Ok, so I know I read almost entirely fiction (urban fantasy at that), but I couldn't resist having Victoria Martinez write a guest blog for me for this month's series! Her book takes an in depth look to the standards of royal beauty & hopefully her blog will have you eagerly lining up to order her book! I have to say, this blog is absolutely fascinating! I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I have!
From Helen of Troy, wife of the king of Sparta and the woman whose face “launched a thousand ships,” to Catherine Middleton, now HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, whose beauty routine has launched a thousand blogs and YouTube videos, the correlation between preternatural good looks and royal women is deeply rooted in our collective psyche. Even if we remove childhood fairy tales and modern beauty pageant “queens” from the equation, we still expect and want real princesses and queens to be beautiful, and great pains are taken to help maintain this symbiosis.
The truth is somewhat more brutal as history is filled with royal women who were anything but beauty queens or who resorted to extreme measures to keep up the façade of beauty and elegance under intense public scrutiny. Royal beauty – or lack thereof – is a topic I explore in two chapters of my book, An Unusual Journey Through Royal History.
Personally, all my expectations of royal beauty were shattered at the tender age of six when I first saw a photograph of Queen Victoria. Clad in black, built like a battleship, stern and unsmiling, even her masses of impressive jewels failed to inspire awe in me. She was certainly not what I had been hoping for in my royal namesake. But her appearance inspired me in other ways as an adult; in particular, encouraging me to explore the lives of royal women on whom the spotlight didn’t shine. One of these was Queen Victoria’s cousin, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, whose story I tell in the chapter, “The Courting of Fat Mary.” At 200-plus pounds, the royal family found it quite difficult to find her a suitable husband despite the fact that she was a “remarkably light dancer.”
Even the most celebrated royal women in history, whose legendary beauty has been lauded for time-immemorial by historians, scholars and, of course, Hollywood, are no longer immune to harsh reality, as I describe in the chapter, “A Pageant of Queens.”
Cleopatra, immortalized on the Silver Screen by Elizabeth Taylor and even named as one of the 100 most beautiful women of all time as recently as 2004, may have won the hearts of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, but she didn’t do it with her stellar looks according to modern archeological finds. An article in the January 2002 issue of Harper’s Bazaar succinctly described Cleopatra as she was portrayed in contemporary images as “an ordinary-looking woman, short, with bad teeth and a bony nose.”
Portraits of French Empress Josephine Bonaparte always emphasize a woman with delicate features and apparent gentility, but they also never show her smiling, and for very good reason. Having been raised on a sugar plantation in Martinique, Josephine had early on been exposed to too much sugar and not enough dental hygiene. In short, her teeth were blackened from decay and her gums were swollen from irritation. Even the most flattering contemporary descriptions of Josephine credit her more for her “sweet personality” than for anything other than being merely “pretty.”
Not even Queen Nefertiti, the ancient Egyptian consort whose name roughly translates to “the beautiful one is come,” was immune to the ravages of age, which is why she opted for an early form of facelift.
A wonderful anecdote of the expectations of royal feminine beauty is given in My Blue Notebooks, the diary of the 19th century French courtesan Liane de Pougy. Known for her exquisite beauty and terminal elegance, Liane tells how, in 1892 or 1893, French dramatist Henri Meilhac asked her to attend a performance at the Opéra-Comique in Paris and emphatically insisted that she wear her “tiara, masses of jewels, a low-cut dress… [and] white cloak with the gold embroidery and the ermine lining.” He also told her she “must have an entourage” and that she “must arrive before the curtain goes up.” For her troubles, he gave Liane 2000 francs and promised her the left stage box, but failed to provide an explanation for her dramatic appearance and entrance.
Liane did as she was asked and made a grand entrance to her box at the opera promptly 15 minutes before the curtain rose, dressed to the nines and accompanied by two equally elegant and well-dressed ladies. Much to her surprise, every person in the packed opera house rose to their feet and turned to look at her. The orchestra suddenly “broke into patriotic music,” causing Liane and her entourage to rise to their feet and prompting the audience to break into spontaneous applause. The celebrated courtesan went gracefully along with the strange situation, assuming that the display was simply a “homage to my youth and beauty.”
Within moments, Meilhac entered Liane’s box and, hysterical with laughter, explained what had just happened… “We’re expecting the Queen of Sweden – in the box opposite – they thought you were her, it’s too killing for words.” Liane looked across to the other box and saw: “a lanky, sad-looking woman, rather badly dressed, surrounded by quite an entourage. Her entrance had been ruined, no one noticed it. It was me… to whom the crowd had paid homage – and the orchestra too, because it was the Swedish national anthem that they had played.”
Meilhac summed up the situation best when he said later, “Homage to beauty! Vox populi, vox dei [trans: The voice of the people is the voice of God]! How beautiful is our Liane! That is how people expect a queen to look, and she has proved it.”
Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that beauty “has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.” Perhaps, but sovereignty does not always make beauties of those princesses and queens who have it, no matter how much we’re inclined to believe otherwise.
An Unusual Journey Through Royal History by Victoria Martínez is available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and WhoDaresWinsPublishing.com.