Nickname tales

Ever considered what powerful women like Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette or Mary Tudor might have in common? Or how their experiences might be similar to those of Martha Stewart or Lady Gaga?

They’ve all been called some pretty awful names. But are these nicknames, like Mary Tudor’s “Bloody Mary,” deserved? Gretchen Maurer, author of a new book exploring Tudor’s life and times, describes the 16th century Queen of England as a “product of her time and family.”

Maurer is careful to note that Tudor’s idyllic-turned-tragic childhood doesn’t excuse her decision to have hundreds of Protestants burned at the stake, but thinks that conjuring nicknames like “Bloody Mary” prevents us from exploring the full measure of the truth.

“I’ve always loved to look at two sides of a story — to question things,” reflects Maurer. Better to have youth read about famous historical figures than to merely label them and move on. There’s much to be gained by considering the evidence for and against commonly held assumptions, and a new series of books gives tweens that opportunity.

The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames,” published by Goosebottom Books, examines the lives of six strong women deemed dastardly — inviting readers of tween age and up to look beyond the labels to catch a glimpse of the real people who made history.

The six titles in the series are:

  • Cleopatra Serpent of the Nile
  • Agrippina Atrocious and Ferocious
  • Mary Tudor Bloody Mary
  • Catherine de’ Medici The Black Queen
  • Marie Antoinette Madame Deficit
  • Cixi The Dragon Empress

The series inspires reflection about why people do what they do, and whether any of us can say for sure that we might have behaved differently in similar circumstances — while revealing that many of our contemporary conflicts mirror those of earlier times and places.

During Mary Tudor’s time, the clash of Catholicism and Protestantism was a burning issue. In some circles, religious differences continue to be hotly debated. So Maurer, who grew up with a Catholic father and a Lutheran mother, ends her Tudor tale by asking “What’s all the fuss?” as she compares both similarities and differences between medieval expressions of Christianity.

Maurer wants to understand “what formed and shaped” Tudor — to understand why Tudor did the things she did. She hopes her books will “help people connect history to the now.”

“I try and put it out there,” says Maurer. “To let the kids decide without moralizing.”

– Lynn

Coming up: Favorite movies for holiday together time

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