Brenda Rickman Vantrease, ST. Martin’s Press, New York, 2012
“Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.” Samuel Adams
Several years ago I purchased Ms. Vantrease’s book, “The Mercy Seller” but just couldn’t get into the story line. Not that there was anything wrong with the storyline, but during that period of my life, I wasn’t reading a lot of fictional books, so trying to make myself read this one wasn’t working.
But then a couple of weeks ago I came across the “The Heretic’s Wife” and thought, “What the heck. The worst thing that can happen is that it’ll end up on the slowly growing pile of books I can’t even pay myself to read, let alone waste the time to comment on.”
Let me start off by assuring both the reader, as well as the author, that this book was worth not only the time it took for me to read it, but the time it took to comment as well.
I’d also like to add, that I have placed it on a shelf as far from the garbage heap of the unread and discarded, as possible.
It was truly one of my favorite history reads to-date (It doesn’t’ hurt that I am a huge fan of that particular era of history (1500-1600 AD), or that as a Christian, I am always fascinated by people who have lived a life of conviction, no matter the cost).
Set in the early 1500’s during the reign of King Henry the VIII, the author does a brilliant job of drawing out of history annuals the players and events surrounding the persecution of people like William Tyndale, John Firth and hundreds of others involved with interpreting and publishing the Holy Scriptures from Latin into other languages. People persecuted and burned at the stake by individuals such as Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell , John Fisher and Mary Queen of Scots (to name only a few); who believed themselves to be the ambassadors of God, the Holy Roman Papacy, and King; men and women convinced that it was their responsibility to eradicate, at all costs, any and all who would try and advocate for religious, government, or social reform.
The main character of this story is Kate Gough-Firth; sister to John Gough (an historically known English Bookseller and smuggler of Luther and Tyndale’s printed scriptures); fictional wife to John Firth (historical translator of scriptures from Latin to English) and instigator of Finnish woman of faith (woman later arrested and burned as seditionist’s and witches).
Through no intentional plan on her part, Kate finds herself; harboring the much sought for Oxford – student -turned – heretic John Firth; smuggling New Testament Bibles across England’s borders, and leading others in the pursuit of religious freedom. It’s a story told through the eyes and heart of a woman caught up and tossed through history by the passion and convictions of those she loves.
“I come hither, good people, accused and condemned for an heretic, Sir Thomas More being my accuser and my judge. And these be the articles that I die for. First, I say it is lawful for every man and woman to have God’s book in their mother tongue. Second, that the Bishop of Rome is Antichirst…The Lord forgive Sir Thomas More”. – Statement Made By James Bainham Upon His Burning, April 1532
“The Heretic’s Wife” has all the rich ingredients of history, conviction, injustice, and romance that make for a good read. But even more than that, it is a reminder that we in America (and other democratic countries), live off the freedoms that our ancestors paid dearly for. And whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, or Buddhist, the fact that we have the liberty to read, speak, and protest without threat to life, family, or goods, is something we should always be grateful for, and never take lightly.
When I see Americans and people from other nations or cultures protesting in front of our government buildings, businesses, and schools, condemning whatever political – special interest group that is currently pissing them off, I breath a prayer of thanksgiving that we are still able to do that; because somebody else had the courage to stand up to the Nero’s, Pope Peter’s, Sir Thomas More’s, slave trader-owners, or denier of human rights, and demand all human beings have the right to pursue conviction of faith and political belief (more often than not, at the cost to their own lives).
“Let it not make thee despair, neither yet discourage thee, O reader, that it is forbidden thee in pain of life and goods … to read the Word of thy soul’s health; …for if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes…” From William Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, 1528
So whatever your religious preference (or not), literary interest, political persuasion, or internal moral compass, the right to breathe and enjoy the freedoms you do have, should awaken in you a sense of gratitude and awe. You may not like our current political leaders or social reformers, but as long as they are protecting the rights our forefathers (and military personnel), who have or are currently shedding their own blood and fortune for us, then at least have the decency to honor their measure of bravery as well.
I have to rate “The Heretic’s Wife” at four stars for overall plot and story, and four and a five for its ability to weave history with conviction of faith. Excellent!
From the laptop of an uncensored dreamer,