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.
Full disclosure: I had a few margaritas tonight. So this should be interesting.
Catherine Howard (wife numero fivo) is unofficially considered by historians to be the consort with lowest IQ. Here’s why:
- She might have had an affair with one of H8’s “favourites” during their year-long marriage.
- The guy she had an affair with was her cousin. I know it’s normal for the time. But EW.
- While at finishing school, she slept with at least 2 men (and probably more and maybe a couple of girls).
- She trusted corrupt, shady and borderline cray-cray people to help her with love-affair-related activities.
- She got caught.
- (SPOILER ALERT) She got her head chopped off.
Here are the reasons why Henry should have fucking known what was coming to him:
- Catherine was Anne Boleyn’s goddam 1st cousin.
- She was really fucking good at giving head and Henry, like a doofus, was like, “WOW!! I wonder how my virginal new wife is so good at blowing me especially when she’s never seen a ding-dong before.” (Like I said. Doofus.)
- When they met, she was sixteen and he was forty fucking nine. (MATH LESSON: 49-16= WAY TOO FUCKING BIG OF AN AGE DIFFERENCE, PEOPLE.)
But listen. As I gathered from reading Starkey, girlfriend has sort of been misrepresented in historical accounts of the period. Mainly because her reign was first interpreted and written about during England’s strictly moralist Victorian era where any talk of sex was immediately poo-pooed. Since a big part of Catherine’s story (let’s be honest-all of it) has to do with her fondness for pleasure (who can blame her!), Victorian historians weren’t big fans of her’s. But we’re past that now and some historians like Starkey are starting to look at her as a lighthearted bitch who understood sex as something that was fun and awesome but also as a valuable and powerful social tool.
I imagine that Catherine Howard was a lot like the Mandy Moore type of girl at your high school. But a little sluttier. You know, some girl who was like really pretty and skinny who got boobs before everybody and was the first girl to get a straightener, and she was really good at school and was all the teachers’ favorite. And you wanted to hate her because she was so fucking popular, but you couldn’t because she was also really nice and awesome. THE POINT IS you would have wanted to be friends with Catherine Howard because I bet she was just like that. She was full of energy, always looking out for her main bitches, always down for a partay. She probably loved doing the Electric Slide. And body shots.
But let’s contextualize shall we? And I’ll pretend like I didn’t just go off for a whole paragraph about how much I want to be BFFs with Mandy Moore/Catherine Howard.
So Catherine’s mommy, Joyce Culpepper (REMEMBER THAT NAME!!) died when she was young, so she grew up without a close female role model who could tell her that boning a bunch of dudes before you marry the king of England is the worst idea ever. She was sent off to finishing school at her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess’s house. From the Starkey book, I gather that Chesworth House was a lot like summer camp. Lots of virile young men and women in a confined space where the main events of the evening were (1) figuring out how to get into the girls’ bunk (2) learning how to give handies (3) testing how long you could stay and play without getting caught by the counselors. Since our little minx was related the Duchess, she was the ringleader of all of the mischief and got away with everything.
It was also because of her relationship with the Duchess that she was allowed private music lessons with a guy named Henry Mannox. Now, what about letting your adolescent step-granddaughter who’s already been caught having “midnight banquets” in her dormitory have private lessons with a smoldering hot (probably) music teacher sounds like a good idea to you? None of it. When Catherine got in trouble with King H8 in 1541, Mannox was questioned and it came out that while they never consummated their love affair (which happened when she was like 11 or 12), she had let him touch her vag in the house’s chapel!! Slluuuuut! Mandy would never have done that.
While at Chesworth, she met the household’s secretary, Francis Dareham and the two fell in love. HARD. They entered into a two-year long relationship and precontracted themselves to one another. As in they promised to marry each other which was as good as married in the eyes of the church and meant it was kind of OK that they boned before he put a ring on it. And everyone at Chesworth knew about it (since all the girls slept in the same big room with each other and they were practically having sex in front of a ton of other people on a regular basis) but no one said anything about it once Catherine arrived at court and caught the eye of the King.
H8 was not Catherine’s first love at court, however. He was her second. Her first little affair was with a man named Thomas Culpepper. Remember that name? It’s her mom’s maiden name. As in this guy was her cousin. He was really hot, really fun, the king’s favorite man, had a ton of girlfriends all over court – he was the guy version of Catherine, pretty much. So no wonder they were so into each other. They hung out for a while, probably did it a couple of times, and a lot of people (although H8 was apparently oblivious to all of this) thought that they would get married. But then they had a little tiff or something and stopped talking.
Then, she caught Henry’s eye and the rest is history. Or maybe you’re not too familiar so I’ll irreverently summarize, shall I?
She and Henry entered into a whirlwind Romance that was almost assuredly consummated time and time again before they got married. (RED FUCKING FLAG, HENRY!!) But he was blinded by his love for her. And why wouldn’t he be? She was 17 or so and he was almost 50!! She was history’s ultimate trophy wife and Kingy was loooovin’ it as much as a McDonald’s commercial. His friends wrote that he was simply smitten with her. He really believed that after getting rid of his Spanish brother-fucker, all his bad luck with Boleyn, the “tragic” death of Jane, and the unfortunate portrait debacle of Man of Cleves, he had finally found his true Queen.
Spoke too soon, dude, spoke too soon.
Henry and Catherine and the rest of the court went on progress in the summer of 1541. This means that they went on a tour of northern England where they slept in tents (which were pretty much inflatable castles) or in rich people’s houses. These houses were much smaller than the palaces that the court was used to staying at, so it would have been really fucking stupid for the queen to rekindle an affair with her former lover in one of these houses while on progress. But she did.
It was during the summer progress of 1541 that she and Culpepper started doing it again with the help of Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Rochford. Lady Rochford was George Boleyn’s wife. Let’s review:
- George Boleyn.
- Brother of Anne.
- Beheaded for treason, incest, and sodomy.
Don’t you think Lady Rochford/Jane Parker might be a little effed up from all of that and maybe not someone to trust with your top-secret romantic trysts? Yeah. Instead of saying, “Hey Catherine, this is a bad idea,” she was more like, “Pshhhh, he’ll never find out, did you want me to take your handkerchief or something over to Tommy? Maybe a love letter?” Great influence, Lady. A lot of historians think that she might have been, like, certifiably insane and was acting out all of her psycho issues with her own failed marriage on Catherine. It seems likely to me.
This post is getting long so I’ll sum up the end with a list shall I?
- Most women who end up at court had been at finishing schools and boned dudes before they got there. But people kept their mouths shut about it because it was NBD.
- But some bitch went to Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, and told him about Catherine’s shady past.
- He liked Catherine, but thought that her lack of religious conviction and her (supposedly) papist Howard family were a threat to the English Reformation.
- So he told Henry.
- Henry was like, “Nawwww! She’d never cheat on me. She’s totally into this!” (And then grabbed his junk. I imagine.) But then he had some people investigate the whole thing anyway, just for safesies.
- When it became clear that she was guilty, H8 peaced out of Hampton Court in the middle of the night and Catherine never saw him again. (The legend about Catherine running down the halls of Hampton Court to beg him to believe in her innocence isn’t really true.)
- She was convicted of treason, along with Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dareham.
- Francis Dereham definitely got the fuzzy end of the lollipop — he was hanged, castrated, drawn, and quartered. OUCH.
- Culpepper was beheaded. LUCKY!
- After being told she was just going to have to go to a nunnery, Henry changed his mind and decided he wanted her beheaded.
- She made a really nice speech and then fucking lost it and started sobbing and saying “I don’t want to die!!” right before she got her head chopped off.
- Lady Rochford got the axe right after her lady.
Moral of the story: What’s tragic is that all Catherine needed to do to survive was keep other guys’ weiners out of her vag bun. But she wasn’t able to do so. And that’s why a lot of people think she was the dumbest of the 6 queens. But I would like to posit that she was very mature for her age and handled her short tenure as queen pretty well, as far as family/diplomacy/being queenly goes.
And as for the whole sleeping with other people thing, let’s not forget that she was also A FUCKING TEENAGER, a Teenage Queen if you will! So who can blame her for wanting to canoodle with a hot little number who was her age? Not me. Sure, it was stupid. She made a big mistake, but ultimately, she was the victim of religious ambitions at court in the midst of the Reformation.
And her pubescent libido.
Okay ladies and gents, it’s time to get our anniversary on. A sassy little lady by the name of Anne Boleyn was beheaded on May 19, 1536 on the orders of her caring husband, and as we’re coming up on the 475th deathday of one of history’s sexiest ladies, we thought we’d be remiss if we DIDN’T celebrate. Specifically by dedicating a week to the truly astounding sexual legacy of Anne’s husband and England’s undisputed fornication champion, Henry VIII. We’ll look at each of his six wives who were all scandalous in their own special way, and at the end of the week, we’ll examine his extramarital affairs (this will be a very long but exceptionally juicy post).
This theme week is perfect for several reasons, aside from its timeliness: JAF knows a shit ton about
everything the Renaissance in England, to say that LHB idolizes Anne Boleyn is the understatement of the millennium, and I’ve seen seasons 1-3 of The Tudors. Clearly we’re experts.
Look forward to posts dedicated to:
Wife 1 – Katherine of Aragon, who may or may not have boned Henry’s brother.
Wife 2 – Anne Boleyn, who literally lost her head over the guy.
Wife 3 – Jane Seymour, who wooed Henry with her seemingly pure feminine wiles.
Wife 4 – Anne of Cleves, who was quite unfortunate looking but lovely on the inside.
Wife 5 – Catherine Howard, who was an eighteen-year-old hoebag married to a 49-year-old rotting mound of flesh.
Wife 6 – Catherine Parr, who was married twice before Henry and once after.
The Mistresses – Bessie Blount, Mary Boleyn, Jane Popincourt, Anne Bassett, Elizabeth Carew, Margaret Shelton, Katherine Willoughby, and about a thousand more promiscuous Renaissance ladies.
Seriously, this is going to be a good week. I know LHB’s Anne Boleyn post will be her life’s opus. Enjoy!