When Martin Luther heard that the monks were leaving the monasteries and joining in his reformation had begun getting married, he rejected the idea of marriage for himself: "Good heavens! They won't give me a wife!" But time would prove otherwise. In 1523, Katherine von Bora and eleven other nuns wanted to escape their convent, and they wrote to Luther, whose radical new Protestant ideas had filtered into their convent.
Though liberating nuns was a capital offense punishable with death, Luther devised an ingenious plan with a fellow named Lenard Koppe, who weekly delivered herring fish to the convent. On Koppe's next delivery, twelve nuns were smuggled out—inside of empty herring barrels. As a one man in Wittenberg jokingly put it, "A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life."
Luther found husbands for most of them, but he struggled to find a suitable match for Katherine, a feisty redhead in her mid-20s, far beyond the usual age for marriage. He proposed one older fellow, but she refused him, adding that if Luther himself were willing, she would say yes.
Luther was not interested. He said, "I am not now inclined to take a wife. My mind is averse to marriage because I daily expect the death decreed to the heretic." However, bolstered by his parents' encouragement to marry, Luther married in the summer of 1525, as Luther said, "quickly and secretly." He knew his best friends would not have approved of his choice : He admitted, "All my best friends exclaimed, ‘For heaven's sake, not this one,' ".
The marriage to Katherine brought even more scorn from his Catholic opponents, such as Henry VIII, who considered the union "a crime." One Catholic pamphlet called Katherine a "poor, fallen woman" who had passed "from the cloistered holy Catholic religion into a damnable, shameful life."
But Luther's friend Philipp Melanchthon had "hopes that this state of married life might sober him down, so that he will discard the low buffoonery that we have often had to censure." Luther had quite the sense of humor, but Kate indeed set about bringing order to Martin Luther's chaotic personal affairs. He had been a bachelor for many years, and he noted, "Before I was married, the bed and linen was not made or changed for a whole year."
Martin Luther suffered at various times from gout, insomnia, flu, hemorrhoids, constipation, kidney stones, dizziness, and ringing in the ears. So Kate became a master of herbal medicines, poultices, and massage. She brewed her own beer, which also served as a medicine for his insomnia and stones.
Finances were a perpetual worry, in part because Luther was always giving away what few funds and belongings they had. Katherine, whom Luther wryly dubbed "my Lord Kate," often had to take matters into her own hands. Martin once wrote a friend, "I am sending you a vase as a wedding present. P.S. But Katie has hidden it."
The Luther home usually overflowed with, in one observer's words, "a motley crowd of boys, students, girls, widows, old women, and youngsters. For this reason there is much disturbance in the place." Kate supervised the whole with skill and patience. She also planted the fields, cared for an orchard, harvested a fish pond, looked after the barnyard, and slaughtered the livestock.
Luther's writings reflect his twenty-year devotion to her. He once chided himself for giving "more credit to Katherine than to Christ, who has done so much for me." And he declared, "I would not give up my Katie for France and Venice together."
Upon Luther's death in 1546, Katherine grieved: "For who would not be sad and afflicted at the loss of such a precious man as my dear lord was? He did great things not just for a city or a single land, but for the whole world. Therefore I am truly so deeply grieved that I cannot … eat or drink, nor can I sleep. And if I had a principality or an entire empire and lost it, it would not have been as painful as it is now that the dear Lord God has taken from me this precious and beloved man, and not from me alone, but from the whole world."(Editor: In finishing here, is a little account regarding Luther's children whom he jokingly called his six "little heathen" from God.)
Only four months after Martin Luther and Katherine were married, he told a friend: "My Katherine is fulfilling Genesis 1:8." The Luthers were "fruitful," and Johannes, known as Hans, was born. Martin Luther quipped: " Kick , little fellow. That's what the pope did to me, but I got loose."
His parents knew about the foolish superstition that if a monk and nun had a child together, it would be a two-headed monster. But instead they received a healthy little boy, a source of great happiness. Luther quipped, "Hans is cutting his teeth and beginning to make a joyous nuisance of himself," Luther later wrote. "These children are the joys of marriage, of which the pope is not worthy."
The next year came a daughter, Elizabeth. Luther wrote to a prospective godmother: "Dear Lady, God has produced from me and my wife, Katie, a little heathen. We hope you will be willing to become her spiritual mother and help make her a Christian."
Next came Magdalena , Martin, Paul, and Margaretha. Such a large brood of kids kept both mother and father busy. Luther sometimes had to wash diapers , but he declared defiantly that even if neighbors should snicker at such "unmanly" labor, "Let them laugh. God and the angels are smiling in heaven."
Hans became a lawyer and later a government official. Paul grew up to be a famous doctor. Martin Jr. studied theology, but never became a pastor, dying young, at age 33. Margaretha married a nobleman.
Martin and Katherine Luthers' hearts were broken twice, when they lost Elizabeth at only 8 months and Magdalena at 13 years old.
As she lay upon her deathbed Martin asked Magdalena : " Magdalena , my little girl, I know that you would like to stay here with your daddy, and yet would also be glad to go to your Father in heaven?" "Yes, dear Father," she said, "as God wills." Then she died in his arms.
Luther said as she was buried, "Beloved little Magdalena , you will rise in the resurrection and shine like the stars and the sun."