Silvio Berlusconi in the 21st century?
My brother Francesco I in the 16th?
Why do you hate women so much?
My brother was a misogynist and a misanthrope who took pleasure in senseless murders and torture. I do not forgive him. I shouldn't even speak his name. But whether it is the monster, or my beloved babbo, Cosimo I, or my cousin Lenora and I, how much is any of us a product of some essential essence or persona or soul, and how much are we a product of our time?
Isabella / Lenora
I can tell you without reservation or false romanticism that I'd rather live in your 21st century than in my own 16th. Sure, we should talk about all the progress you haven't made, yet the simple truth is that more women have more choices and more possibilities in their lives in 2014 than in 1564.
As for 1564? Well, it sucked. But I don't think you can judge Lenora or I, or my father, or the monster, by 2014 standards. It's picking one bit out of a cultural matrix and dropping it in an entirely different matrix. I think the only insight that makes real sense is to compare the 16th century to the 16th century.
Mom & Dad: Eleonora di Toledo & Cosimo I de' Medici
16th Century Feminist?
To me, Cosimo I, Lenora, and I, were all feminists, or proto-feminists. Compared to the 21st or 20th centuries, we wouldn't be. But if you look at our lives, activities, and work, I think the label makes sense for our world.
Today I consider myself a vegetarian. Yet in the 16th century hunting was a favorite pastime of mine. Am I simply delusional? What I'm trying to do is to find some irreducible essence of Isabela, if there is such a thing. It is probably an impossibly romantic notion, but allow me to make my case.
For sure, being murdered by your husband, at your brother's command, and just 5 days after your cousin Lenora was murdered by her husband, also by my brother's command, that can really change your perspective on a lot. If that isn't a wake up call...
Yes, in the 16th century I was a hunter. Yes, I ate meat. But that was before the Damascene experience of my father's death and my brother the monster's ascension to Grand Duke of Tuscany.
In fact, my father could be a violent man. He was swift, and ruthless. He had enemies beheaded. But I can honestly say that he never did any of those things "unnecessarily." He did what was necessary for the good of Florence, and to be sure, for the good of the Medici family. When, for example, the edict came down to segregate the Jews, my father said,
Bullshit, we're not doing that.
My brother the misogynist
By contrast, my brother used murder and torture not for any sort of "greater good," but simply for sport, entertainment, and perverse pleasure. We don't have to look to 21st century values. We can compare the 16th century to the 16th century and see my brother for the misanthrope he was and my father, in the context of his time, for the progressive ruler he was. As was done in the 16th century, my father enslaved me in a horrific marriage. Yet he also empowered women in ways that no one at that time did. Again, by contrast to my brother, the progressive inclusion of my father becomes clear.
my sister Bia died at 6, my brother Giovanni at 18
5 hours after my father's death my brother had my father's beloved wife Cammilla Marteli locked in a convent. She was never allowed out until after my brother's death. 2 years after my father's death my brother murdered his sister and his cousin, 5 days apart, and both at the hands of their husbands, under my brother's command. He continued to torture and murder even after our deaths.
11 years after the murders of Lenora and I, my brother Ferdinando poisoned Francesco. So much Medici murder. It would be nice to think that Ferdinando was avenging Cammilla, Lenora, and I, yet the interval of a decade makes this conclusion difficult. Under Francesco's irresponsible and cruel lack of governance both the tax rate and the murder rate in Florence climbed ever higher. There was literally chaos in the streets of our fair city. The Medici had become an ever more complicated family, and who was loyal to whom, a protracted consideration. Perhaps Ferdinando finally acted because of my brother's rape of the one "lady" that every Medici, save for Francesco, loved, Florence itself.
In the 16th century "medicine" involved leeches and blood-letting. In the 21st that's just dumb. So, with the wisdom of time-travel, and the Dickensian-like vision of a future that came to pass, I choose now to extract myself from this cycle. I recently wrote about Militarism, Patriarchy, and Slaughtering Animals and how they have led me to become a vegetarian. To seek another way of being in this world separate from the violence of self-promotion.
The Sustainable Princess
Yes, I was a princess. For a time I lived a privileged life. I deny none of it. Yet I also studied the humanities. I liked a good conversation. I liked a good party. I liked a beautiful mind. My short, unfulfilled life had both privilege and loss. To now fulfill my journey I seek to become something different. To take less. To be more.
I am some resurrected bit of essence of of a privileged princess who had everything she valued taken away and everyone she loved die or murdered. Once my father was gone, I lived only 2 more years. Francesco lived 11 more years after murdering me. Only Cammilla (and Ferdinando) lived long enough to once more see Florence without Francisco. She outlived him by 3 years.
Isabella 1564 / Isabella 2014
Who knows how the 26th century might remember the 21st. I hope I can use 500 years of perspective to live a wiser life than the one I was dealt in the 16th century. Back then I did have a lot of fun for a time. But it was the only possibility open in a time of scarce possibilities. The greatest thing about the future is how abundant with possibilities it is.