The Fires of Europe is about a nearly forgotten period of world history when ongoing battles raged between Catholics and Protestants to decide which faction of the Christian religion would win the hearts and minds of the masses. We see echoes of those battles today between the different factions of Muslims and have mostly forgotten about our own bloody past.
Although he was not the first to speak out on the subject, Martin Luther, a German Monk, is generally credited with firing the first shot and declaring war on his own church by insisting upon every parishioner's right to read the bible in his own language and then going even further, nailing his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenburg.
Further enraged by the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, those who would later become known as "Protestants" not only did not drop their demands but began to question even more vigorously the Catholic Church's complete dominion over every aspect of their lives. The various monarchies in western Europe, having used the church to further their own self-serving ends, were fearful of a collapse of the established religious order and attempted to crush the rebellion with whatever means they could find. This sudden desire for more choices on the part of average citizens, most particularly the up-and-coming middle class that was just becoming literate, followed in the wake of other discoveries and enlightenment in trade, finance, education, and science. Change almost always brings with it confusion though, a lack of being able to define problems in the old ways, to set limits, or to know the right course of action when the world is changing. They must have been incredible, exciting, and terrifying times to live in, much like our own. Good people and bad people were on both sides, all flawed, and all too human. Luther had no way of knowing that the rebellion that he started in Germany would spread through Europe, eventually impacting history on every continent including Africa and Asia as well as North and South America.
The Huguenots who fled France joined forces with the Dutch and even altered their names to fit in with them more.
Together they traveled to the Dutch Colonies in Brazil, Malaysia, and New Netherlands, what would later be the Island of Manhattan in New York City, on the very site of the World Trade Towers that is known worldwide today. The others, the Jews and the Muslims to name just two, were there as well but were on the sidelines of the main event. Geert Mak's book on Amsterdam gave me invaluable insight into the heart and soul of the city. The Netherlands has hosted most of the major groups that have suffered religious persecution and indeed, England's "Pilgrims" or "Puritans" went there first before they moved on to New England on the North American Continent. Some Huguenot men left France alone and others were able to escape with their families. The lonely young men had to find a way to make a living, many of them never having done any manual labor, overcome the Netherlander's understandable skepticism of people whose culture was so different, and also surmount what I imagine would be the Netherlanders' reticence to allow their daughters to marry these strangers.
In researching my own family history, I based my characters on composites of my ancestors as well as people I know today but I have to say that I was not at all prepared to see the dates, facts, and questions that came up. Say for example that your descendant found out that you had moved away from Manhattan Island on September 12, 2001. Every date and place has a story.
The Thirty Years War was another component of the misery brought down on Europe by the monarchs. Although my characters complain about it, they have not suffered the hardship that was more the rule during this tough time, especially in the areas that would later become known as Germany.
Estimates of the population that France lost through executions and emigration at this time period vary, but historians agree that it was significant, some going as far as to say that most of the middle class was lost, all of the crafts men and artisans that support a healthy and growing economy. Anyone who lived through these times surely would have told the tale again and again and even the grandchildren would probably repeat the tales they had heard long after the ancestor was gone. I'd like to think that when your place in the world has been lost, that you can find a new place in a new world. The best way to get there is by following your own conscience.
Links to Historical Information
The Huguenots - their faith, history, and impact
St. Bartholomew's Day massacre
Brief Outline of Dutch History and the New Netherland Colony
The National Huguenot Society
Dutch Descendants Society
Old Dutch Church
Bergen County Historical Society
The book can be purchased from this website, Quail Ridge Books, Bulls Head Bookshop, iUniverse Online Bookstore and other major outlets.
Plowshares in the Palatinate is the story of one family’s move to the Rhenish or Lower Palatinate area in present-day Germany’s Rhine River Valley. At the close of the seventeenth century, a call was sent out from the archbishop of Canterbury in London, who needed help in resettling the “poor Palatines”, whose numbers had overwhelmed the charitable institutions that were trying to feed them in England. These refugees eventually made their way to England, Ireland, and the American colonies. They were identified as “Huguenots”, French Protestants, but who were they? Why had they gone there and what had they been doing while living in this forsaken wilderness for a few generations?
The Palatine descendants were resettled in America from New Paltz to Savannah, sent to some of the most severe conditions that the new American colonies had to offer, but the refugees survived. This stubborn refusal to give up on life speaks to their faith and to the hardships with which they had already become accustomed while living under similarly extreme conditions in the Pfaltzland.
In 1701 Micajah Perry, a shipping magnate involved in the transatlantic London- Chesapeake trade, was retained by the Archbishop of Canterbury, sponsor of a fund for the relief of French Protestant Refugees. Perry was named to a commission that was established to help resettle the “poor Palatines”, providing food and clothing for basic subsistence and transporting them across the ocean to resettle them. These refugees were eventually scattered along the eastern coast of the colonies over the coming decade, from Boston to Charleston and as far inland as Pennsylvania and New York’s Mohawk Valley.
Who were these people? Where did they come from and why were they living in the wilderness of Germany’s Rhine River Valley? More importantly, what values did they espouse that this group would soon produce the likes of Paul Revere, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and the DeLanceys?
Links to Historical Information
David Demarest (book review)
David Demarest (biography)
German Identities, New York Palatines
Palatines to America
Please feel free to contact Phyllis Harrison by Email with any comments, questions or for speaking engagement and interviews.