Women in the Reformation

Whenever one thinks of important people in the Reformation, the names that come into mind are Martin Luther, on top of it all, followed by the likes of John Calvin, John Knox and a host of others who dared challenge the teachings of the church and begin a movement that changed the face of Europe and western civilization overall.  In her research, Nikki Shepardson looked into the accounts of Jean Crespin titled Histoire des vreys tesmoins. In this account, Shepardson focused on the role of women in the Reformation and she discovered, through Crespin’s account, that their role in the Reformation was significant though not in the same level as the prominent leaders such as Luther. Based on Crespin’s accounts, one significant role women played during the Reformation was to become martyrs for the movement (Shepardson 155).Martyrdom was nothing new to Christians as they have been martyred since the Roman Empire for openly professing their faith.

  The fate of the Protestant women martyrs appear to follow a parallel course with those of the ancient times.  What Shepardson discovered that women martyrs possessed a unique “power” that was overlooked by a then male-centered, chauvinistic society which tend to denigrate them to an inferior level and stereotype them as being housewives who were supposed to serve their husbands to become nuns to serve God.  In one account which was written by Florimond de Raemond, he described the remarkable bravery shown by these Protestant women as they were led to their execution, usually being burned at the stake in public as Protestantism was considered a heresy.

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  He was impressed that they willingly sought out death rather than hide or cower in fear as would be expected from “weak” women, going there appearing happy rather than fearful (Shepardson 155).The way they faced death was reminiscent of the fate of Perpetua, one of the early Christian woman martyrs.  Like Perpetua, these women had a powerful appeal to everyone who have witnessed their deaths through martyrdom.  They were the most constant and consistent.  There was no account of a woman renouncing her faith.

  Furthermore, the fact that they were women hit a nerve in society as they displayed uncommon courage as they almost stoically accepted death.  Women had been regarded as symbol of virtue of purity and seeing them walk to their death gave everyone an impression that the Protestant movement was “right” and gave its adherents role models to follow, just like the early Christians.  Through these martyrs, Protestantism survived and eventually thrived.In conclusion, Protestantism did not survive merely on technology as the printing press distributed its teachings throughout in the vernacular, it can also be surmised that its survival was also due to their martyrs who demonstrated the righteousness of their cause by accepting death, knowing God was on their side to the very end, especially the women, who were regarded as models of virtue.Works CitedShepardson, Nikki. “Gender and the Rhetoric of Martyrdom in Jean Crespin’s Histoire treys vrays tesmoins.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 35.

1 (2004): 155-74. JSTOR. 31 July 2010 <http://www.jstor.org/?pss/?20476842>.



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