I was very proud of this essay which I wrote as part of my Masters degree. It got me a first. Please don’t use sections from it in your own work without proper referencing.
The issue of women in history has been neglected until relatively recently. Hence the historiography on the effects of the Reformation on the lives of women is quite up-to-date. Cissie Fairchilds and Peter Wallace have two contrasting opinions which will both be explored in this essay. Fairchilds argues that the Reformation brought ‘some losses but more gains’ for women and ultimately improved women’s status in society. Conversely, Wallace argues that the reformation ‘bound women more tightly to men’s authority’ which diminished their status. These two opinions are irreconcilable, so one must triumph over the other. In this author’s opinion, the Reformation allowed women a measure of freedom, more than had been achieved in the Medieval period, but they were still ultimately subject to patriarchal authority. It was not until much later, into the twentieth century, that women managed to completely break away from man’s authority. The Reformation acted as a catalyst for these later changes. In examining the Reformation in relation to women it is politic to look at several fields of interest: education, marriage, witchcraft, religion, scholarship and monarchy. These key areas will demonstrate the effect of the reformation on the lives of European women in the sixteenth century. Continue reading →
Witch-hunts were irrevocably tied in to the Reformation. Both Catholic and Protestant countries had cases, but they increased in number during the pivotal period of the Reformation. This was the second half of the sixteenth century. James Sharpe claimed that witchcraft operated ‘within the context of the reformation and counter-reformation’.[i] Witchcraft did not become a major factor in people’s lives until the Reformation, and it died out as the religious situation across Europe settled down and stabilised. In England, for example, the last person executed for witchcraft was Jane Wenham in 1712.[ii] This was a time when England was settled and unified with Scotland. It was probably the most peaceful time to be English.
In some Catholic countries, like Italy, Spain and Portugal, there were actually relatively few witch trials. However, Pope Sixtus IV still felt that the danger was enough to warrant him approving an Inquisition to deal with them.[iii] However, Pope Alexander IV explicitly stopped an Inquisition from dealing with witches as early as 1258. This was possibly because the Church still had its power, whereas in the later period that power was slowly slipping away. The Inquisition, although originally allowed to deal with Jews and Moors in Spain, widened out to include heresy like Protestants, and then witches. Continue reading →
What Evidence is there for a Change in Ideas about Women between the Late Medieval and Early Modern Periods?
Ideas about women in the Medieval period were very different to ideas about women in the Early Modern period with this change largely being due to the religious upheavals that were taking place all over Europe, known as the Reformation. This essay will look at the era of 1100 – 1800 and how ideas about women changed and evolved in this period. The key themes that will be explored are women’s education and writing, looking at writers like Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) and Christine de Pizan (1363 – 1430) to try and understand why ideas about them changed and how much. Other themes are marriage, looking at the influence of the Church in them, and an early developing form of feminism which many of these writers could be considered as being a part of. This essay will argue that ideas about women did change, but it can be debated as to whether or not things actually improved or declined, as marriage laws got harsher rather than better. There is one main problem with this broad debate – the changes definitely were not universal and affected different parts of Europe in different ways with a divide between north and south.
The differences between Medieval and Early Modern marriage look to be minimal at first sight, but they are actually very different. It was not until the eleventh and twelfth centuries that the Church began to take responsibility for marriage which may have been because the Church was gaining more power and becoming more important in European affairs. So, at least in the very early Medieval period, marriage was not sanctioned by the Church, but by the middle of the twelfth century, Church courts settled marriages, the consequences and the validity of such whereas in earlier centuries the Church attempted to influence courts who had the final say on marriages. By the Early Modern period, the Church had control over most areas of everyday life, at least in Catholic countries. Continue reading →
How do Historians Account for the Comparative Differences in Witch Hunting and the Witchcraze Throughout Europe?
The witchcraze was a period in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries where so-called ‘witches’ were hunted and punished for practising witchcraft. This belief in witchcraft was most noticeable in Scotland and continental Europe as this is where the majority of accusations took place. This essay will look at several different areas of witchcraft and the witchcraze, including where beliefs did and did not take hold, the proportion of men and women who were accused, the influence of the Protestant Reformation and the prosecution of witches across Europe. Historians tend to agree that the witchcraze took off in Protestant areas more than Catholic areas, and also that it was largely female-identified. Historians also agree that there were different punishments for witchcraft in different countries, with some being stricter than others. However, there are some problems in analysing the differences in the witchcraze in different countries because for some countries it is difficult to access the trial records and historians do not even agree on the number of people who were executed as witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at the height of the witchcraze.
The witchcraze had more of an effect in some countries than others but the questions that were asked to accused witches by the interrogators and the authorities were often given the same or very similar answers all across the globe, and it was this which first gave rise to the idea that the witchcraze was an ‘international conspiracy’.Continue reading →