There is nothing worse than realising that your body strength is abandoning you, even if your brain is still working perfectly fine. Although to be fair, if that happened to me, I would also lock myself from the world and leave everyone else to deal with the aftermath of my doings, ala Luke Skywalker.
Bear with me, because for this episode and the following one I’m going to be jumping from one place to another.
I will start by paying a quick visit to France, where only a few things happen, but all of them are crucial to the story. It all starts with the battle of Metz, in which the Spaniards lose because Carlos is a bit stubborn and refuses to withdraw, something that results in the deaths of hundreds of his soldiers –imagine how angry Alba gets when this happens. The key thing here is that Carlos realises that he is not fit to fight anymore, but that is something Henri notices as well.
In fact, the French monarch can only think about destroying Carlos (like father…), but Montmorency tries to talk some sense into him and stop him from trying to invade Naples. Henri is extremely stubborn, though, and ignores his advisor when he suggests an alliance with Felipe to stop the nonsense that has been going on with their fathers for over forty years. Don’t be too shocked when Henri ignores everything Montmorency does to secure the peace between the kings. Pointless.
You know what else can be pointless? Reasoning with Carlos. At least, that is what Carlos’s BFF (in a manly way) Alba must have thought for the past decades of his life, because there is no way of convincing Carlos that he has done something wr… oh wait, Carlos agrees with Alba that not retreating was a mistake! Surely, something must have changed in Carlos’s mind, because he starts thinking about abdicating, just like Charlemagne did. There is just one problem: he can’t do it until his mother Juana dies, because she is technically the queen of Spain. Problems, problems.
And while Carlos is all obsessed with his secret idea of abdicating, his son Felipe is in Spain being very grumpy and frowning about his father’s stupid decisions –when it comes to scheming, at least.
As Felipe tells Francisco de Borja, he doesn’t agree with his father’s decisions, like the stupidity at Metz, when Felipe had basically emptied the Spanish chests to give his father the money he needed. He loves his father, but he doesn’t respect him as a monarch anymore. Yikes! Borja, being the wise man that he is, advises the young prince to help out his father and be nice all around – which Felipe already is, but anyway. What does Felipe do? He goes to visit his grandmother, Juana, in Tordesillas.
You see, poor Juana is already dying, because she is in her seventies, which is such an odd age to reach in the 16th century. It is one of the many heartbreaking Juana scenes of this episode. On this occasion, she looks at her grandson to exclaim that he is “the one who is named after him, and who possesses his gallantry.” Oh Juana, still obsessed with your ass of a husband.
But in case you haven’t noticed, Felipe is a very sensitive young man who grew with the scar of losing his mother and the devastating effect it had on his father. So when Felipe sees a portrait of his cousin Maria, daughter of Leonor, he decides that he must marry her and make things right, and starts by breaking up with Isabel de Osorio, who doesn’t buy this at all and is convinced that Felipe will eventually return to her. Well, Felipe tried, at least –you see, he wants to be a faithful husband, just like his father was.
Flanders court (again)
So then off to Flanders Felipe goes! He arrives with lots of money to help his father, and finds him way too ill and tired and that scares Felipe a little bit. But then Felipe lets his father know that he is making sensible decisions for the kingdom and wants to marry Maria, to which his father agrees. You know who doesn’t agree so much? Leonor, who is frightened because she thinks her daughter will hate her for leaving her in Portugal –which is not really Leonor’s fault, because she was sent away and forced to leave her daughter, and then was forced to marry my pal François, so there is nothing she can do. But anyway, she decides she needs to redeem her soul and there is only one way to do it, and that is to see her mother, who did the exact same thing to her children. Things never change.
But back to Carlos and Felipe, there is something the prince doesn’t like about his father that he doesn’t want to repeat during his reign, and that is his father’s ability to force everyone to do as he says without asking if they want to do it in the first place. You see, Felipe’s plans to marry his cousin Maria go south when Carlos learns that the king of England, Edward VI, has died, leaving Carlos’s cousin Mary Tudor as the new queen –and a catholic one! So of course Carlos instantly orders Felipe to marry Mary. Felipe doesn’t like this one bit. Carlos tries to minimise the damage by giving Naples to his son (the beginning of his abdication), but that is not exactly helping.
So off Alba goes to England to talk the new queen into marrying young Felipe! It seems like the Tudor queens were not much into the idea of marriage, and who can blame them, having witnessed their father’s life. Mary seems a bit reluctant, but the moment Alba shows her a portrait of Felipe that Titian painted, she is instantly smitten. I mean, she is a 38-year-old virgin who has spent most of her life locked up –when she is shown that life-size portrait of her handsome Spanish groom-to-be, she can’t help but be excited.
And when the real Felipe arrives in court in July 1554, she even acts like a teenager –it’s sort of the way his grandmother Juana acted like when she met her husband, the archduke Felipe. Mary is so into her toyboy husband, and yet Felipe feels the exact opposite: not only because he is 27 and she is 38, but because she is going to treat him as a regent, which to Felipe is synonymous with ‘puppet’.
And then Alba suggests something I don’t entirely agree with, but can be justified because Felipe is really nice: the duke tells the Spanish prince to sweet-talk the Tudor queen, which sounds oddly similar to what Felipe’s grandfather, er, Felipe, did to a young Juana when she arrived in Flanders. But luckily, the Spaniard is a sweetheart and does it in a way that won’t drive poor Mary insane. Although if Mary has something, that is thirst, and you know what kind of thirst I am talking about. Felipe finds what I’d like to think is some sort of 16th century version of a porn movie in Mary’s bedroom, which made me laugh so loud I think I could be heard miles away. So into the ‘act’ is Mary that, before Felipe travels to Flanders summoned by his father, she announces that she is with child. Er…sure.
I would also like to point out that Mary was wearing a dress that was almost identical to the one Isabel of Portugal wore in several episodes. Creepy.
While all this English madness happened, more drama (as usual) was taking place in Spain. Remember how I mentioned that Leonor travelled to Spain to see her mother? Well, she does, and I don’t know if she really was expecting redemption, but she got something similar, I guess. Because Juana recognises what she did in the past was because she didn’t know better and that was the way she was, and that she wasn’t able to love and care for her children because all her love was spent on her stupid husband. That first encounter was a truly devastating scene.
But even more devastating was what came afterwards. In Juana’s final moments, with her daughter Leonor by her side, Borja arrives so that Juana can confess before dying, but she refuses to do it, and replies instead:
“I won’t confess, father. There is nothing I want more than reuniting with my husband, and something tells me he didn’t end up in Heaven. I don’t owe God an explanation, He owes me one, for the existence he made me endure.”
And then she dies. I’m not crying. You’re crying.
Flanders court (yet again)
And if you thought we’d had enough drama for an episode, then you are wrong! Because this is Carlos, Rey Emperador, and said Carlos never has a moment’s rest.
Now that his mother is dead, Carlos is all set to abdicate and leave everything to his son Felipe so that he can go back to Spain and live in a monastery with wide fields and sun and orange juice. But there is a problem, and it is the same one we’ve had for ages: Carlos wants to give everything to Felipe and absolutely nothing to his loyal brother Fernando, who now won’t even speak to him.
Luckily, we know that Carlos is not so stubborn anymore, something his sister María uses to her advantage. She basically tells Carlos that he must think of the family, because if Felipe gets everything, he will have way too many enemies and won’t have the rest of the Habsburgs by his side to support him, but if he gave the empire to Fernando, Felipe’s burden wouldn’t be so heavy, and both uncle and nephew would help each other and, most importantly, the family would remain united and all those lovely things this show has been about from the start: family before absolute power, which is what Carlos eventually gets. Divide and rule, right?
And then comes the big day: on October 25th 1555, Carlos summons everyone to court to make an announcement. To begin with, Felipe gets angry as hell when he sees his cousin Maximilian present, but wait for the best.
Carlos, visibly weaker, starts reading a letter in which he reminisces about his life: his arrival in Spain when he was 17, the fight for the empire, the never-ending frenemity with François (this even made him smile)… In the end, he announces that he is abdicating and that all his possessions will go to his son Felipe, all but the Holy Roman Empire, which will be inherited by his notably-absent brother Fernando. It felt as if this scene was Carlos’s Death Number One, and it was heart-destroying and made me cry like there was no tomorrow.
But then Felipe momentarily killed my mood by getting really angry at his father for not giving him the empire. Luckily for all of us, Felipe is sensible, and when his father explains why he has done it (i.e. to avoid him a huge headache), Felipe understands it and then returns to England, distraught by the idea of never seeing his father again. This made me cry as well.
But you know what I found even sadder? The fact that Fernando couldn’t find it in his heart to visit his brother and say goodbye to him. All the tricks Carlos has played on him seem to have reached a limit, and the now Emperor Fernando I doesn’t seem able to forgive his big brother. Ouch.
And poor Carlos waits and waits and delays his trip back to Spain because he thinks his brother might come to say goodbye, until he has to face the inevitable defeat and decides to leave the Flanders court forever, not before saying a silent goodbye to the place where he was born and where he grew up with his aunt Margarita and his sisters. Wow, this is getting depressing, isn’t it?
English court (quick visit again)
All I will say here is that when the now King Felipe II returns, he is met by an anxious Mary who announces the loss of their unborn child. Sure. Don’t worry, Alba pulls him aside to let him know that there was never a pregnancy. Upon knowing this, Felipe realises that he is never going to have a child with Mary, so he tries to convince her to marry her sister Elizabeth off to a catholic, so that Elizabeth can become her successor and England can stay away from Protestantism. We all know how that ended up.
And thus begins Carlos’s last trip in life, to the monastery of Yuste. It was such a beautiful last scene, so momentous, with Carlos and Francisco de Borja entering the darkness of the monastery, the new life that awaits Carlos, away (sure) from the drama of his reigns. Simply beautiful.
I remember visiting the monastery of Yuste when I was 12 years old. I went there with my school’s summer camp in the year 2000, and the place was simply breathtaking. It was like no time had passed at all –you could even see the rooms where Carlos lived, and the bed to the right of the altar where he would lie down and would attend mass by having the door opened before him. It was quite an experience, and I would recommend anyone who goes to Spain to take a detour and visit Yuste. Also, half the kids in the camp drank from a fountain of undrinkable water on a wall outside the monastery and ended up with severe colic. Idiots (I’m not joking, this actually happened).
Oh no, only one episode left to go! I have already watched it (sad, sad, sad), but I am not psychologically ready to write about it (especially because it is going to be longer than an essay), but wait for it to be published some time later this week!
Note: I found this episode’s direction particularly brilliant, with a motion picture feeling about it. And there were some new music pieces as well –all of them of course made me weep a little.