Catherine de Medici, a powerful, sometimes disastrous power in French politics in the sixteenth century, was influential in bringing improvements to perfumery as an industry in France. In 1533 she came from the famous ruling family of Florence to marry the future Henry II and with her came all the materialistic splendors of that cosmopolitan city. She shocked and impressed the French court. Among her retinue were two servants, Cosimo Ruggieri, and Rene. The latter was allowed to open a shop in Paris, near the Pont Saint-Michel, where his Italian perfumes and powders soon became the latest fashion. Cosimo Ruggieri had more sinister duties to perform and was kept at court, where his apartments were linked by a secret passageway to the queen's chamber.
Ruggieri's activities are easy to understand in view of Catherine de Medici's situation at the court. The king was dominated by his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and was engaged either in campaigns against Italy or in religious wars against the Protestants. The queen was neglected and humiliated, scorned by the court for her foreign manners. Furthermore, she was unable to produce children for the first ten years of her marriage. It seemed she failed even in her fundamental reason for existence at the court. Her love of luxury was part~ a result of her powerless, invidious position at the time. Catherine's excesses in dress, cosmetic and perfume use, and her crowd of elaborate courtiers were a means of shoring up her position. The darker side of her nature came out in her deep interest in astrology and witchcraft, an enthusiasm that was heightened by her childlessness. Cosimo Ruggieri would concoct mysterious potions to improve her fertility (she never rode on a mule--a sterile animal-for the same reason), and would prepare special ingredients and creams to maintain her beauty and youthful- ness. If necessary he made secret poisons to dispose of her enemies. Spanish leather gloves, impregnated with fatal substances, were a favorite device, and also perfumed 'cassolettes' (scent-burners for chambers). Jeanne d' Albret, mother of Henry IV, was supposed to have been murdered with some gloves sent to her from the queen, and, much later, Gabrielle d'Estrees, Henry's mistress, by the fumes of a cassolette. It is doubtful if either object could have this fatal effect, unless it was used together with a more reliable poison, such as arsenic in food. This picture of Cosimo's cell, from a contemporary source, conveys the deep horror in which he was held for his suspected part in these crimes:-

The person with probably the greatest responsibility for introducing the Italian methods to France was Catherine De' Medici. She was adept at mixing poisons into sweetmeats and articles of food, and her accomplice Bianco supplied the Queen with any poisonous substances that she required. Cosme Ruggieri was another Italian that followed her to France, and after poisoning Charles IX, was hanged.-

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Last-modified: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 13:06:00 JST (5233d)