The first female identified as a book author, Antwerp’s golden age, and more on cryptic crosswords: newsletter, March 4, 2022

March 4, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, newsletter, Women writers and journalists, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,199) on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Spring, the calendar tells us, is still a few weeks away, but in my part of the world, it has begun early—and not a moment too soon. The grass and trees are turning a bit greener, and the early spring flowers, Lenten roses and camellias, are in bloom. Not to mention the jonquils. Hundreds of them. The natural world is waking up, and, as I said, not a moment too soon.

My journey into cryptic crosswords continues, helped along by the suggestions of a kind newsletter reader (see below). I’m still a little annoyed by Colin Dexter saying that understanding the clues is easy. I haven’t yet found them so. What I have found is that they are fun, and I have spent too much time this week trying to figure some of them out. It’s not hard to see how people can get addicted to these things.

Speaking of Colin Dexter, the late, great mystery writer, YouTube has all of his novels posted as audiobooks, and you can listen to them at this link.

Have a great weekend.


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Catherine Parr: the first named published author in English who was female

History remembers the name of Catherine Parr as the sixth wife of Henry VIII’s six wives, the one who survived. In truth, however, she should be remembered for much more than that. Her accomplishments were many and widespread.

Catherine Parr was the first female to have a book published in English with her name as the author. That 1545 book was titled Prayers or Meditations and was mostly a translation of a book published earlier in Latin by a pro-Catholic bishop. It was not the first book that Catherine Parr had written. That book, Psalms or Prayers, was published in 1544.

Catherine Parr was born in 1512, and she grew up as an intellectually curious and active girl. She never stopped learning. She was fluent in her native English as well as Latin, Italian, and she also learned French as an adult.

Her mother was a friend and a member of the household of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. Catherine Parr spent most of her life in the upper reaches of the English court system that had developed under Henry.

As a young adult Catherine took an active interest in public and religious issues of the day. Henry’s reign, of course, provoked and continued many of these issues. Catherine was a witness to the break between Henry and the Catholic Church, and as the Church of England was formed and as her reading about religion grew wider, she developed great Protestant sympathies.

In 1529 Catherine married Sir Edward Burgh. The marriage lasted for four years until 1533 when Burgh died. The marriage did not produce any children.

The next year, 1534, Catherine married John Neville, the third Baron of Latimer, a man twice Catherine’s age. It was during this marriage that King Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The nation became polarized between those who retained their sympathies for the queen and her Catholic faith and those who followed Henry’s march toward a break with the church and the formation of the Church of England.

During that time Catherine Parr lived with her husband in a castle in Yorkshire, and it was unclear to those in the London court where her husband’s sympathies stood. In reality, he was a supporter of the king, but poor communication prevented the king and his courtiers from knowing that for sure. That placed him, his wife, and family (he still had children from a previous marriage) in some danger. The local pro-Catholic people of Yorkshire knew of his sympathies, and at one point they besieged his house, took him away, and put Catherine and the children in fear for their lives.

Eventually that crisis passed, Lord Latimer died, and Catherine—now a rich widow—was able to return to London and its environs. Using her mother’s relationship with Catherine of Aragon, Catherine Parr renewed her friendship with Princess Mary, the queen’s daughter. She also became friends with the king’s other daughter, Elizabeth. Those friendships brought her into contact with King Henry himself.

Despite the fact that she was developing a relationship with another man, Henry asked Catherine Parr to marry him in 1543. She could hardly refuse. As queen, she was partially responsible for helping Henry reconcile with his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

In 1544 she published her first book, Psalms or Prayers Taken Out of Holy Scriptures. The book appeared just as Henry was preparing for war with France, and because of its religious context, it became an important piece of propaganda for the king. One of the psalms included in the book was titled “A Prayer for the King,” and that prayer eventually was included by Queen Elizabeth I in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. It remains there today.

As queen, Catherine put herself in the crosshairs of factions within the court who were anticipating the death of the old king and the reign of a new monarch. Catherine would engage in lively theological debates with her husband, something he often welcomed and enjoyed. She became the target of a group with Catholic sympathies, and those men managed to convince Henry of Catherine’s disloyalty because of some of the things she had said to him. The king authorized a warrant for her arrest. Fortunately, Catherine heard about this conspiracy, and she immediately went to the king and apologized for any disagreements they might have had over theology. The king was convinced of her sincerity, and when men came to arrest Catherine, the king sent them away.

Catherine’s marriage to Henry lasted for three and a half years until his death in 1547.

During that time, Catherine’s influence on the king had far-reaching effects for the history of Great Britain. She managed to convince him to restore his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession. The king’s son, Edward, would inherit the throne on his death. But it was unclear what would happen if Edward, who was not in the best of health, did not survive long as king.

After Henry’s death, Catherine became the queen dowager, and she maintained good relationships with all of Henry’s children. Elizabeth felt particular affection to her and considered her something of a mother figure as she grew up. In November 1547, Catherine published a third book, The Lamentation of a Sinner, a book that promoted the Protestant belief in justification by faith alone, something that the Catholic Church deemed as heresy. All of Catherine’s books were wildly popular and became best sellers during their time.

A few months after Henry’s death, Catherine married Thomas Seymour, the man with whom she was developing a relationship before marrying the king. It was in that marriage that Catherine became pregnant for the first time. She was 35 years old, and eventually she gave birth to a daughter. The birth was a difficult one, however, and Catherine Parr died in 1548.

Catherine Parr’s life was one of action as well as intellectual reflection. She took an active part in the great events of her time, and her influence is still being felt.


Catherine Parr’s life has been the subject of several biographies, one of which was written by Susan James, Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love. You can listen to an interview with her on the Not Just the Tudors podcast.


The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Centaur, Cerberus, Childhood, Christian

CENTAUR, n. One of a race of persons who lived before the division of labor had been carried to such a pitch of differentiation, and who followed the primitive economic maxim, “Every man his own horse.” The best of the lot was Chiron, who to the wisdom and virtues of the horse added the fleetness of man. The scripture story of the head of John the Baptist on a charger shows that pagan myths have somewhat sophisticated sacred history.

CERBERUS, n. The watch-dog of Hades, whose duty it was to guard the entrance—against whom or what does not clearly appear; everybody, sooner or later, had to go there, and nobody wanted to carry off the entrance. Cerberus is known to have had three heads, and some of the poets have credited him with as many as a hundred. Professor Graybill, whose clerky erudition and profound knowledge of Greek give his opinion great weight, has averaged all the estimates, and makes the number twenty-seven—a judgment that would be entirely conclusive if Professor Graybill had known (a) something about dogs, and (b) something about arithmetic.

CHILDHOOD, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth—two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age.

CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Antwerp’s Golden Age in the sixteenth century

The idea of Atlantis—the myth of a far-off, lost colony where people flourished and lived in harmony—has been an enduring part of the Western mind since the days of Socrates and Plato, from whence it sprang. I have been reminded of that myth as I have learned more and more over the last few weeks about the city of Antwerp (now in Belgium) and its Golden Age, which occurred in the sixteenth century.

Michael Pye, a former journalist for the BBC, has just published a book about that time in that city, and what he has to say is fascinating. You can listen to an interview with Pye on the Not Just the Tudors podcast, which you can find on Google Podcasts here, or you can read about his book in a recent review by Jenny Uglow in the New York Review of Books. You can also purchase Pye’s book, Europe’s Babylon: The Rise and Fall of Antwerp’s Golden Age.

However you find out about it, Antwerp’s story is worth knowing.

It was an odd set of political and social circumstances that came together around 1500 to make the city of Antwerp largely free of close political or social control—no king and no bishop is one description. That opened up the city to an influx of people, goods, and most importantly ideas that set it sailing on a Renaissance sea of exploration and experimentation.

Antwerp thus became, for one, the printing capital of the European continent, particularly texts with Protestant leanings. It was also a refuge for heretics. As Uglow’s review says:

The city was therefore a natural refuge for the priest William Tyndale, whose translation of the New Testament appeared in 1526, the year he arrived in Antwerp. A year later, after protests from the English ambassador, all copies were publicly burned, but printing almost immediately resumed. In his “semi-sanctuary” in the English House, the protected base of British traders, Tyndale persisted with his translation of the full Bible until 1535, when—to the fury of English merchants, who felt their privileges had been breached—he was finally lured out and arrested by the imperial authorities. Convicted of heresy, he was strangled and burned at the stake.

Antwerp was also a city where women could be in charge. They ran businesses as well as households. They could operate banks and money exchanges. They could keep shops for their husbands or for themselves. They could become artists and openly sell their work. Pye points out that (in Uglow’s words):

The artist Catharina van Hemessen worked for Mary of Hungary, became a member of the Guild of St. Luke, and painted “the first known signed self-portrait of a working artist, a woman insisting on being seen.”  (See the illustration with this post)

Anything could happen in Antwerp, and it often did. Crimes of all sorts occurred. The city opened itself up to people who were banned elsewhere, especially Jews. Sexual freedom was explored. Espionage was actively and openly practiced. The city pioneered new ways of thinking about money and trade.

Thomas More, who visited Antwerp several times, used Antwerp as the opening scene in his famous book Utopia.

Antwerp’s Golden Age could not last. Authorities were bound to notice the insidious spread of its heresies. They also noticed its wealth of money, opportunities, and ideas, and the overreaching of its inhabitants. Some of those inhabitants became rebellious when controls were exercised, and eventually Antwerp was no longer a free or safe space for any kind of original thinking or action. What had started around 1500 and flourished through the decades was finished by around 1580. Antwerp’s Age of Aquarius was over.

The city was subdued, and its history repressed. Thankfully, we have Michael Pye, who is determined to resurrect it.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Steve G.: Cryptic crosswords are really tough for Americans, even after you know all the “rules.” They’re tough to find in the U.S. The Nation used to have one every week, but they dropped it a few years ago. There are a few good sites on the net—Christine Lovatt posts one every day that’s intended for beginners (she’s an Aussie). The Globe and Mail also has a daily cryptic. Sometimes they’re easy, sometimes not so much. The “big leagues,” if you will, is the Manchester Guardian. They are consistently tough.

About 20 years ago I wrote a book of forty cryptic puzzles aimed specifically at the U.S. market. I set up a website, took out ads, and pushed it everywhere I could. Sold 14 copies and lost my shirt. I also tried to interest the Sunday magazine of the Seattle Times to offer a cryptic, and offered to write them for free. They never even responded.

I still enjoy doing them, but now, like you, I’m writing mystery novels.

Steve is the author of The Portapotty Ploy and The Melting Pot Murder, available on Amazon. 

Vince V.: My best time on the NYT mini-crossword is 47 seconds. I’m a lousy one-fingered typist. 


Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: A Church in Scotland

Best quote of the week:

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness. John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.


Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Dexter’s cryptic crosswords, two for the annals of true crime, and another racing story: newsletter, February 25, 2022



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