Safe In A Strangers Arms: A Katherine Bay Romance (The Mulleins of Katherine Bay Book 1)

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Twice have I come upon him when he thought he was alone and each time there was a dark brooding look upon his face. He has some purpose in his friendliness. What if some evening when the Duke walks forth alone, let us say strolls on the other side this ilex where the poplars are a screen, a man glides from the shadow?

A glint of steel, and Duke Alessandro is no more. The Florentines are glad, and Lorenzino reaps rewards. He has done a public service. The gleam in Catherine's eyes disappeared, and she was the same quiet indifferent girl she had been before. I only thought the Duke should be more careful of his friends. Howbeit 'tis time we went indoors. I must plan preparation for this journey to Leghorn the Duke told me of.

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She rose also, and moved across the lawn by the side of her friend with a sinuous grace which was remarkable in a girl so young as she. However, as those in the Medici Palace often observed, the Lady Catherine, styled the Princess of Florence, was old for her age in more ways than one.

Probably this was to have been expected. Catherine had lost her father and mother very shortly after she was born.

Safe In A Stranger's Arms (The Mulleins of Katherine Bay Book 1)

Her father was Lorenzo de' Medici, and her mother Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne before her marriage. Her father had been the head of his family in Florence and the real ruler there, although the Florentines were so jealous of what they considered their independence that he had never dared proclaim himself lord of the city and used the title of Duke of Urbino. Even so after Lorenzo's death the Medici had been driven from Florence and had had to fight desperately to retake it.

At that time the leaders of the republic in the city had shut Catherine, who was only nine years old, in a convent, and had discussed the best way in which to be rid of her, as the Duke had so thoughtfully reminded her. When the Medici finally took possession of the city again Alessandro was the head of the family and became Tyrant of Florence, calling himself Duke of the City of Penna.

He released Catherine from the convent and adopted her into his own family, giving her the title of Princess of Florence. Catherine, although she was only fourteen, had seen enough of the men of her family to distrust them almost as much as she did the people of the city. On all sides she had found treachery and deceit and greed for power, and if she was overwise for her years in such matters, it was because she had been brought up to see little else.

One man alone she trusted, her uncle Filippo Strozzi, who had married her father's sister, and who was now the most popular man in Florence. The Duke would have liked to be rid of this man by any means he could, but he did not dare deal with him in an underhand way, and so decided to send him to accompany Catherine to Leghorn, hoping that he might be induced later to go with his niece to France and keep away from Florence. Catherine had judged rightly when she said the Duke had laid his plans for her marriage more for his own protection than for her welfare.

In order to dazzle the French court the Duke had arranged a remarkable suite to accompany the young Princess. The entire procession consisted of more than a thousand persons, and when the rear-guard were still leaving the gate of Florence those in the lead had already passed the first village outside the city. Although Duke Alessandro was head of the house of Medici in Florence the Pope, Clement VII, was head of that house in Italy, and he had decided that he also would go to Leghorn and take a hand in the wedding plans of the Lady Catherine.

Like all the powerful princes of that day both Pope Clement and Duke Alessandro wished to dazzle the rest of the world with their magnificence, and Catherine must have been surprised at the sights she saw in Leghorn. The Pope had arrived by sea, and his private galley was hung with crimson satin trimmed with golden fringe, and covered with an awning of cloth of gold.

This same barge had been fitted with a suite of rooms for Catherine herself, and here were gathered priceless works of art and scores of curious treasures which had been sent to the Pope from distant countries. The oarsmen and the sailors were all magnificently dressed, and three more barges were filled with the officers and servants of His Holiness. Near the Papal galleys were moored the barges of the envoys of the French King, headed by the Duke of Albany, and so the harbor was filled with splendid vessels, while on shore Duke Alessandro did his best to amaze the simple people of Leghorn with the wealth and magnificence of the Lords of Florence.

There followed many meetings between the Pope and the Duke and the French envoys. It was settled that Catherine's marriage dowry should amount to a hundred thousand ducats, a very large sum of money for even such a rich house as that of the Medici to pay. Then the question arose as to which of the French princes she was to marry, whether the Dauphin or Henry, Duke of Orleans. The Pope and the Duke urged that she be married to the Dauphin, but the French King would not consent, and finally the two Medici princes realized that they had better take the younger son while they could get him, and agreed that Catherine should marry Henry.

But by this time they were so much afraid that the French King Francis I would try to break his agreement with them that they insisted on an immediate wedding for Catherine and journeyed on to the city of Marseilles in order that it might take place at once. If the Pope and the Duke were fond of gorgeous display, Francis I was even more so. Although he had given many splendid entertainments before, he outdid himself on this occasion. The wedding feasts for Henry and Catherine lasted thirty-four days, and during all that time the Pope and the King witnessed tournaments and sham sea-battles, listened to music and to the poems of the troubadours, and met at the banquet-table to eat and drink and make merry half the night.

So Catherine, just fifteen years old, was married to Henry, who was three weeks older. Catherine's opinion of the treachery and deceit of the people of her time was quite correct. They found they could not do this, and must take the second son. History does not tell what plots were hatched on that golden barge off Leghorn, but history does state that only a very short time after the wedding the Dauphin died, and that it was generally believed that he had been poisoned.

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  • He had been taking part in some athletic games at Tournon on a hot day in August, and when he stopped, being very warm, he asked for a glass of water. It was given to him iced, and a short time later he died. The man who gave him the glass had been one of those who were with Duke Alessandro at Leghorn. Thus, whether by their own devices or by chance, the heads of the house of Medici saw their little Lady Catherine the wife of the heir to the French throne.

    Catherine was shrewd, and she studied the people about her in France with the same skill that she had shown in Florence. She saw that she must win the affection of the king if she were to escape suspicion of taking part in the many plots that were made against him. So she stayed close beside him whenever she could, and was always ready to do whatever he might suggest, until very shortly Francis found himself exceedingly fond of this quiet, willing little daughter-in-law who seemed to admire him so much.

    She studied Henry and found him vain and pleasure-loving above everything else, and so she let him go his own way, interfering with nothing that he wished to do, but waiting until she might have the chance to win some power over him. And she studied the courtiers, men and women, so that she might be able to play them like pawns at chess, one against another, when the day should come on which she should be Queen of France. As she waited she saw cunning and deceit win one victory after another in Italy and France.

    She heard how the brooding Lorenzino de' Medici, even as she had predicted to Bianca, had become Duke Alessandro's closest friend and greatest flatterer in order to find the chance to strike and kill him, and she heard how the people of Florence had proclaimed Lorenzino a patriot for ridding them of the Duke, and how her uncle Filippo Strozzi, one of the noblest men of the time, had vowed that he admired the assassin so much that each of his sons should marry one of Lorenzino's daughters.

    Catherine became a most powerful woman, but powerful through fear. She had learned the lesson of her childhood well.

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    She was a Medici, and therefore overweeningly ambitious, and she was as scheming, as clever, and as cruel as any of her famous family. Her husband, Henry, became King of France, and was killed in a tournament. Her three sons became kings of France in turn, and during all their reigns she was the power behind the throne.

    During all her life the court of France was a cobweb of intrigue, in which no one was safe, and a man or woman became powerful only to be secretly put out of the way lest he or she should grow too strong. She was beyond doubt one of the ablest women in French history and she might have done much to make France great and respected, but instead she almost ruined it by her selfish ambitions. History lays at Catherine's door the killing of innocent Huguenots in all parts of France, known as the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Eve.

    With all her gifts she could not rise above the teachings of her girlhood in Italy, and so she stands out as a queen of treachery and bloodshed, thoroughly typical of her age in its darker sides. A little lady sat reading a small, vellum-bound book in the window-seat of one of the rooms of his Majesty's palace of Westminster. She was short and slender, and for a girl of fourteen very graceful. Her face was fair and now warm-flushed by the sun, her hair was a soft red-brown and her eyes that light shade of hazel, almost red, which so often goes with hair of reddish color.

    Her dress was of green velvet, with great gold-embroidered sleeves. At her waist was a girdle of gold.