When Tracy was setting up her Werewolves in the Renaissance blog tour, I knew exactly what I wanted her post to be about -- research! world-building! Naturally she did not disappoint! Check out the discount coupon and the free 4-chapter sample below, too.
The Holy Roman Empire is Full of Rebels
By Tracy Falbe
My love of Renaissance history deepened while researching my novel Werelord Thal: A Renaissance Werewolf Tale. After carefully pondering exactly which setting to choose, I selected Bohemia in the year 1561 when lovely Bohemia was in the midst of two centuries of upheaval.
What was the problem?
The Holy Roman Empire with its capital in Prague was firmly on the side of the Papacy. The actual people of Bohemia, including the nobles, not so much.
Why was there widespread discontent?
Deepening corruption within the Catholic Church, especially with the sale of indulgences, had undermined people’s faith in the holiness of their holy leaders. The printing revolution triggered by Gutenberg greatly aided the spread of dissent. Literacy increased. The Bible was translated into vernacular languages, and people increasingly wanted to experience their own spiritual beliefs without a priest as intermediary. Scripture was the source of guidance, not the priest. It is the beginning of a societal desire for liberty instead of blind obedience to a God-ordained order, which defined the Middle Ages.
What was Bohemia’s role in all of this?
By the 1560s Bohemia had already endured a long, bloody, and valiant history of resisting the Roman Catholic Church. In 1415 the famous priest and professor at Charles University in Prague Jan Hus was executed as a heretic. Until then he had been enormously popular in Bohemia for his criticisms of the Papacy. In his view the ultimate authority was in the Bible and not the rules made in Rome. He was also against indulgences, an outrageous albeit profitable practice of letting people buy forgiveness for sins. The Papacy continually used and abused this tool to raise money. Jan Hus is considered one of the precursors to Martin Luther, who did succeed in upsetting the tyranny of Rome over Europe.
After a scandalous betrayal by future Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, Hus was burned at the stake. Bohemia exploded into open rebellion. Many people altered religious practices and priests were attacked and driven out of parishes.
From 1419 to about 1434 the Bohemian rebels repelled five Papal crusades until finally peace was made with the more moderate rebels. This war was an early example of gunpowder firearms like the hand cannon being used in European warfare. The Bohemians were famous for their armored carts and wagons that they devised. Jan Zizka was their famous military leader and is revered to this day as a hero for his boldly innovative tactics.
Once the Hussite Wars were over, Bohemians ostensibly became good Catholics again, but the original controversies persisted. The Protestant Reformation exploded onto the European scene in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in which he complained about Church corruption. Printing technology had taken hold by this time, and the rebellious sentiment spread rapidly. Many German principalities in the Holy Roman Empire rejected Papal rule.
With rebellion spreading the Catholic Church dug in at Bohemia. The capital of the Holy Roman Empire was established in Prague. The Jesuits driven by their duty to bolster Catholicism entered Prague and established a college in 1556. And in 1561 an archbishop returned to Prague where the seat had been vacant since the Hussite Wars over a century earlier.
Although Bohemia was Catholic on the map, discontent simmered. The noble class resented the increasing exertions of imperial authority headed by the Hapsburg family as it tried to establish strong central rule with the help of the Roman Catholic Church. By 1618, the horrific Thirty Years War that ravaged much of Europe started in Prague. The incendiary incident was the infamous Defenestration of Prague when the Protestant nobles of Bohemia threw representatives of Matthias II, the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor out a window in Prague.
How is this social discontent portrayed in Werelord Thal?
I drew many of these elements into the narrative of Werelord Thal. Many references to books and printing are made. Information, including propaganda, is everywhere. The discontent of the nobles is illustrated through the character of Lady Carmelita Hrabe. Her fancy parties serve as cover for meetings of Protestants in Prague. Next I include the Jesuits in the story. The character Brother Vito is leading a mission into Prague to hunt heretics and support his order’s mission of stamping a Catholic view upon the educational system. The plot of the novel revolves around witch hunting, which was a tool used by both sides to terrorize the population and impose compliance to narrowly defined views of how people should be.
Thal is wanted for Devil worship and shape shifting but still boldly walks the streets of 16th century Prague. Jesuits hunt him. Mercenaries fear him. Musicians sing his praise, and women are captivated by his alpha swagger.
Born of a witch and a sorcerer, he is summoned when his desperate mother casts the werewolf spell before facing torture and execution. Burdened with her magical call for vengeance Thal seeks the men that killed her. His hunt is complicated when the Magistrate’s stepdaughter Altea Kardas crosses his path. Horrified that her community is burning women to death, she can confide her doubt and fear only to Thal.
He desires her greatly but knows he will bring ruin upon her. Across Bohemia and beyond people who are different are labeled heretics in a restless world hobbled by tyrannical ignorance. The Renaissance has thrown the Holy Roman Empire into turmoil. Printed books are spreading radical ideas. Firearms are triggering a new age of warfare. And the human spirit is shaking off obedience.
Thal embodies the ancient magic of the pagan past. He challenges a world conquered by a spiritual system that denies the flesh and forgets the Earth. And he awakens within Altea recognition of these truths. She believes any risk is worth loving him until she becomes the bait in a trap set by Thal’s enemies.
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