Feminism: Alison Weir on Cultural Misogyny

[Content Note: Murder, Domestic Abuse, Misogyny, Infidelity]

I've been reading this month -- slowly, as I've been sick, and it's a really long book -- Alison Weir's "Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley" which is about the murder of Queen Mary's husband (Lord Darnley) and who may have been responsible for his murder. (It's a contentious subject among some historians.)

Without getting bogged down in background, Queen Mary made a controversial marriage with Lord Darnley which she soon thereafter regretted on the grounds that he was, among other things, a cheating asshole. She began to spend less time with him and more time with her secretary David Rizzio, whom she may or may not have had an affair with. Either way, her husband used the rumor of the supposed affair as an excuse to murder Rizzio and very possibly tried to indirectly murder Mary in the process, probably hoping to rule the kingdom after her death.

Mary had all the necessary evidence to prosecute her inconvenient and understandably-hated husband for treason and murder, but she couldn't politically do so because she believed (probably correctly) that anything short of a reconciliation with her murderous husband would make the world think that she had been unfaithful to him, that his murder of Rizzio was justified, and that her unborn child was illegitimate and therefore not fit to inherit the crown. Her reputation could only be cleared if he reconciled with her and acknowledged the baby as his when it was born. Weir notes:
But the prestige of the Crown, as well as Mary’s reputation, had suffered as a result of Rizzio’s murder, which had also signalled an end to the Queen’s pro-Catholic policies. The fact that Darnley had taken such drastic action against his wife gave rise to suspicions that he had had just cause. Furthermore, the rift between the royal couple was now public property, which in itself was a scandal.

Given the embarrassment that now overshadowed her marriage, Mary had to embark on a damage limitation exercise. She could quite lawfully have had Darnley executed for treason, but she needed to ensure that there were no doubts as to the legitimacy of her child, [...]

This declaration of innocence on Darnley’s part was not just for his own benefit, but also to protect Mary’s reputation. For, if her husband had not instigated or approved Rizzio’s murder, there would be no grounds for suspecting Rizzio of any impropriety with the Queen.

I've noticed that in several places, Weir obliquely refers to the culture 'back then' (in different but similar words) to allow the audience to distance themselves from this widespread misogynistic attitude that a violent husband must be justified in his choices in light of his wife's presumed bad actions. Nor do I blame Weir for making this distinction; she's writing history, not feminism, and in a climate where any assertions on her part that the values of back then look an awful lot like the values of right now would almost certain result in backlash and derailing from her actual topic. So I understand why she avoids such an assertion.

But I will not avoid such an assertion. I absolutely live in a culture where it is routine for violent men to be sympathized with and even coddled by the justice system on the grounds that their female victims must have caused or earned or triggered violence in their husbands. I live in a culture where we extend numerous benefits of doubt to men who abuse women, but condemn on the flimsiest of pretexts women who are abused. And I live in a culture where women victims of male abusers are frequently invisibled from the discussion of their own victimization in favor of a focus on the poor, beleaguered man responsible for their death.

It's depressing -- and telling -- to read about back then and realize how very similar it is to right now


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