The “italienne” who influenced French culture
Caterina De Medici: story of an Italian-French marriage
Have you ever wondered who the first celebrity chef in Europe was, or who introduced table manners in the continent?
Once upon a time, and most specifically in 1533, the Florentine young Caterina de’ Medici – in order to form solid political alliances between France, Florence and Rome – was forced by her uncle, Pope Clemente VII to marry Henry, Duke of Orléans who was the second son of the French King François I, remembered as a Man of Letters and the Patron of the Arts.
Upon the death of Henry’s older brother, Caterina became the Dauphine of France and soon after François I’s passing, she became the Queen consort beside her husband, now King Henry II. Following Henry’s death, her sons, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, successively became Kings of France. Throughout these transitions, Caterina played a pivotal role as Queen Regent, effectively ruling France for thirty years.
Despite facing prejudice as a foreigner and a member of a wealthy Florentine banking family, Caterina, derogatorily referred to as “l’italienne”, was undeniably influential in France. She passed away in 1589, just before her 70th birthday.
Intriguingly, Caterina’s influence extended far beyond politics. She revolutionized French culinary culture, introducing a myriad of new flavors to the French menu, including artichokes, cabbages, mushrooms, truffles, garlic, figs, and spinach. More significantly, she brought new refinements to table etiquette and practices, along with some “unusual” utensils. Caterina transformed the French dinner table into a sophisticated art, synonymous with elegance and refinement. Her impact on both fashion and culinary traditions remains an enduring testament to her legacy.