Posted in Film, Uncategorized

Women in Alfred Hitchcock’s Filmography

Context: This little essay examines and destroys the recent belief that the women found in Alfred Hitchcock’s films are simple damsels and distress or one-dimensional sex objects. In this essay, I argue that his female characters are not misogynistic portrayals of helpless females, instead some of his films’ best and strongest characters are women. They are strong and fascinating because they triumph over the villain and survive much trauma.


More and more, I’ve seen one charge laid against famous and talented English film director Alfred Hitchcock by modern viewers more than any other: misogyny. This label, as both a woman and a lover of classic films, saddens me.

While his films have misogynistic characters, his films do not have a misogynistic agenda, in my opinion. The ill treatment of some of his heroines comes from the purpose of the plot, the fate of the lifestyle they are living, or the actions of the men in their lives. The male characters are not treated any better in a Hitchcock film, either. As to the suffering of his female characters, I have this to say: a character suffers in the first half of a story so they can triumph in the last act.

Classic examples of that last reason can be found in “Vertigo”, “Notorious,” and “Marnie.” The men in those three films are emotionally cold and sometimes dangerous, and while they sometimes have the attributes of a romantic lead (probably because of the actors playing those characters more than the characters themselves), Hitchcock tries, I believe, to make it clear that the actions of these men are wrong and it is only when the men come to care about the women they are hurting do they have any sort of redemption.

Take for instance Devlin from “Notorious”—his character is very unfeeling at times, but the way Cary Grant plays him makes me think that he knows he’s being a bastard and that he hates himself for it, but it’s part of his job. So that makes his attempt at redemption in the climax of the film much more powerful.

The other two men I’ve listed are past redemption in some viewer’s eyes—and perhaps rightfully so. Sean Connery’s character in “Marnie” spends the film as an emotionless plot device—he forces the main character to marry him (though this is after she stole from him, so maybe 60’s audiences weren’t too offended by this), then he practically rapes her on their honeymoon. We never really get to know how he’s feeling and he treats Marnie like she’s this amusing possession or pet of his—something to be trained and kept—so he is the worst (emotionally) of all of the three men.

Then there’s Scottie from “Vertigo”. How do I justify this man? He falls in love with another man’s wife, loses her, then finds a woman who looks remarkably similar to his lost love and decides to change this new woman into a replica of the woman he lost. The villain in “Vertigo” and the anti-hero are similar to Devlin in that all men are changing the women they love, but end up making them more attractive in the eyes of another man. In “Notorious” the other man is Alex Sebastian, in “Vertigo” the role of ‘the men who have transform the heroine’ is taken up by Gavin Elster, who is behind the scenes for most of the plot, and Scottie, which makes the final revelation all the more tragic. The anti-hero of “Vertigo” is emotionally traumatized and mentally scarred, giving him more justification then the other men I’ve listed I suppose, but what he does is horrible none the less. Yet the interesting thing about that film is that we sympathize with him the whole way through the film. It’s hard to have loved and lost someone. I could make a whole other essay on that character alone.

So, back to the women: the women they abuse share the fact that they take on many different identities and that they are all changed by the men who control them.

Most of the women in his films, though they go through harrowing experiences, have a happy ending—it’s a staple of almost every story ever told—the character suffers but might be rewarded at the end, and typically is in most genres, except for tragedies. Some of his characters, like in “Notorious” and “Marnie” or even “The Birds” have ambiguous endings, so we never get to know if the women survive or if they go on to have the happier life that they deserve. Some characters (SPOILERS) like Judy in “Vertigo” or Marion in “Psycho” have very violent and shocking deaths, but they are, in some ways, punished for their actions through this violent end of theirs. Judy has been an accomplice in a murder and Marion has embezzled from her employer—so their deaths are sort of justified in the mindset of moviegoers at the time these two films were made.

But it’s the heroines who suffer the most that we remember. Young Charlie in “Shadow of a Doubt” has lost her innocence after nearly being killed by her uncle, Alicia in “Notorious” has been used by the man she loves and nearly died because of it, Marnie was abused at every turn, Judy in “Vertigo” had to betray and hurt the man she loved the most to help another murder his wife, Margot in “Dial M for Murder” was nearly killed by a man her husband hired, and Melanie in “The Birds” was attacked by lots and lots of birds. They stick with us because they were strong and very well written characters, played by talented actresses who brought their character to life.

If Hitchcock hated women, he wouldn’t have let the writers of his films write such strong and diverse female characters. He’d have simply banished them to the backgrounds of the plot while the men took center stage. But no, his female characters—good and bad—are likeable and courageous—we care about them no matter what they’ve done. And while in movies the women always suffer the most—in Hitchcock films this is still the case—Hitchcock’s heroines are able to, for the most part, come out of these traumatic circumstances and go on living, content to walk into the sunset, or at least the next chapter of their lives, after making their way through hell. That takes a lot of luck and bravery.

To talk about females in Hitchcock films is to talk about females in the movies period. The women in his films are so extraordinary and well crafted that the writers, the actresses who play them, and Hitchcock all deserve more respect than they usually get these days. Just because a female suffers in a film doesn’t mean that she’s a weak character, in fact, it shows how strong she is that she’s able to push herself through the pain and find hope in a better life. So the next time you see a Hitchcock film—or a film in general—try seeing the female characters’ strengths, not their weaknesses and don’t blame the director or the writers if the heroines are hurt. Suffering is part of life in the movies.

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Posted in History, Uncategorized

Brainwashing a Nation

The Power of Propaganda in Nazi Germany

When the word “evil” comes to mind, one evil regime sticks out, a regime run by one of the most chilling figures of the twentieth century: Adolf Hitler. Hitler and his Nazi party essentially took over most of Europe during World War Two. The overall tally of the Nazi’s victims is believed to be over eleven million people, but this number applies to those who died in labor, concentration, and death camps alone. The actual number of victims is much higher. Victims were gassed, starved, tortured, shot, murdered, and slaughtered like animals in an overwhelming massacre that has left a dark stain over Western Europe for decades.

It would have been impossible for that many people to have been systematically murdered by the government without the common population knowing. Hitler was elected in to power back in 1933 and was beloved by many for years before the Second World War even started. It is easy to shake one’s head in disbelief and think that there is no way anyone could have let a regime so evil come to power, especially not in our enlightened and democratic modern times, yet it is true. The Nazis, like so many other people in the past, found one of their greatest weapons came from the power of images and words. Their chilling propaganda brainwashed thousands of people and as a result destroyed millions of lives.

Words as Weapons

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines propaganda as: “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.” For many years, propaganda was the most valuable weapon in the Nazi party’s arsenal. The people of Germany, and later many countries across Europe, were inundated with posters, warnings, photographs, signs, billboards, radio broadcasts, and speeches, all of which contained the same message: the Nazis will save Germany from its true enemies. Who was the enemy? The Nazis considered anyone that did not hold the same political beliefs as them as an enemy. However, most of the time their propaganda singled out one scapegoat above all others: the Jews.

The Nazis did not simply embellish and exaggerate the truth in their propaganda. No, they straight out lied. Their statements about how Germany was at the time and how it should be, and who is the blame for all of it, are now obviously seen as completely false. Today we have the benefit of hindsight, but everyone living in Germany in the early 1930’s could never have imagined what was to come.

At the time, many people in Germany loved Hitler. He knew how to work a crowd and the crowd soon became devoted to him. He had to find someone to blame for all of Germany’s problems, so Hitler picked the easy targets: the minorities. How did he convince enough people to hate these minorities? By propaganda, of course.

Hitler’s propaganda was spread over Germany and later the rest of Europe. He and his Nazi party used radio broadcasts, posters, pamphlets, textbooks, science experiments (which the Nazis manipulated to their advantage) all to prove their beliefs that minorities and undesirables like Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Communists, Slavs, Poles, and others were lesser humans than pure-blooded “Aryans” like himself.

Phase 1: Making Hitler Look Good

The first round of propaganda consisted of posters that declared Hitler a hero and the Nazi party as a helpful hand for the mistreated people of Germany. For one propaganda poster, the Nazis used a drawing of a muscular man (the typical representation of the ideal Aryan male), sporting the caption “Work, Freedom, Bread” as a way of advertising for Hitler’s National Socialist Party (aka the Nazi party). This poster’s caption “Work, Freedom, Bread” referenced the idea that their party would improve Germany by helping people find work, give them the freedom that had been stripped from them since the end of World War One, and that they, the Nazi party, would feed the people of Germany, so that the country would be as great a nation as it once was. Another propaganda poster declared Hitler to be Germany’s “Last Hope.” Other propaganda posters showed Nazi party members giving German citizens gifts, while in other posters Nazis were portrayed as kind citizens, helping wounded veterans These positive images, which would have been posted everywhere, boosted people’s opinions of the Nazi party and Hitler. This over-exposure to positive accounts of Hitler and the Nazi party would be enough to sway the people of Germany.

Phase 2: Making Germans Look Good

The second round of Nazi propaganda centered on setting standards for how a proper German citizen should behave. The most popular subjects of this form of Nazi propaganda were mothers and their children. Beautiful blonde women and their adorable kids became the focal point of many posters as Hitler emphasized the importance of family. Good Germans were portrayed in propaganda through staged photos of happy families made up of beautiful people, while representations of Jewish families were crude, depicting the men as fat and hairy while the women were drawn to be ugly and gaudy. If you are continually exposed to images that portray one type of person as good and beautiful and another type of person as lazy and ugly, your opinion will be swayed by these visuals, whether you like it or not. So was the case in Germany.

Children and young adults were influenced by this propaganda more than anyone else. As early as 1932, a children’s textbook taught young children how to count by using drawings of tanks, canons, and soldiers. This textbook would have been read by seven-year-olds. Just imagine the horrible influence images like these would have had over their young, malleable, naive minds. The book The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures, published by Louis Weber, mentions that the Nazi party targeted children for even more propaganda by publishing picture books filled with anti-semetic language and drawings (Weber 100).

Adolf Hitler turned himself in to an icon for Germans and became a father figure for young German children. He liked to have staged photographs taken of him spending time with children or with animals. In one such photograph he can be seen gently stroking a deer, which would have endeared him (no pun intended) to young children. If this man loves animals then how can he be bad?

Several years later when Hitler invaded Austria, he threw a big party for the citizens of Vienna on his birthday, complete with parades and a large cake for children to eat. The cake’s icing took the form of a giant swastika, not that the children noticed, since all they cared about was free cake.

Young people had to join clubs sponsored by the Nazi Party, the most popular of which was the Hitler Youth. If you did not join, then your parents were given an official document where the child and the parent would have to sign their names, write their address, and place of work so that everyone would know of their decision. This was an easy way to target nay-sayers and shame them. Just imagine how even more effective this would have been if the Nazis had access to today’s social media.

Phase 3: The Making of a Genocide

 Once Hitler roped in enough people and brainwashed them to share his twisted beliefs, he found that it was time to use propaganda to stir up fear and hatred for those who were not Nazis, people like the Jews and other undesirables. This was his final wave of propaganda, a way to announce his hatred publically for all to see. Signs and propaganda posters started to pop up which labeled “Jews as our [Germany’s] misfortune,” others told Jews to leave the country and return to where they came from, and more still blamed the nation’s problems on Jews. In one particularly memorable poster, Jews were blamed for the miseries of farm life. Another spread the lie that Jews were descendants of the devil.

The Holocaust Chronicle points out several examples of Nazi propaganda found in newspapers, one example is of a political cartoon that portrayed the Jewish population as a spider, tangling Europe in its web (Weber 316). Nazis also distributed even more propaganda through radio broadcasts, ensuring that German citizens had radios to access this propaganda (Weber 142). Hitler entrusted Joseph Goebbles as the head of his Ministry of Propaganda. Goebbles then helped create a slew of propaganda films and documentaries that celebrated the Nazi party and demeaned undesirables like the Jews.

The Nazis, emboldened by the popularity of their propaganda, created laws, which restricted what Jewish people could do. Jews were forbidden from entering certain parks and were unable to shop at non-Jewish-owned stores. Stores owned by Jews were decorated with graffiti and anti-semetic drawings so everyone would know the religious affiliation of the store’s owner. Gentiles were shamed if they were caught in a Jewish-owned shop. A poster appeared in one Germany town publically listing the names and addresses of women who still bought from Jewish shops as a way of shaming them in to submission. A large dark mark struck through the list, the equivalent of a giant “X.” Everyone who saw the poster would know to never buy from a Jewish-owned shop again.

These propaganda posters each pose a striking image that is rather chilling today. Germans and “Aryan men” are portrayed as hulking, muscular, beautiful figures of perfection, while Jews are depicted as fat, ugly, and less than human.

These propaganda posters surrounded the German people everywhere they went. The message was unavoidable, so it took root in people’s brains like a deadly disease, growing and growing until such hatred seemed normal. This propaganda helped the Nazis rise to power and this propaganda eventually helped them murder millions of people while most of Germany, and later parts of Western Europe, watched silently, agreeing with their actions.

 

Works Cited

Holocaust Chronicle, The: A History in Words and Pictures. Ed. Louis Weber. New York: Publications International, 2003. 70-100. Print.

“Propaganda.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Web.

Posted in History, Uncategorized

Two Floors of History

Docents, actors, and other volunteers pain-stakingly re-create historic homes in Roswell, Georgia.

Sunlight falls over the staircase and blankets the many cats and dogs that have curled up on the edge of each step to bask in the warmth. The rustle of skirts can be heard. The smell of roasted ham from the Smoke House creeps into the home through the open windows. The cook, a hungry slave, hums to herself as she enters the house through the back door to set dinner on the table for the family that dresses themselves upstairs. Large windows on the front of the house are being opened. These windows reach all the way down to the floor and contain three separate panes that can be opened or closed to become a small slot for food to be passed through by the slaves, a simple window, or, when pulled up to its full height, a large enough opening that could be counted as another door. If a party were to occur the window would be opened all the way so that guests could come and go as they pleased in and out of the house without having to cluster at the front door. There is the possibility that the neighbors across the street at the Bulloch family home might come to visit after dinner, a prospect that excites the only daughter Eva, who has been best friends with Mittie Bulloch for years. The King clan and the Bulloch family are two of the founding families of this mill-based city named Roswell. In the years before the Civil War the city is peaceful. The King family at Barrington Hall has their mill while the Bulloch’s have their gardens. They expect life to remain the same way for years to come.

The year is now 2014. Their houses remain in Roswell, but the old families have long since passed away. Barrington Hall has since become noticed for sharing the same name as the old fashioned coffee brand, a brand which took its name from the house. Bulloch Hall is now remembered for housing Martha Bulloch Roosevelt who would give birth to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.—the 26th President of the United States. Her family called her Mittie and the nickname has stuck throughout the years. Today at the historic homes of Roswell she is once again referred to as Mittie.

As I stand on the staircase inside Barrington Hall my fantasies of sleeping pets, rustling skirts, roasted ham, and the hope of distinguished visitors disappears. Today the distinguished visitors are not the offspring of Roswell’s finest families. There are no Southern Belles here, nor are there any handsome young gentlemen who have come to discuss politics and have a smoke with the master of the house. Instead there are only four of us: a docent, two tourists, and myself. The two other tourists, women in their sixties and seventies, comment on the house’s furniture and compare them to their own family heirlooms. They can remember being told stories of the opulence and the noble souls that once lived here, but the place is foreign to me. My generation has grown up with i-phones and laptops. These other women standing with me used typewriters. This house was the home to people who never would have imagined such things.

I eye the back staircase slaves would have used and feel a twang of remorse. As someone who has grown up in the post-Roots and Civil Rights era, I cannot picture the simple lifestyles of the rich family that once lived here without thinking of the disturbing cost of such leisure. The back stairs for slaves merges with the family’s staircase. Here slaves and the privileged King family members might have walked side by side: this is the only place in the house where this could be possible.

The docent mentions this to our little group of four. We stop to ponder this while the sunlight streams in from the large window up above us. The slave cabins are long gone having been replaced by a parking lot for visitors. This staircase is one of the few reminders left of the slaves that walked these same halls nearly two hundred years ago.

The docent is a woman in her sixties. Her hair may be auburn colored, but I am sure that this is the work of a dye routinely scrubbed into her hair every few months. Today people do not want to be reminded that they are old. For the King family that once owned this house, living to be sixty was a privilege many did not have. Every wrinkle and scar was worn as a proud reminder of how the house had stood through the Civil War, even when their mill had been burned, even though Union soldiers had occupied the house, and neighbors had stolen many pieces of furniture. These imperfections proudly stated: we were here and we survived. Today we cover our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes with make-up and lotion.

The South’s prickly history has since become an awkward subject for Americans, especially those of us in the South who cannot trace themselves back to founding families and disapprove of slavery whole heartedly. My ancestors were poor farmers. The only way a member of the Hohn family could enter a house like this would be as tourists a hundred years since the original family died. The other women in my tour group do not seem to share this same problem, coming from several generations of Southerners who could trace their family trees back several generations, who kept old family heirlooms in storage, and visited homes like this to become in touch with their roots. I am only a guest.

The docent is no exception to this. “My mother collected antiques,” she tells me. She can remember joining her mother to hunt down traces of a desk, a hat, or a frame as a child. These experiences in her childhood inspired her love of history. Her mother, now in her eighties, still enjoys searching for and collecting antiques. It is a nice tradition for mother and daughter to continue after several decades. Her interest in antiques influences what she says in our tour. She points out the history of several pieces of furniture, excited to explain how this desk actually belonged to this person and how this quilt made of many different scraps of fabric was a present for that member of the house. “Oh,” she exclaims, walking over to the large wooden wardrobe that sits on the second level of the house. “This is my favorite part of the house.” She runs her fingers along the wood. She explains that this wardrobe was built inside the house, and since it is too big to fit through any door in Barrington, this wardrobe sits on the exact same spot where it was built over a hundred and fifty years ago. She then informs us about the history of other pieces of furniture in the house.

I have been on this tour before. My earlier docent had focused on the various people that had lived here, while today’s docent uses her own background of gathering antiques to praise the furniture. A lot of the furniture in Barrington today is the same furniture the original King family would have used, but some pieces or recreations or period-accurate pieces that had belonged to someone else before being tracked down by antique-lovers.

The layout of historical houses like Barrington is painstakingly re-created time and time again by the few members of staff each house has. A few years ago one volunteer at Barrington was able to track down the actual bed one resident slept in and the matching dresser through the magic of E-bay! I should explain that this would have been an extremely difficult task since much of the furniture in both houses was spread out across the south in storage units, relative’s basements, and museums. This one volunteer was able to find the exact bed and dresser through a lot of hard work and dedication after reading countless family letters that detailed the appearance of these pieces of furniture.

A large part of researching these historic homes and their families comes from reading family letters, journals, and any form of writing that has been preserved after all these years.

One worker, Gwen Koehler, the education coordinator at Bulloch Hall across the street, recently discovered several Bulloch family letters in a museum up in Washington D.C. Since then Koehler and a friend are currently compiling these letters to publish in a book. These letters are especially interesting because they contain correspondence between Mittie Bulloch and her son Theodore Roosevelt, the former President of the United States.

While Barrington Hall covers several generations of family members that have inherited the house, Bulloch Hall is all about Mittie, her ties to the Roosevelt’s, and her parents that had at one point disapproved of the marriage. Every year in December people flock to Bulloch Hall to re-create the wedding between founding family members Stephen and Martha Bulloch (Mittie’s parents). This is one of several important historical events that are re-enacted at Roswell’s historic homes.

The re-enactment of the wedding is noticeable because it does not only feature actors in costumes: the docents and other volunteers have to dress up too. The attention at this event is directed towards the actors playing the bride and groom, but I doubt their costumes are much more comfortable. Volunteers that play the spectators are handed whatever is available or left over. The dresses look tight and very tiny on modern day women. The women of the Bulloch and King families, like many southern women, were very short, so an average sized woman today would not enjoy being stuffed into these old-fashioned clothes for historical re-enactment events. At the time of the actual wedding between Stephan and Martha, women wore an astonishing number of fourteen petticoats (no wonder a fainting couch was kept on stand-by downstairs: women would simply collapse from the heat). Luckily, the re-enactors today do not have to wear all fourteen petticoats, and they get to enjoy modern air conditioning, but I imagine that wearing these costumes is no picnic for anyone. Yet every year the wedding is preformed nearly word-for-word to re-enact the wedding as accurately as possible because Bulloch Hall’s history is that important to the people of Roswell.

In the summer there are some more historical reenactment events. The most popular one occurs at Barrington Hall. Here people reenact the time when Union soldiers invaded the house in the summer of 1864, where they stayed for two weeks while rebuilding the Roswell Bridge, which Confederates had burned to slow the Union forces’ march through the south. A good amount of men volunteer to re-enact this scene during the summer, not for the pay or acclaim, but for their respect for the town’s history.

I should also mention that everyone that works at these historic homes is a volunteer who typically receives very little money for this, if any at all. Volunteers come here after finishing their busy shifts at their actual, professional jobs, to give tours to whoever straggles in from the streets due to their love of history.

That phrase summarizes the feeling of every worker at these historic homes: they love this history. Each hour spent in the heat wearing thick, uncomfortable costumes, each hour spent on their feet while giving tours of the houses, each hour spent reading page after page of family letters—all are done for each persons’ absolute love of Roswell’s history and their dedication to preserving it in the public’s memory.

As I leave Barrington Hall the fluttering ghosts of the house’s history once again strike me. I look at the dining room and think of the little slave girl one docent had told me would fall asleep while fanning the King family during dinner. I pass the formal visiting parlor that where President Theodore Roosevelt had sat while visiting one of his mother’s oldest friends, Eva King Baker. Over a decade later a reporter named Margaret Mitchell interviewed Eva in the same exact spot, asking about her experience as a bridesmaid at Mittie Bulloch’s wedding. I wonder if the stories of Eva, Mittie, and other Roswell families inspired Mitchell when she wrote the famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in her wildly popular novel Gone with the Wind a few years after the interview took place. I notice that someone had carved into the windowpane near the front door. Dupart believes a child of the house had tried to write their name there, only to be punished. Over a hundred years later the words carved in the glass are impossible to read, but still potent. As I walk down the front porch steps, I imagine the ghosts of charming Southern Belles giggling behind gloved hands, slaves humming a tune while thinking of abolitionists’ promises of freedom, and Union soldiers camped out on the lawn, waiting for the war to end. Behind me the docents prepare themselves for another tour.

Works Cited

“Barrington Drive.” City Data, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.city-data.com/fulton-county/B/Barrington-Drive-1.html>

“Barrington Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <https://www.rosw-ellgov.com/index.aspx?NID=406>

“Bulloch Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswell-gov.com/index.aspx?NID=426&gt;

“Catherine Evelyn King Baker.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswellgov-.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/733>

“History of Barrington Hall.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <https://www.roswellgov.com/-DocumentCenter/Home/View/724&gt;

“Our History: History of Bulloch Hall” Roswell Gov. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <https://www.ros-wellgov.com/index.aspx?NID=429 >

NOTE: This article originally included the names of the docents I interviewed, but their names have been left out of this version for their own privacy. 

View a PDF reimagining this piece as a mock magazine spread here.

Posted in History, Uncategorized

The Dangerous Hybridity of Mary, Queen of Scots

Abstract: A look at the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and how she represented several gender roles through the theme of hybridity. 

Hybridity can be seen as a positive or negative quality in a person, especially as positive and, or, negative qualities in historic rulers like Kings and Queens, especially the hybridity that comes when two culture are connected and merged through an arranged marriage and subsequent child. Female rulers are particularly defined by traditional gender roles and stereotypes. One of the most famous queens in popular culture, Mary, Queen of Scots, has been defined by her hybridity for hundreds of years during her lifetime and after her death.

First off, it is not easy being the queen, nor should it be, but in the case of Mary Stewart, or Marie Stuart as she was known in her lifetime (Dunn 69), Queen of Scotland, the life of a queen was more difficult than she could have ever imagined. Like many of us, including myself, Mary lived a happy and rather sheltered childhood where she was loved by many, had many friends, and even found a best friend and later boyfriend in Francis (in France his name is spelled Francois). What separates Mary from the rest of us is that Mary was a queen and she had been named Queen of the Scots since she was less than a year old. Still, there is a very important lesson to be learned from her life, a lesson many of us can to some degree relate to, especially young women everywhere: act with caution and do not let your feelings get the better of you. Mary only made two major mistakes in her time as queen, but even just two mistakes can ruin someone’s life, as was the case with the unfortunate Queen of Scots.

Mary, Queen of Scotland and France

Mary Stewart was the child of the King of Scotland, James V, and her French mother Marie de Guise (who was born into a powerful Catholic family in France). Her father died very soon after her birth. Mary’s mother, Marie de Guise, was left to rule in her husband and infant daughter’s stead. She was able to make a deal with the King of France, Henri II: young Mary would marry Henri’s infant son Francis (later known as King Francis II). At age five, Mary was sent to live in France where she experienced a happy, carefree, wonderful childhood and lived a fairytale life at French Court with her beloved Francis. They married when she was a teenager and Francis became king soon afterwards when Henri II died after a painful jousting accident, part of a lance pierced his eye, and protruded into his brain (Dunn 134). Even though Mary and Francis were old enough to rule France and Scotland, since they were now teenagers, they did not have much control. In fact they were simply puppets to Mary’s uncles from the powerful Guise family. The Guise family was filled with fanatic Catholics who deeply resented the growing number of Protestants in France, so they persecuted Protestants, leading to several French Wars of Religion, which would plague the country for almost a century. Here is the first lesson we can learn from Mary’s life: she did not take responsibility, instead she was content to let others do her job for her and because of that a series of events spiraled out of control and her uncles were nearly killed and her husband nearly deposed from the horrible state the country was in. Francis died after reigning for barely a year and a half. Mary was sent back to Scotland at age eighteen, completely unprepared for the responsibilities of her reign.

I am reminded of my first night alone in a college dorm room my freshman year: I was excited, but also nervous and afraid because the responsibilities of college life felt like too much for me. Imagine all of that fear and huge amounts of responsibility and multiply that by a thousand and then you will start to understand how Mary felt. Her mother had died after struggling to keep Scotland peaceful. Mary and her mother were Catholics, while most of Scotland was Protestant. The two women were French, while the common Scottish people hated how Scotland had been taken over by France in the past two decades. If Francis had not died, Mary would probably have never visited Scotland again, she would have remained in France while her husband and uncles turned Scotland into a satellite country or colony of France.

Mary, Queen of Scotland

Mary had another strike against her in the eyes of the Scots: she was a woman and just like so many other women in power, women were not thought to be good rulers (the stereotype still exists to this day sadly). However, for the first few years of her time in Scotland, Mary was actually able to keep life relatively peaceful, having taken her mother’s advice and allowed religious tolerance.

Then she made her first big mistake, one that many of us have and will make in our lifetimes: she fell in love with the wrong person. Ever since Francis’s death men all over Europe had been desperately vying for her hand in marriage even before Francis’s corpse was cold. Mary kept her suitors at bay for a few years until she met Henry Stuart, the Lord Darnley. Darnley was tall, charming, and handsome. He was also in line to both the English and the Scottish crown. England at the time was ruled by Elizabeth Tudor who had no intentions of marrying, thus leaving her crown open to any suggested heir. Mary fell head over heels in love with Darnley, and when he got sick she nursed him back to health, she went hunting with him, she danced all night with him, and she spent all of her time with him. Though Mary was madly in love with this young man no one else in the Scottish court was, not her friends, not her relatives, and certainly not her advisors. Everyone could see what a sleazy jerk Darnley was except for Mary. David Loades, in his book The Tudor Queens of England, outright calls him “both vain and stupid” (169), a sentiment which is agreed on by many historians. She went against everyone’s advice and followed her heart instead, marrying him after only a few months of courtship. The honeymoon period did not last long as Darnley started to show his real colors: he was vain, he was cruel, he was a jerk who lauded his position over everyone, and he might have slept around. Like so many victims of domestic abuse, Mary realized the truth about him too late and had to put up with his abuse for several months.

He and his cronies murdered one of her friends, David Riccio, right in front of her when she was six months pregnant (perhaps in the hopes that the shock would cause her to have a miscarriage or die during childbirth). Magnus Magnusson describes all of the gruesome details of the scene: one of Darnley’s conspirators placed a gun against Mary pregnant belly so that she could not call for help as Riccio was stabbed over fifty times before his bleeding corpse was thrown down the stairs (353). Antonia Fraser’s biography Mary Queen of Scots vividly recounts what happened next: when some Scottish citizens tried to help their queen, one of Darnley’s cronies threatened her that if she signaled for help they would “cut her up in to pieces” and throw the remaining bloodied chunks of her body out the window (254). Mary knew she was defeated at this moment, but she did not give up. She was able to convince Darnley that he was in danger too and the two escaped. She was able to give birth to her son James VI and made no secret of her hatred for her husband.

Then Darnley was mysteriously murdered. His death is a murder mystery that people have tried to solve for hundreds of years, and we will probably never know the full truth. Sometimes Mary is fingered as the culprit, some historians believe that even if she did not physically kill him, perhaps she gave the order. Most historians, such as Antonia Fraser, Magnus Magnusson, and Jane Dunn, believe that Mary was innocent of the crime and was just as surprised as anyone else by Darnley’s death. What we do know is that she then made her second huge mistake soon afterwards: she married the man the common people thought was the murderer, James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell.

Like many women suffering from a horrible relationship, Mary turned to another man for support, Bothwell, and she effectively traded one dangerous husband for another. Some historians and contemporary accounts claim that Bothwell raped Mary, David Loades states so outright (Loades 171), while other biographers like Fraser hint at the possibility. If she was raped, then perhaps she decided to marry him out of guilt for having sex outside of marriage (sadly this is the case for many rape victims, even today, in cultures where rape victims must marry their rapists in order to preserve their “honor” and “virtue” after it has been ripped from them), while other historians believe the rumors of rape were done to protect Mary’s honor (somehow at this time the thought of a woman being raped was better than a woman jumping into bed before properly married). This marriage upset a large number of people and through a complex series of events, a small war was started, Bothwell fled the country, and Mary was deposed, stripped of her title as queen. She would lose her life two decades later.

Mary Stewart’s reign was undone by her background as a hybrid of two different cultures (Catholic France versus Protestant Scotland) and her attempts to fulfill two distinct roles at once (powerful monarch and wife). Her hybridity cost her the crown, but it was not what cost Mary her life.

Mary, Queen of Nothing

Alone and without her title or country, Mary decided to travel to England, probably in the hopes of convincing her cousin Queen Elizabeth I (the daughter of Henry VIII) to help her take back her country. Instead Mary’s presence was unwelcome and it put Elizabeth’s own rule in jeopardy since Mary was in line to the English throne as well, since Elizabeth was born through the union of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, which had happened after he divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, so Elizabeth was considered a bastard in the eyes of Catholics, making her unfit to rule. Mary was put on trial for Darnley’s murder and the verdict consisted of English lords basically throwing their hands up in the air and shrugging. Despite not being found guilty, Mary became a prisoner in England and was unable to return to Scotland to get her crown back. Her son, the infant James VI, became king and Scotland was ruled by a series of regents who ruled through James, including Mary’s treacherous older half-brother James Stewart. Mary became caught up in several plots to return to Scotland and when these plots panned out, she is supposed to have become entangled in several plots to take the English throne from Elizabeth. This was her downfall. She was eventually executed for trying to usurp Elizabeth’s throne.

A Dangerous Hybridity

I decided to write about Mary Queen of Scots here because her life was filled with ironies, dualities, and hybridities, and her story is one I believe we can all relate to and learn from to an extent: it’s a lesson on responsibility, growing up, and keeping one’s emotions in check in a world where emotional entanglements can undo years of hard work. We can relate to this today in my opinion. Just think of today’s emotionally-charged and politically correct world where a simple text or tweet can ruin someone’s life: they could get fired, then have scores of people on social media sites attack their name and family for years, letting a few simple ill thought out words ruin someone’s life. Mary was the victim of a similar folly, just on a more political stage before the invention of social media. In his book Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Magnus Magnusson recounts how after her surrender to the confederate lords, Mary was pushed through the streets, “the soldiers jeered and shouted coarse insults at her…there was a huge crowd awaiting her, shouting ‘Kill the whore!’ and ‘Drown her!’” (362) even though these same Scottish citizens had praised her and loved her for many years before. This scene reminds me of today’s witch-hunts on social media platforms, where people are loved and then universally hated in an instant. Mary’s life is a tragic tale that resonates with young people today more than we might initially realize. She had each foot in one of two worlds: the simple, happy world of her childhood and the cold, harsh world of adulthood, just like all of us, myself included.

Yet hybridity is not always a curse. While hybridity may have destroyed Mary Stewart’s reign, Elizabeth Tudor, her cousin and rival, was made better by it. She embraced both the masculine and feminine side of herself, she was strong like her father but willing to play the part of an indecisive female if it helped her. She loved to dance and flirt, wearing the most elaborate fashions, yet underneath her red wig her hair was as short as a man’s, and she inspired her soldiers on the battlefield with the ferocity of any man. Instead of marrying and giving birth like other women, Elizabeth remained unmarried, instead referring to her subjects as her children. Her willingness to embrace both roles of man and woman, king and queen are what made her successful and made her an inspiration for centuries.

Works Cited

Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. Print.

Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots. New York: Delta, 1969. Print.

Loades, David. The Tudor Queens of England. New York: MJF Books, 2009. Print.

Magnusson, Mangus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Grove Press, 2000. Print.