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Women of the Reformation

By C.V. Lee
April 2, 2024

My current work-in-progress is set in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation. In the Western World, we still recognize names of prominent men associated with the movement, i.e. Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and King Henry VIII, to name a few.

Today, I want to celebrate six women who embraced the movement, using their positions, their political influence, and literary prowess in support of the revolt against the doctrine and practices of the Catholic Church.

Katharina Schutz was introduced to the teachings of Martin Luther by the priest by the name of Matthew Zell, whom she later married. She was one of the first women to marry a cleric. They worked as equal partners in their reformation efforts. Katharina wrote many best-selling pamphlets, in particular, one justifying clerical marriage, and welcomed many people fleeing persecution into her home.

Anne Boleyn, 2nd wife of Henry VIII

Anne Boleyn’s influence is unique. Her refusal to become Henry VIII’s mistress, and the pope’s refusal to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, led the king to break with Rome and establish the Church of England. He then divorced Catherine and married Anne. Although Anne remained Catholic, she had reformist leanings and supported the reformist efforts.

Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne after the death of her half-sister, Queen Mary, also known as “Bloody Mary”, who famously tried to return England to Catholicism. Because Elizabeth was a Protestant, her hold on the throne was always tenuous. Several European countries hoped to usurp her throne. Her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, attempted to assassinate her. In the late 1580s, King Philippe III of Spain, with the blessing of the pope, sent a large fleet to invade England. The attempt failed miserably.

Elizabeth I, Queen of England

After her conversion, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, was famous for interceding with her Catholic brother, King Francis I of France, to gain the release of Protestants from prison and allow them to preach and practice their faith. Although a Catholic himself, King Francis agreed to her request. By patronizing the arts, Protestant works, and protection of the persecuted, Marguerite helped establish Protestantism in France.

Jeanne d’Albret, aka Queen Joan III of Navarre, daughter of Marguerite and Henry II of Navarre, was raised by her Protestant mother but did not embrace the movement until 1560. She outlawed Catholicism in Navarre and banished all the Catholic clergy. She helped to finance the Huguenot forces and stood up to the pope, refusing to recognize his authority.

Joan III, Queen of Navarre

Argula von Grumbach had the good fortune to be raised by a father who valued education. Thus, she learned to read and write when educating women was considered a waste of time. Although raised Catholic and married to a Catholic, she converted to Protestantism. She is best known for her many writings about her new faith, including a letter to a university in defense of a young Lutheran teacher arrested for heresy. She remained staunch in her beliefs despite being shunned by family and friends.

The Reformation brought about a shift in attitudes towards women. While Martin Luther continued to espouse the view that a woman’s place was in the home, the Protestant sect that arose under Huldrych Zwingli gave women a more elevated status, allowing them to take positions within the ministry. Although the Protestant movement was not cohesive, the various sects espoused the belief that all people should read the Bible for themselves. To achieve this end, women, girls, and the lower classes needed to be literate.

Other benefits resulting from the Reformation was a change in a woman’s status from basically “chattel” to a “sister in Christ.” Divorce was also addressed, giving women more legal protection and equality in dissolving a marriage. Either a husband or wife could sue for divorce.

These are but a few names of women that stood firm against the power of the Catholic Church and powerful men and women to fight for what they believed in. Through their writings, positions, and political influence, they helped facilitate change. These may seem like small first steps, but it was a major shift from previous centuries.



Ten Women of the Protestant Reformation ~ World History Encyclopedia

Four Views of the Nature and Role of Women in Sixteenth Century Protestantism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anabaptism, and English Puritanism ~ Loma Linda University ~ The Scholars Repository@LLU,Protestantism%20discourage%20irresponsible%20conduct%20toward

1450-1600 Women and the Reformation ~ The Remedial Herstory Project




C.V. Lee

Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

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1 Comment

  1. Anne M Beggs

    Ty for sharing these influential women of the Reformation!


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