Guest Post: Katharina by Margaret Skea

It is with great pleasure that I welcome author Margaret Skea to the blog today, talking about her latest book, Katharina: Fortitude, the history behind it and giving you a little teaser from the book itself.

As crazy ideas go, thinking of writing what could best be described as a fictionalized biography of Katharina von Bora, the escaped nun who married the reformer Martin Luther, ranked highly.  It had popped into my head, seemingly from nowhere, but once there, as crazy ideas so often do, it burrowed its way in so far no amount of rational thinking would dislodge it.

There were plenty of good reasons not to write her story.

Reason 1. I knew almost nothing about her, and it seemed that nobody else knew much about her either.

I did find a slim volume, of some 89 pages, written by a native German within the Luther Foundation, Martin Treu, well placed to have found any information there was to find. But the opening words were hardly encouraging.

It is impossible to write a biography of Katharina von Bora. The scanty and often enough fragmentary nature of the evidence allows for only a biographical sketch…’ Hmm.

Katharina

Reason 2.  I didn’t speak or read German, so whatever ‘fragmentary evidence’ existed, I couldn’t even read it for myself. Not the best start.

Reason 3. I was in the middle of writing my third Scottish novel, and there was a publisher waiting for it to be delivered, so the timing wasn’t exactly ideal. However, the Luther 500 anniversary was only just over one year away, so I knew if I was going to write about her it had to be immediately.

And there she was, hovering at my shoulder, shadowy and insubstantial, but refusing to go away. So the Scottish book set aside, I began to plan how I could make this crazy idea a reality. I read and re-read the 89 pages of the little book until I knew them almost by heart and scoured every other source I could find (in English) that made any reference to her at all.  Treu had also set me a challenge – he wrote: 

The lacunae in the sources have tempted authors and authoresses to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.’

Well, yes, that is, after all,  what historical fiction writers do. But he went on:

The result is frequently a picture that says more about the writer and their time than about the person and journey through life of Katharina von Bora.’

Ah, that was different – I didn’t want to write about my time, or me, I wanted to write about her time and about her.

The Lutherhaus portal commissioned by Luther as a gift for Katharina

But pessimistic as he was about anyone’s chances, I did find some wee nuggets in his book, and in others, that gave me a starting point, despite that there is dispute over her parentage, her birthplace, the circumstances surrounding her admission to two different convents, and little direct evidence of her character.  Retracing her steps  in Saxony, which involved driving over 1000 miles, gave me a real sense of her environment, including the terrain she travelled, the architecture, and artefacts, and many aspects of her life and times.  There were some surprises, too, particularly in relation to Martin Luther and his almost modern attitude towards her, as well as the discovery of many myths that needed to be dispelled. But perhaps the biggest challenge was finding a ‘voice’ for her and so I began to write snippets in 1st person present tense. And what started as a preliminary experiment continued throughout both books and the story truly became Katharina’s.

I hope I have done her justice and that readers will get as much enjoyment in reading as I found in writing it. 

Here is the opening section as a wee taster:

Chapter One

Wittenberg June 1525.

Martin Luther

The music stops, the sound of the fiddle dying away, the piper trailing a fraction behind, as he has done all evening. I cannot help but smile as I curtsy to Justus Jonas, his answering twinkle suggesting he shares my amusement.

‘Thank you, Frau Luther,’ and then, his smile wider, so that even before he continues I suspicion it isn’t the piping amuses him, ‘For a renegade nun, you dance well.’

It is on the tip of my tongue to respond with ‘ For a cleric, so do you,’ but I stop myself, aware that should I be overheard it would likely be considered inappropriate for any woman, far less a newly married one, to speak so to an older man, however good a friend he has been. And on this day of all days, I do not wish to invite censure. Instead I say, ‘I have been well taught. Barbara saw to that. She did not wish me to disgrace myself or her, and there is a pair of slippers with the soles worn through to testify to the hours of practice she insisted upon.’

‘She succeeded admirably then.’

All around us there is the buzz of laughter and chatter, an air of goodwill evident in every flushed face. Martin is waiting at the foot of the dais, and as we turn towards him, his smile of thanks to Justus is evidence he too is grateful for the seal of approval, of me and of the marriage, our shared dance a tangible sign to the whole town that Justus Jonas at least has no reservations regarding our union. Over his shoulder I catch Barbara’s eye and she nods also. I nod back, but am unable to suppress altogether the inner voice, tonight there is drink taken, tomorrow some may feel differently.

As if he can read my mind, Justus says, a new seriousness in his tone, ‘You have not made a mistake, either of you.’ He waves his hand at the folk clustered in groups along the length of the room. ‘Look around. When the difficult times come, as no doubt they will, remember tonight and the number of those who came to wish you well.’

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The first challenge is not long in coming. We stroll home in the moonlight, accompanied by those guests who will spend the night in the cloister with us, adding their acceptance to our union.  Among them are Martin’s parents, and three councillors from Mansfeld, snatches of their conversation penetrating my thoughts.

Hans Luder’s tone, though gruff, cannot mask his satisfaction. ‘It is a good day’s work, and glad I am to see it, however long the wait.’

Martin’s mother’s voice is sweet and low, but bubbles with amusement, like a sparkling wine as it is poured into a glass. ‘Old you may be, but I trust your end is not yet nigh.’

There is an answering chuckle from one of the councillors,  ‘Indeed,’ Frau Luder, ‘So do we all.’

Lutherhaus

Hearing him, I tuck my arm into Martin’s, the momentary disagreement regarding Cardinal Albert’s gift forgotten, and look up at the myriad stars: pin-pricks of light in an ink-flooded sky, and my heart swells.  Frau Luther – the spelling may be different, but the status is the same and a title to be proud of, and though our marriage is already two weeks old, it is the first time I have felt it truly mine. The music still rings in my ears, memory of the dancing, the coin in the chest: all symbols of the regard in which the doctor is held and in which I now share, spreading a warmth through me from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Jusuts is right. This is not a mistake, or not on my part at least. And, pray God, he is right about Martin also. We part from the company at the door of our chamber, and the light from the oil lamp flickers on the bedspread Barbara Cranach gifted to us. It is the last thing I see before sleep, the first when I wake, a talisman-harbinger of good things to come.

About the author

Margaret Skea is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Short story credits include Neil GunnFish, the Historical Novel Society and Mslexia.

Growing up during the ‘Troubles in Northern Ireland it is perhaps inevitable that her writing often focuses on the pressures of living within conflict. Her debut novel Turn of the Tide, was the Historical Fiction winner in an Harper Collins-sponsored competition. It also gained her the Beryl Bainbridge Award for ‘Best First-Time Novelist 2014’.

Katharina: Deliverance, a fictionalised biography based on the early life of the reformer Martin Luther’s wife, was placed 2nd in the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2018.

The newly released, Katharina: Fortitude, is the powerful conclusion to Katharina’s story, but both books can easily be read as a stand-alone.

In an attempt to embrace the digital age she now has her own website at www.margaretskea.com and you can also follow her on Twitter at @margaretskea1 or on FB https://www.facebook.com/MargaretSkeaAuthor.Novels/

Book link: https://books2read.com/u/4j11BX

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Margaret for such a fabulous post and wish her every success with Kathariana: Fortitude .

Kathariana: Fortitude came out 2 weeks ago and has been entered into the Kindle Storyteller Award. The competition opened in May, and yet Katharina is already at #65 out of over 5,000 entries. To be in with a chance of winning it needs to get into top 10. The book is currently on sale at 99p, so why not give it a go? I have! Just follow the link: https://books2read.com/u/4j11BX

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Margaret Skea

Book Corner – Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn’s unconventional beauty inspired poets ‒ and she so entranced Henry VIII with her wit, allure and style that he was prepared to set aside his wife of over twenty years and risk his immortal soul. Her sister had already been the king’s mistress, but the other Boleyn girl followed a different path. For years the lovers waited; did they really remain chaste? Did Anne love Henry, or was she a calculating femme fatale?

Eventually replacing the long-suffering Catherine of Aragon, Anne enjoyed a magnificent coronation and gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth, but her triumph was short-lived. Why did she go from beloved consort to adulteress and traitor within a matter of weeks? What role did Thomas Cromwell and Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall play in Anne’s demise? Was her fall one of the biggest sex scandals of her era, or the result of a political coup?

With her usual eye for the telling detail, Amy Licence explores the nuances of this explosive and ultimately deadly relationship to answer an often neglected question: what choice did Anne really have? When she writes to Henry during their protracted courtship, is she addressing a suitor, or her divinely ordained king? This book follows Anne from cradle to grave and beyond. Anne is vividly brought to life amid the colour, drama and unforgiving politics of the Tudor court.

 

Reviewing such a book as Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence is a daunting prospect. How can one do justice to a book which may well be the definitive biography of Anne Boleyn? Well, I suppose Amy had the same issue when writing it – how to do justice to Anne Boleyn’s story while avoiding falling into the bias of having a favourite between Anne and her rival, Catherine of Aragon? Having already produced a stunning account of the life of Catherine of Aragon, this is the second in a series which will hopefully include all 6 of Henry VIII’s wives, and presents Anne Boleyn as she was; a woman like any other, with loves, hopes and fears, rather than as the foil and ruin of the married bliss of Catherine and Henry.

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However she did it, Amy Licence has managed to produce a balanced, fair assessment of this much hated/loved (depending on which side of the fence you are on) queen. Telling the story from the very beginning, from the rise of Anne’s predecessors through the guilds of London, through her childhood and early years in the courts of Burgundy and France to her dominance of Henry VIII’s court. The book strips away the veil of malice and rumour surrounding her, providing a new and in-depth analysis of Anne the woman and Anne the queen. It shows her as a growing and developing individual, reacting and responding to the forces around her, rather than the historical fiction view of a scheming harridan out to displace Catherine and take the throne for herself. It demonstrates that the Tudor world and Anne’s life, was constantly fluid, developing and responding to situations as they present themselves.

Amy Licence is a wonderful writer and historian – her books are always accessible and enjoyable reads, bringing back to life some of the most fascinating characters of history. And Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire is no exception. Beautifully written, it presents Anne’s story as never before seen, with a balance rarely achieved when it comes to telling Anne Boleyn’s story. Anne is presented neither as a tragic victim, nor a scheming temptress. Her story unfolds as it does for all of us, with events and actions influencing her decisions and demonstrating that her life was a long winding road; the direction neither predetermined nor inevitable. It shows how Anne’s experiences, both in England and the continent, helped to shape Anne the woman,  her outlook and her destiny.

Amy Licence achieves a balance between presenting the everyday domesticity of Henry VIII’s life and court and the national and international politics of the day. I  love the little snippets of domestic life interspersed in the deeper issues, such as Henry’s dog, Ball, getting lost in Waltham Forest. She demonstrates the influences of the Reformation on Anne and Henry, and on the country at large, but also highlights the reactionary nature of the Reformation against church abuses. Rather than presenting it as ‘Henry wanted a divorce so he broke with Rome’, but as one cog in a very complex wheel of reactionism and Reformation; showing it in its wider context, not only in England but across Europe, and how both Henry’s and Anne’s attitudes were changed and shaped by the wider European movement of reform.

Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger

At twelve years old, Anne Boleyn left her home at Hever, travelled to Dover and embarked for Calais. It was to be the start of the education that gave her the air of sophistication and poise that would attract Henry, a unique edge, and the cultural polish and confidence to hold her own in the courts of Burgundy,, France and, eventually, England.  in fairy-tale castles that outstripped any buildings she knew from home, hung with the most exquisite Flemish tapestries, in libraries housing the best illuminated manuscripts, where leading artists worked and musicians played, Anne absorbed the latest and best of the northern European Renaissance. Her exposure to its religious and cultural thinking made her something of a ‘new’ woman, part of a generation who would question the old ways and faiths, emboldened to reject centuries of Catholic ritual, the efficacy of saints and the pope, a different world to the England in which she spent her early years.

Amy Licence has managed to write a book about Anne Boleyn, giving us the character of the woman and showing how she grew into her role as queen, but showing her as human, a woman who made not only loyal friends and achieved a position she was never born to, but also a woman who made enemies and mistakes and whose downfall was one of the most tragic, staged events in English history. With the use of primary sources, including letters, court documents and accounts, Amy not only recreates the world of Anne and Henry VIII, but also the personalities and politics of the people and countries surrounding them. Where there is disagreement or controversy , she presents all sides of the argument, using her excellent analytical skills to dissect the story, present the facts and explain her own theories, reasoning and conclusions.

Not only does Amy Licence expertly dissect the character of Anne, but also the personalities associated with her story, from her own family to Henry, Catherine and Cardinal Wolsey. She provides a deep analysis of Anne Boleyn, her character, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. She does not shy away from the negatives in Anne’s character, such as her pettiness towards Catherine of Aragon, but manages to convey how Henry’s pursuit of her, the lengthy divorce proceedings and long years of waiting must have affected her.

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot

Amy Licence’s unique, intimate writing style draws the reader in and provides an engaging, perceptive analysis of one of the most enigmatic women of the Renaissance period. Whether you love or hate Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire will give you new perspectives of this polarising, iconic woman and help to demonstrate the complexities of Anne’s life and career. While being sympathetic to Anne Boleyn the woman, but not afraid to criticise, Amy Licence provides a balanced analysis of Anne Boleyn’s life, influence and legacy.

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Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes historical and literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com.

Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire is available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon. It will be available in the US from Amazon on 1st April 2018.

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Heroines of the Medieval World:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Guest Post from Amy Licence

indexToday, it is my pleasure to welcome Amy Licence on the final leg of her Blog Tour. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Amy’s latest book, Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife and today she is back with an extract from this fabulous look into the life and struggles of Henry VIII’s first queen.

This extract is taken from the end of 1529, just before the Reformation parliament meet, illustrating how the marriage was under tension but Catherine was still fighting back.

Catherine was permitted to return for the Christmas season, which was traditionally presided over by the King and Queen together. And Henry was not quite ready to dispense with traditions, either religious or marital; he would need a couple more years for that. Hall related that the season was observed “in great triumph… with great plenty of viands and diverse disguisings and interludes, to the great rejoicing of his people” but it was definitely not a triumph for Catherine. To observers, it seemed that Henry was being pleasant to Catherine, showing his wife “more consideration than was his wont,” and with Anne not making an appearance. However, all was less than harmonious behind the scenes. On Christmas Eve, after her return, Henry had told Catherine that even if the Pope declared their marriage lawful, he still intended to divorce her and he would get his way, as the Church of Canterbury was more important than Rome and he would declare the Pope a heretic. Something must have broken in Catherine to hear this. She had, related Chapuys “lost all hope of bringing him to a sense of right and duty” never could think that her affairs would fall so low as they are at present. She always fancied that the King, after pursuing his course for some time, would turn away, and yielding to his conscience, would change his purpose as he had done at other times, and return to reason.” She had been wrong.

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Portrait of Catherine of Aragon by Michel Sittow

Yet the Queen had also been working behind the scenes. She might have been down but Catherine was nothing if not an indefatigable fighter, so she was not yet out. In the knowledge that Henry was hoping for the French and Italian universities to confirm his view of his marriage, Catherine set out to counter his efforts. She was more than a match for him intellectually and in terms of character, but in her present restricted circumstances, there was little she could do, being excluded from the political process as the Reformation Parliament met for the first time. Appealing to the universities was something positive that she hoped might influence the Council. The same Edward Lee, Henry’s almoner, had informed the king that nobody in Spain apart from the Emperor, “cared a straw” whether or not the marriage was dissolved, so Catherine asked Charles to ask the Spanish Universities to write in her defence, along with her niece, Empress Isabella. She hoped that if the Archbishop of Toledo could gather their responses, “her case might be considerably improved.” She also wrote to Margaret of Savoy with the same request, and “wherever else it may be considered expedient” as it was the only thing now she thought might “stop the King in his course.”

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Woodcut of Henry and Catherine’s joint coronation

Catherine feared that her husband was “so blind as passionate in these matters, that it is much to be feared that one of these days he will take steps which may perhaps induce his people and the Commons… to consent to the divorce.” She begged Henry for permission to consult her Council of advisers, and was granted permission for them to attend her at Richmond. However, this kindness may have only been conferred “in order to discover whether she had received a recent dispatch from Rome.” In fact, Henry’s new Parliament would not yet discuss Catherine and her marriage in its coming session, instead they were setting about the process of undermining the ties that bound England to Rome.

I would like to congratulate Amy on a fabulous Blog Tour, and thank her for asking History…the Interesting Bits to be a part of it. You can find out more about Amy Licence on her website, and this amazing, definitive, biography of Catherine of Aragon is available from Amazon.

If you’d like to catch up with the previous stops on Amy’s Blog Tour, simply click on the day: Monday; Tuesday; Wednesday; Thursday.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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Pictures courtesy of Amy Licence

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016 & Amy Licence 2016