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The Reformation: Its History and Legacy (December 2017): Women and the Reformation

By Matthew Hill

Women and the Reformation

The role of women in the Reformation has received more coverage in recent years. Three essential works by Ronald Bainton are a good starting point for a widespread view of prominent women during this period—Women of the Reformation in France and England, Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy, and Women of the Reformation from Spain to Scandinavia. Although lacking an overarching narrative structure, these works provide helpful biographical material. Kirsi Stjerna, in Women and the Reformation, provides biographical detail on leading women but also discusses the differing roles and changing culture for women, such as the roles of prophets and visionaries, the closing of convents and monasteries, marriage, divorce, and motherhood. 

Lyndal Roper’s The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg offers a more negative counterperspective. Roper rejects standard treatments that the Protestant Reformation as a whole was progressive and beneficial for women. She argues that women’s experiences were ambiguous and, at times, subject to a retrenched patriarchy.

A classic but still helpful work is Retha M. Warnicke’s Women of the English Renaissance and Reformation, which examines the role of women through a generational model of Pre-Reformation, Reformation, mid-Elizabethan, and Jacobean-era women. Warnicke then ties these themes together by analyzing the new classical training that women received, and their role as humanists. The generational approach of this very useful work strategically avoids isolating women without context. 

Works Cited