Monday, October 16, 2017

A Lancastrian Surprise

I have been keeping a little project to myself, but I am excited to share it with you today. The Last Lancastrian: A Story of Margaret Beaufort is available NOW. That's right. No pre-ordering & no waiting. Get a glimpse of Margaret long before she dreamed of a Tudor dynasty in this novella prequel to the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy.

Available now on Kindle for only $0.99!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Historic Places: Wittenberg

It may seem crazy for me to say that Wittenberg was one of my favorite destinations during a trip that included powerhouses like Paris, Florence, and Rome, but there it is. This little town, which one can easily stroll through in under 30 minutes had this Lutheran girl captivated from the moment I stepped off the train to see the building-sized 'Die Bibel' towering over me. Add in a few billboards marketing 'Luther-burgers' and posters shouting 'Luther!' and the anticipation was killing me by the time we reached Lutherhaus.

Maybe I need to back up a bit. For those who do not have an obsession special interest in Martin Luther, the little village of Wittenberg (actually Lutherstadt Wittenberg) is where an unremarkable monk performed an act that would rock the world from its foundations almost exactly 500 years ago. When he nailed his 'Disputation on the Power of Indulgences' - or as they are much better known, the 95 Theses - to the door of Castle Church on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther had no idea what he was getting himself into.

That church and the parish church where Luther spent much of his time preaching still stand in Wittenberg within view of each other and connected by a quaint cobblestone street. The entire area is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. I could go on and on about the history of Martin Luther and the Reformation, but let's just take a look at Wittenberg itself.

Lutherhaus
Upon entering Wittenberg, I had the wondrous sensation of being surrounded by an entire community that was just as enthusiastic about Martin Luther as I was. This doesn't happen in my lovely little hometown in Michigan. Just seeing his name and image everywhere I looked made me smile. What other Lutherans may not even realize is that Luther is known in Germany for more than his epiphany regarding the grace of God. He is widely revered as the father of the modern German language due to his extensive Bible translation work and other writings.

But, I'm getting off course again. Back to Wittenberg . . . .

Lutherhaus is one of the first places you encounter when entering Wittenberg. This former Augustinian monastery was home to Martin Luther when he was a monk and later became his family home, which was generously shared with a large variety of students and visitors. Now, it serves as a Reformation museum and something of a welcoming station for those visiting the village. One of the well-preserved rooms of the house is the living room where Luther held his famous Table Talks. The cozy atmosphere found within this sprawling structure gives life to the real family that lived within these walls.

Other rooms were filled with pamphlets written by Luther, a thick first edition of the Bible translated into German, and even one of Luther's own study Bibles complete with verses underlined by his own hand! We saw 16th century priest's vestments, paintings, and even an old trunk used for carrying all those coins paid for indulgences.

And that was just at Lutherhaus. Due to our time being limited by the train schedule, we had to move on to see the rest of Wittenberg, though I could have spent hours taking in everything that was available here.


St Mary's Church

Continuing in Luther's footsteps along the 'historic mile' takes one past shops featuring every imaginable product with Luther's name or face emblazoned on it. I refrained....mostly. We went home with a Lutheran rose decal for my car, a Martin Luther shot glass, and a bottle of 'Reformator' liquor. Anyway, this walk will also take you past the home of friend of Martin Luther and fellow reformer, Philip Melanchthon. This building is an example of renaissance architecture and holds an exhibit of the Augsburg Confession. The steeples of Luther's parish church of St Mary's can also be seen upon exiting Lutherhaus.

Martin Luther gave hundreds of homilies inside this ancient church. With portions of it dating back to the 12th century, it is the oldest structure in Wittenberg. The key features of the church are the Protestant altarpiece and the baptismal font which was part of the church when Luther's own children were baptized there. This church was also the location of Luther's wedding when he married former nun, Katharina von Bora. 

The Town Hall is only steps away from St Mary's and is home to a large statue of Martin Luther in its courtyard. Philip Melanchthon is also featured here. The pair are also found together near the altar of All Saint's, or Castle Church, the next stop on our trip through Wittenberg.

Castle Church
Walking toward Castle Church, it is obvious that necks are craning and eyes are straining for that first view of The Door. Unfortunately, the door, at least the original one which served as a community bulletin board of the 16th century, no longer exists. A steel door embossed with the words of the 95 Theses now stands in place of the destroyed wooden original. It is no less amazing to stand in front of it and know that this is where the first, maybe only vaguely interested, people stood and read Martin Luther's bold remarks about the corruption in the Catholic church. 

Our tour guide and at least one book that I have read point out that it is unlikely that Luther actually nailed the theses to the door himself as history remembers. While he was not yet the famous figure he would become, Luther was an important man with servants and students to perform menial tasks such as this for him. Or maybe he, sensing that this was an important document that he might need to defend and discuss, did it himself. Does it really matter?

Not to me. I was thrilled just to be standing there.
Inside Castle Church, the air is thick with the cloud of witnesses that have worshiped there. Upon the tower of the church are engraved the words "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God), and one can imagine a congregation, led by Martin Luther himself, singing it with their voices reaching the high arched ceiling above. In Luther's time, this was the new church, having been built in 1506. The graves of Luther and Melanchthon are found near the altar of this church made famous by their work as reformers. When Luther was buried there in 1546, it was Melanchthon who preached at his funeral.

It was such a blessing to visit this amazing town as it was preparing for the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses. If you are ever in Berlin, I highly recommend you hop on the train and make your way to Lutherstadt Wittenberg and spend a day walking in Martin Luther's footsteps.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Surviving the Birth of a Dynasty

Henry VII crowned at Bosworth
Few who had fought in the Wars of the Roses could have foreseen Henry Tudor's rise to the throne of England. He was not even born when the first battles broke out between Richard, Duke of York, and Henry VI. While Tudor may have been viewed as the last hope of the Lancastrians to those who had witnessed the deaths of most of that Plantagenet branch, history has come to view him as the father of a dynasty.

Several key players had to determine how they were going to survive in this new world after years, sometimes decades, of loyalty to York kings and princes. 

One person Tudor was quick to obtain control of was the last of those York princes, Edward of Warwick. His father, George of Clarence, had been convicted of treason and executed by his own brother, King Edward IV, and Edward was only a boy when Tudor became king. Still, the new king understood what a threat Edward and those who might use him for their own purposes posed. Soon after Tudor's arrival in London, he had Edward of Warwick imprisoned in the Tower, where he remained for the remainder of his life.

Henry VII seemed not as concerned about female Yorkists and their descendants. Edward's sister, Margaret, not only remained free, she became a royal ward until Henry had her married to his loyal follower and distant relative, Richard Pole. One of Margaret's sons, Reginald Pole, found particular favor with the king and was supported in his quest for higher education, despite the fact that his claim to England's throne was probably stronger than Henry's was. It was a claim Reginald never tried to press, but the Pole family did later experience more than their fair share of drama under the second Tudor king, Henry VIII.

The greater concern for Henry VII was the daughters of Edward IV. Richard III, the last York king, had died childless (at least without legitimate children), but his brother had left a passel of heirs to worry about. His sons, Edward and Richard (yes, all men in the late 15th century were either Edward, Richard, or Henry), had disappeared/died during the reign of their uncle, and we will not discuss that controversy here. Instead, we will look at what Henry Tudor had to deal with: Edward's five surviving daughters.

Elizabeth of York and her sisters
A solution for the eldest of these daughters had already been proposed. On Christmas Day in 1483, almost two years before his victory at Bosworth, Henry had vowed to marry Elizabeth of York. On January 18, 1486, he made good on that promise, gaining a valuable wife and ally in bringing peace to his kingdom.

Elizabeth's next oldest sister, Cecily, had been married to Ralph Scrope during Richard III's short reign, but Tudor had that marriage annulled in order to match her with loyal Lancastrian (and again distantly related) Viscount John Welles. Cecily did not challenge the king or try his patience until she married without his permission after the death of Welles. He stripped her of her lands and titles, leaving Cecily to survive the birth of the dynasty but live it out in obscurity.

The next York princess, Anne, married Thomas Howard, but died childless. Edward's youngest daughter, Bridget, also posed no threat to the Tudors when she became a nun at a very young age.

Catherine, was the only female of the York line, besides Margaret Pole, to go on to have children who would challenge the Tudor kings (and at least one queen). She was married to William Courtenay whose close relationship to Edmund de la Pole earned him a long visit to the Tower. The de la Poles, Richard, Edmund, and John, were sons of another Elizabeth of York, this one Edward IV's sister rather than his daughter. John de la Pole died fighting against Henry VII at the Battle of Stoke, and Edmund was imprisoned then executed. Only Richard escaped the Tudors to make a life for himself on the Continent. As for the Courtenays, William died shortly after finally being released by Henry VIII, and his son, Henry Courtenay, was executed as part of the alleged Exeter Conspiracy.

The Exeter Conspiracy was also Henry VIII's excuse for ridding himself of Henry Pole, Margaret's oldest son. By then, 1538, Reginald was safely in Rome and her other remaining son, Geoffrey, joined him there after their brother's execution.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Henry Courtenay left a surviving son behind, who was imprisoned but not executed. Edward Courtenay remained in the Tower until the reign of Queen Mary I. She had him released but refused to marry him, so he became the joint focus of rebellions that hoped to place he and Princess Elizabeth on the throne together in place of the Catholic queen. Edward was sent into exile where he died, possibly of poisoning.

Reginald Pole became the most significant member of the York family tree to survive the Tudor dynasty (his sister Ursula also survived, remaining far from court with her husband, Henry Stafford). After outrunning assassins sent after him by Henry VIII, he almost became pope in 1550 and served as Queen Mary's Archbishop of Canterbury during her attempt at counter reformation. He and Mary died on the same day, November 18, 1558.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Historic Places: Berlin

The history of Berlin cannot possibly be summarized in a blog post, so I will simply share what I was able to see during my visit. Since its 13th century founding, Berlin has seen more turmoil and change than most other cities. From its birth as a medieval trading post to the bustling modern metropolis that it is today, Berlin has always claimed an important position at the center of European history.

The Berlin we see today is heavily impacted by World War II and its aftermath. Although Berlin has been reunited since the Berlin Wall was (rather accidentally) opened in 1989, the effects of the separation remain evident. Some portions of the city that were completely destroyed during the war shine with obvious newness, while other areas boast centuries old structures that transport one back to a time long before world wars. This eclectic mix of old and new make Berlin a city with a variety of experiences to offer.

Of course, Berlin, like the rest of Germany, cannot escape its part in World War II, and the city is filled with reminders such as portions of the Berlin Wall, remains of SS headquarters, and Reichstag. Memorials are found throughout the city designating areas where escapes were made or those who were killed are remembered. The history of this area is handled in a sensitive way that does not make excuses or whitewash the past. The Berlin Wall Trail guides you through more than can be taken in during a single day, including the Topographie des Terrors, Checkpoint Charlie, and several artistic displays inspired by the city's history.


The Brandenburg Gate is a wonderful example of Berlin's history and evolution as a city. Built in the late 18th century, this monument was originally intended to demonstrate Prussian supremacy and create an impressive entrance onto the Boulevard Unter den Linden. When Berlin was divided into East and West, those in American/British controlled Berlin could peer into the Soviet controlled section from a raised platform near the Brandenburg Gate, which was itself a part of the wall. It now serves as a symbol of the city's deep roots and unity.


Of course, besides all this great history, Berlin offers the best of German beer & sausage, to die for cocktails, and the wittiest pedestrian crossing signals I have seen (my daughter was especially excited to spot the ampelmannchen she had learned about in German class). Our hotel had a top floor pub that offered fantastic views of the city sprawled out before us. I could see the Pope's Revenge, a gleaming cross that appears when the sun shines on Berlin's Broadcast Tower.  The cross earned this nickname because at the time the tower was built in East Berlin crosses had been removed from the communist controlled city. Today, there is much more that unifies Berlin than divides it.

Due to the briefness of our visit, I was only able to walk through Museum Island and admire the architecture. We did not have time to stroll through the exhibits, which makes Berlin a city that will remain on my 'return to' bucket list. However, I had other priorities during this trip: a day tour to Wittenberg, which was gearing up for the 500th anniversary celebration of the Reformation!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Elizabeth of York on Henry's Great Matter

The Family of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York
I am frequently asked what I believe Elizabeth of York would have thought of her son's Great Matter, which welcomed the Reformation to England though that was far from Henry VIII's intent. As a woman who clung to her faith during turbulent times and who chose peace at great personal cost, how would Elizabeth have advised her son when he planned to rid himself of Katherine of Aragon? It is not a simple question, and, of course, I cannot answer it with certainty, but I can share my thoughts.

Elizabeth's opinions on events that occurred outside her lifetime can be difficult to guess because there are important issues that she did live through that remain mysteries. We do not know how she felt about Richard III or if she plotted to assist Henry Tudor in coming to power. We do not know how she felt about Perkin Warbeck or if she thought he might be her brother, Richard Duke of York. She kept her ideas about the controversies of the day close and submitted to her husband, Henry VII, as she saw as her duty.

The Family of Henry VIII
Henry VIII inherited the devotion to the Catholic faith that his parents shared. However, he also became a man who always expected to get what he wanted. When he formed the Church of England and broke with Rome, the faith that he created was Catholicism with himself as the Head of the Church in place of the pope. Protestants would continue to be punished for their heretical ideas until Henry's son, Edward VI, took the throne. What would Elizabeth have thought of this act?

On one hand, Elizabeth understood the importance of an heir. The disappearance of her brothers is what cleared the way for her to become queen with the first Tudor king at her side. She risked her own life to bear another child when Prince Arthur died, leaving Henry an only son. Elizabeth would have understood that it was a precarious position to leave the kingdom with a single young girl as heir. Elizabeth had never put forth her own right to the crown over her husband's. Would she have fought for the rights of Princess Mary?

Katherine of Aragon
Even though Elizabeth would have believed that her son would be better off with more children, she may have accepted the situation as God's will. After living through extraordinary times, Elizabeth was accustomed to leaning on her faith and accepting that worldly matters do not always turn out the way we think they should. I believe it would be difficult to convince her of the necessity of setting Katherine aside. It is very possible that Elizabeth would have been just as vehement that Katherine was Henry's true wife as Katherine was.

If Elizabeth could have been convinced that Henry really did require a more fertile wife, I still believe that she would have been horrified by his decision to break with Rome. The very idea would have been more shocking than we can imagine to almost any monarch who ruled before Henry VIII. The pope was God's representative on earth and the final authority in all matters. For Henry to set himself up as equal or above him would have been blasphemy to his mother. She may have been convinced to encourage Katherine to retire to a nunnery, but I do not believe Elizabeth of York would have ever supported her son's more extreme measures.

Would the Church of England have been formed if Elizabeth had still been alive? Would Henry have listened to his mother to any greater degree than he took the advice of anyone else who did not tell him what he wanted to hear? That may be speculation that is beyond me, but I can fairly confidently state that Elizabeth of York would have opposed her son's actions and at least attempted to steer him along a different path.

Elizabeth of York
I would like to think that Elizabeth would have seen possibilities for her granddaughter that had not existed for herself and that Henry would have been convinced that Princess Mary was a more than adequate heir, especially with the right husband at her side. Surely, the Reformation would have made it to England one way or another, but maybe the Dissolution of the Monasteries could have been erased. History might have missed out on Queen Elizabeth I, but maybe the reign of a happily married Queen Mary I would have been much more peaceful. Maybe Henry would have gone on to have a son after Katherine naturally departed this world instead of tearing the kingdom apart to make way for Anne Boleyn.

Or maybe Henry would have completely ignored his mother and done whatever he wanted anyway. But it is fun to think of the possibilities.