07 March 2011

Nine Weeks

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?


sybil law said...

Hmm... 9 weeks (or 9 & 1/2 Weeks, if you get what I'm sayin' - gah - bad movie joke) of Dave Grohl, ecstatic happiness, or a lifetime of nothing special... Hmmm..
Yeah - that's tricky for me. I mean, nothing special doesn't necessarily mean nothing BAD - it just means nothing special, which sounds boring and yep - no - I'd have to take the 9 weeks. Boredom kills me and everything about me.
But I am so getting some books now, about the Tudors. I love the Showtime show...

Unknown said...

Very interesting (said the little man in the German Helmet, peeking out from amidst the weeds.)

hello haha narf said...

since i feel pain so deeply, i would take the lifetime of calm happiness as opposed to nine weeks flying high only to have the rest of my life to mourn its loss.

Megan said...

Probably somewhere in between, which I guess isn't really an answer, but I don't think I could do the Catherine thing. Let's keep in mind that Shelby (in Steel Magnolias) really hadn't seen much tragedy up to that point. Her life was sheltered and probably fairly charmed.

I read a book recently (fiction, but fact-based) about Anne Boleyn called "Queen of Subtleties" that I really enjoyed.

Have you seen "The Tudors" on Showtime? I've seen a few episodes, but am going to the beginning of the series on Netflix soon - I will soon be watching the bit about Catherine with great interest.

Expat No. 3699 said...

I don't think nine weeks would be enough to get me through the rest of my life. No, I'll take average with occasional highs and lows.

As others mentioned, have you watched The Tudors? I'm not sure how historically accurate the show was, but it is addictive. I rented it through NetFlix and finished up just before moving.

LindaSalem said...

I too am a fiend for all things Tudor and I think that Elizabeth 1 was one if the greatest monarchs England ever had. I also think the Elizabeth II is equally amazing.

I haven't read the book you reference but will now. I think that I have to add Queen Mary to the tragic figures of the Tudor dynasty. By the time she became queen, she was a broken woman desperate for love.

Most fortunately, I can say I am more like you at this time. While I can say I've known great pain and sorrow, I have also known great joy as well. Now I am married to a wonderful man who loves me as much as I love him. You can't beat that. We have our challenges in the world but we also have each other's backs. It works wonderfully.