I got a neat book for Christmas called Treason, published by Sophia Institute Press and written by Dena Hunt.
I was doubly interested in this book: first because I love historical fiction, especially one with a Catholic milieu, and second because I am slowly working on my own historical fiction book about the “schism” of AD 1054.
Treason takes place around 1580 in England and immerses you into the systematic and brutal persecution of recusant Catholics living in England. Remember that Protestantism had taken hold in England earlier in the sixteenth century so that King Henry VIII could divorce his wife and hopefully gain a male heir.
Anglican Protestantism ultimately retained many of the trappings of Catholicism: similar liturgy, bishop-priest-deacon hierarchy, and so on, but during this time Catholicism was outlawed and all English subjects were required to go to the Anglican church on Sundays or face stiff fines and even imprisonment. To be a Catholic priest or to harbor a Catholic priest mean torture and execution.
Dena Hunt does a good job of portraying the political and religious situation in this time. Her characters and the narratives make this period come alive. I had known much of this persecution but reading about how it happened in a story-form brings it to life in ways nothing else can. Now I stand amazed that anyone remained Catholic during these centuries of persecution. And yet they did. In the face of death, many people refused to give their allegiance to the Queen as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. They hid priests and secretly went to Mass in barns and in secret rooms of houses. Their neighbors ratted them out and were rewarded for it.
I had trouble following who all the characters were in the beginning, but I sorted it out as the story went along. The book is short, less than two hundred pages (I would estimate 50,000 words), and I wished it were longer! I wanted to know more about the characters and other people living in this time trying to retain their Catholic Faith.
Hunt also excels at painting characters who are nuanced: the Anglican priest who still has Catholic leanings but who compromises his integrity out of weakness and refuses to help protect Catholics in need. The apathetic husband who pays lip service to the Church of England but only really cares about appearance, money, and an easy life. The wife who wanted to be a nun in France but who was forced into marriage by her father. It is not just the “good Catholics” and “bad Anglicans”–the tumult and turmoil in England during this century of upheaval led to a complex mix of personalities.
It is sad to think of what happened in England, the rejection and abolishment of the Catholic Faith from a country that the Church had Christianized. Monasteries and convents ransacked, destroyed, or seized and given to nobles in order to secure the King or Queen’s power. Families torn apart. God have mercy.
I hope that my own historical fiction novel will be as well-researched and well-told as Hunt’s.