Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Queen and I, Part II: Book Review

Beth von Staats reviews my book on her blog:

Supremacy and Survival, How Catholics Endured the English Reformation is a triumph of comprehensive brevity. In a mere 149 pages, Stephanie A. Mann tackles head-on and convincingly from a Roman Catholic point of view the Henrican and Protestant Reformations of England and later Great Britain, beginning the with way of life of Roman Catholics living prior to Henry VIII’s decision to annul his marriage to Catalina de Aragon straight through to the British Roman Catholic Emancipation of the 19th century and beyond. Just how does Mann pull off this seemingly impossible feat? Stephanie A. Mann is a educator, and like any great teacher, she sticks to the facts, points to the obvious and allows her reader to absorb what for many will be a true enlightenment. Our English historical heroes were not as religiously tolerant as we thought. Our English historical villains were not so condemnable as we were led to believe. They never taught us any of this in history class or Sunday School. Who knew?

What's different about this review is that Beth comes from a historical fiction community that has Anne Boleyn as its heroine. If you are interested in Tudor dynastic history, you know that Anne Boleyn is a crucial figure. She can also be a controversial figure: either the heroine of the era or the terrible villainess of English history--as Hilary Mantel (and others have said something similar) wrote in The Guardian in 2012, "Anne Boleyn is one of the most controversial women in English history; we argue over her, we pity and admire and revile her, we reinvent her in every generation. She takes on the colour of our fantasies and is shaped by our preoccupations: witch, bitch, feminist, sexual temptress, cold opportunist." In summary: Anne Boleyn fascinates many for many reasons--and of them has been her reputation as a reformer, with evangelical (Lutheran) sympathies.

One might expect that my book, with its focus on what Catholics suffered during and after the English Reformation, could be seen as an attack on Anne Boleyn or even an attack on English Protestantism as it developed. But I think throughout Supremacy and Survival, I practiced charity toward all the historical personages, not ever attacking their persons--sometimes weighing their actions in a balance of justice and pointing out general inconsistencies--but never naming anyone a villain or villainess. My thesis about the English Reformation has been tested, based as it is on the work of great scholars like Eamon Duffy, Christopher Haigh, et al--and when I read Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution (San Francisco: Harper One, 2007), I was more assured I had it right. That's why I appreciate this review so much: it is not only fair to my thesis, but argues for readers to be open to my argument--and to some of its implications.

As Beth concludes in her review:

If you are looking for an apologetic view of English and Welsh history, you will not find it in Supremacy and Survival, How Catholics Endured the English Reformation . If you are Anglican or even if another Protestant denomination, you may find some of what Stephanie A. Mann teaches unsettling. Read the book anyway. Learn English history through the eyes of of the Roman Catholic experience. You will hear the voices of English and Welsh Roman Catholics, hundreds martyred for their faith alone, clear and strong — and for many of you, perhaps for the first time. Hear them roar.

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