October 25, 2006

Royal Reflections

I dragged DH to see Marie Antoinette last weekend; he was a really good sport! It was an interesting movie, and I’d say overall I enjoyed it. It was a bit slow and somewhat too “artsy” for my taste, but I liked it in the end. But, as I watched the movie and from what I know of her life, it made me think of what a perfect foil Marie Antointte is of another influential monarch, born about two centuries earlier, Miss Elizabeth of the Tudor family.

Antoinette was a silly girl, brought up in vanity and tradition. Because she came from such a large family, she ended up playing much more than she studied. Antoinette was primed at a young age to become the queen of France through marriage. Thus, her marriage defined her identity and purpose in life. She was married young and became queen at 18. Her main goal was to produce an heir, which she eventually did, although too late for the French people to care, since their main concerns by that time were starvation and poverty—something they supposed Antoinette cared little about. But, Antoinette, although perhaps not maliciously, was incredibly out of touch with the people. She partied and gambled her days away at Versailles and cared little for politics or diplomacy. Her tastes were extravagant, and she indulged her every wish. In short, she loved fun. And, since every good thing must come to an end, so did Antoinette’s life of luxury—at the guillotine.

Elizabeth was a sober girl, brought up in family turmoil. She studied often and was known to be quick witted. Her mother was killed by the King, her father, when she was still young, and she was pronounced illegitimate, as Anne Boleyn had been found guilty of adultery. Elizabeth must have doubted she would ever take the crown. However, she overcame insurmountable odds to finally ascend the throne at 25. And even after she was crowned queen of England, the plots against her to steal the throne abounded. Elizabeth never married, although there were suitors enough. She was sensible and politically minded, devoted to her country. Many speculate why she never married. Perhaps it was the turbulence of her father’s many wives that soured her opinion of matrimony. Maybe she was power hungry, too greedy to share her sovereign status. But, I think Elizabeth had learned through experience not to trust anyone and could not bring herself to trust a man enough to marry him. Therefore, she could never produce an heir. Elizabeth's mind was always preoccupied with political matters, and her country thrived under her rule and loved her. The good of the state came before her personal desires. But, Elizabeth too made an end that most would not envy: she lived a long life and died alone.

What a pair, these two! Antoinette, the spoiled and selfish fashionista, and Elizabeth, the sensible and beloved diplomat. Both, rather devoid of leadership experience, were entrusted with nations, but each took a different path. Antoinette inspired a gruesome and impassioned revolution, while Elizabeth stimulated a general “enlightenment,” which would become known as the Golden Age. I guess the only thing they had in common besides the fact that they were both rulers is that they were both portrayed by beautiful women in movies which bore their names!

I believe both queens should be respected in their own rights, becoming a piece of history, and their lives certainly were interesting. Surely, Antoinette should be pitied at some level, so young to be made queen and so little maturity. And Elizabeth, we may also feel sorry for, a just sovereignty in exchange for a miserable personal life.

But there is one lesson we can take from this comparative study: become too mature and practical, and you’ll end up terribly alone, but never develop beyond wasteful and selfish immaturity, and you will certainly lose your head! Both yield only empty lives. Somewhere in between we must venture!

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