I like historical fiction because not only do I enjoy a good story but I also learn more about history. In the book, The Heretic’s Wife, I got the best of both worlds.Previously, I researched about the life of William Tyndale,martyred for translating the Bible for the common people of Henry VIII’s England for a non-fiction manuscript I wrote. In this story, I learned more about one of his friends and fellow martyrs, John Frith, who is not recognized as widely as Tyndale.
This book bases itself on a character named Kate Gough, who runs a bookshop with her brother. Her brother ends up imprisoned for having copies of the Scriptures in their bookstore, which were illegal at the time. Because her brother also had a wife and small child, he recants while in prison so he can get back to his dependent family. Kate, his sister, was disappointed in her brother for backing down on his Christian stand in exchange for his freedom.
She went to help (disguised as her brother) to receive illegal copies of the Scriptures that came into England from Germany by boat. In this dangerous and risky mission, she met John Frith, a Cambridge scholar and writer. Their lives become intertwined from that point on, although Frith, like Tyndale, had become a fugitive from England because of his Protestant sympathies. Her fate was to be a fugitive with him in Antwerp, Belgium, hiding from the English crown and its spies.
The setting of this book is the 1500’s, when England was a Roman Catholic country and Henry was still married to his first of eight wives, the Roman Catholic Katherine of Aragon. However, the king was tired of her and her inability to produce a heir for him. Henry desired Anne Boleyn to be his wife instead. Anne insisted that she would not go to Henry’s bed unless he was divorced from Katherine, who was the widow of his brother. Henry sought an annulment from the Catholic Church, but the Lord Chancellor Thomas More will not permit it. Thus More fell out of the king’s good graces.
The story of political intrigue was woven with the narrative of the fugitive and his wife. Because More did not give the king what he wanted, he ends up resigning his position in disgrace. More took out some of his own vengeance on the Protestants, the ones influenced from the writings and Reformation movement of Martin Luther in Germany.
Frith wrote against the doctrine of transubstantiation and the doctrine of purgatory in rare acts of courage when he resided in Antwerp. In the meantime, reports came out of England that Protestants were being burned at the stake. Frith went back to England on a short mission, and left his wife Kate in Belgium. After that happened, the book was quite hard to put down, as any reader would discover for him or herself.
Like I said, I love the fact that I learned history while I was also reading for pleasure. I enjoyed learning more about Anne Boleyn, who had Protestant sympathies, Thomas More and his fellow Catholics who persecuted the Protestants, Henry the Viii who both loved and beheaded some of his wives. And I especially enjoyed reading about the courage of Frith, how the Lord gave him grace to endure to the end without recanting. As persecution increase all the more in the day and age we live in, it is good to learn of those who went before us, leading the way in a Hebrews 11 “hall of faith” kind of way.
I look forward to reading more of author Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s books.