Sunday, November 3, 2013

THE RANT ON REIGN CONTINUES by Linda Root, Author of the First Marie and the Queen of Scots

I vowed to go on with my life without remarking further on Reign, because to do so, I would actually have to watch it.  But I could not resist it. So, I downloaded a program that allowed me to view it with subtitles, and plugged into Episode Two.  I made it into the show for about four minutes before I poured my first glass of Apothic Red.  This is not something an amateur historian and historical fiction writer can safely watch without a mind-altering fortification  of some sort.  Before I uncorked and sipped, I downloaded the synopsis of Episode Two - something about Snakes in the Garden, which I guess is a take off on snakes in the grass.  In France where this is supposed to be happening, they have gardens all over the place. The title, thus, is designed to give an air of tongue-in-cheek authenticity.  Take heed of it, for it is the only bit of authenticity you are doing to see.  And to give you a hint, here is the Amazon synopsis of what follows all of the warped non-history of the Queen of Scots in Episode One:
by Clouet, ((PD-Art}} Wikimedia

When Simon, an English envoy, tells Mary that the English are aware of her fragile engagement to Francis, Mary and Francis put on a show to protect their alliance.
Oh, please!

I confess!  I cancelled the service that allowed me to watch Reign with subtitles on my laptop as soon as I saw the part where the queen has a flashback to a murder attempt at the convent where if you read my last blog on the topic, you know she never lived, although she sometimes visited the lavish convent of Saint Pierre les Dames in central Rheims, its ruin located a stone's throw from Rue Marie Stuart.  If you want to know about the only known attempt on her life during her childhood in France,  buy my book The First Marie and the Queen of Scots and read a fictionalized account of that event.  It was planned for Easter  at Saint Germain  when the queen was eight, and it involved a disgruntled Scotsman (last name Stewart, of course, although he used aliases), a fruit vendor and one of Marie's cook. The plan was to poison the syrup on her favorite dessert, frittered Comice pears. Queen Catherine had nothing to do with it. But if watching a nun with blood oozing from some orifice or  another and  her face in the bouillabaisse or some-such  draws viewers, who am I to complain?  But I'm certainly not going to pay or endure the endless commercials in order to watch it.

Now comes the history lesson.  I will try to make it light and painless.  The Queen of Scots was married to Francois (which was his name) when she was fifteen and he was fourteen.  In my last rant I covered all of the stuff about his physical limitations, his stuttering, his stooped shoulders and his undescended testicles.  I left out the part of him being a mama's boy. The idea of him galloping off with Marie to greet a foreign princess who is being auditioned as a bride  for Prince Charles (age 7)  is about as ludicrous the thought of Marie  at age fifteen arguing with the king of France  about sending troops to France.  Sending troops to France was a regular occurrence and the requests did not come from Marie but from her mother Marie de Guise, the Regent. When it came to military deployments, neither Marie nor Francois were that lippy or for that matter, that interested..And while it is nice that the producers present Marie as a outspokenly patriot Scot, she was not.  If she gave a lick about Scotland, she kept it a historical secret. Actually, she bequeathed it  to King Henri  as a wedding present, and also gave away almost the entire income of Scotland to Henri to reimburse him for supporting her all those years.  Those were part of the three secret accords that she and her uncles kept secret from the Scottish delegation to the wedding. The plan was for her mother Marie of Guise to hang on in Scotland  until  Marie married Francois and they made a short trip to Scotland  to get Parliament to grant him the Scottish crown matrimonial, after which they would skip back to France with Marie's mother joining them.  Then Marie and Francois (with her uncles holding the pen, of course) would appoint one of her Guise uncles to be  Regent, probably one of the younger ones like Rene, Marquis of Elbouef, who was young enough to think that governing the uncouth Scots might be an adventure. Actually, when Marie was left with no suitable alternative to going to Scotland to assume her personal rule, she was in tears. There is a legend that she tearfully called out from her ship to the fading French coastline, 'Adieu , Dear France.  I fear that I shall never see your shores again!" And yes, Marie de Guise generally did consult her principal adviser whose name was  Monsieur d' Oysel, a gentleman of the bedchamber of guess which king. Neither the Guises nor Henry were silly enough to cut loose two politically naive kids like Marie and Francois and allow them to speak out on matters of policy, let alone institute it. Even after their wedding on April 24(our calendar) 1558 at Notre Dame d' Paris, they remained  a tall fifteen year old girl in thrall of her uncle Francois the duke, and a still pre-pubescent mamma's boy with an overdose of puppy love for his smarter, taller and infinitely more attractive bride, a couple  immersed in the heady endeavors of learning to dance the Galliard and Volte and riding to the hunt. This is not the young hippy-ish  Hillary Rodham and the strikingly handsome Bill Clinton planning the future of the Western Democracies.
Queen Marie Stuart  and her cousin Marie Flemyng, homebound in 1561
Assuming that episodes 2 and 3 occur before  her marriage in 1558, since they center on the concept of 'a fragile engagement', we can also make other observations, one of which is that the English would not send  an envoy to her to threaten an invasion of Scotland if she proceeded with the wedding. They would have done what they did best and muster on the Border. The truth of the matter is that Marie and Francois did none of the planning of their lives and when and if their wedding went forward was a decision to be made by Marie de Guise and her advisers, and Henry II and the Guises.  The terms of Marie's marriage were negotiated by her uncles the duke.  Marie's participation in the government of Scotland before that consisted of her sending her Regent mother about thirty sheets of blank parchment to which she had affixed her MarieR at the bottom, so her French mother could fill in the blanks.

So now that I have taken care of the preamble, let me comment on the episodes which I ultimately  found too ludicrous to watch. But I did fast forward through them and watch the teasers before I cancelled my subscription to Hulu.. Actually, I liked the Honda ads and the soundtrack, but not enough to pay $7.29 per month for the privilege.

First, King Henri:  Henri was not doing bumps and grinds in hallways and alcoves with young girls --that was Mel Brooks as Louis XVI  in History of the World: Part I, although Henri's father Francois I was pretty good at demonstrating with his penis that it was indeed 'good to be the king."  As kings go, his son Henri II was not promiscuous.  He had one illegitimate daughter Diane de France (1538-1619). conceived by  Fillipa Duci when he visited her brother's house during a campaign in the Italian wars. Otherwise, he was exceptionally monogamous for a sovereign-- it was just that his fidelity was not for his wife but for his mistress Diane de Poitiers, Countess of Valentinois.  All those pretty scenes in Reign where he is conferring on policy matters with Catherine or promenading in her company are a joke. Even the Scots who came to negotiate the wedding contract realized that Henri's silent partner was Diane. He only walked beside Catherine to keep her from catching the stilts she sometimes wore in the hems of her skirts. Although Henri began to recognize his stubby Italian wife's management abilities and made her his regent when he went to war, his constant adviser, henchperson, confidant and lover until the day he died was Diane, and Catherine received only as much of her husband as Diane thought prudent. Catherine was rumored to have had a hole drilled in the floor of her bedchamber so she could watch Henri and Diane making love.  It was Diane who convinced him he had to climb the stairs and sleep with Catherine often enough to save the dynasty.  His marriage to Catherine de Medici was a dynastic union forced upon them by their families.  If they had been free to choose, Henri would have married the much older Diane and Catherine would have wed one of her Italian cousins. Henri had been in love with Diane since he was a young adolescent and she was a wealthy widow with daughters. According to legend she had given him his first kiss (albeit platonic) when he was nine and being given as a hostage to the Spanish in a prisoner exchange that freed his father.  She had been there four years later when he was released, and he  was later warded  in her household.  The physical aspect of their affection lay dormant until after her husband's death.  Her position at Henri's court was unassailable, at least by anyone who wished to survive. Even the Guises and their Montmorency rivals were unable to overcome her power. And she was more than equal to the task--a great patroness of the arts, a fashion icon, an astute businesswoman and  a politically sophisticated adviser  who could give Henri everything he needed but an heir.  When he rode to battle or performed in tournaments, it was Diane's colors of white and black that he wore.and it was beside her,not Catherine, that he rode to his coronation, at least as far as the outskirts of Rheims.  He had their joined initials carved over his bed and all over the royal Loire chateaux.(Catherine had them altered later).. The only time he  a serious challenge emerged was when Diane was at her estate in Anet recovering from a horseback riding accident and Henri took to the bed of Marie's governess Janet Stewart, Lady Flemyng, who was almost as old  as Diane but still capable of child-bearing. Catherine and Diane cooperated in getting 'La Belle Ecossaise'  Flemyng exiled to Scotland and Henri legitimatized his son Harry of Angouleme, but promised  Diane that Lady  Flemying would never again set foot at the Valois court. Yet, in Reign, we hardly see Diane.

Strange, since she was a major influence in Marie Stuart's youth.  The painting below is one of few that the great Francois Clouet actually signed. It is displayed as Nude Noblewoman at the Bath but is widely accepted as a painting of Diane de Poitiers.  Incidentally, when Diane's bones were analyzed in 2007 it was discovered that they contained a high gold content, confirming rumors that she bathed in water infused with flecks of gold. It is likely that the beauty treatment contributed to her death.
Francois Clouet ((PD-Art}}
Which brings us to what is wrong with the portrayal of Catherine in Episodes 2 and 3:

The queen's flight after Langside.
Catherine could not even win an argument over letting Marie have her way about the color of her wedding dress, let alone plot with Nostradamus to remove her. Nostradamus (Michel Nostredame)  was not Catherine's Rasputin.  He was present at the French court during the period, but he was not the Svengali  portrayed.  He was a rather unassuming man, an apothecary who had been expelled from medical school because of his practice of the lowly trade a druggist.  His first published prophesies concerning threats to the royal families attracted Catherine's attention in 1555 and he did predict that Catherine would outlive her children. His only prediction that can be linked  to the Queen of Scots relates an event similar to Marie Stuart's flight following the Battle of Langside in 1568 and she is not named in it or any of his prophesies. He enjoyed Catherine's sponsorship and was later made a physician of sorts to Henri III, but he was never a power at the Valois court during Henri II's lifetime.

Catherine, on the other hand, was utterly in love with Henri II, enough to tolerate his preference for Diane, and she did little to undermine her husband's affinity for Diane or the Guises until Henri was obviously dying. She had Henri's great friend the Duke Anne (male name during the period in question) de Montmorency barred from the Royal Death Watch and sent Diane packing to her estates at Anet, although Henri had called out for each of them. At the time of King Henri's death, Francois II was of the age of majority and in the control of his wife's uncles.  Catherine's only viable tactic was the one she employed.  She aligned herself with the obvious winners (Marie and the Guises), and she watched and waited.  This is not at all the Catherine portrayed in Reign, who is more a Diane de Poitiers than a Caterina Maria de Romuli d' Lorenzo de' Medicis.

Comes now Tomas! a character called Tomas of Portugal. The actor who portrays  him is the closest thing to rival Henry Cavill to appear in Reign thus far, (at least to anyone older than the targeted teenage audience) But there is more to Tomas than good looks.  He at least brings a hint of history to the story. Eureka!. There was a king of Portugal who died in 1557 leaving his three year old grandson as his heir.  Apparently someone stumbled on a history book open to a proper page and-wrote something feasible into the story. There is, alas, no bastard named Tomas mentioned in the genealogies, but then, we wouldn't want to spoil the series with an overdose of historical accuracy.

If you are interested in a laboriously researched but still fictionalized account of Marie Stuart's life in France as seen from the point of view of Marie Flemyng, chief of the Four Maries, click on the cover of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots (to the right) and it will take you to Amazon where you can buy the Kindle ebook  for $2.99.  It, too,has its share of steamy sex, but unfortunately my female characters wear dresses with sleeves which may be why the book received a mediocre review today from a reader who thought I did not reveal enough of the details of my characters. Unlike Reign, almost all of the characters in my book resemble real people--there is not a Bash, a Tomas, an Ailee or a Greer in sight, and the Four Maries who came to France as companions to Marie Stuart are named--you guessed it right.  Marie! (although Livingstone's name was actually Mary).

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