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‘Reign’ and the don system

 Prince Don Carlos of Austria, son of Philip II of Spain. Portrait by Alonso Sánchez Coello, circa 1558, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado

Prince Don Carlos of Austria, son of Philip II of Spain. Portrait by Alonso Sánchez Coello, circa 1558, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado

Well, things are heating up on the CW’s “Reign” now that Catherine de’ Medici, the mother-in-law from hell, is back in her son Francis II’s somewhat good graces. Meanwhile, the plot thickens across the Channel as Elizabeth I entertains Don Carlo, heir to Philip II of Spain, as a possible husband – throwing the tortured triangle of herself, her soul mate Robert Dudley and Dudley’s scheming wife Amy into sharp relief along with Elizabeth’s ambivalence toward marriage. Good stuff.

In reality, Don Carlo – the subject of an equally fanciful opera by Verdi, “Don Carlos” – was not the dashing, romantic figure of Verdi or the TV series but a deranged hunchback who may have been killed by his own father, who was in tur once Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, the husband of her sister and predecessor “Bloody Mary” Tudor. And to make things even cozier, Philip ended up marrying Elizabeth Valois, daughter of Catherine de’ Medici and BFF of her sister-in-law, and Francis’ wife, Mary, Queen of Scots.

I see the series is prolonging the inevitable, Francis’ death, by resorting to herbs and witchcraft for the brain infection he’s dying of. (Yeah, that’ll work.)

The irony: If the series only stuck to history – and got rid of the secondary characters, the witches, mistresses and ex-lovers – it would be more entertaining.

For instance, though Don Carlo never wooed Elizabeth in person, the Duke of Alençon did and he came very close to winning her with his youth and charm.

But that’s a later story in Elizabeth’s reign for another day.

By the way, Alençon was the youngest brother of Francis and thus, youngest son of Catherine de’ Medici. So Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth – first cousins once removed and rivals – might’ve been sisters-in-law.

Truth and history are indeed stranger than fiction.