This public recognition of woman’s novel status was part and parcel of the renewed obedience to all hierarchies, from state to father to mother and children then servants. It also opened the floodgates for improvement in coming decades and centuries. By the mid seventeenth century therefore a new class of women emerges who: “believed in their inalienable right to choose a religious form that conformed to the principles which they endorsed and about which they had thought closely. They did not follow their husbands”10 But for those who lived in Luther’s times, change was not that dramatic.
In fact the solace offered by the ‘old religion’ still outweighed the freedom granted to them by the protestant reform. The figures of the Genevan Consistory must also be taken to claim that women were not been given enough incentive to leave their religion of comfort. This cautiousness is understandable for women in the sixteenth century had already seen a great deal of change. The household workshops had necessitated female involvement in early medieval period. The decline of these had left many women working exclusively in the house as early as the thirteenth century.
Though this process was not curt it did mean that by “around 1600, women totally disappeared from the world of work. “11 The reasons for this are twofold, but not necessarily religious. The introduction of individual pay in the thirteenth century allowed blatant discrimination against women, with wages often pushed so low as to make staying at home more productive use of time. Further, the guilds formed in the thirteenth century gradually forbade female apprenticeship in many areas of work from the late fourteenth century onwards.
This meant that women were effectively banned from many areas of work with competition in the remaining areas depressing wages and making work an exclusively male domain, with women returning to the house. Thus, the changes advocated by the protestant reformation were already in effect in much of Europe by the time they came into religious practice. “The protestant emphasis on marriage as the only proper vocation for women coincided with the political strengthening of the patriarchal household”12
Undeniably however, though the protestants can be seen a ‘following the trend’, the further call for subordination would not have strengthened the female position but denied them power. Generally, the number of women in employment at the end of the sixteenth century was considerably down from the figures of pre-reformation Europe. Further, though women were given a new social standing and increased influence with the reformation this did not necessarily mean that their voices would be heard.
Their influence, it seems, was restricted to educating the household, though even civic authorities saw this as an area of grave importance. However as the examples of Argula von Grumbach in Germany and Anne Lock in England show, even women of outstanding character and endurance were not taken seriously when commenting on religious of civic issues. 30,000 copies of von Grumbach’s eight writings were distributed, but her direct impact on society was negligible. Though silencing these voices was not as easy as it might previously have been, their “garrulity had been taken as evidence of their sexual depravity”13.
Exceptional in their own right these women were of a rare kind and did not represent the female population as a whole. The exclusion of the common woman from religious influence was more complete than that of Lock, von Grumbach and their contemporaries. With the loss of visual artefacts like saints and their shrines with the protestant reformation, religion now focused more and more on the written word. Though the invention of the printing press had brought an increase in literacy, this was still more a domain of man, and women were therefore excluded.