Unhappy Families

Let’s face it, there are a lot of dysfunctional, strange, and deeply unhappy families in my Colplatschki books. Elizabeth von Sarmas’s mother is a lovely example of how not to mother a child, Matthew Charles Malatesta grows up with a distant mother, a distant father, then no father, and a guardian with a warped view of women that gets passed on to Count Matthew. Aquila and Marie von Starland stay together for dynastic and political reasons instead of love. In the next three books, Pjtor Svendborg’s family life is closer to a bad soap opera than a group of people you look forward to seeing, and Kiara Castello’s mother makes the proverbial “Hollywood mother” look thoughtful, retiring, and charming. What’s going on?

I drew the families of the characters from historical precedents. And if you start looking, you’ll find a lot of examples of horrible warnings in dynastic histories. Brothers killing brothers, sisters trying to bump brothers out of the succession, Mattias Corvinus of Hungary ended up marrying the daughter of the man who executed Mattias’s older brother, everyone knows about Queen Elizabeth I’s parents, Kaiser Wilhelm II had relatives trying to “toughen him up,” the less said about Prince Eugen von Savoy’s mother the better (although Louis XIV gets a large helping of credit), and Margaret of the Tirol ended up locking her husband out of the castle because he wouldn’t do what husbands are supposed to do. And this is not touching the problems of the Habsburg and Wittlesbach family trees that have remarkably few branches. Or Ivan IV of Russia accidentally killing his son and starting the chain of events leading to the Time of Troubles. It is easy to get the idea that no one in the historical record of Europe had a normal, well-adjusted family.

Except that’s not true. There are a goodly number of cases of families that got along, of couples that were deeply in love with each other and faithful (Maria Theresa and her husband for example. They scandalized their children), of siblings that worked together, of good parents. They just don’t make the history books, because their un-exciting family relationships didn’t cause strife and woe. We historians have trouble selling books where nothing exciting happens, so we tend to “skip the boring bits” and focus on the scandals, wars, murders, and other stuff.

And we moderns, who are used to companionate marriages, just don’t get early modern expectations. You were not expected to love your spouse in the sense of “wuv, twue wuv.” You got along, you worked together for the good of the family/kingdom/empire, you ignored certain kinds of behavior and if you did happen to become rather fond of each other, that was a delightful bonus. If not, you faked it when necessary and then stayed out of each other’s way.

That sounds horrible. It wasn’t to them, not entirely. Yes, it was not ideal and most people knew it, but when you are a Habsburg princess, you knew what your life was going to be like from day one and dealt with it accordingly. Truly abusive spouses tended to get their comeuppance, at least in the few cases I’ve come across in my studies.

For whatever reason, the individuals who inspire the Colplatschki books had lousy family lives, at least in part. But if you look around, others settle down and find, if not happiness and bliss, then a good relationship with someone they can trust and who is friendly. Even Aquila and Marie make it work and are a good team, if not an exemplary couple. Marta de Sarm finds happiness. Sister Odile’s family is pretty normal and content. Several of the Babenburgs make wonderful matches. And then there’s the Kos Peilov and his family . . . Hey, it works.

And I’m just the author. What do I know about my character’s loves and passions?


Historical pattern or what gets recorded?


One thought on “Unhappy Families

  1. Yesterday I watched a ten worst parents in anime video from the ‘Anime America’ youtube channel.

    If the narrator is representative of the younger generations, I have some hope for their values.

    Stories I’ve heard from Huns and ‘Flies support the idea that some of these anime bad parents are realistic. Or at least not too exaggerated. Then there is the example of Breen and Bradley.

    Quibbles with the video: Nodoka Saotome was also a piece of work. Yui Ikari stage managed the ‘accident’, and deliberately made sure Shinji would witness it. I understand that it is canon that immortality was her true goal.

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