Emotions of the Past in Catherine de Medici’s Correspondence
This essay explores emotional performances about the past in the letters of Catherine de Medici. It analyzes Catherine’s interpretation of emotional practices at the court of her husband Henri II and that of his father François I, into which she arrived as a fourteen-year-old in 1533. Reflecting on the reigns she had witnessed, Catherine spoke about and for kings, in powerful acts of royal ventriloquism that were emotionally potent and commanded authority. Her advice sought to produce for her sons an emotionally persuasive history of father figures. In Catherine’s texts, historical feelings operated as a tool for emotional manipulation in the present. Her letters performed careful emotional work with her sons as particular interlocutors in this dialogue, visualizing them not only as kings in their own right but as active protagonists in a historically powerful Valois political project. Catherine displayed an acute sensitivity to emotion work, past and present, as a tool to regulate courtly atmosphere and to influence courtiers to the interests of the Valois—that is, instrumentalizing emotions as a form of power. These documents revealed frank advice to employ explicit strategies of emotional management of the court that involved king, courtiers, key officials, and day-to-day personnel in corporeal performances and emotional labor, enacted both socially and spatially. For Catherine, just as the production of history was founded upon emotions, so too was the creation and wielding of political power.
This research was conducted with the financial support of an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, FT 130100070.