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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So, Perhaps Crazy Breeds Crazy, No?

I thought about writing about mothers and daughters today and I guess I am sort of, I decided to write about Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.  In an earlier post I discussed Henry VIII and the fact that he was quite possibly mad.  Maybe syphillis ate his brain, maybe he was just nuts, who knows.  I mean lets face it, his mother came from the Plantagenent blood line, being the daughter of Edward IV.   His father was Henry VII, whose mother was Margaret Beaufort, a wily, steel hearted old woman, who although she was about the size of most 10-year olds could probably kill you in less than a minute and not think twice about it.  She gave birth to Henry VII at the age of 12, alone, in a house, on the floor.  She survived, let's talk about a will of steel!  Hats off to her! 

So, poor princess Mary had this coming from her father's side of the family.  On her mother's side, she had the fanatical queen Isabella of Castile, who though she was a magnificent queen and warrior, she was extremely intolerant of other religions and fought to expel the Muslims from all parts of Spain, in the process destroying thousands of years of history and medical knowledge, inadvertently bringing the dark ages back to Spain.  She, I believe, along with her husband also started what became the inquisition.  Their eldest daughter, Juana, was obsessed with having sex with her husband, Phillip, and when he died she dragged his body around Spain refusing to allow any women near his casket, lest they desire him.  Her son, Emperor Charles V finally locked her up.  Unfortunately she refused to relinquish her youngest daughter, so I am sure the poor child grew up to be some sort of necrophiliac prostitute great example of royalty.  The House of Aragon, from which Ferdinand, princess Mary's grandfather came, were related to the rulers of Naples.  These proud royals married their illegitimate children off to the Borgias, kept their victims mummies in a room behind their throne so rumor says, and committed suicide when it looked like battle was imminent. 

So, you see?  There was crazy all around, it was almost unavoidable that given this genetic combination, in addition to the horrible treatment by her father while growing up that she become crazy.  Divorce is hard on kids, it's even harder when mom is exiled and you are forbidden to see her.  You are threatened with death if you don't accept dad as head of the church and you are forced to wait on your baby sister hand and foot but never, ever touch her.  Your father never arranges your marriage, no matter how much you want a husband and babies of your own and you grow old and bitter watching England become a protestant country,  oh those dastardly non-Catholics!

So, when you become queen what do you do?  You fall in love with a picture of your cousin Phillip of Spain, who won't marry you until you behead your cousin Jane Grey, who was proclaimed queen for 9 days and represents the protestant opposition to your rule.  Never mind that she is only 16 and you don't really want to do it, your beloved, whom you've never met, says you must or he cannot in fact come to love you in person. So you do it.  Remember what I said a few days ago about doing away with all rival claimants to the throne?  Well it applied here apparently.  Never mind that poor Jane didn't want to be queen and probably just wanted to be left alone with her books somewhere, she had to go.  What a wonderful way to introduce yourself to your people as a kind and merciful queen.

When husband arrives you begin burning protestants left and right.  You declare that all married priests, who married legally under the previous protestant laws, give up and abandon their families or face the stake.  Never mind that you want a family of your own and would never want to abandon them.   Apparently that does not apply to priests.  Not just protestant burnings will do either, you must also burn Jews and anyone else who is not Catholic, because after all, England must be purified!  You will cry and protest the burnings, but you will order them just the same.  Maybe you should have adopted some of the orphans you created hmm?  Ever think of that one?  How did it feel to lose your mother?  Did you not think of this? 

You begin a smear campaign against your half sister Elisabeth, whom you lead others to believe is not a product of your father's loins, but that of Mark Smeaton, Anne Boleyn's musician who was executed along with her.  You lock her in the tower for participating in plots against you.  But, thankfully, you cannot bring yourself to execute her, your only living family member.  She is too smart for you anyway, she is too much her mother's daughter, though she will never admit it, and has lived her life in fear trying to survive.  She is everything you are not now, young, beautiful to some, and you see your husband's eyes wandering toward her.  Her mother was a harlot you think, so you had better keep her locked away from Phillip, she might steal him.  Anyway, every time you look at Elisabeth you see her mother staring at you out of the black eyes she shared with her daughter, so it's better to keep her out of sight anyway.

Poor Mary, you think you are pregnant, finally a child of your own, only the time for delivery comes...and goes...and no baby.  A hysterical pregnancy, a thing a midwife fears, because if no baby comes the family could say she is a witch, and caused the baby to disappear.  Your husband is not pleased.  It happens a second time, after he has left for Spain, never to return to you, only this time it's probably cancer and it kills you.  The queen is dead, long live the queen.  She is remembered by the nickname "Bloody Mary" because of the inquisition that she brought into England.  Five hundred years later children are still afraid to say her name in front of a mirror in the dark, for her face might appear.  What a terrible legacy. 

Poor Mary, a girl with so much potential, who could have had a happy life.  Instead she had a loveless marriage at the age of about 37 and died alone with few who loved her.  Was she crazy?  As crazy as her father?  Was she cruel?  I personally believe she was a very fragile, conflicted woman who very much wanted to be a good person and a good queen.  She did what she thought was right, but is murder ever right?  Being a protestant myself I can only cringe to think of watching my skin turn black in the fires at Smithfield, watching my daughter cry and wondering who is going to care for her, all because I am not Catholic.  Is there anything more horrifying than a slow death being burned at the stake?  Kind and merciful is not something I think she was.  But, history has a way of twisting things as it is told by the survivors.  So who knows?

If you want a good read from a fictional standpoint that might give you some sympathy towards her try "I am Mary Tudor" by Hilda Lewis.  It's the first in a trilogy and they are all actually very good.  For a good biography I'd try "Bloody Mary" by Carolly Erickson or the book listed above, "The Myth of Bloody Mary" by Linda Porter.  Both are fascinating reads about a sad, strange woman, who was once a sad, lonely girl.


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