Monday, October 29, 2007

Where Would They Be Now?

Idly comparing the Tudor sisters, Mary and Bess, with the Stuart lassies, Mary and Anne – the latter do not come off well, do they? The former are such formidable figures, politicians and cultural arbiters, women who scared most of the men they met and didn't hesitate to sign death sentences when they thought fit; the latter domestic and not too bright. I mean, what would they be doing if they were alive now? thought I.
Mary Tudor would be chancellor of a university; charming on social occasions and master of academic trivia in all disciplines, but her smile would grow tight at any sign of insubordination or unethical behavior, and the quality of her mercy would be – strained. She would drive a Mercedes, not too recent but kept in the best condition. There would be gossip about romantic entanglements that did not work out; she would discuss them with no one, even her confessor. (Of course she'd be Catholic; she'd have had audiences with several popes.)
Elizabeth Tudor would have devised some software revolution before she was 25, taken her company public, sold out to Microsoft for enormous stock options and gone on to master any number of other companies, where she would be adorable but ruthless and mercurial. She'd always have a dashing escort, as the years went by ever younger but always hip, and she'd dance till dawn in discreet but expensive clothes in boites where she might be conspicuously the oldest person present, but the one with the most tireless feet, the strongest stomach and the clearest head; she'd never marry. She would drive a Porsche during the week, a BMW motorcycle on weekends and on jaunts to her flat on the Costa, daring but safe.
Their cousin, Mary Stuart, would be an actress. Adored by both sexes in her youth (despite – or because – of several unwise romantic entanglements), she'd remain beloved by women, both housewives and adolescents, well into middle age, though criticized in the press for taking on ever less challenging roles and doing far too many cameos in crusty movies and TV series. She'd drive a Triumph, pausing before she arrived anywhere to take the top down and unpin her hair, so as to show up giving the impression (for paparazzi who love her as much as she loves them) that she has been driving that way the whole route.
In contrast, Mary Stuart II would drive something large and comfortable, in case she stumbles on the perfect antique for the large and comfortable home designed entirely with her man in mind (and room for children too), or perhaps the other house in Holland, which will be flawlessly decorated in a more modern style. She'll never read a book and her musical taste will be cheerily pop or light classical and twenty years behind.
Anne Stuart would never willingly go abroad, except briefly to visit her husband's family in Denmark. She'd drive something dumpy and practical and never go more than 5 km over the speed limit, and she'd restrict public appearances to asking questions at local open meetings with her MP or the school board, and then only when she was outraged. She'd watch soap operas without paying much attention except to hem lines, and she'd never miss church. (Anglican – even Methodist would appall her.)

The sixteenth century was a great one for brilliant women, if you like them. (John Knox didn't.) Where would they be now? Not sunk in obscurity, I'd bet.
Catherine des Medicis would be a public figure, with a talk show where she would resolutely ignore those rumors about her husband's wandering eye or her children's madcap misbehavior. Her blurbs for movies and books would spell instant success; her homely, comfortable face would be familiar from a thousand magazine covers.
Diane des Poitiers, a social figure and a sought-after patron of charity causes and couturiers – until those awful stories about stock options hanky-panky turned out to be true, whereupon she'd settle out of court and retire with becoming dignity to St. Bart's.
Marguerite of Navarre, inheriting the fortune her mother, Louise of Savoy, made from careful investments in blue chips and real estate, would endow libraries and early music festivals until at some point she announced a desire for privacy and withdrew to spend her time writing poetry for obscure but prestigious journals.
Her daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, would devote herself to some very little known but intense cause – a New Age meditation technique to cure drug addiction, perhaps, or birth control by positive thinking and tribal medicine – and ignore all scientific and political opposition until she worked herself into an early grave from anxiety-related heart condition. She wouldn't drive at all, for environmental reasons – or eat meat, for ethical reasons, or smoke (though privately she adores it) because of thinking it the height of rudeness to bring others into contact with her second-hand smoke.
Margot de Valois, Catherine's youngest daughter and Henri IV's first wife, would pose nude for rock videos in her teens, have famous affairs with persons of every age and sex, be arrested for drunken driving or indecent exposure or possession of controlled substances fourteen times by the age of 20, turn her life into best-selling memoirs written while in detox (or low security prison), and eventually become a top-dollar screenwriter with a wicked ear for snappy and obscene epigram.
Marie de Guise, the Tall Duchess, would run a very exclusive school for girls in Lorraine – her strictness belied by her enjoyment of the girls' theatricals.
Gabrielle d'Estrees would be a fashion model, eventually the mistress of a major international figure and the hostess of his less official dinners and weekends.
Anne of Brittany would be teaching school or running an academic department (from a secondary, non-executive positions).

Lucrezia Borgia, inheriting a major position in her father's foundation and ignoring those awful stories about the sources of his money, would roam the world giving it away to organizations devoted to cross-national harmony and alleviating poverty. Her actions would often be misunderstood by a press that had not forgotten her family history.
Isabella d'Este would start her own fashion house and be ruthless in demolishing the competition – whom she would nonetheless ecstatically kiss three times whenever they met. She would chain-smoke and her sympathy for runway models and gofers would be nil. None of her close friends would be women except her sister-in-law, Elisabetta Gonzaga, a professor of some obscure cultural discipline whose unreadable essays would be considered an intellectual peak.
Beatrice d'Este would wear clothes beautifully – often those of her sister's rivals, on occasions when her picture would be sure to be taken so that her sister would see them. She would be an events planner of the most exclusive (and well-paid) variety, on air-kiss terms with popes and prime ministers.
Margaret of Austria-Parma, "Madama," would not get the Pritzger. Despite her considerable ability and renown in the architectural field, she would never quite achieve the first rank.
Christina of Denmark-Lorraine would be content to manage her husband's upscale career, plus encouraging her children in whatever endeavors they attempted. She would also be the principal confidante to her aunts, in-laws, sister, father and neighbors. She would be charmed and flattered by many discreet invitations to have an affair, and she would decline them all exquisitely. She would also turn down invitations to model (in her youth) or run for office (in middle age). She would be famous locally for her green thumb.
Bona Sforza (Queen of Poland) would spend years as an especially annoying commissar for health in that country, criticizing and improving everbody's diet. After the fall of communism, it would be discovered that she had cooperated with the secret police to denounce several colleagues and she would withdraw from public life in disgrace.
Isabella Zapolya would be a pain-in-the-ass journalist, publicizing causes and injustices of no interest to anyone.
Sultan Valide Roxelana would become an influential minister in the Turkish cabinet until rumors of her peculations and coziness with certain corporate execs turned out to be all too true.
Sultan Valide Noorbanu would meddle with all her son's marriages and liaisons until he committed suicide or died of a drug overdose. She would publish a statement: "I suppose these rats the newspaper columnists have to write any garbage they can to earn their bread, but none of them can ever truly understand the pain in a mother's heart."
Archduchess Margot, having won all the literary prizes in college, would enter the diplomatic service due to her gift for languages and work her way up from the lowest level (file clerk? secretary?) to president of the EU.
Between hospitalizations, Juana la Loca would write a series of best-selling denunciations of the psychiatric profession for each of its fashionable methods of treating schizophrenia in turn, plus the perennially best-selling "The Love Trap: How to Let Go of the Man Who Thinks He Owns You."
Her sister, Catherine of Aragon, would be a CEO, taking over after a bitter property dispute divorce and remaining in command despite a broken heart.
Anne Boleyn would be a politically ambitious attorney with a penchant for saying tactless but witty things just when a judge or jury or electorate might be leaning her way.
Catherine Parr would head a major research foundation.
Lady Jane Grey would have tenure but would lose her book contract due to the dryness of her publications.
Lettice Knollys would marry everybody and end up rich, famous, passionately hated, and ambassador to Paris.
Elizabeth Hardwick would build tasteless glass skyscrapers in the middle of historic old cities that do not need or want them.
Giulia Farnese would be a movie star.

3 comments:

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

"Lady Jane Grey would have tenure but would lose her book contract due to the dryness of her publications..."

Love it. (Makes me wish I knew more history, if only to fill in the blanks on your less familiar, continental women's names.)

Jordan Stratford+ said...

This is the best post in the history of the Internet.

richard said...

What a fascinating mind you have!