Extract: ‘Katharina Luther: Nun. Rebel. Wife.’, by Anne Boileau


To round off my posts as part of the Clink Street Summer Blogival 2017, Allow me to present an extract. Thanks Anne Boileau for the extracts. And also thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Authoright for asking me to take part.

Dr Martin Luther wants marry. He is a priest, so this would be an act of rebellion against the Church, because priests are supposed to be celibate. If he were to propose to Katharina, a former nun, it would mean that both of them would be breaking their vows of chastity. In other words, it would, in the eyes of the church and the wider world, be seen as a union forged in Hell.

Luther had already tried his luck six months before with Ave, Katharina’s best friend and fellow nun. Ave turned him down in favour of the young apothecary at the Cranach House, Stephan Axt. Following this rejection, the Doctor can’t find the courage to approach Katharina himself, so he asks his friend Lucas Cranach, the painter and publisher, to pop the question on his behalf. Katharina is a little shocked but not surprised at the proposal; she calls on Frau Reichenbach for advice, and prays to Mary to give her a sign. What should she do? They exchange letters and he invites her to come to his study at the Black Cloister.

They both know it will not be an easy relationship, but they both know too that in some ways they would be well matched, not only in strength of character but in the fact that they have both grown up with and learnt from the discipline and strictures of monastic life. She can provide him with a well-run household, while he can concentrate on his preaching, pastoral duties and academic work. Perhaps, God willing, they will be blessed with children.


In the Black Cloister

“Katharina, please ask me, tell me, what is on your mind, I can see you are still hesitant.  I want you to be sure. Take your time. I can wait.”

He looks at me with such anxiety and tenderness, I see a yearning in his eyes which I have never seen before, but I plunge on with my unrehearsed doubts and fears.

“I have wondered, as well, whether you’re asking me to be your wife simply as a matter of expedience. You need someone to run your house, to be a hostess to your guests, keep the accounts, care for the animals, manage the provender. I could do all that; however, I don’t want simply to be your housekeeper; I want a real husband, a father for my children, a loving companion.”

He puts his large hands on the table in front of him and gets to his feet.  He comes round the desk to where I am sitting – a sunbeam is slanting down through the high window with motes of dust swimming about in it.  He takes my hands in his and with a lightness of touch makes as if to lift me to my feet.  We stand facing each other, holding hands;  then he touches my cheek and  we look into each others’ eyes.

“Katharina. Not a housekeeper. A wife. I want a wife to lie with, to laugh with, to eat with. I want, if God be willing, a mother to my children. I will not say I am in love. But I think we can grow into love. Does that make sense to you? I admire you enormously. You have courage and sometimes a sharp tongue. So have I. You know who you are. You know your God. I like the way you plant your feet on the ground. You will need to keep them there if you are to live with me. And yes, I do admire the skill with which you manage the dairy and the bees and the vegetable garden at the Cranach Haus. Of course I need a skilled housekeeper. But above all, Katharina, and I swear this is true, I want you because you are who you are, and I think we can live and work together.

“So, dear girl, forget about sins and broken vows; forget about the job of housekeeper. This professor and priest seeks a loving wife. And he wants, more than anything else, for that wife to be you, Katharina von Bora. If you say ‘yes’ you will make this old renegade the happiest man in Wittenberg.”

“Then I will say Yes, Herr Doctor. Yes, I will marry you, and be your wife.”





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