I’m about to drop a TruthBomb on you, For Shame! Faithful, and it’s going to fucking hurt. LHB has barely recovered herself, and she’s known for weeks. I shudder to think what JAF will say. KAB and I are new friends, so she’s probably cool with it.
THE TUDORS HAS BEEN SUPPLANTED AS MY NUMBER 1 FAVORITE PREMIUM CABLE SMUTTY HISTORY PROGRAM.
Shh. Calm down.
I remember all of those things. I do. Which is what makes this so hard. I just…I couldn’t control myself. This whole joblessness thing has turned me into a monster. An online video-streaming monster. I spent a whole month on a Netflix trip, and when I came to, the N just wasn’t enough for me anymore. I needed something else. So I turned to premium cable shows. And that’s where I found it. My new TV drug, The Borgias.
When it premiered last year, I read an article or two about it and dismissed the show as a blatant attempt by Showtime to recapture the success of history/blood/boobs circlejerk model that was The Tudors (RIP 2007-2010 Gone But Never Forgotten). You can’t just fucking put Jeremy Irons in a pope outfit and call it a new show!
But, dear buttons, that was when I was a young, naive little guppy, still in school, writing a thesis and auditing extra classes. I didn’t have time for a new television addiction. I had books to skim and beers to demolish.
Yet now that I am comically un-busy, I have watched this program, this seeming pretender to the Jonathan Rhys-Myers Memorial Sexy Historical Pay Cable Program Crown®, and I have seen the error of my ways.
The Borgias is fucking fantastic for many reasons, so in an effort to be brief and not spoil anything I will summarize, telegram-style: Pope in Renaissance Rome has kids, 3 sons, 1 daughter, a mistress, and an unnofficial wife. -STOP- Eldest son super fucking hot despite Cardinal outfit and curly shoulder-length bob. -STOP- Next son petulant but charming; in command of papal army but shitty at the job. -STOP- Daughter totally pretty and sweet and marriageable. -STOP- Other son unimportant to plot because he’s like 10 and can’t have sex with or kill anyone yet. -STOP- Mistress and wife smart, savvy, respect one another. -STOP- Political intrigue clear and important, but nuanced relationships, personal and divine, are central. -STOP- Phenomenal character arcs. -STOP- Subtle and funny references to Italian Renaissance culture/figures. -STOP- Beautiful costumes and sets. -STOP- Excellent plot development and pacing. -STOP- Lots of butts and boobs, but not too many. -STOP- Appreciate the depiction of my cultural heritage pre-mobs, pre-pizza. -STOP- Did I mention the hot Cardinal son?
So it’s RULL good and I can’t recommend it enough. And much like its inferior stepbrother, The Tudors, The Borgias is absolutely RIPE with based-on-actual-historical-events sexy scandal.
Showtime, you beautiful bastards.
Anyway, I couldn’t resist profiling one of the Borgias after I finished watching the only two seasons that have aired. I’m sort of going through Borgia withdrawal. So today I’m going to focus on the sexytimes of Lucrezia Borgia, the aforementioned sweet and marriageable daughter of Pope Alexander VI, but please rest assured that every fucking one of these mofos was laughably promiscuous and corrupt.
Not much is known of Lucrezia, really, as with most historical ladies. But that’s the way the gender-inequality cookie crumbles, I guess. Historians think she was born in or around Rome in or around April of 1480, but they know she was the daughter of then-Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (the future Pope Jeremy Irons Primus) and his main mistress, unofficial wife, and mother of his four known children, Vannozza dei Cattanei.
Now the actress they have playing Lucrezia on the show, Holliday Grainger, is wonderful at her job, has a great showbiz name, was in Any Human Heart, and seems pretty visually accurate, given contemporary descriptions of Lucrezia. Additionally, I sort of kind of want to be her.
This is a roundabout way of saying that The Real Miss Borgia was the fucking shining exemplar of ideal feminine beauty in late fifteenth-century Italy. She had blond hair that fell past her knees, hazel eyes, big boobs, straight white teeth (which was a BFD in an era before dentistry, mind you), a long graceful neck, and people said that she walked like she was “floating on air,” which apparently was pretty boner-inducing among the cortigiani. Anyway, she was widely renowned for her beauty, mostly because every painter in the Eternal City wanted to get their paws on her, plus her popedaddy could afford to commission a lot of paintings of her. Plus-plus, in a country without a centralized monarchical system (this was when the Italians were still down with all that feuding kingdoms jazz), she was essentially the Princess of Christendom once pops put on the Holy underpants, which made her HELLA marriageable in addition to being HELLA pretty.
Maybe I should pump the brakes here. From your extensive knowledge of Catholicism, you’re probably thinking that this all seems a little…unCatholic. Because of that little priestly celibacy rule. Were Mr. Borgia celibate, Lady Lucrezia would not exist. And even if Mr. Borgia managed to cover up the fact that he was getting his D wet all over Rome, one would think that perhaps he might not want to parade his beautiful daughter around for suitors, or appoint his younger son Giovanni head of the papal armies, or very publicly name his extremely hot older son Cesare a Cardinal. That’s the thing about these Borgias, people. They just don’t give a fuck! Watch the show! Mr. Pope Borgia was like “I am Pope. I have sex. These are my kids. They exist and will get nice things because I said so. Kiss my goddamn ring and bring me a calzone.”
He spake and it was done.
And one day, while he was calzone-grubbing, Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pisaro, cousin of the powerful Duke of Milan, barged into the PopeRoom, and was like “GIMME DAT DAUGHTER.” Such a marriage would be politically advantageous, so the Pope finished chewing and was like, “Blokay” and shipped his THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD BABYDAUGHTER off with this hairy caveman of a dude twice her age.
Naturally this was probably not what happened, exactly, but I like to pretend. Keeps me young. Anywhooo, the show depicts this marriage as terrible and abusive for little Lucrezia. No one knows how it really went, but it is known that fairly soon after the wedding, the Pope really didn’t need this cousin-of-someone-important in the papal court so much anymore, politically speaking. He realized he could use Lucrezia’s hand in mawwiage for more useful alliances were she conveniently not married, so after planning to have Sforza murdered, the big softie had a change of heart. Instead, he summoned his daughter and her cavehusband to Rome for a groundless annulment hearing in front of the entire College of Cardinals.
Sforza, although a Neanderthal, knew he had a good thing going with his beautiful Renaissance trophy wife, and refused to agree to the annulment. That’s when Lucrezia, daddy’s little girl, pulled out the big guns and claimed that the marriage had never been consummated due to her husband’s impotence.
EXCEPT, OH YEAH, SHE WAS SEVEN MONTHS PREGNANT. On the witness stand. No one knows who Lucrezia made that little guy with, but she named him Giovanni (possibly after her Neanderhusband) and he went on to be remembered as the Roman Infante.
Sforza, understandably, was pissed. He was being emasculated in front of God, the Pope, and the forty most important men of the cloth in Christendom. So he accused Lucrezia, her father, and her super hot Cardinal brother Cesare (played on the show by up and coming ladyboner insipration Francois Arnaud, whose name is comically sexy) of some kind of incestuous love triangle thing. It was probably a last-ditch effort at saving face, but historians believed for a very long time that the Roman Infante was actually Cesare’s son. Which is icky and most likely untrue, but TOTALLY SCANDALOUS. Now it may seem that Lucrezia did not deserve this divorce, what with being visibly pregnant and really having no case whatsoever, but one of the perks of being the illegitimate child of the Pope is getting whatever the fuck you want, so BOOM, annulment acquired by 1497.
Next, daddy needed a little help from the Neapolitans, so he had Lucrezia marry Alfonso of Aragon, the brother of her youngest brother’s wife (take a second to process it) less than a year after the divorce and a few months after giving birth to her son (and possible son-nephew if the incest thing is true). He died by 1500, and Cesare might or might not have killed him. But probably not. Italians: great at pizza and paintings, not so much at keeping accurate records.
Third time was a charm for Lady Lucrezia, who married Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, early in 1502 (people did not fuck around when it came to getting hitched back then – in frequency or efficiency). By this marriage she’d presumably figured it all out; she popped out a lot of kids for him, but also embarked on a couple long-term affairs almost immediately after the honeymoon was over. First girlfriend flipped back through her 1497 little black book and booty called Francesco of Gonzaga, who’d been her brother-in-law when she was married to Sforza the Milanese Yeti. According to Mother Wiki, their affair lasted a while and was “more sexual than sentimental as can be attested in the fevered love letters the pair wrote one another.” They had to call it quits when Fran got syphilis BUMMER. Lucrezia also boned the poet Pietro Bembo, and their letters have survived. Lord Byron famously called them “the prettiest love letters in the world,” and when Lord Byron gets a woodie from your writing, YOU KNOW shit was hot.
Lucrezia died in 1519 at 39 giving birth to her eighth child, after a life of distinguished boning. Yes, she was essentially a political pawn for her father in the early years, but you’ve got to admire the sexual gumption it must have taken to juggle innumerable lovers (ITALIAN lovers, at that) across marriages, illegitimate kids, and social diseases. Additionally, she might have had sex with her hot brother, and I know incest is bad, or whatever, but………he’s so fucking attractive on the show…let’s just call it a gray area, okay?
So let’s all watch The Borgias, raise a meatball, and pour out some Prosecco in honor of Lucrezia Borgia, who didn’t let Catholicism, conventional gender roles, a Neolithic first husband, or shared genetic material get in the way of her boning spree. Cin cin!
Additionally, I don’t know if I’ve articulated this clearly, but BROTHER HOT ON SHOW.
Do you like our self-referential title? Yeah, me too.
Greetings from the too-long-absent For Shame ladies. Guess what! We all graduated. We have alma maters now. That sounds sort of like a skin disease or an extra organ.
In a post-graduate effort to reclaim my literary experiences, one of my first acts of adulthood was to choose to read a history book. It is from the first chapter of this book that I got my inspiration and a lot of information for this post. So let’s give credit where credit is due: the first 24 pages of When the Astors Owned New York by Justin Kaplan are totally boss and you should go pick up a copy.
So, have you ever heard of a Waldorf Salad? How about the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel? Or the neighborhood Astoria, Queens? Probably you have because the Waldorf is like the second most famous salad in history. And that hotel is THE fanciest hotel in the world, and that neighborhood is like, you know, a neighborhood or whatever. I’m pretty sure the nanny was from there. No, no, she was from Flushing.
My point is: These salads and buildings and hoods sound familiar because they are named after members of the great American Dynasty, the Astor Family. ASTORia. Get it? And Waldorf is because the original John Jacob Astor (not to be confused with John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt) was from Waldorf, Germany, so a few of his progeny bear the name of his birthplace.
The patriarch immigrated to America in 1784 when things were still really swampy and gross here, and moved to New York City (formerly known as New Amsterdam). You might be thinking that he went into the apple-growing business since that’s all that I thought was going on in New York during that time, but actually he married a cute wench named Sarah and together they built an enormously successful, international fur-trading empire. But because it was hard to run an international fur-trading empire without cell phones, Astor did a sort of last-minute career change (which was really during his retirement in the 1830s) and started buying land in New York. (Check out this map of Manhattan about 15 years before Astor Numero Uno moved to the big city.) He was the first guy to be like, “Investing in New York real estate is smart!” He bought low and he watched the value of his land skyrocket in the last few decades of his life. When JJA died at age 84 (he must have been one of like five people living over 60), he was our country’s first multimillionaire, with a net worth of about 20 million dollars (that’s about $110 billion in the 2006 market). He was making about 1/107th of the entire US GNP. Take that Oprah. But most importantly, Mr. Astor had started one of America’s first “blue-blooded” dynasties.
So here’s where things get scandalous. Two John Jacobs later we get John Jacob Astor IV who’s main occupation, other than making craploads of money in real estate, is being THE baller of turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Remember that at this time even though silent film was at its height the real “celebrity” of early 20th century America was the millionaire. So everything John Jacob was doing, like gambling and drinking, and just being an all-around awesome guy to party with, was covered by the press.
When he was 27, he tried to curb the ol’ bachelor way of life by marrying a lady named Ava Lowle Willing. They had two kids together. One of those kids, the second one, was rumored to have been the bastard of Ava’s lover. Sort of shocking for the time, right? But JJA wasn’t so good at being a devoted husband either and he was probably out on the town getting his D wet all over the place, too. Even though they were both kind of publicly not into each other, New York society folk were appalled when Ava sued Astor for d-i-v-o-r-c-e and accused him of adultery (pot kettle black?).
Because divorce was so taboo, even in 1909, many people believed that if you got divorced, you shouldn’t get another chance at the whole marriage thing. “You fuck up once, too bad,” the religious people said I think. So it was even more fabulously scandalous when less than two years after he and Ava called it quits, the 47 year old divorcee put a ring on the finger of 19-year-old Brooklyn socialite Madeleine Talmage Force. After the engagement, she became the (oh I don’t know, I suck at pop culture) Brittany Spears of her time? People followed that bitch around and took pictures of her, that’s what I’m getting at.
But this isn’t where the scandalosity stops. JJA and Maddie started courting as early as September of 1910, not too long after his d-i-v-o-r-c-e, when he invited her whole family to hang out at his house in Bar Harbor. Which is not not a party that I would have diiiieeeeed to go to. They got married one year later, in September of 1911 and immediately started their honeymoon in Europe.
In Europe, like women are like to do, she got pregnant real fast. Because these were blue blooded American folk and thinking about the future political career of their unborn child, they were all, “This kid needs to be born in America, y’all,” and they nabbed two seats on a brand new ship called the FUCKING TITANIC.
This story just got a little ICY didn’t it. Didn’t think this was the direction we were headed (at too fast of a speed for the vessel of its size) did you??
So, they’re on the Titanic, they eat dinner with some red-headed slut and a really hot poor guy named Zack or Jack or something, and the boat hits an iceberg. JJA is like, “Be calm, bitch, I got this.” He straps his baby mama into one of those totally helpful cork life-jackets and escorts her (like a boss) to lifeboat #4. As he’s helping her onto the boat, he says to the dude with the paddle, “Listen bro, my wife is in a delicate condition, ifyouknowhatimsayinnnn??” The guy was like, “No, man. I mean, yeah, I get what you’re saying, but no you can’t get on the boat. Women and kids only. And by kids, I don’t mean small goats.” So he’s like, “Fine, whatever. Later, toots.”
After that, he supposedly met up with some of his bros (including the Isador Strauss, one of the first owners of Macy’s who was also probably the only Jew on the ship), played some cards, and then, you know, drowned on the fucking Titanic.
But get this: The same newspapers who printed a bunch of nasty stuff about Astor getting remarried, calling him Jack Ass — because his nick-name was Jack and his last name was Astor (which is actually like really clever when you think about it), were all of a sudden printing a bunch of crap about the poor Mr. Astor who saved his bride and blah blah blah. He was, after all, the richest person to die in the sinking. The fuckin media, amirightpeople??
So, like a boss, Madeline became one of the richest women in the country. She got a ton of money outright, and a trust fund, and a trust fund for their kid, and rights to live in the Astor apartment on 5th Avenue as long as she never remarried. She did end up remarrying eventually and moving out of that undoubtedly swank-ass house, but she enjoyed it for four or five years. The newspaper headline when she married her childhood friend read, “Four Years a Widow, She Gives up Income of Millions for Love of Girlhood Friend,” which is kind of sweet and lovely or whatever. And then she got divorced, and then remarried and then divorced. Whatever.
All right. Now let me do the little thing I do where I give the scandalous individual whose story I have exploited a redeeming moment by talking about their accomplishments. Well first of all, even though Astor IV married a girl less than half his age and was a spoiled trust fund baby, the guy was undoubtedly a hard worker and did not just sit on a fortune already built for him, he grew it, too. He built the Astoria Hotel, next door to the hotel his cousin built, the Waldorf Hotel. (It would of course become the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.) He was also a science fiction novelist, an inventor, and a bit of an engineer (he helped develop a turbine engine.) And he helped out a little in the Spanish American war too by lending the government his yacht.
But being the snazziest Patriot this side of the Atlantic doesn’t always mean you’ll survive a tragic ship sinking incident that will set the tone for the entire century. But it does mean that you’ll make headlines and have salads named after you. So, you know, win some lose some.
Stay tuned this week as we crank out two more posts before we unleash upon your asses one of our most exciting theme weeks ever!! (I don’t have the go ahead from my colleagues to announce the theme, so one of them will do it in their upcoming posts. It’s REALLY GOOD. I’m serious. Fucking read this week is all I’m saying.)
Break out the tiki torches and mom’s Malibu rum, because For Shame is about to get real tropical. And real scandalous. INVERSELY SCANDALOUS, in fact. But more on that later.
That’s right, for our penultimate installment of Diversity Week, we’re checking off that most coveted of college application ethnicity boxes: Asian/Pacific Islander. We’re going to Hawaii! Beautiful beaches, probably unsafe volcanic activity, coconuts, coffee, Lost, Barack Obama, a twelve-letter
alphabet, poi. So many wonderful things to be had.
And one of the most interesting things about Hawaii is its complex royal history. Only four states were independent nations prior to joining the home of the brave/land of the free – Vermont, California, Texas (typicallll), and you better believe it, HAWAII! And not only that, Hawaii is the only state to have been a motherfucking kingdom before William McKinley came in and annexed that shit right up just to be a douche (and probably also for other legitimate political reasons). I’m not saying that McKinley’s assassination was deserved (Kahma’s a bitch, am I right?!) but I’m also not not saying that it was deserved.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s head back to 1810, when the eight main Hawaiian islands were unified under Kamehameha I, who was the first monarch. He had a ton of kids (being a royal and doing it right) and that’s where we begin our INVERSELY(!) scandalous tale of royal lovin.
Our hero, Kauikeaouli, was Kamehameha’s second son. His big bro Liholiho took the throne as Kamehameha II when papa Kam died in 1819; Kam II died in 1825 in London on a diplomacy trip after catching measles.
Which left young Kauikeaouli King of Hawaii at the age of 11. Upon ascending the throne, his name became Keaweaweʻula Kiwalaʻo Kauikeaouli Kaleiopapa Kalani Waiakua Kalanikau Iokikilo Kiwalaʻo i ke kapu Kamehameha. Just rolls off the tongue. The history books call him Kamehameha III, but even that’s too long for me and my digital-age attention span, so I’m going to call him K3.
K3 was sort of a loose cannon. When he was a kid, his stepmom acted as Queen Regent and was a huge Puritan. John Winthrop would have been proud. K3 was faced with a choice: Should he respect his stepmom by buying into her Western Jesus nonsense? Or should he honor the awesome traditions of his people? I can only speak for myself here, but even if you just look at the fashion, it’s an easy choice. Modest bonnet or grass skirt? Black scratchy wool dress or coconut bra? High ruffled collar or lei?
But K3, respectful young man that he was, had a hard time deciding. And in response to his anxiety, he did what any young (seriously, he was 11) person of means would do: he got smashed.
The mayor of Oahu was a close family friend and was moonlighting as a liquor store owner, and he hooked our boii upppp with the finest tropical beverages. More Mai Tais than you can imagine. All the Bay Breezes you could ever want. Obviously, an endless Blue Hawaiian river. Actually, K3 wasn’t a middle-aged woman so it was probably just rum and malt liquor. Either way, his drinking subverted the shit out of his stepmom’s Puritan ideals.
And oops, she acted as his regent until he was eighteen! So needless to say, there was some tension in the Royal Hawaiian Palace. Anyway, she died in 1832, and K3 was free to rule.
Q: When a young man ascends the throne of any nation in history ever, what’s the first thing he should do to make sure everyone calms the fuck down?
A: Find an appropriate lady, marry her, and knock her up, STAT. Repeat as necessary.
K3 was no dummy. He knew what he had to do. And if you recall, he was really into honoring Hawaiian heritage.
And according to ancient Hawaiian traditions, the best way to keep the royal bloodlines so fresh & so clean was to marry other royals. Other Hawaiian royals. From an isolated chain of islands. On which there was an absolute monarchy. Which can only mean one thing…INCEST!
Now, this wasn’t any of that FDR/Eleanor fifth cousin-once removed bullshit incest. This was brother-sister, Flowers in the Attic incest. And among royals, this kind of incest was not only acceptable to the public at large, it was sort of the best possible thing that could happen to the royal bloodline.
So K3, good king that he was, wanted to do things by the ancient Hawaiian book. And he thought, “Welp, this feels a little weird, but my grandparents were also half-siblings, and they were fucking great. Hmmmm, who could I marry? Hey, my sis Nahienaena has been looking FINE lately. And she’s fucking marriageable as shit. And I always liked when we played with blocks together as kids. BOOM, Queen chosen.” Plus, according to many accounts, Nahienaena was also in love with him.
Now get out your old Calc book, because it’s INVERSE time!
K3 and Nahi were all set to tie the knot and get down to business (the business of babymakin’). The bridesmaids’ grass skirts were being fitted, Nahi picked out a beautiful white satin Swarovski-encrusted coconut bra, and the whole island was gearing up for what promised to be history’s most bitchin’ luau/wedding reception. But remember K3’s Puritanical stepmom? She’d invited all kinds of Christian missionaries (haha it’s also a sex position, you guys) to the islands during her lifetime, and most of them stayed along and still had some measure of influence in court. And those missionaries DID NOT like the whole incest idea.
So they flagged what would have been a lovely, happy marriage, satisfying to the bride, the groom, and a lot of Hawaiian subjects. They even found K3 another less-related woman to marry. She was the daughter of the governor, she was hot, and she was wicked smaht, but the heart wants what it wants. K3 pussyfooted around for two years(!) until prospective wife number 2 died. Then the missionaries found him a Chiefess to marry, but she was the daughter of a sea pilot (ie commoner), and K3 said, “Okay missionaries, I see your poor second attempt and I’ll raise you an education requirement.” He demanded that the Chiefess undertake years’ worth of schooling to match his intellectual prowess. You know what they say: never engage in a battle of wits with a Hawaiian. That’s the saying, right?
Meanwhile, K3 and Nahi were getting their bone on. You might be squirming a little bit. I get it. But they loved each other and it was normal according to their heritage which is more than you can say for a lot of royal fornicating. Anyway, Nahi got knocked up and gave birth in 1836. And K3, badass that he was, said “Hey fuckers, this is my kid, I love him, he’s royal as shit, and he’s going to be my heir whether you like it or not.”
But then the baby died a few hours after birth. And Nahi died a couple months after that. I just fucking turned the tables of sympathy, didn’t I?
K3 was left all alone. And the missionaries won. So K3 was like “Fuck it, bring me the dumb Chiefess. Let’s do this.” And the Hawaiian people were absolutely pissed that these missionaries would fuck up centuries of tradition. But they were married and had two kids who died before reaching adulthood.
And therein lies the inversion: he wanted to be with his sister, and the Hawaiian people were scandalized when he didn’t/couldn’t marry her.
Kamehameha III went on to rule Hawaii for almost thirty years. He’s known as one of its greatest kings, he oversaw a switch from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, and his biggest goal and success was in balancing Western ideologies with ancient Hawaiian customs. He was sort of a great dude. Herman Melville (who based a book on K3), didn’t think so, but he was an ass (Not really, he was awesome. But wrong about our friend).
Ultimately, this is the story of a man who said, “Aloha,” and then sadly, “Aloha,” to personal happiness. Sure it was incest. But it was socially acceptable and hoped-for incest. And you can’t fight a love like that.