More women held power during the brief span of the Renaissance than at any other time. And on the 500th anniversary of the birth of Catherine de’ Medici, the Loire Valley  is inviting visitors on a detour down memory lane, in the dainty yet mighty footsteps of the dauntless queens and icons who changed the course of history – and were vilified for the privilege. Like most female rulers, the iron-fisted Catherine de’ Medici, who was queen between 1547 and 1559 and regent from 1559 to 1563, has fared rather poorly at the hands of (male) historians.
That said, plotting the Saint-Barthélémy massacre did little for her reputation as a Machiavellian, bloodthirsty she-devil and closet “empoisonneuse“. For all her flaws – real and imagined – and murderous tendencies, the indomitable owner of the Châteaux de Chaumont and Chenonceau  (she effectively nicked the latter from her love rival Diane de Poitiers) was a firm advocate of civil tolerance and a fervent patron of the arts.
Her distant cousin, Marie de’ Medici, also left an indelible mark on the region – and the nation – when she stepped up as regent following her husband Henry IV’s assassination in 1610. Like Catherine, she had brainpower, and cheek, to spare. She rode roughshod over her son, Louis XIII, refusing to relinquish the throne when he came of age. Eventually, her peeved spawn banished her to the royal palace of Blois; but the would-be queen escaped two years later and raised a revolt.
Speaking of raising hell… Anne Boleyn called the Loire home for a spell as Queen Claude’s Maid of Honour and interpreter for high-ranking guests to the French Court before returning to England, clapping eyes on Henry VIII, prompting the greatest religious reform in history and getting the chop. And let’s not forget Breton freedom fighter and regular at the Château d’Amboise, Anne of France – or Anne Gedouyn – who, although not a royal, held authority, and the purse strings, as the Château de Chambord’s bookkeeper. Ready, steady, it’s time to get reacquainted with the Valley of Queens.
For more information visit www.valdeloire-france.com 
From France Today magazine