Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Heretic's Wife

I know, a pretty intense title huh? The Heretic's Wife was actually quite good, although full of what you could expect- burnings and religious strife. The book is set during the time of Henry VIII and his desire to divorce Queen Katherine to marry Anne Boleyn. During this treacherous time, an English Bible is being translated and distributed by William Tyndale. Many who work for the Protestant Reformation cause, end up imprisoned or worse. Many booksellers or printers are either put out of business or imprisoned or even killed. It follows Kate Gough, a book and print shop owner, who works with her brother. John ends up being arrested and imprisoned for some time, because he has sold banned or heretical works, but Kate manages to find him and pay for his safety.

During this tumultuous time, many working for the King such as Thomas More are very opposed to the Protestant cause, and is working very hard to stop them. Thomas More was a deeply religious man, a very conflicted and complicated one too. With his chancellor's seal, he uses every means possible to get his prisoners to recant or he has them burned. He is zealous in his efforts, and his greatest prize would be to capture William Tyndale. As you follow his story, it also follows the King and his courting of Anne Boleyn. During this book, you mainly follow Kate Gough. Upon her brother's release from prison, he is not the same and decides to leave for the country with his wife and child. Kate stays behind in England and tries to keep the print shop open, but fails. She decides to take up the work her brother left behind, and dresses as a boy to meet a shipment of smuggled English books. On her journeys, she meets a John Frith who has escaped prison and certain death. He works with William Tyndale, and despite his recent arrest, is still working for the Protestant cause.

While on her travels, she has to reveal she is a woman and while staying with a nice family, she tends for John Frith as he recovers from his sicknesses. While caring for him, they find they like each other and he proposes marriage to her. He is to meet a ship that will take him to Antwerp, and asks her to go along with him. He is basically a fugitive hiding from the law, which is very dangerous, but she agrees and goes with him. Their captain, Tom Lasser, is very kind and treats them well. He often takes smuggled goods and books for the Protestants, even at his own risk. Once in Antwerp, they set up house and John immediately sets to working with William Tyndale and The English Counting house. They meet many friends there of like mind, and spend a few peaceful years there. Kate starts and works with a women English bible group, praying and singing and worshipping together. She has a miscarriage, and starts to get bored with life because John is constantly busy.

Despite a few men out searching for them, they escape arrest and continue their secret and dangerous work. Kate finds out she is pregnant again, and shortly after John decides to leave for England to go preach and such. The King had thrown off the pope and cut off ties from the church to start his own, and so he could marry Anne Boleyn. She was known to be a secret Reformist, so John felt it was safe to enter England again. Thomas Wolsey had fallen from grace and died, and then Thomas More had taken his place. He ended up resigning when he could not agree to the King's new marriage to Anne Boleyn. No one could be arrested without the King's consent, so John felt fairly safe returning. Kate stays behind in Antwerp with William Tyndale, and gets excited as her baby gets bigger inside her. Soon news reaches her that John has been arrested in the Tower. He had written some doctrine down, along with his true name, and he was caught. Thomas Cromwell, the new King's man, was somewhat sympathetic and tried to help him. But again, John was too trusting, and wrote something down on paper that they could use against him. His main sticking point was that the sacrament did not really turn into Christ's blood and flesh.

Even when he was being brought to trial, he was given a chance at escape, but he decided to take the martyr's route. He was burned at Smithfield a few days later. Kate had traveled to England to try and save John, but she was too late. She lost her baby in the process, and stays in England in her old print shop. A lady friend of Captain Tom Lasser's also stays with her, and they befriend a local woman and her daughter. The friend gets very sick and is dying, so the 2 women take in her daughter Madeline and raise her as their own. A few months after John 's death, the Captain that had helped them before, comes to propose marriage to her. She accepts, and they all go to live on his ship which he has renamed Phoenix. I enjoyed the book, because there were several different stories going on at once. Religion has always been a heavily debated and controversial subject, it is so sad to me how many have died for their beliefs. There was some torture in the book and violence, so it's not for the faint of heart. It's hard to do a good review when there is so much going on; John was a good husband but his heart was with the Church first. His decision to be a martyr may seem selfish, but he felt it was right. Although Kate remarried rather quickly, she had already had a friendship/relationship with Tom Lasser so it wasn't quite a surprise.


  1. Hi Heather,

    We don't know each other, but I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your book reviews. I came across your blog via Jennifer Benson's blog and I really look forward to reading your reviews. I think our hearts are after the same types of books. I absolutely love Historical Fiction books. Particularly books taking place in the English Courts, as well as war time books. Anyway, thank you for taking the time to write your great reviews on your blog. I, for one, really do appreciate and look forward to them.

    Shelonna Shackleford

  2. Hi Shelonna,

    Thanks for your comment, I was thinking I was all alone here:) I LOVE Historical Fiction obviously- it is so fun and interesting. I appreciate your comment it made my day. What do you read?

  3. You're definitely not alone!! I read anything, really. I mean, anything Historical Fiction. I love to imagine being in those periods of time and seeing and living like they did then in the book. My husband sometimes laughs at me. haha. I don't really read many other book genres(other than cookbooks and informational/educational books that make me use my brain). Unfortunately, I haven't read a good book in a while. When we lived in Rexburg, ID, the library was AMAZING!! One book I got there was called Washington's Lady. It was a great book. I wouldn't mind reading it again. The author wrote some other books I'd like to look into. We've moved back to the area we're originally from, currently in Chattanooga, TN (hopefully not for long). I tell ya, I thought there would be a fantastic library here, but there isn't! I've been really disappointed. Actually, there is one downtown, but I hate going into the big city. I apologize, I've written a lot. Sometimes, being a stay-at-home mom, it's nice to talk a little about things that you enjoy to someone else who enjoys the same! I'm sure you know the feeling. Thanks again for your blog, Heather. Have a wonderful Sunday!