Welcome to this week’s special Mother’s Day edition of Sistory. Since our mother raised us to be independent, self-sufficient, and career-aspirational women, we have no children of our own and probably never will. (Just kidding, Mom.) But that means we get to focus all of our Mother’s Day attention on the lady, the myth, the legend: Laurie.
Like all holidays, that usually means that Corinne and I send cards, while Caroline orchestrates a recreation of the top ten greatest parenting moments in the history of our family. Caroline is great at gifts. I hate her.
For many, many, MANY millennia, motherhood was the only way most women could leave their mark on the world. Your role as a woman was to bear children who could work in the fields and carry on the family name.
And, yes, woohoo, women today are free to make a name for themselves in business, medicine, and law, whether or not they have children. But isn’t it the best of all worlds if you can leverage motherhood into some sort of career benefit… or even an empire?
Said every Kris Kardashian ever. But she wasn’t the first to think of this idea. In honor of our mama, and all the mamas, and the baby mamas, and the baby mamas mamas,we’re going to tell you about three classy European broads who turned motherhood into a power-grabbing enterprise. Just like ya mama taught ya.
Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina was sort of a big deal, if you consider being Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and Holy Roman Empress a big deal. She was also the only female ruler in the 650-year history of the Habsburg empire.
In between ruling the countries that you’d most want to study abroad in, Maria Theresa had sixteen children in 20 years. At one point, as she traveled her vast territory, which was torn apart by infighting and war that she likely caused, Maria Theresa became seriously concerned that she wouldn’t be welcomed by any town long enough to give birth. (Lesson: It’s okay to lean back out sometimes.)
After the death of her husband, MT named her son, Joseph II, to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Then, like a boss, she stayed on her own throne and micromanaged the hell out of him. She was the accepted ruler of the Holy Roman Empire until her death.
Also, she named her daughters Maria Elisabeth, Maria Amalia, Maria Anna, Maria Carolina, Maria Johanna, Maria Josepha and Maria Antonia. Does that last one sound familiar? Try it in a French accent. Oh yes. Marie Antoinette was MT’s youngest daughter. Ain’t nobody messin’ with #MyClique, said the Marias, likely in unison.
Catherine de Medici started off at an advantage. Her dad was a duke, her mom was cousin to the king, and the Pope was her uncle. But she lived in France in the 1500s, so all the advantages in the world still meant she’d likely end up the wife of some rich guy, living a quiet life on the country estate in Provence, tending the children/sheep. Not for old Cathy, though. She got the Pope (her uncle) to broker a marriage between her and the second son of the King of France, the Duke of Orleans.
I know what you’re thinking: you marry Prince Harry for the roguish good looks, not for the power! But this was the 1500s; the monarchy had real influence and people died all the time. Before long, that second son was King Henry II of France, and she was Queen.
But… again, it was the 1500s and people died all the time. Henry II died in a jousting accident and was replaced by his son, Francis.
Just a year later, Francis was dead and Charles, the 10-year-old son of Catherine and Henry, took the throne. Now, we’re cooking with gas, thinks Cathy, as she steps in as Queen Regent. When Charles died (again, France, the 1500s) her faaaavorite son, Henry, also underage, becomes King and lets Mommy continue her reign. Cathy lead the country through Protestant uprisings and religious wars, married her other children to all kinds of winners and maybe killed a lot of people at her daughter’s wedding to a Protestant. Now, that’s what Sheryl Sandberg is talking about!
If I’m going to tell you guise about Marie de Guise, you’ve got to pay attention. It may get complicated.
The Guise family was powerful, Catholic and French. They wanted the whole world to be Catholic, and if they could swing it, French. So they sent little Guises out into the world, ready to make Catholic many nations.
Marie de Guise married James V, the king of Scotland. They gave birth to Mary, Queen of Scots, and six days later, James died. The Catholic future of the British Isles rested entirely in the hands of a six-day-old baby and Marie de Guise. Henry VIII, who was Catholic until his first wife got old and fat, wanted to marry Marie de Guise. He also wanted his son to marry baby Mary. (They were first cousins.)
But Marie de Guise did not go out into the world to make Anglican many nations, or to lose her head. Oh, no, she didn’t. Remember Catherine de Medici, from five minutes ago? No? Go back, refresh your memory. I’ll wait.
Okay. Marie de Guise married off her daughter, Mary, to Cathy and Henry’s first son, Francis. Mary, Queen of Scots, was also Queen of France for a year until Francis died. (And, according to the popular CW teen drama, Reign, what a year it was!)
Even before she was married, Mary spent her childhood hiding in France, because England wasn’t overly fond of her. That left Marie de Guise to rule Scotland in her daughter’s stead. She worked closely with family members around Europe, ensuring that Scotland remained Catholic and basically French.
They ran into a little issue when Elizabeth I took the English throne. Elizabeth was Anglican, but more importantly, she hated her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. She wanted to be Elizabeth, Queen of Everything Including Scotland (and Mary had expressed some interest in holding the same title.) As this tension was heating up, Marie de Guise died of dropsy. Some say she was poisoned. SOME, not me. But some.
Scotland pretty much became totally Protestant after that, and Mary, Queen of Scots, was beheaded by Elizabeth. But it wasn’t all bad news for Marie de Guise: her grandson, James VI, took the throne after Elizabeth and united Scotland, Ireland and England under his rule. So while she might not have liked the union with England, she sure would have loved the absolute power.
On the few occasions that I’ve watched Keeping Up with the Kardashians, I’ve often thought…we could do this. The only difference between me and Khloe Kardashian is that Kris Kardashian isn’t my mother. Laurie Leonard Klibanoff is, and by god, she didn’t give any of us names starting with K. Or name us all Laurie (I see you, Maria Theresa).
But when you consider the momagers above, the records aren’t great. Marie Antoinette lost her head, all of Catherine de Medici’s sons died suspiciously quickly and Mary, Queen of Scots never really ruled Scotland. And, to be fair, I’m not sure those Kardashian kids are turning out so hot either. (Life choices-wise, that is. Appearance-wise, v hot.)
So maybe my mom didn’t give me a reality show. But she did give me a happy, safe, full childhood, an excellent education and more love than I could possibly deserve. And, most importantly, she gave me two sisters. While that many daughters would be a shame to your family in olden times, it’s the perfect number to run a blog with, and we’re quite grateful. Happy Mother’s Day, maminka. We love you!