Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Three Sexual and Posthumous Invectives

“I should prefer that all women, even of the lowest rank, should read the evangelists and the epistles of Paul.” Erasmus, Paraclesis: or, an Exhortation (1516).

See previous:
Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part One Introduction
Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Two Examples of Invectives

Sexual Invectives:

It is interesting how quickly invectives against these women took on a sexual nature. George Hauer condemned Argula von Grumbach as a “shameless whore.” The pseudonymous poem against Argula suggested that Luther’s theology was the reason that women like Argula were prone to “fornication and lechery/ of brazen, gross adultery.” The author insinuated that the reason Argula so forcefully defended the student on trial was because she was in heat and lusting after him. Katharina Schutz Zell, being one of the first women to marry a clergyman in Strasbourg, was denounced as a concubine of the Matthias Zell, and that he should pay the proper tax for his illicit relationship with her. In England, Anne Askew was described as “a coy dame, and of very evil fame for wantonness” simply because she chose to go by her maiden rather than her married name.

Posthumous Invectives:

The invectives against Argula did not stop after her letter writing campaign was finished, or even after her death. Even as late as 1782, the university still held a dim view of her efforts, with the chronicler noting that she was and continued to be “regarded by everyone with derision.” After Anne Askew’s self-reported “Examinations” were published posthumously, the invectives continued with the bishop of Winchester characterizing her writings as “pernicious, seditious and slanderous.” In the nineteenth century, Aimé-Louis Herminjard published a collection of letters from the French Reformation and he included an excerpt of Dentière’s Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre. His commentary on her contribution is filled with contempt. He characterized her as “a resolute woman” who meddled in areas she should not have, a “proud and vindictive woman” who was the reason for her husband’s downfall, and a “scheming woman.”

Up Coming:

Part Four — Responses to the Invectives
Part Five — Evaluation


Elaine Beilin, The Examinations of Anne Askew (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Amié-Louis Herminjard, ed., Correspondence Des Réformateurs Dans Les Pays De Langue Française. Recuillie Et Publiée Avec D’autres Lettres Relatives à La Réforme Et Des Notes Historiques Et Biographiques, Reprint. (Nieuwkoop: B. DeGraaf Publishing, 1965), 6:173.

Peter Matheson, Argula Von Grumbach: A Woman’s Voice in the Reformation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995).

Marie Dentière, Epistle to Marguerite De Navarre and Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin, ed. Mary McKinley (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).