a Cinderella story, Ever After, and the history of some French royalty

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A few days ago my kids and I watched the movie Ever After, with Drew Barrymore. It was interesting. It is a Cinderella story, rewritten to take out any mention of magic and referring to Cinderella as Danielle. Its primary focus is on folktale and not history and yet the movie includes a few tantalizing little details meant to try to suggest that the story could be historical. Cinderella Story Ever After, and the history of a French queen or two.

The story features Leonardo Da Vinci. It also identifies the king as Francis and the son as Henry, and the kingdom as France. Since Francis I of France did invite Leonardo Da Vinci to his kingdom, and he had a son named Henry, we can assume the story is about that family, except the movie isn’t about them. Henry II was a tiny baby when Leonardo Da Vinci died. They erase Henry’s older brother, the dauphin, completely but more troubling is the question of who Cinderella would be if Henry II was Prince Charming.

One of the books I have been reading, because it is tangentially connected with pirates, is a book about Catherine De Medici. She was Queen of France, married to Henry II. Like Cinderella she was orphaned and had a rough childhood. Unlike Cinderella, Catherine’s marriage was arranged by her uncle, Pope Clement VII. He died before he could fulfill some of the promises included as a part of her dowry, creating a bit of a bump at the beginning of her marriage. Can I stretch my imagination enough to picture her as Cinderella? Not entirely, since she was by no means the love of Henry II’s life.

Henry II had a mistress named Diana. Like Cinderella, Diana was not part of the nobility. Henry II gave her a duchy so she wouldn’t have to stand all that far behind his wife in line at formal events. She helped raise the royal children and was honored at court. Could the use of the name Danielle for Cinderella be a nod towards Diana? But Diana never became Henry’s wife.

In some ways the idea of a Cinderella queen would apply more to the wife of one of Henry II’s sons, Henry IIII. Henry III married Louise de Vaudmont, though even that story has the disadvantage that Louise de Vaudmont was probably chosen because of her resemblance to a married (and then deceased) woman he had loved. According to James Westfall Thompson in The Wars of Religion in France 1559 – 1576  “the marriage was without political significance – indeed the new queen was of so little station that Catherine de Medici, in a letter to Queen Elizabeth, expressed her humiliation at her son’s marriage.” (496) But that is a later time period, longer after Leonardo Da Vinci’s death. That marriage also took place during a time of chronic civil war.

Ever After is a weird mix. It mentions chocolate as a new thing brought by the Spanish. It has Cinderella quoting Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.  Prince Henry is shown playing tennis, something he did like to play. There’s a joke about how divorce is just something the English do, a reference to the English king

In a dialogue about a peasant being sold it mentions he will be sent overseas with Cartier to America. On Cartier’s third voyage a Huguenot (Protestant) named Roberval was supposed to be in charge, though Roberval was delayed in going. Roberval had “criminals and malefactors” with him. I suspect Cartier might have too. I know fifty some years later a French nobleman on his way to attempt to colonize New France dropped forty convicts on an island off of Nova Scotia so that he could search for a decent colony site with only his more trust worthy crew members. A storm blew up and he ended up returning to France without the convicts, only eleven of which survived to be rescued five years later.

The movie even has a very slim mention of religion:

Henry: “Do you not attend church?”
Danielle: “My faith is better served away from the rabid crowds.”

Henry: “Yes, I’m afraid my father’s edict has created quite… a phenomenon.”

While the plot purpose of the conversation is to explain how the two were alone, it is possible that the conversation is also a slight nod to the growth of Protestantism and the edicts limiting it. Francis I was somewhat sympathetic to Protestantism, but it was still persecuted in France during his time. His sister Marguerite was Protestant.

The filmmakers of Ever After choose a period of time in history and erased everything inconvenient, wiping away most of history but then still tried to insist it is history by using the few names and details that would place it. Its a very odd combination, but actually not bad for starting conversation with children about the real historical figures, despite how little the history matches with the movie characters.

There are a couple of stories about Henry II that might particularly interest those children who don’t mind stories of hardship and gore. King Francis was captured by the Spanish and held prisoner. Eventually it was arranged that he would leave his oldest two children as hostages while he carried out the terms of a treaty. He broke his promise, leaving Henry and his older brother imprisoned for a number of years. The forty servants they had brought with them into captivity were sold as galley slaves and eventually captured by pirates. When the young princes were released their father complained that they was to sullen and not cheerful enough!

It was when the princes were released from prison that they gained a step-mother, Eleanor of Austria, sister of the Emperor who had put their father and then them into prison. When Henry VIII of England died a lady ran into Queen Eleanor’s chamber saying “We have lost our chief enemy!” and the Queen broke down crying thinking that the lady had meant her brother the Emperor. She was relieved to discover it was Henry VIII of England who had died.

Henry II’s daughter Elisabeth was married to Philip II of Spain after the death of Philip’s second wife, Mary of England. During the celebrations Henry participated in a jousting competition and was fatally injured.

Discussion Questions:

  • What do you make of the section of Sir Thomas More quoted in the story?
    “If you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
    Do you agree or disagree with the idea?
  • Do you think a Spanish princess would dare to cry at her wedding? Is the desire to marry someone you love one innate in humans or could a person be raised to view a prestigious marriage as more important?
  • What kind of personality does Cinderella have in this version?

More notes about using Ever After for educational purposes are available at this other website, though it is inaccurate about the mention of French slaves in the Americas. (My source for information on that topic is a book called The Trail of the Huguenots in Europe, the United States, South Africa and Canada by G. Elmore Reaman.

If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in my post about the Borgia family or Caterina Sforza.

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