Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just Say No?

I just finished reading Diane Haeger's The Queen's Mistake about Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII's fifth queen. I actually didn't know much about her, and obviously this is a work of fiction, although Diane does a good job of researching her books thoroughly. The whole book made me mad... because Catherine is basically pushed on an aging, obese, foul-smelling monarch at the age of 16 (which was well past the age girls got married back then), after he has already gone through 4 wives. Her relatives are ambitious enough to want another queen associated with their family (Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife was her cousin), don't care about her wants or feelings, and hide her dubious (promiscuous) past from a vengeful king and make her out to be this perfect angel. It comes as no surprise that one of their enemies then uses it against them and Catherine is the second of Henry's wives to get beheaded.

The whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking... why didn't she just say no to Henry? Or why didn't she at least tell him that she wasn't as innocent as her relatives led him to believe. It felt like she was a lamb being led to slaughter from the moment her uncle brought her to court. Why weren't they content to let her be the king's mistress until he tired of her... nothing ever happened to his mistresses, just his wives.

But then I took a step back and thought about the pressures that were on her. First, she was in love with someone else, but she didn't want to risk being banished from court and not being allowed to see him again. Second, as an orphaned woman she had no rights, no income, nothing. She was completely dependent on her relatives for everything she had. Third, by all accounts, her uncle and her grandmother were very intimidating forces of nature, both knew exactly what they wanted, and they were willing to do anything to get it. Fourth, there was the pressure of pleasing the king, who had the power of life and death, ruin and success over everyone in his kingdom. And finally, there is that internal pressure of ambition, because once Catherine had gotten a taste of the kinds of gifts the king could give her, she wanted more. And who wouldn't want to be queen?

Do you ever feel that there are pressures on you to act a certain way or do something you may not really want to? Are these internal or external pressures? Are you motivated by guilt, peer pressure, ambition?

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