Reexamining Calanthe, The Lioness of Cintra

If there’s one thing that the Netflix adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series does exceptionally well, it’s convincing you that the characters in it are exactly who they look like at first glance. Queen Calanthe of Cintra is a prime example of this considering how honorless she looks on the surface versus who she turns out to be in the novels. Over the course of the “A Question of Price”, one of the various short stories in The Last Wish, the third book in the series, Queen Calanthe is steadily revealed to be a lot more than the sum of her faults.

The Netflix adaptation depicts Calanthe as someone you hate to love. Despite being a badass, warrior queen who stays cool both on the battlefield or in royal court, Queen Calanthe does her best to make all of the right decisions for her people– except for the ones that would ultimately lead to their deaths. 

Did refusing to give Ciri to Geralt wind up costing a majority of the kingdom horrible, horrible deaths? Yes, but if the viewers are honest with themselves then most of them would realize that they would do the exact same thing. She had already entrusted one of the girls that she raised to a stranger and she wound up dying before her time. Then one day another stranger comes out of the blue asking her to do the same thing? 

The swagger that rolls off of Jodhi May in the role of Queen Calathe is the swagger of a woman who knows that the best hands are her own. That being said, unless she knows without a doubt that someone could take better care of her family than she can, she’s not likely to entrust their safety to strangers ever again.

When it comes to The Lioness of Cintra, one has to wonder why critics are so stuck on her failures instead of at least acknowledging the fact that she can make them. 

There are already few fantasy works that include a powerful, in-your-face woman in a position of power, let alone ones that give them the creative space to make mistakes like actual human beings. Although she wasn’t a main character in the show, watching her get things wrong made her feel like a well rounded character and she didn’t even appear in the majority of the episodes.

It’s not exactly like Calanthe was even a “bad” queen. So many people wrote her off morally after she asked Geralt to “take care of” Paetta’s super secret boyfriend, but is it really so unreasonable for her to not want to honor her dead, dirtbag husband’s word to give her child to a complete stranger with a hedgehog head? If you were the ruler of a kingdom, would you really be okay with one of your successors having a hedgehog head?

The queen is a just ruler of Cintra until the very end. In fact, as Nilfgaard stormed her castle in the Netflix adaptation, Queen Calanthe opts to kill herself by throwing herself out of a window instead of taking the poison that the guards distributed to the nobles barricaded in the castle. Considering that The Lioness was prepared to sacrifice her own daughter’s happiness for the good of the kingdom, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the queen chose to hurl herself to her death rather than use a poison that could save even one of her subjects from an incredibly painful and prolonged death at the hands of Nilfgaard.

Calanthe was so fiercely loyal to her subjects that her subjects could ask anything of her and if it wasn’t a necessity to her or her family then she would give it up without a second’s hesitation. Ciri, Pavetta, and Eist may have held the largest parts of her heart captive, but they all came second as often as possible to the citizens of Cintra, even if it didn’t always look like it.

Her only, beloved granddaughter would still get spanked like other kids if she misbehaved. If Ciri were to grow up and try to rule after being coddled her whole childhood then she would surely lead Cintra to its ruin. Even when the love of Calanthe’s life was shot and killed in front of her very eyes, The Lioness only took seconds to express her grief before rallying the rest of her forces and retreating.

Much like Queen Elizabeth I, Calanthe was also swarmed with suitors; however, with marriage came the possibility that she would be forced to give up most (if not all) of her power to her male spouse. When it became more convenient to be married than to not be is when the queen finally gave in, harnessing her youth to the lowly Duke de Salm (who didn’t have any better prospects). So naturally when she found Eist Tuirseach of Skellige, who laid down his own life to protect her unconscious body from falling debris during Pavetta’s betrothal, it was a pretty big deal for her. 

Clearly Queen Calanthe made the right choice since she and Eist wound up married for 13 years before dying on the same day. During all of that time Eist never once attempts to make a play for even an iota of her power, and in the Netflix adaptation he actually comes off as nonchalant about his royal duties. The love between the two was so great that when Calanthe died, the people of Skellige erected a monument to her and put it beside Eist’s final resting place since her body was never found.

Over the entirety of The Witcher franchise Queen Calanthe Fiona Riannon of Cintra has been known for many things: winning her first major battle at 15, her beauty, her ferocity, her bravery, being one half of love everlasting in every sense of the word. Hopefully from now on among the real world, “Witcher” fans, Calanthe should be known as: a trailblazer of modernity and feminism in a fantasy series, an uncharacteristically well-rounded character, a human being with our same capacity for making human mistakes, the biggest Cintra devotee to ever exist and a damn good queen.

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