Thursday, August 13, 2015

An Elizabethan Heroine: Lady Cecily Stonor

Author Gareth Russell asked me to contribute an article on one of my heroes or heroines. On his blog, he offers an introduction to my selection:

A few months ago, I fell into a conversation about heroism and whether it still serves a purpose. In his biography of Anne Boleyn, published in 2010, Professor George Bernard dismissed the idea, quoting the Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht's response to "Unhappy the land that has no heroes" - "Unhappy the land that needs heroes". Bernard, paralleling the old idea of heroism with the contemporary fascination with celebrity, continued, "Models are not necessary ... Men and women should not need to study the life of Anne Boleyn, or modern 'celebrities', to learn that if you do not like your lot in life, you should do what you can to improve it."

This certainly raises a valid point about projecting our own needs and neuroses onto the men and women of the past and, in doing so, misrepresenting them. However, I also think that people can be heroic and inspirational without being whitewashed. Theology teaches us that even the holiest saints had their flaws. To be inspired does not necessarily equate with creeping on metaphorically knee to the shrine of the revered. In this vein, I am delighted to share an article by American author Stephanie A. Mann, author of
Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics endured the English Reformation, who has written a reflection on Lady Cecily Stonor, a English Catholic who defended her faith in the time of Queen Elizabeth I.

An excerpt from my essay (please read the rest there):

Although I write often about the Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation era and certainly highlighted them in my book about the English Reformation—and there are three women honored by the Catholic Church among the canonized and beatified martyrs of that era, I have not chosen a martyr as my heroine.

The heroine I’ve chosen does have much in common with those three martyred Catholic women (St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Margaret Ward, and St. Anne Line). She could have suffered the same punishment they did: she was a recusant Catholic and she protected Catholic priests in her home. Because she came to trial in 1581 before it was a felony for hiding Catholic priests, she avoided execution. But she suffered much because she remained true to her Catholic faith and her conscience.

Lady Cecily Stonor (nee Chamberlain) and her late husband Sir Francis Stonor (+1564) had two sons, Francis and John, and three daughters. They were recusants and because they would not attend Sunday services in the Church of England, they had to pay huge fines, selling land and estates as necessary. In 1577, according to the Stonor Park website, the family paid the modern equivalent of £50,000 in fines. . . .

I am going to participate in the blog tour for Gareth Russell's new book on the English monarchy, so watch this space.

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