta Marie7. Henry maintained his royal mistresses, notably Gabrielle d'Estrées and Henriette d'Entraigues, and bestowed the Bishoprics of Metz and Lodève on two of his illegitimate infant sons.
King Henry's 12-year reign leant towards favouring the Protestant faith. This sway had started when he became heir presumptive and may have been a political tool to avoid years of war with the German princes. His closest advisor, the Duc de Sully (himself a protestant), had persuaded Henry that the way to salvation lay through both the Catholic and Reformed religions. Therefore, in 1593, Henry announced to some leading Catholics - including Marie's father - that he was submitting to the authority of Rome. When he attained the throne, however, appeasement of the Protestants was of greater concern and it soon became clear that that was where his favour lay.
In preparing to lead an expedition into Germany to fight the Spaniards and Imperialists, Henry appointed Marie as his regent, together with a 15-strong council. She insisted that she also be crowned as Queen; this occurred on 13 May, 1610.
The following day, the King was assassinated by Ravaillac. Within two hours the Duc d'Epernon had gone to the parliament and had Marie confirmed as regent for her son, the nine-year-old King, Louis XIII.
The main change brought about during Marie's regency was the reversal of her late husband's policies. Influenced by her mother's Hapsburg roots, she put aside the policy of Protestant appeasement in favour of trying to achieve a Franco-Spanish alliance. First, she replaced her husband's favourite, Sully, with Concini, Maréchal d'Ancre, then she began to cement the ties to the powerful rulers of most of Europe by arranging marriages for two of her children. Her son, King Louis XIII, was betrothed to Anne of Austria (daughter of Philip III of Spain) while her daughter Elizabeth found herself wed to Anne's brother Philip - who in turn would eventually be crowned King Philip IV.
But as Marie tried to strengthen her family's position in Europe, Henri de Rohan, a son-in-law of the aggrieved Sully, started to organise Protestant opposition to the Regent's rule, which led to the creation of a separate Protestant party within the French State.
The Struggle for Power
Young King Louis married Anne in November 1615; there were resulting revolts from the Protestants at court. Marie, fearful of an uprising against her, summoned the Bishop of Luçon, Richelieu, to her council and appointed him Minster for War. Richeieu set about bringing an end to the opposition from de Rohan and his colleagues; his continued success in these aims led to him becoming recognised as Marie's favoured advisor.
Marie's position was further weakened by public discomfort over the amount of influence seemingly wielded by Marie's lady-in-waiting Leonora Galigaï and her husband Concini over both Marie and the French government; in fact, it was commonly believed that Marie had more or less allowed the couple to run things as they saw fit. When, in April 1617, Concini was assassinated, he was replaced by Albert de Luynes at the behest of King Louis. Marie fled Paris soon after and Richelieu arranged for her to settle at her house at Blois.
In 1619, Marie moved to Angoulême and took over the government of Anjou from Luynes. It was here that parties aligned with her policies gathered to rise against the King. Within a year, her troops faced the King's at Les Ponts de Cé but were beaten back. With Luynes' death in 1621, Marie again gained some influence at court. She was reconciled with Louis in 1622 and had Richelieu admitted to the council. She was even made Louis' Regent again while Louis went off to fight a war in Italy. But when Richelieu started to become more hostile to Spain Marie aligned herself with her younger son Gaston, Duc d'Oleans, in an attempt to have Cardinal Richelieu removed from the council. On 12 November, 1630, the 'Day of Dupes', she thought their goal had been achieved only to find Richelieu still presiding over council matters. Her part in the attempt to undermine Richelieu would cost her greatly.
Marie was banished to Compiègne in 1631. She attempted to gain access to La Capelle, an important stronghold from where she'd hoped to dictate terms to Louis; her mission failed and instead she fled into exile, never again to set foot in France. Initially she waited in vain to hear word that Gaston had seized the crown from his brother, only to learn Gaston had been defeated in his bid. From 1631-38, she retired to the Low Countries; while continued to raise support in France for her policies, few seemed to care about what the exiled former Regent had to say.
Realising that her influence had waned, Marie crossed the Channel to reside in the court of her son-in-law, Charles I of Great Britain, but the British Protestants there were fearful of a return to the witch-hunts of Tudor times so she was encouraged to leave, finally settling in Germany in 1641. From there, she saw the foreign policy of Richelieu8 hailed by 'her' people as a success. She died just a year later, in Cologne, on 3 July 1642.