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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bosworth and the Brandons

August 22nd is famous as the date of the Battle of Bosworth and the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. It is true that Richard III died on this day in 1485 in a courageous final charge in defense of his kingdom, but the day was also a turning point for the Brandon family.

Sir William Brandon was a standard bearer for Henry Tudor, the man who challenged Richard on the field near Bosworth. William was the son of a Cambridgeshire knight of the same name and is best known for the circumstances of his death and the son he left behind. William had been a part of the failed Buckingham Rebellion, but he continued to support Tudor's claim to England, leaving behind a wife and children including an infant son to fight at Bosworth. Shortly before King Richard was brought down by a swarm of enemies, William Brandon died by his hand.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon was less than two years old when his father died in battle, but William's service to Henry Tudor ensured his son's bright future in a way that might never have occurred had William survived. When King Richard was killed and Tudor crowned as Henry VII, the new king was eager to reward those who had made his reign a reality. Therefore, the young son of the royal standard bearer was brought up alongside the his own children.

This privileged position gave Charles the opportunity to become a close companion to the boy who would become Henry VIII. Charles was an opportunist, eventually going so far as to marry the king's sister, Mary. Even being one of Henry's closest friends did not entirely save Charles from his wrath after this treasonous move. The couple was fined and removed from court for a time but were eventually forgiven and welcomed back.

It had been Charles' only significant fall from royal favor. His relationship with King Henry brought Charles several lucrative and privileged positions and titles. At the pinnacle of his success, this son of a Cambridgeshire knight was made Duke of Suffolk, a title that had been previously held by the Yorkist de la Pole family. Charles was at Henry's side at the Field of Cloth of Gold and through his Great Matter and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Charles Brandon died on August 22, 1545, exactly 60 years after his father.

The two sons he left behind followed him to the grave six short years later, dying of the sweating sickness on the very same day. This left Charles' daughter, Frances, as head of the family. She and her husband, Henry Grey, inherited the Suffolk title and attempted their own grasp for the crown through their daughter, Lady Jane Grey, in 1553. The Brandon family had come a long way, but this was a step too far. Both Henry and Jane were executed for treason under Queen Mary I.

Monday, August 7, 2017

New Release: Plantagenet Embers Kindle Box Set

I am thrilled to announce that the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy is now available as a Kindle Box Set! When you purchase the trilogy as a set for only $9.99, it is as if you are getting one book FREE!

This set includes the full content, including author's notes, for three novels:

Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York

Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole

Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I

If you haven't read them yet, now is your chance to take advantage of a great deal on three wonderful summer reads!

Available worldwide through Amazon.




Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Was Queen Mary advised by a heretic?

Queen Mary I
Painting by Eworth
The reign of Queen Mary I is best known for her attempt at counter-reformation in England. Since we have the benefit of knowing that it did fail, it is easy to look back and wonder how she believed it could succeed. Yet at that time, Mary was able to take the crown that was rightfully hers through great popular support for her and her religion. Her partner in bringing the 'true faith' back to her kingdom was her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole.

Reginald Pole was the son of Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury who had served as Mary's governess. Margaret and Mary's mother, Queen Catherine, had been close friends and may have hoped that Reginald could be a potential suitor for the princess, but her father had other plans for her. In the meantime, Reginald grew up provided with the best education money could buy through the support of Kings Henry VII & VIII. By the time Mary became queen in 1553, Reginald was known as a great scholar and only his refusal to campaign on his own behalf had prevented him from being elected pope in 1550.

Instead, he returned to his homeland to assist Queen Mary in putting her religious house in order. Mary was a staunch Catholic. It was one of the things that had driven a wedge between her and her father and siblings. She assumed, of course, that the good Cardinal was of one mind with her in all church matters, but there was much more to Reginald Pole that met the eye.

The words of Matthew 10:16 were favored by Pole. He had them painted on a window when he lived in Lambeth Palace, and they appear on his tomb.

Be as wise as serpents and as simple as doves.

This line reveals a bit about the deep-thinking man who was more willing than most leaders of the Catholic Church to consider the arguments of the reformers. Reginald was devoted to rooting heresy out of England, but this did not necessarily mean to him what it meant to his queen. Like some men who were persecuted as heretics, he believed that Catholicism should be reestablished free of the corruption that had lead to the Reformation.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Pole discussed religion with learned men throughout Europe from Thomas More to Niccolo Machiavelli. He was a friend of Michelangelo and Contarini, another Cardinal famous for wishing to be reunited with Lutherans. By reformers, Pole was considered a Papist but he later came under investigation by Inquisitors who called him a secret Lutheran. Pole's writing frequently seems to favor the Lutheran doctrine of justification through faith alone, and he scandalously proposed that church leaders should lead by example and bear the church's burden rather than setting themselves higher than their flock. He believed in a personal relationship with God, not solely through membership of a church, stating that all people are brides of Christ, not just the Catholic Church. These fine lines may seem insignificant to us today, but in the 16th century men had burned for less.

Yet Pole was a highly respected leader of the Catholic Church and was sent to bring England back into the fold. He believed in faith, discipline, and charity, but he also believed that it was vital to put a stop to heresy before it could spread and lead people to eternal damnation. This is what made him the ideal person to cope with the situation in Marian England.

While Pole had defended the right of Protestants to have their views heard, he also supported meaningful debate and edifying conversation that would (hopefully) end with all parties agreeing upon the truth. This gentle easing of people to faith was just what was necessary in a country that had been enduring religious changes - and not all for very religious reasons - for two decades. His position in England is also likely what saved him from more drastic encounters with the Inquisition. He was able to defend himself in writing while emphasizing that his continued presence was required in England.

He was nothing if not clever.

Pole's belief that all heretics should be given the opportunity to hear the truth and be healed before they were condemned coincided well with Queen Mary's merciful character. While we may know her as 'Bloody Mary', her council often accused Mary of not taking decisive enough actions against her enemies. The burning of heretic leaders, those with the most power to lead others astray, did not begin until 1555. As was the case with every previous English monarch, heresy was considered akin to open rebellion.

Disputation of the Trinity
Andrea Del Sarto, 1517
(Web Gallery of Art)
Pole advised the English clergy 'to entreat the people and their flock with all gentleness and to endeavour themselves to win the people rather by gentleness than by extremity and rigour.' Bonner thought Pole was too lenient and found his positions on heretics disappointing. This paints a very different picture of the counter-reformation than has been brought to us by Elizabethan chroniclers.

By the end of 1558, when Reginald and Mary both died on the 17th of November, 284 Protestants had been burned for heresy. Pole felt treatment this harsh should be reserved for only the worst of criminals, those who did not only privately practice heresy but actively spread it. Reunification and peace were his goals, but he had run out of time to see those objectives reached.

But was Reginald Pole a heretic? Ironically, those on both sides of the 16th century religious debate accused him of being one, which just might make him a man who understood men and faith better than any of his accusers.

Additional Reading:

Reginald Pole: Prince & Prophet by Thomas F Mayer
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter