During the tumultuous early years of the Protestant Reformation, women who wielded official power, or who wielded significant unofficial power in close proximity to official state power, had a profound influence on the course of events. Whether or not religious affiliations and political outcomes obeyed these women’s will, their efforts had an impact on the way events unfolded. The prevalence of powerful women in these circles might surprise those who are accustomed to think that “traditional” European society simply excluded women from positions of power. The practical situation was more complex.
Consider, among others:
- Marguerite of Navarre (1492-1549) — Queen of the buffer state of Navarre, she was an early Protestant and dedicated supporter of Calvin’s;
- Renée of Ferrara (1510-1574), whose court became a refuge for French reformers following the Affair of the Placards, including Calvin himself in 1536.
- Jeanne d’Albret (1528-1572), the daughter of Marguerite of Navarre and mother of later French king Henry IV, worked diligently for the Protestant cause in her capacity as ruler, including in military affairs and the education and disposition of her son’s political future. In the end, she failed to mold a Protestant king of France (her son provided the occasion for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre on his first marriage, to Marguerite of Valois, and later was reputed to have said “Paris is well worth a mass,” as he reaffirmed his Catholicism to secure support for his monarchy), but laid a foundation for Henry’s later institutionalization of tolerance in the Edict of Nantes.
- Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungrary (1505-1558) to whom Martin Luther dedicated four psalms in 1526, and Erasmus a text in 1530, and who, as Governor of the Netherlands 1531-1555, enforced Charles V’s anti-Protestant edicts but is also alleged to have tempered their severity in view of her own sympathy to the Reformers’ cause.
- Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) institutionalized the Protestant Reformation in England with the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, later evolving into the Church of England
- Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), reluctant Lutheran, initiated the diplomacy that brought about the Peace of Westphalia, the agreement that ended the 30 Years’ War and made the European states system safe for a small degree of religious pluralism.
The history of Reformation Europe can be, has been, and in some quarters still is told without reference to these monarchs and others like them. But it is not best told in that way. As this list suggests, women were — then, as now — present and active in the events at every level, including — at least on occasion — that of state power.
Read More . . .
About Marguerite of Navarre at Other Women’s Voices (bio, source links, excerpts from her writings>
About Renée of Ferrara
About Jeanne d’Albret at Other Women’s Voices (bio, source links, writings)