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  #1  
Old 07-01-2016, 05:38 AM
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Royal Women as Political Scapegoats

Why are royal women such easy political scapegoats in times of crisis? Whenever there is a revolution, a coup, an economic crisis, a foreign invasion, and monarchies are involved, why do the women always get the blame?

Karina Urbach says of this in Go Betweens for Hitler
...The aristocratic peer group often made wives responsible for the 'bad' decisions their husbands had taken during the war...in the case of Russia the Tsarina was posthumously made responsible for the downfall of the Romanovs while ...Queen Marie of Romania was accused of 'manipulating' her husband Ferdinand into war...[the above] were portrayed in the manner of Lady Macbeth, employing rather dubious methods for the survival of their house. Blaming the wives was a convenient way of exculpating the husbands. As in chess, sacrificing the queen was needed to save the king...[these men] could still be portrayed as following the aristocratic code of honor. This tactic was rather misogynist, but it also reveals [that] queen consorts were perceived as serious players. In many cases this was a correct analysis. They could gain power, even if it was only behind the scenes.
(p 62)

and from Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette (the poster girl for this phenomenon)
Given that there is evidently a great primitive urge to blame one individual when things go wrong, what better scapegoat to discover for a monarchy in crisis than a foreign princess? There she is, a subversive alien, in the bed of the head of state, her blood corrupting the dynasty...one only has to think of Henrietta Maria, French Catholic wife of Charles I in the years leading up to the English Civil War or, going forward to the nineteenth century, of the daughter of Queen Victoria, married to the Crown Prince of Germany[sic], who was pilloried as 'the Englishwoman'. [This allowed] many of the population free to continue to reverence the king himself. [It was observed following the execution of Louis XVI that] many Parisians felt a kind of grief when the king was executed 'such as for the untimely death of a beloved parent'.
(p 548 paperback edition)

The above are just two examples. What does anyone else on the forum think?

NB: These targets aren't always female (Prince Albert copped a lot of flak back in the day - not all of it deserved, and it also explains the treatment of the DoE and to a letter extent Prince Henrik). Nor is this confined to monarchies (Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair to name two modern examples along with the "dictators wife" stereotype).
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Old 07-01-2016, 06:36 AM
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Because when things go awry and you otherwise believe in the system, it's more convenient to blame those near the top-guy, rather than the top-guy him/herself.
You mention Hitler. Many who could see things were going, ahem, less then well at time went on. Started to blame those around Hitler. - "Hitler can't know everything. - If only Hitler knew...".
If Hitler was to take the blame, then you'd look pretty stupid for supporting him, wouldn't you?

Same thing about royals. The monarch is somehow above reproach, but those near the monarch... That's much more palatable.

So I don't think it's so much about women (keep in mind that the harshest and most unforgiving critics of women are often, if not mostly, other women) it's more because there have been fewer women in power at the top than men.
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Old 07-01-2016, 07:15 AM
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Often these women were also subject to the misogynistic attitudes of their day. A woman, it was believed, should be a support and helpmeet to man but not seek to influence him in his public life.

As far as Marie of Romania was concerned of course it was a case of 'To the victor the spoils'. She was unpopular at certain stages of World War One but at the end of the conflict, with an Allied victory, her star shone brightly. She emerged triumphant, a heroine to her people, who believed after the Versailles Treaty that she had been virtually responsible for the increase in land mass Romania had been awarded. Not true, but I do think she was regarded by Romanians at that time as the star of their royal family.

As for Alexandra, her enemies at court made sure that everyone around them knew how she bolstered her weak husband, encouraging and supportive in his autocracy. It was easy to do because in many ways Alexandra was her own worst enemy. Shy and stiff she never reached out to those who could have helped her and Nicholas. Instead her letters to her husband are full of praise for harsh measures, reminders that he must stand up to those who disagreed, that he must be firm. It's hard not to reach the conclusion that Alexandra did share some of the blame for the downfall of the Romanovs.

How blind can you be? A letter to Nicholas from Alexandra in February 1915.

'The strikers and rioters in the city are now in a more defiant mood than ever. The disturbances are created by hoodlums. Youngsters and girls are running around shouting they have no bread. They do this just to create some excitement. If the weather were cold they would probably all be staying at home. But the thing will pass and quiet down, providing the Duma behaves. The worst of the speeches are not reported in the papers, but I think that for speaking against the dynasty there should be immediate and severe punishment.'

It was probably easier to blame Alexandra (and other foreign consorts like Marie Antoinette because a certain amount of xenophobia arises when war erupts or times are terrible.) In Alexandra's case of course there was the added complication of her devotion to Rasputin. However, it's not quite true that she attracted most of the hatred. After all, the Tsar's grandfather and his uncle Sergei suffered brutal assassinations.

Sometimes things turn out the other way. The Prince Consort, having suffered much abuse and derision in his early years in England, ended up much admired for his statesmanship and was widely mourned after his premature death.
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Old 07-02-2016, 01:29 AM
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The Empress Alexandra attrackted the criticism with good reason IMHO. She was utterly unsuitable for her role -as was her husband- and she gave her weak husband some awful advice. Advice that he followed. She refused to play her role as Empress and preferred to lock herself and her family up in a phantasy, cutting ties with family, friends and (political) allies.

Marie-Antoinette also had a weak husband who was completely unsuitable to lead France in times of crisis. I believe it is well established that unlike Alexandra, MA did not give her husband a lot of advice, but when she did it was actually sensible.

Another one for the list: Queen Frederika of Greece.
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Old 07-02-2016, 02:06 AM
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I wasn't referring to these specific women per Se - I was trying to draw attention to a distinct historical and sociological trend - one that is still with us today.

I used those two quotes to get the ball rolling due to the fact that in all these cases there are equally good cases to be made that the elected/appointed male political were to blame for political problems (not least the kings themselves!) and that the historical record became warped to bolster the legitimacy of successor regimes. In other words, history being written by the victors.

I'm not saying that the above were without fault - they certainly were not - but that there is a larger context that gets overlooked.

Although the point about the fact that "the woman is so hard upon the woman" (Tennyson) is a valid one. I can't explain why at the moment as I'm going to the movies soon, but I will later.
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Old 08-25-2016, 02:52 AM
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I guess the point I was trying to make was that although the influence of some of these women may be distasteful in a 'stay in the kitchen' way, or a 'you're ruining it for the rest of us' way, or a 'my god I did not realize people still thought about politics and society like that' sort of way; why are we so afraid of holding these male monarchs accountable for their own mistakes? A number of the women metioned above were often very flawed personalities and were more than a little responsible for their own problems - but why the habit of blaming the failures of the men, and in some cases the collapse of whole political systems, on them? Most of the kings and emperors metioned above often held their political views well before they married, there were plenty of others at court and in government who also shared similar views, and it is a good way of sweeping a number of other problems under the carpet, like economic change, structural issues in politics, poor decision making and unstable international climate. Systemic failure goes bigger than one person but some people have more responsibility than others - what's wrong with putting the accountability where it belongs?
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Old 08-25-2016, 04:51 AM
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I guess you can also include Wallis Simpson, later Duchess of Windsor:
  • If she hadn't 'seduced' David there would never have been an abdication crisis.
  • If she hadn't been his mistress he may have been knuckled down,worked hard and been crowned King.
  • If she had fallen on her (hubby's) sword and left for the US then Edward wouldn't have abdicated.
  • If she wasn't a Nazi sympathiser the Windsors would never have made the infamous "Royal Tour" of Nazi Germany.
  • If she hadn't mixed with the "enemy" David would never have given away state secrets to the German Ambassador.
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Old 08-25-2016, 08:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MARG View Post
I guess you can also include Wallis Simpson, later Duchess of Windsor:
  • If she hadn't 'seduced' David there would never have been an abdication crisis.
  • If she hadn't been his mistress he may have been knuckled down,worked hard and been crowned King.
  • If she had fallen on her (hubby's) sword and left for the US then Edward wouldn't have abdicated.
  • If she wasn't a Nazi sympathiser the Windsors would never have made the infamous "Royal Tour" of Nazi Germany.
  • If she hadn't mixed with the "enemy" David would never have given away state secrets to the German Ambassador.
If she had not failed at marriage twice, she might have been a more acceptable consort. Off topic, but I am always amazed that having failed twice, her third marriage stuck.
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Old 08-25-2016, 08:55 AM
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Who else would of afforded her that lifestyle? Not talking money...but position and access.


LaRae
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Old 08-28-2016, 04:15 AM
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A quote from The Fall of Heaven about Princess Ashraf (who died early this year)

Quote:
no member of the Pahlavi family aroused more public animosity than princess Ashraf. The CIA described Ashraf as one of her brother's "most ambitious supporters and one of his major liabilities during most of his career." A after her brother consolitiated power in the mid sixties the princess's interests moved from politics to business and she entered into a series of highly lucrative business partnerships to build residential and commercial developments. The princess "has not hesitated to use her influence to obtain government contracts for her friends or aquitances willing to pay her a fee. In recent years...she has no longer demands a pay-off from contractors but only comments that she would be happy to rely on them should it ever be necessary." Though reports of her involvement in the drug trade were based on "scanty evidence" they too had become "a fixture in the catalogue of charges against the Pahlavi's."

The CIA report was based on the usual Tehran tittle-tattle and contained few if any proven facts and even less ordinal analysis. Talk of the Princess's influence was vastly exaggerated, not only in government but also in her charity work. Much of the enmity directed at female members of the Pahlavi family in particular orininated with men troubled with their influence in a consecutive Muslim male dominated society. Everyone who knew Ashraf attested to her humor, passion for life, and above all her devotion to her brother [Mohammed Reza]. Her extensive patronage of charities and philanrophy mainly reflected her staunch support for woman's rights, a cause that stirred resent from the ulama. The princess built a powerful network of loyalists within the regime who kept her informed at all times. Yet there was no doubting her tenacious opinionated personality or her business acumen. Her intrigues against the queen [Farah], whose liberal tendencies she distrusted, caused so much havoc that in the late sixties her brother, who usually retreated from personal confrontations, sent her into exile to cool off. She returned to find her influence art court greatly diminished and Farah in the ascendant.
Andrew Scott Cooper The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavi's and the Fall of Imperial Iran, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2016, p 153

Ashraf's an interesting case as she wasn't a wife or mother of a monarch, but a sister as sisters often don't get much of a look in. Although Farah and the Shahs other wives had their detractors, they were never as unpopular as his sisters.
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Old 08-28-2016, 04:41 AM
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What a fascinating subject.
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