One of the things I love most about historical fiction is the chance to dive into great big piles of articles about a topic and emerge with a little nugget of inspiration. Tonight I was preparing for my British Literature class by doing some research on Sir Thomas More and his literary and religious adversary, William Tyndale.
Here’s the few nuggets I collected that I might just polish into gold as part of my story:
- Thomas More was engaged in spying on Protestant heretics.
- He was given a special license to “read and keep certain books of Luther” which were banned at this time, so that he could use him in his response to Luther’s revolutionary ideas about the Church.
- When King Henry VIII became the “Supreme head on earth of the Church of England” (how is that for a title?) his followers were able to rely on the common people’s ideas of obedience to one’s ruler as a Christian duty to get them to follow Henry’s changes in religion (somewhat). But, when his daughter, Mary, came to the throne and reverted England back to Catholicism this little idea created quite the dilemma! Do you all of a sudden backtrack and encourage the common people to follow a “papal queen” down the road to “certain hell”? (emphasis mine, but they’d probably say it too!)
- During the years 1534-1547 there was a massive overhaul of the physical expression of the Catholic Church. It started with the Dissolution of Monasteries under King Henry, when he gave away land to the gentry in order to get their support for his new church (and kept a lot of the money found in the monasteries for himself) and it continued under his son, Edward. Stained glass, shrines, statues, crucifixes, and bells were all taken down and destroyed. Clergy were no longer expected to be celibate and the saying of mass for the dead was ended.
- Many feast days were banished, which unsurprisingly upset the common people, who rather enjoyed the feasting and celebrating that went on in the villages on these days. Mobs also tried to prevent the dissolving of the monasteries, and other changes to their faith.
Why did I find all of these archaic details fascinating? Because they are the basis for storytelling and plot! Just think of the human tragedies that went on under the dissolving of the monasteries and abbeys, and destroying of common objects of faith. Think of the political machinations that occurred as part of Henry’s efforts to gain support, or his daughter’s accession to the throne. Imagine the anxiety of the messenger who had to carry Luther’s books to Sir Thomas More, special license or not! All of this is fodder for the story. All of this carries with it the passions of people who, no matter what we think now, felt deeply about these issues and were willing to die for them. That is what makes telling these stories and helping them come to life so exciting and vital. And a little romance to ease the pain doesn’t hurt.