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wrote his old teacher Beatus Rhenanus: "I have no other news to write except that a few days ago a wagon landed here full and loaded down with vestal virgins, as they call them, who desire as much to marry as to live. May God provide them husbands, that they may not in course of time fall into worse evils!"
Within a short time six of the nuns were taken in charge by relatives or friends, while three of them remained in Wittenberg, two sisters finding a home with the Cranachs, and Katharine von Bora with the family of a prominent lawyer, Philip Reichenbach. Katharine was a girl of considerable spirit, and apparently held her head high. When she reached Wittenberg a former student, Walter Baumgärtner, son of a patrician family of Nuremberg, was visiting Melanchthon.
As Luther had helped the nuns to escape, he felt responsible for their welfare, and put them up temporarily in the Wittenberg cloister, already emptied of most of its monks. Immediately after their arrival, he wrote Spalatin of his plans for them, expressing the hope that he could find homes for some of them and husbands for others. At the same time he asked for money to support them until they were properly disposed of, for he was too poor to help them himself. Luther's colleague Amsdorf also wrote Spalatin:
He and Katharine speedily fell in love, and it was hoped a match could be arranged between them; but he returned home in June, and perhaps because of the objections of his family to his marriage with an escaped nun, the affair was broken off. Nearly a year and a half later Luther still hoped they might yet marry and wrote Baumgärtner: "If you wish to keep your Käthe von Bora, make haste before she is given to another who is at hand. She has not yet conquered her love for you, and I should certainly rejoice to see you joined to each other." Whether Baumgärtner replied to this letter, we do not know. At any rate, nothing came of it, though Luther, and Katharine, too, for that matter, remained his friends as long as they lived.
Not nine, but twelve, nuns escaped. Nine of them have come to us. They are beautiful and ladylike, and all are of noble birth and under fifty years of age. The oldest of them, the sister of my gracious lord and uncle, Dr. Staupitz, I have selected, my dear brother, as your wife, that you may boast of your brother-in-law, as I boast of my uncle. But if you wish a younger one, you may have your choice among the most beautiful of them. If you desire to give something to the poor, give it to them, for they are destitute, and deserted by their friends. I pity the creatures. They have neither shoes nor clothes. My dearest brother, I beg, if you can get something for them from the court, you will supply them with food and clothing. You must make haste, for they are in great poverty and anxiety, but very patient. I wonder indeed how they can be so brave and merry when in such distress and want.
The new suitor referred to by Luther was the theologian Casper Glatz, rector of the Wittenberg University. Not finding him to her liking, Katharine refused him, and in March, 1525, when the wealthy bachelor Amsdorf, then pastor of the city church in Magdeburg, was visiting Luther, she begged him to urge the latter not to force her into a marriage which was distasteful to her. At the same time she naïvely assured him that while she was unwilling to marry Glatz, she
This portrait was painted by Lucas Cranach in 1526, a year after Luther's marriage, and is usually considered the best portrait of him.
gifts. She was highly thought of in Wittenberg, where she was known among her young companions by the name of Katharine of Siena, and the best people in town were her warm friends. When the exiled King Christian of Denmark was visiting Lucas Cranach in the autumn of 1523, he presented her with a gold ring which she prized as long as she lived. She was certainly no ordinary girl, and her remark to Amsdorf shows her own appreciation of the fact.
Luther himself had for a long time been gradually growing accustomed to the thought of marrying. One after another of his followers had renounced his priestly or monastic vows and taken a wife, and he had been repeatedly urged to do the like. Others were putting his principles into practice; why should he hold back? It was hoped he would marry a wealthy woman of some prominent family, and more than one eligible young lady was warmly recommended to him by his friends. In the summer of 1521 he wrote Spalatin. from the Wartburg: "Good God! will our Wittenbergers give wives even to the monks? But they shall not force a wife on me!" In his Church Postil of 1522, after attacking the monastic vow, he remarked: "I hope I have come so far that by God's grace I can remain as I am. At the same time, I am not yet over the mountain, and do not venture to boast of my continence." We hear no further references to the matter until November, 1524, when he wrote Spalatin:
I thank Argula for what she writes me concerning my marrying. I do not wonder at such gossip, for all sorts of reports are circulated about me. Thank her in my name, and tell her I am in God's hands, a
creature whose heart He is able to change and change again, to kill and make alive every hour and moment. But so long as I am in my present mood I shall not marry. Not that I do not feel my sex, for my heart is neither wood nor stone; but my inclination is against marriage, for I am in daily expectation of death and of punishment suited to a heretic. I will not on this account set bounds to God's work in me, nor will I rely upon my own heart. But I hope He will not let me live long.
Spalatin not to marry, and so incur tribulation of the flesh, in April, 1525, he wrote him: "Why do you not proceed to get married? I am urging others with so many arguments that I am myself almost persuaded; for our enemies do not cease to condemn this way of living, and our wiseacres daily laugh at it." A few days later he wrote again, in a jocular vein:
So far as my marriage is concerned, about which you write, do not be surprised that I do not marry, celebrated lover as I am.
Rather wonder that I who write so much about marriage, and have so much to do with women, am not already a woman myself, to say nothing of taking one for a wife. But if you desire me for an example, behold I have given you a most signal one.
have had three wives at once, and loved
them so ardently that I have lost two of them, who have taken other husbands. The third I scarcely hold on my left arm, and am perhaps about to lose her, too. Tardy lover as you are, you dare not be the husband even of one wife. But take care lest it happen that I, with a mind strongly set against marriage, yet anticipate your most imminent espousals, for God is accustomed to do what you least hope. Joking aside, I say this that I may induce you to do what you have in mind.
On the fourth of May, in a letter to the Mansfeld councilor John Rühel concerning the riotous conduct of the peasants, he remarked in passing: "If I can manage it, to spite the devil, I will yet marry my Käthe before I die, if I hear that the peasants go on as they are doing. I hope they will not take from me my courage and my joy." On the second of bishop of Mayence, urging him to marry June he wrote an open letter to the Archand turn his dominions into a secular principality. The next day he sent a copy of the letter to Rühel with a note in which he said:
If his Electoral Grace should again ask, as I have heard he has, why I also do not take a wife, when I am inciting every one else to do it, tell him I am still afraid I am not clever enough. But if my marriage would be an inducement to his Grace, I should be ready to set him the example, for I have
Although in 1521 he had admonished already had it in mind, before departing this