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Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre and Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin

Edited and Translated by Mary B. McKinley
Born to a noble family in Tournai, Marie Dentière (1495-1561) left her convent in the 1520s to work for religious reform. She married a former priest and with her husband went to Switzerland, where she was active in the Reformation’s takeover of Geneva.

Dentière’s Very Useful Epistle (1539) is the first explicit statement of reformed theology by a woman to appear in French. Addressed to Queen Marguerite of Navarre, sister of the French king Francis I, the Epistle asks the queen to help those persecuted for their religious beliefs. Dentière offers a stirring defense of women and asserts their right to teach the word of God in public. She defends John Calvin against his enemies and attacks the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Her Preface (1561) to one of Calvin’s sermons criticizes immodesty and extravagance in clothing and warns the faithful to be vigilant. Undaunted in the face of suppression and ridicule, this outspoken woman persisted as an active voice in the Reformation.

120 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2004

The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages

Religion: Christianity

Women's Studies


“Marie Dentière was an outspoken Protestant. . . . McKinley discusses the question of authorship: did Dentière herself write the Very Useful Epistle . . . to the Queen of Navarre . . . (1539), did her husband Froment do so, or was it a collaborative effort? McKinley supports the latter view, arguing that the Epistle ‘clearly expressed doctrinal and political positions that the couple shared’ and that ‘collaboration was standard practice for spreading the word of the reformed religion.’ McKinley’s translation is excellent; it retains the rhetorical energy of the original, while making the text accessible to a modern reader. . . . For the Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin on How Women Should Be Modest in Their Dress, as McKinley points out, Dentière’s argument is “less feminist” than in the Epistle; nonetheless, Dentière ‘assumes the paradoxical position of teaching about a passage [from 1 Timothy 2] that expressly forbade her to do so’. . . . . Dentière’s strident yet engaging voice is well worth listening to, for what it tells us about the author’s beliefs and about the situaltion of an articulate and intelligent owoman in Calvinist Geneva.”

Jane Couchman | Renaissance Quarterly

“Mary B. McKinley, [Dentière’s] translator, provides a full and interesting biographical introduction, which reveals the excesses of Dentière’s zeal. We see her storming into a convent to harangue the outraged nuns about the pleasures of conjugal relations, or arguing with John Calvin himself about the length of his disciples’ robes. . . . Her own writings are unsophisticated and direct, and reveal a violent hatred of the Catholic Church. . . . She is aware of the anomaly of her position as a woman daring to question the accepted religion of generations past, but the sheer forces of her conviction sweeps the reader along. And those who do not dare join her crusade are ‘bold as slugs’.”

Maya Slater | Times Literary Supplement

"The book contributes to our growing understanding of the place of women in the Renaissance--and the value of their literary work. . . . Hers is a name you ought to learn and add to your list of the most outspoken writers of the first half of the turbulent sixteenth century."

Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

"Even in a series devoted to communicating ’the other voice’ . . . McKinley’s volume is exeptional. Her translation conveys the vigor and oral cadence of Dentière’s prose. . . . [Students] will learn much about the dynamism of the early Reformation and about the choices involved in making and writing history."

Cynthia J. Cupples | H-France Review

“A welcome contribution to scholarship on this relatively unknown sixteenth-century woman. From the pages of [the] preface, Dentière reveals herself to be an extraordinary woman, not only in the breadth of her travels and learning, but also in her courage and determination. . . . McKinley’s great achievement is in her clear and lucid situation of the two texts within the context of the contemporary religious upheaval.”

Pollie Bromilow | Journal of European Studies

"McKinley’s translation is indeed appreciated. . . . Not only does it give a voice to a woman from the Reformation but also to an entire genre of polemical Reformed literature, mostly untranslated and little known outside of specialist circles."

Michael W. Bruening | Sixteenth Century Journal

Table of Contents

Series Editors’ Introduction
Volume Editor’s Introduction
Volume Editor’s Bibliography
Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre
Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin
Series Editors’ Bibliography

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