Being a woman is not always easy, but I can safely say that there is only one thing worse than giving birth nowadays: giving birth in the 16th century. No epidural, no advanced medicine, high mortality rate… It’s not just that half the people born didn’t make it to age 16, it’s that more times than you would want, giving birth meant you could die. Hell, it was basically a nine-month wait on death row! I get the shivers just by writing this.
If the previous episode was all about my pal François losing people he cared about, this time his main concern is his health. Because, not so surprisingly, he has syphilis -of course he does. His son Henri, who seems to be more inclined towards making peace than war, suggests Leonor to tend to her husband to gain his affection and promote peace between him and her brother. And so that’s what he does, my staying by his bedside and taking care of him.
But oh my, hahaha. Since François is supposed to be meeting with Carlos in Aigues-Mortes to discuss the Turkish and Protestant threats and how to defeat them by working together, he requires Leonor’s assistance in the beauty department. Allow me to explain: apparently, the way to treat syphilis in the 16th century was to perform some odd trepanation in the head, which required a patient to shave off their head completely. Imagine what that means for someone as vain and egocentric as François! So obviously, he refuses to wear a bandage around his head, which leads to Leonor cutting her own hair to make a wig for him. A wig that, by the way, he loves, but oh my, I couldn’t stop laughing –it looked so ridiculous! Even the actor playing him, Alfonso Bassave, acknowledged in the behind the scenes special that everyone on set laughed at him whenever he wore it.
But anyway. Leonor promises him that she will try to convince Carlos to give back the Duchy of Milan, as long as he promises to finally bed her so that she can have a child. Just imagine how hard it must be for a 40-year-old woman back them to get pregnant –pretty much impossible. And of course, after Suleiman threatens François to take action if the French monarch allies with Carlos to fight him, he backs off and stops every pretention he had. Quite sad, if you think of it. But be happy to know that François will have his own hair back for next episode.
Hernán Cortés, as I mentioned last time, is getting old, and I think it is quite clear that his time as a powerful conqueror is long gone. Now, he should just rest and let others do the work. But do you think he agrees with this? Of course not!
After his return from an expedition in which he has found new land but no wealth, the viceroy decides to put a stop to Cortés’s adventures and send other people in the future, even though it is Cortés who has the right to conquer new land, and no other explorers. Unfortunately for him, in the middle of all this he meets Bartolomé de las Casas, who continues his quest to free the native slaves and writes to the Pope to complain about it. As the Pope replies with a bull that abolishes slavery, the viceroy fools both Bartolomé and Cortés by hiding it, and making it public only after a new expedition has set sail without Cortés. This way, he has managed to keep Cortés away from new conquests and has made sure that the new land will not apply the Pope’s new measures. Tricky bastard. And angry as hell, Cortés decides to return to Castile to complain about this, but not before doing a very dramatic move with his horse in the most cinematic way possible.
“I want peace!” is what Carlos shouts three times at the end of his speech in front of the new Pope, Paulo III, and he does it in Spanish, by the way. He has won the Turk in Tunisia and begs the Pope to help him keep peace with François so that they can fight the infidel together.
And as Carlos returns to his court, things have been busy. In the summer of 1535, Isabel has a new daughter, Juana (who would eventually marry her cousin –shocking- João Manuel of Portugal). By the way, before I go on, Isabel did give birth to another child, Juan, in 1537, but he died a few months later, so it makes sense for the narrative of the series that they haven’t included this one.
But anyway, after the birth of Juana, Tavera informs Isabel that he has been talking to the physicians, and since they are a bunch of know-nothings who can only shrug and say “it’s in the hands of God” whenever someone has an ill-threatening disease, he tells her that she cannot get pregnant again, for it would certainly mean her death. Remember that this is the 16th century, so the only way she can be sure she won’t get pregnant is by not having sex at all. Do you think she will be able to do that? We’ll get to that.
The big family meeting when Carlos returns takes place in Tordesillas, where his mother is joined by Isabel and the children. Don’t forget that Isabel is still extremely angry at Carlos for taking off to lead the troops in Tunisia without saying a word to her, so she tells him off, big time –which is also helpful, because that way she can be certain that they won’t have sex. But we know it won’t last forever, and as Carlos’s mother tells him, he should keep that woman close and take care of her.
Finally at court, the marriage’s quarrel is interrupted by the sudden disease of 12-year-old Felipe, who has a fever that almost costs him his life. It is only after the danger has passed –and Isabel realises that it is her duty to provide more heirs, even if she dies- that the couple reconcile and tear each other’s clothes and get down to business. Poor Isabel almost confesses to Carlos that she cannot do it because of the danger it entails, but in the end she is just like “screw it, I love you”, and gets pregnant right away. There you go.
Well, Carlos doesn’t actually know that he is going to be a father again, but he has to rush to Aigues-Mortes to meet François, so Isabel is left alone for a while. She then informs the court that she is pregnant again, which is followed by what I thought was quite riveting: a close shot of Isabel’s face as she walked out of the main room, lost in her thoughts and worries –something similar would happen later with Francisco de Borja, and it got me in tears.
Oh my, what comes afterwards is not too great. When Carlos returns and finds out Isabel is pregnant, he is ecstatic. That is, of course, until Tavera informs him of what might happen. It is then that the preterm birth takes place, in what seemed like a painful and horrible experience. Poor Carlos stood by his wife the entire time, but there was nothing to do. The baby is stillborn and Isabel is certainly going to die. But I am not sure: is it because of a haemorrhage? Is there something wrong inside her? Some infection? I honestly had no idea, but by then, I was completely in tears, so who cares.
A pale and weak Isabel, with only a few moments to live, makes sure she gets to say goodbye to her three children and her loyal Borja, and then is left alone with Carlos, who comforts her, and swears that he will never marry again. She then asks him to hug her so that she can feel him close to her. We get a shot of Carlos hugging his wife with his head on her stomach. Suddenly, she is not making a sound. He looks up and realises that she is gone, and that is when the heartbreak begins. A desolate Carlos cries out while holding his wife’s dead body, and it is the job of the Duke of Alba and Tavera to grab him so that he can let go of her, but all Carlos does is crumple like a boy whose strength has been taken away from him. Oh, it hurts just to remember it.
And then there’s the procession all the way to Granada, led by Francisco de Borja and prince Felipe. It was a two-week journey from Toledo to the south of Spain, and it was the middle of the summer, so when the coffin is open so that Borja can testify that it is indeed the empress who lays there, the show was faithful to what the saint actually said:
“I cannot swear that this is the empress, but I do swear that it is her corpse we are laying here. And I also swear to never again serve a master who may die.”
Oh God. I’m crying again.
So if you are wondering why Carlos did like his grandfather Fernando and didn’t join his wife’s funeral procession to Granada, it’s because he isolated himself from the world and hid in the monastery of Santa María de Sisla in Toledo. Don’t be shocked if I tell you that this event will be a turning point in Carlos’s life.
Now we will have to wait until after Christmas to see what happens in the last 19 years of Carlos’s life in the four remaining episodes. There’s still so much to tell! And beware, because after the break, all the child-slash-tween actors will have been replaced by adults! It’s going to be so weird to see Felipe and Henri all grown up. And we will get to witness three of Felipe’s weddings.
Of course, don’t miss El Mundo de Carlos (this time it’s a joined Behind the Scenes of this episode and the previous one). So much to learn, as always. See you in January!