I have a very healthy addiction to anything involving the Tudor dynasty. Said addiction began when I was on bed rest, pregnant with the twins, and my friend Jenny gave me her copy of The Other Boleyn Girl. From that moment, I was hooked. For the past five years, I have read anything and everything, fiction or non-fiction, involving the Tudor family. Recently, I have been entranced by Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII. Queen Catherine has always been, in my mind, the second-most tragic figure in the Tudor family (with Lady/Queen Jane Grey coming in first, but she's a whole other blog post). She grew up knowing, with every fiber of her being, that she would become and live out her life as Queen of England. In the end, though, that title was forcibly taken from her and she ended her life alone, away from a husband who had married another and unable to see or write to her beloved daughter Princess Mary.
To read this book is to experience a multitude of mountains and valleys, but where my mountains and valleys are relatively tame, hers were... Himalayan in nature. While she had love and joy and sadness and heartache, she also had one job to do. To put it simply, she was a womb, nothing more. Her whole purpose in life was to produce male heirs (yes, plural) to the English throne. Because the Tudor dynasty was young and born out of a bloody civil war, the Tudors needed to be fruitful and male. Catherine's mother-in-law, Elizabeth of York, had two sons who managed to live past infancy and yet she still lost the elder in his 15th year. Her response was not only to mourn, but to also "return to the bedchamber" with Henry VII and immediately, at the age of 36, become pregnant with what was hoped would be another male heir. Unfortunately, she had a daughter who didn't live a day and Henry VII's queen died 11 days later on her 37th birthday.
Tudor-era England (or the rest of the world, for that matter) had no clue that it was the male who determined the sex of the baby. No, the baby was born from the mother, therefore it was the mother's fault if the baby was female and it was the mother's fault if the baby died. So it was with hope and trepidation that Catherine began her duties as wife of Henry VIII. Six times she was pregnant and only one of her children lived to adulthood, her daughter Mary. But her second child was a boy who lived for nine weeks. For nine whole weeks, she was at the top of her game, at the peak of her life. She was Queen of England and had produced a male heir to the throne. For nine weeks, her life was stellar.
Nine weeks. Can you imagine looking back on your life and only being able to count nine weeks as your best? Even those people who supposedly peaked in high school can at least count one to three years as their best. I mean, I'm not incandescently happy all the time, but I'm luckily content and satisfied and I would have to say that I have more than nine weeks of my life during which I've been happy, comfortable, and pleased as punch about my station. I know there are probably people here in my neighborhood (and most definitely all over the world) who are probably living with mental illness and/or abuse who can maybe count nine weeks or even less as their happiest. And here, in the history books, is a queen, a woman of the highest stature, who can only count a little over two months during which she was absolutely fulfilled and secure in her position.
A friend of mine pointed out a quote from the movie Steel Magnolias, "I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special." But for me, I can't decide between a lifetime of contentment and calm happiness or nine weeks of ecstatic fulfillment and almost manic joy that is surrounded by heartache and sadness. Since I seem to be afflicted with a mild anxiety disorder, pain and upset really get to me. I hate those emotions and shy away from them at all costs. But for Catherine, to be a martyr, to suffer in the name of her faith, would have been an ultimate reward. For her, nine weeks of joy followed by 25 years of more downs than ups may have been her greatest prize.
What about you? Are you more like Catherine or more like me?