Book Review: Katherine the Queen by Linda Porter

Kathryn parr linda porter bio
This is an exceptional biography that does justice to the sixth and last consort of Henry VIII. For centuries, Katherine Parr was seen in an auxiliary role. The nurse, the one that survived because she was tactful where two of her predecessors were not, and finally, the surrogate mother.
Out of these three, there is truth to the last two.
The real  Katherine Parr was a reformer. She had an active role in the English Reformation. While Anne Boleyn is credited with being the first royal consort to embrace Protestantism -and she certainly does deserve some of that credit- the truth is that it was Katherine Parr who was England’s first full fledged Protestant queen.
Where Anne believed that religious reformers should thread carefully and still embraced some of her forefathers’ traditions, Katherine Parr wanted to do away with almost every aspect of the old world.
In her view, women were the Protestant Reformation greatest asset. Women were supposed to be -according to the bible- virtuous. For this very same reason, Katherine encouraged her young charges to live up to the highest standard. Among her charges were the ill-fated Jane Grey and the future Gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor.
Linda Porter understands the period and her audience, including those who are new to this era. For this reason, she decides to cut straight to the chase and exclude details that might make newcomers lose interest.In spite of this, she weaves every thread to form a rich tapestry that presents us with a remarkable woman. Out of all of the Tudor consorts, she and Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon whom her mother -lady Maud Parr- served and whom she was named after) were the only queens to be appointed regents in their husband’s absence. Henry VIII saw in Katherine a nobility of spirit and intellect. When he left the country to seek glory in France, he entrusted the well-being of his nation and offspring into her hands. Though he had also left competent men who’d guide her through her new duties, the sole weight of England rested on her shoulders.
Katherine proved to be more than capable.
After having a brief brush with death, she spent her last years building a friendship with many members at court.
Porter is also quick to point out that while she did not want to take any credit for the English reformation, she was one of the de-facto leaders of this religious movement. Her last book, published months one year after Henry VIII died, helped shape Anglican thought.
Aside of her strict moral code, this biography also sheds light on her social life. Katherine fulfilled the other important functions of a consort by being an exceptional hostess. She loved to dance, hear her husband’s minstrels, and dress in rich gowns that would reflect well on the crown.
Porter is not afraid to touch on the controversy surrounding her youngest royal stepdaughter and ward, lady Elizabeth Tudor and her fourth and last husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley.
Since most of our knowledge of that incident comes from sources that were written much later; she tries to be as factual as possible, delivering the most likely scenarios and the reason behind Katherine Parr reacting the way she did.

Lastly, this is one of the few books that paints a more complete picture of her noble ancestry. Out of all the four non-royals that Henry VIII married, her lineage was the most distinguished.
As previous stated, Linda Porter is not afraid of including the darker aspects of her life. In a perfect world, in a perfect time, she would have had it all. A learned and courteous woman, who was recognized for her intellect and her active role in the religious reformation, living happily ever after with a husband who loved and appreciated her with a child that will take after her mother.
 Nevertheless Katherine’s legacy lives through her writings and what she taught through her actions and her self to Elizabeth.
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Book Review: The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works

Martin Luther collection book

To understand Luther, you have to go back to the source and that source is Luther himself. The best way to understand a person is hearing, or in this case reading, what he has to say.

Martin Luther was an avid student of history but like any man of his times, he was a product of it and should be seen as such. He did not see himself as a heretic but rather a reformer. When you read his best known writings, the ones that propelled him to fame (and in the Catholic Church’s eyes, infamy) you realize that he wasn’t saying anything new. Plenty of other protesters before him had voiced the same opinion and had been met with harsher opposition, but whereas most of them wanted to break away from the church and turn the world upside down, Luther simply wanted to reform it. He never intended for things to get out of control. He took the best of early reformers, people whom the church had branded as heretics, believing that he could succeed where they failed, but he soon found out that it was easier said than done and when he was pushed into a corner, he did the only thing that a person in that situation could do: push back.

The more you move forward towards the end of his writing, you realize how more paranoid and to some extent, radical he was becoming, but that unlike many of his contemporary Protestant leaders and those that came after him, he still had boundaries and didn’t agree with much of their ideology.

Once again, the Protestant Reformation is far more complex than what it is made out to be in pop culture, be it TV, film, historical fiction, or in some cases by some historians who still buy into the old myths or choose perpetuate to create a false (and more ideal) narrative of Luther, painting him as this firebrand reformer who always knew what his mission was from the very start. Luther did see his role in history as something larger than in life, but even this is subjective. Wishing to leave his mark, he also became stricter with his followers, urging them to follow Christianity in its purest form.
This book also presents much of them in the original language that they were first written, which makes it feel more original, like we have gone back in time to when they were first published.

This is a must-have for every history buff and person interested in finding more about the roots of modern Christianity. Luther was a precursor of many Protestant leaders who as it has been previously stated, he didn’t agree with, but whose movement wouldn’t have gone any further than a single pamphlet of protestation or become another footnote in history like their medieval predecessors, if it weren’t for this rebellious German ex-monk. And Luther’s influence continues to be felt among many leaders, not just religious but secular as well who view him in high regard. For better or for worse, whichever way you choose to look at it, Luther changed the world, and these writings proved that once again, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Book Review: Martin Luther, The Man who Rediscovered God & Changed the World by Eric Metaxas

Martin Luther bio by Metaxas

Martin Luther has become a firebrand icon but like so many firebrands, a lot of his story is steeped in myth. It has become another case of fiction replacing history, with novelists and (some) historians choosing that over reality. Eric Metaxas does a good job by deconstructing Luther and presenting us with the real man behind the leader of the Protestant reformation.

Novelists do not have an obligation to their readers, unless they feel they do. Some include author’s note explaining where they drew the line between fact and fiction, where they erred on the side of caution and where they took liberties for the sake of making their story more interesting. Historians on the other hand, do have a responsibility to their readers. Their jobs is to educate, but like Luther, they are trapped by their own biases. And we shouldn’t fault them for that, but we should hold them accountable when they let that take over the historical record to promote their agenda.

Martin Luther was for lack of better terms, a man of his times. Not ahead of them. He did what he did out of conviction and later desperation. His movement is also the product of centuries of heresies and attempts to reform the church that did not go unnoticed by the author.

By painting a vivid picture of the times he lived in, including explaining his background and the different customs in Western Europe, Eric Metaxas draws us the reader in right from the start. You don’t have to be a history buff and if you are but are new to this period, you don’t have to know a lot, to find this book engaging. Drawing on primary sources (and to some extent to understand where the fictional Luther comes from, secondary sources), and citing the archaeological evidence that still remains, Metaxas paints a vivid portrayal of the rebellious German ex-monk.

The man who rediscovered God and who changed the world is an accurate way to describe the figurehead of the Protestant movement -a movement he did not intent to create but like so much of what history has taught us, once things got out of his control, he had no choice but to push forward or to face certain death which would have meant being burned as a heretic like one of his idols, the infamous Dominican friar who also preached against the excesses of the church a century prior, Savonarola.

Ironically though, for better or for worse, Luther has also come to be seen as an icon and a source of inspiration for many political, religious and civic leaders. Some went so far as to change their names, and while others wasted no time placing him in a pedestal. Just as Luther did not intend to break away from the church, he did not intent to replace the cult of saints that he so much detested and railed against. But in the end, not even he would have gone against the power of the pen, nor controlled how he’d be remembered by his followers (or his rivals). And that is, as the author of this book points out, his greatest legacy -a legacy that will continue to be felt for decades to come.

Akhenaten & Henry VIII: Two Game Changers

Akhenaten and Henry VIII

One of the things that I love about history is how often characters keep popping up whose lives are so similar and different at the same time. One of the kings that I am currently invested on –or rulers if the trolls of the internet want to get technical- is the pharaoh Akhenaten or Amenhotep IV. He was the younger son of Amenhotep III and his chief wife Queen Tiye. By a stroke of fate he became the crown heir after his older brother died at a very young age. Now, who does that remind you of? 😉

That is right, Henry VIII. Both were second sons who became crown Princes when their older brothers died. Not a lot is known about Amenhotep’s older brother (Thutmose). Some novels have him a scholar and a true prince unlike his younger and much more neurotic brother, Amenhotep. In short, Egypt would have fared better under his older brother. It is the same story we hear in historical fiction novels when the characters are talking about Henry and Arthur. Some say that if Arthur had lived, given his education and training, he would have made a better Prince but we can never know for sure. It is one of history’s many what-ifs.

If it is any consolation to everyone, given that they were crown heirs, Thutmose and Arthur Tudor might have become less glamorous, but more pragmatic rulers.

Henry VIII and Akhenaten were considered mavericks in their time because of their radical approaches to religion. The only difference is that Henry VIII still believed in the Catholic Mass and the old forms of worship whereas Akhenaten was a TRUE reformer. He really did believe that there was one god and that what he was doing was dictated by some invisible deity above. Who knows where he got his idea of the sun disk. Some say that he didn’t believe what he was doing and that like Henry VIII, he was in on it for the power. Perhaps but his actions say otherwise. He build another capital where he stayed during the last years of his reign and he disbanded many temples and got ahold of their wealth and established new temples and a new priesthood at the service of Aten (the sun disk). You might think ‘oh geesh monotheism. So no more art!’ Actually no. During his reign some of the greatest art work was produced. Just because he was a monotheist and enforced his belief down everyone’s throats, did not mean that he abandoned the glamor that he always knew. His chief wife Nefertiti is considered one of the most beautiful queens of Ancient Egypt. (But like with Anne Boleyn, some believe that her importance is overrated and that her bust was nothing more than a piece of propaganda. Like in the Renaissance, the busts and depictions of famous people took liberties with their physical appearances).

Both Kings had two Queens that overshadow the others: Nefertiti and Anne Boleyn. Pharaohs could have more than one wife and whoever gave them a son first (if the chief wife did not) inherited.  Nefertiti was his chief wife and Anne Boleyn although a victim of her and others ambitions, overshadows the other wives because of her daughter. Both of these women are believed to be drop-dead gorgeous but the reality is that the two of them had more of the 'it' factor, a natural charisma among the commons and courtiers respectively. Coincidentally both had daughters who became Queens (if the theory of Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten being Nefertiti's daughters is true)
Both Kings had two Queens that overshadow the others: Nefertiti and Anne Boleyn. Pharaohs could have more than one wife and whoever gave them a son first (if the chief wife did not) inherited.
Nefertiti was his chief wife and Anne Boleyn although a victim of her and others ambitions, overshadows the other wives because of her daughter. Both of these women are believed to be drop-dead gorgeous but the reality is that the two of them had more of the ‘it’ factor, a natural charisma among the commons and courtiers respectively. Coincidentally both had daughters who became Queens (if the theory of Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten being Nefertiti’s daughters is true)

Henry VIII broke away with the Catholic Church but not with tradition. Some changes were made, some which were considered radical by the conservatives and thought of as heretic, but not as radical as the staunchest Protestants wanted. The Six Articles by Gardiner were made, some changes were made to the Mass, the English bible was allowed, etc. And of course there was a proliferation of art and propaganda where Henry was at the top of the divine scale. He was the representative of God on earth not the pope or the saints.

With Akhenaten, he was on the top. The pharaoh had always had divine status as medieval kings did before Henry VIII. Never before though was a pharaoh granted so much power and importance. And like with Henry VIII, he pissed a lot of the polytheistic clergy off when he attacked their temples and made his single form of worship official.

(Left) Akhenaten and his family gloriously depicted worshiping the sun disk Aten. (Right) The "Tudor Dynasty" portrait which shows Henry VIII and his third wife -who was dead at the time- Jane Seymour and above them his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Both paintings were done with the purpose to propagate the myth of the powerful and glorious dynasty that is being favored by the Almighty.
(Left) Akhenaten and his family gloriously depicted worshiping the sun disk Aten. (Right) The “Tudor Dynasty” portrait which shows Henry VIII and his third wife -who was dead at the time- Jane Seymour and above them his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Both paintings were done with the purpose to propagate the myth of the powerful and glorious dynasty that is being favored by the Almighty.

Akhenaten prided himself as a great man, reformer, and warrior but his campaigns were not as great when compared to his predecessors and he has often been accused by historians to neglect his territories so he could continue to work on his religious policies. Henry VIII has similarly been accused by historians such as Robert Hutchinson as bankrupting the country by engaging in expensive wars which often ended in disaster. Though Henry never lost one war, he hardly ended his campaigns. The battle of the spurs was more a Pyrrhic victory. His father-in-law Ferdinand II of Aragon and Regent of Castile stabbed him in the back and his grandson Charles V did the same during the second phase of the Italian Wars when he made an agreement to end the war with Francis I of France behind his back. Sure, Henry VIII did gain Bolougne in the end but England was not able to keep it. Neither of these campaigns had the desired effect that Henry VIII wanted.

But whereas Akhenaten’s enemies and the people hatred for his religious policies won in the end; Henry VIII got to keep the break with Rome. His son changed the religious landscape even more, and his youngest daughter created a more moderate establishment as a way to please both sides but she couldn’t and so she became a tough enforcer like her father and brother.
Akhenaten also had two daughters  (Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten) who reigned as Queens but whereas Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor reigned after their brother, these reigned before him. The last of his offspring to reign was his young son Tutankhamun. His reign was short and tragic. He died at the age of nineteen (either of illness or murdered by his jealous general). After the reign of Neferneferuaten who continued with the religious policies of her father (albeit choosing a moderate approach like Henry’s youngest daughter Elizabeth), monotheism became extinct. There was no glorious “golden age” for either of his kids to keep the religious changes made during his reign. They were just very unpopular, people loved their gods and the priestesses and priests were too powerful to allow monotheism to flourish.

Sources:

  • Ancient Egypt: Everyday in the Land of the Nile by Hobbs and Brier
  • The Search for Nefertiti: The True Story of an Amazing Discovery by Joan Fletcher
  • Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII by Robert Hutchinson
  • Henry VIII by Derek Wilson