Name: Many, lost to history

Occupation: Courtesans, spies, high society women

Location: France, 1547-1559

As seen in: a number of historical films and works of art, but few contemporary references

When Catherine de Medici was queen of France – she was the wife of King Henry II and ruled from 1547-1559 – she kept a court of women entertainers. These women, about 80 in total, were called The Flying Squadron, and were notorious for doing the bidding of the queen, who had a reputation for being ruthless and conniving. Historical records state that many suspected the queen of asking members of the Flying Squadron seduce prominent European political leaders to unearth their secrets.

Though many of the names of the Flying Squadron have been lost to history, a few woman from the group have remained in the limelight. Isabelle de Limeuil was a French noblewoman and the Maid of Honor in de Medici’s court. She was described as a beautiful woman with blond hair, blue eyes, and a rosy complexion, and because of her looks she was invited to join the Flying Squadron. She took many lovers, often becoming involved with associates of the House of Guise, Catherine de Medici’s greatest rivals. Later in her life she was banished to a convent due to a pregnancy scandal, before marrying a favoured Tuscan protege of de Medici.

Another of Catherine de Medici’s famous ladies was Charlotte de Sauve, who was recruited by de Medici to become the lover of King Henry of Navarre. She succeed at her task, and ended up having an incredible influence over the king. De Sauve was supposedly the informant that lead to a number of executions, including Joseph Boniface de la Mole.

Many feminist scholars in particular believe that Catherine de Medici and her Flying Squadron are exaggerated in history books by scholars who were looking for every opportunity to denounce a powerful queen and her associates. Though often nefarious, these women had an incredible amount of political clout and insider information into the political landscape of Europe during the late 1500s, and took control of their lives by any means necessary.

-Rebecca Valley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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