Women in Renaissance and Reformation Europe

Women in Reformation Europe

In 1569, the Scottish Presbyter John Knox wrote a powerful treatise against the idea of women in government. He was responding in part to the swift changes in society caused by the Reformation, but also responding to the accident of history that brought multiple women into roles of power in the mid-sixteenth century, including: Mary, Queen of Scots; Mary Tudor, Queen of England; and Catherine de Medici, Queen Mother and Regent of France. Hoping for a favorable Protestant King, Knox wrote this and published it a year after the Protestant Elizabeth took the English throne (which changed his tune, since her Protestant faith was in line with Knox’s wishes for governance). However, Knox did not know what to expect from Queen Elizabeth when he wrote the following words:

For who can deny but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong, and finally, that the foolish, mad and frenetic shall govern the discrete, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority. For their sight in civil regiment, is but blindness: their strength, weakness: their counsel, foolishness: and judgment, frenzy, if it be rightly considered. ~John Knox, “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women”

Kevin Reed. (1995). The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women 1558
Retrieve from 

The following passage is taken from the 1542 publication of Agrippa von Nettesheim, A treatise of the nobility and excellence of womankind. Consider the different views on womanhood expressed here:

The woman has that same mind that a man has, that same reason and speech, she goes to the same end of blissfulness [heaven]. And thus between man and woman by substance of the soul, one hath no higher preeminence of nobility above the other, but both of them naturally have equal liberty of dignity and worthiness. For all, a woman was the last of the creatures created, the full end and most perfect of all God’s work. It is well known, that for the more part, a woman hath always more pity and mercy than a man. Moreover, it was proved by the civil laws that women might lawfully look to their own profit, to other men’s hindrance. Women should not merely grind at the mill, nor drudge in the kitchen. It is permitted unto noble women to judge, to arbitrate and decide matters, to do and take homage and fealty, to keep courts, and minister Justice among their tenants. And for this purpose, the woman may have servants of her own, as well as the man may: and a woman may be judge, yea among strangers. She may also give name to her family and kindred: so that the children shall be named after their mother, and not after their father. ~Agrippa von Nettesheim, 1542

(source: Bodleian Library, Oxford University, STC 71:08)


What do these passages say about the status of women in Renaissance and Reformation Europe? Write 200 – 250 words explaining your reaction to these descriptions and what they tell us about European women between 1200 and 1600:

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