Sunday, November 04, 2012

My nerdy self ponders some historical what-if's

When I graduated from college, I earned a degree in English/Creative Writing and minors in business and Spanish. But if I had college to do all over again, I would probably major in history... or maybe both history and English, because I'm just that much of a nerd.

No, really, I am. I read a lot of history for fun. Sure, there are novels and poetry, short stories and spiritual reading (I'm in the midst of St. Augustine's "Confessions" right now), but there is a heavy lean toward history on my bookshelves. I think it stems largely from my parents. Although my dad is a retired attorney, his bachelor's degree is in history, and he has always been especially fascinated by the Civil War and WWII. As a result, I could name more WWII-era planes as a teenager than most, if not almost all, of my high school friends. And my mom's master's is in Latin American studies. I can still recall the sixth grade field trip that had something to do with anthropology where one of the guides asked if anyone knew the three major ancient tribes from Central and South America. I was the only one out of 30-odd students who could name the Maya, the Inca and the Aztec. The knowledge won me an arrowhead, which I still have somewhere.

The summer I was 13, I spent several weeks with my grandmother in Alabama. Bored out of my mind after about a week, and tired of fighting her for the TV remote, I decided to start writing a novel (see, nerdy!). Now, this wasn't a fictionalized account about the teenage angst of being stuck in Mobile with an elderly relative. Oh, no. I decided to write a novel set in Elizabethan England about a young woman who becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth the I and all the drama, intrigue and romance that implies. Seriously, who does that? This girl. I even researched the era, diving into my grandmother's copy of  "The Riverside Shakespeare," which had a section on history and fashions of the time, complete with pictures. And I persuaded her to take me to the library, where I had her check out for me (a bit incredulously, I might add, since I remember her asking me repeatedly if I was sure I didn't want any of the books from the teen section) "The Kings and Queens of England and Scotland." I proceeded to read it cover to cover.

That longer-than-planned intro leads me to the (other) book I'm currently reading, "Sister Queens," about the lives of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, and her sister Juana, Queen of Castile, also commonly referred to as Juana the Mad because she allegedly carted her dead husband's coffined body around with her wherever she went (the author of the book contests that madness bit). Last night, about halfway through the book, I came to the point where Katherine and Henry had a son. One of her many pregnancies (there were six, and only one would result in a child who lived to adulthood, Mary), the boy was born healthy and baptized Henry, but sadly only lived 52 days.

Stick with me, I do have a point...

Since I ponder these random things, it got me thinking about what would have happened had the boy lived. Henry VIII, who was a devout Catholic, might never have abandoned his faith and divorced Katherine in his quest for a wife to give him a male heir, and therefore might never have separated England from the Church in his quest to marry Anne Boleyn (or married his four subsequent other wives, for that matter). How history would have been altered! England might have remained a Catholic country, and the Tudor dynasty might have continued on for generations. Monasteries and convents might not have been looted or destroyed, and, as there wouldn't have been an Elizabeth I, there wouldn't have been an Elizabethan period for me to research at 13. And of course it would have affected the world as a whole. Would America have been settled as quickly had there been fewer people seeking a new life and religious freedom on her shores, for example?

St. Thomas More
But then, too, we might have been denied so many of our saints. I know there are probably a number who are now saints or blesseds because they refused to apostatize (renounce their loyalty to the Church) and therefore lost their lives (I tried to figure out how many by Googling -- still nerdy over here) as the result of Henry VIII's actions, but the most famous, and the only one who immediately comes to mind, is St. Thomas More, a lawyer, writer (he authored "Utopia") and good friend of Henry who, despite that friendship and his otherwise complete loyalty to his sovereign, refused to sanction Henry's divorce out of greater love for the Church and was beheaded -- martyred -- as a result. He was canonized in 1935 and is the patron, among many things, of the Diocese of both Arlington and Pensacola-Tallahassee, adopted children, large families, lawyers and, appropriately considering that Tuesday is Election Day, of politicians and statesmen. His feast day is June 22.

So, while I can't even begin to grasp at God's ways (as they're not ours), I know without doubt that He had his reasons for that small baby dying in 1511, probably not the least of all being that we might not have St. Thomas More to intercede for us now, especially in regard to the presidential election. St. Thomas More, pray for us!

Dear Scholar and Martyr, it was not the King of England but you who were the true Defender of the Faith. Like Christ unjustly condemned, neither promises nor threats could make you accept a civil ruler as head of the Christian Church. Perfect in your honesty and love of truth, grant that lawyers and judges (and politicians!) may imitate you and achieve true justice for all people. Amen.