16th Century Women

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To what extent were women actively involved in religious reforms during the sixteenth century?

The Reformation was a period of overwhelming and extreme religious change throughout Europe in the sixteenth century. Although the major influences within the period of change were male, the Reformation also promoted a new standard for the roles of women in society, and through this, influenced the ways in which women shaped their identity as devout people. Despite the fact that women were actively involved in many aspects of religious life, collectively women only had a small impact on the formal structures of religious reforms during the sixteenth century. Furthermore, although women were able to informally influence societal religious beliefs,
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In the Introduction to the text Women in reformation and counter-reformation Europe: Public and Private worlds, Author Sherrin Marshall explores how the ‘great religious changes of this period affected the lives of women.’ Though Marshall identifies that the leaders of religious change ‘were men, almost without exception’, she also acknowledges the huge impact that religious change had on the lives of women in Europe, particularly in creating new ‘confining and limiting norms’ for women to adhere to. This identifies that although they weren’t actively involved in the administrative and formal reforms, women were still impacted on by the Reformation, as they were required to adhere to strict gender norms. The gender norms were primarily used as a method of supporting familial goals, as women were expected to manage the household and create families. This assertion was promoted by Martin Luther, a prominent religious reformer, who in 1523 wrote an open letter stating ‘a woman should remain a woman, and bear children, for God has created her for that.’ This identifies that in the name of religious duty, women were expected to primarily be a mother and a homemaker. Further to this, Marshall states that the Reformation ‘forced ‘household religion’ into the open’ , allowing women were able to construct a public religious identity, effectively shaping the way they wish to be seen, and giving them opportunity to choose the religious values that they deem to be the most important. This meant that women had the ability to shape which religious beliefs were acceptable to their society and community, and furthermore to promote these beliefs by passing them down to their children, and discussing them with members of the

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