Okay, so I know that I’m usually here bitching about how horribly writers royally screw up rape scenes and the act’s aftermath by treating it like some poor soul can’t find their damn car keys, or maybe stub their big toe. At the most, maybe a rough roll in the hay, which, no, it’s so not. Thankfully, not all creators are made of pure stupid; one show, for all its liberal telling of recorded history, actually got this (rape, not actual history) right.
LEARNING FROM ANOTHER’S PAIN
Mary Stuart, better known to history buffs and Elizabeth I fans as Mary, Queen of Scots, was raped during the Reign’s season two episode Acts of War (episode 9) when a POS., along with his gang of pissed-off Protestants, stormed the castle with the intention of somehow hurting (probably killing), Francis II. When the king wasn’t there, said POS decided to do, what was, in his mind, the next best (worst?) thing: violate the queen consort of France.
Now, if you’re thinking how’s that not totally sexist? you’re totes right.
BACKGROUND: this show takes place in medieval times, when queens consort were an extension of the king and the source of future kings; she must remain pure and true to guarantee the king’s bloodline continues. If another man can claim carnal knowledge of the queen, heirs can be challenged. By raping the queen, the assailant could’ve shamed the king if word got out.
Also, he busted up royal property. So, um, there’s that, too.
Sounds bad, eh? I mean, rape is always bad (hear that, DC?) but sometimes, something good can come out of it. After the horrible (but not graphic) scene, we saw things most shows don’t bother with: things actually changed. Catherine de’ Medici (the queen mother who herself had been raped in the past) became protective of not only her son’s reputation but of Mary, someone she’d tried to kill more than once. But more importantly, we got to see Mary’s own attempts (not all successful) to deal with what happened to her in her own bedroom while she put on a brave face and acted as though nothing happened when in front of pretty much anyone.
Gotta keep the faith in the crown, y’all.
FROM VICTIM TO SURVIVOR
Immediately after her attack, she couldn’t allow any man – even her guilt-ridden husband – to touch her. Even the love for Francis couldn’t overcome her fear of being violated again; it didn’t matter that her head told her she was completely safe, the fear ran deep. She was broken, weak and scared; a shadow of whom she had been.
Kind of like what rape victims feel afterward.
Before being raped, Mary was strong, independent (as far as a woman in the 16th century could be) and opinionated in an I am but a woman way in a time when women, to wield any power, needed to wrap their true selves up in faux vulnerability when the menfolk were around. Otherwise, they could find themselves a head shorter.
I am but a woman, with all the imperfections natural to the weakness of my sex; therefore in all matters of doubt and difficulty I must refer myself to your Majesty’s better judgment, as to my lord and head.
– Catherine Parr, Queen Consort of England
She fought with Francis when she believed him wrong (privately, of course, for both needed to present a united front. For the sake of the crown, of course), and even withstood Catherine’s attempts to rid the family of her. Yet here she was stripped of her strength, because someone thought hurting her made him a Real ManTM.
Cause raping woman when you’re pissed at her husband, makes sense. Somehow. To a misogynist. Or something.
She lost herself in the pain and it took time, patience and strength she thought she’d lost to reclaim what had been torn from her. As time separated her from the attack, she began letting others in, except for her husband, who a part of her psyche still blamed (seeing how his actions, when dealing with the religious upheaval threatening his country, did spark the Protestant revolt during which the castle was invaded and Mary was raped, there was a linear(ish) logic for her feelings to follow). She couldn’t stand his presence, much less his touch, and went so far as to move into her own chambers.
Her inability to be intimate with Francis, at a time where she may very well have needed it, led to another honest reaction to her situation: her affair with Louis de Bourbon, The Prince of Condé.
FINDING PEACE IN ANOTHER MAN’S ARMS
Why? Why would she turn her affection to someone, not her husband, who was desperate to save her? Well, though it would make Prince sad, she wasn’t about to run to the person she blamed for what happened.
Would you run to me if somebody hurt you
Even if that somebody was me
-Prince (or TLC* if that’s your jam)
*I prefer TLC, in case you wondered. Okay, moving on.
Yes, an affair tends to be viewed as bad and slutty and stuff, but she needed to feel something besides fear, and with Condé, she could. And, because he did really love her and want her happy and whole, Francis took a huge risk in giving his blessing (remember that whole queenly purity?), without once realizing what a noble deed it was.
He gave her what she thought she needed.
Mary and Francis were a couple reeling, and did what they believed best to recover. And, in time, they did. Mary regained her strength, dignity, and sense of self-worth, and they finally found their way into their marriage bed. She’s still haunted by what happened – and that the affair led to, y’know, war – but she went on that scary, dark journey from victim to survivor.
REAL VS REEL
Though there was (and is) a popular myth that the historical Mary was abducted and raped (into marriage) by James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell (her third husband), there’s no real evidence supporting the claim. There’s also no evidence, or even gossip, that she was assaulted while queen consort of France.
In what seems like a rarity in entertainment, Reign used rape not to shock or titillate or push a story forward (though it did do that), but instead used it to tell an honest story about how rape affects not only the person attacked but those around her. Her friends, family, husband and even mother-in-law were all touched by the violence, albeit indirectly, and that’s something we need more of: rape not only destroys one life but many, and its wounds can remain for years and beyond.
We’ll need to see if Reign continues Mary’s fight against the memories (I hope they do), so those who have suffered can see a story of hope in a world filled with nonconsensual sex and retconned rape-non-rape B.S.
Did you see this episode? What are you thoughts?
Sign up for my newsletter and never miss a post again! I will never share your email and that’s a promise. Follow me on Twitter @RachelintheOC or @BadRedheadMedia for social media, branding, or marketing help. Increase your blog traffic by participating in #MondayBlogs (a Twitter meme I created to share posts on Mondays — no book promo).
All content © 2015 by Rachel Thompson, author, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided a link back to this page and proper attribution is given to me as the original author.