Melissa Franklin Harkrider
The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2008
As we engage with Calvin’s institutes and the issues of Theology, Ecclesiology and Politics that were prevailing in Continental Europe at the time of their writing we may wonder about their effects more widely. England underwent a Reformation in the sixteenth century and the issues that John Calvin wrote about on this process as this book amply illustrates. Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk was one of the highest ranking noble women in sixteenth century England. As Protestantism developed in England her approach to faith changed. She embraced many of the ideas that had their origin in the Genevan Reformation of John Calvin. These affected her use of political power and status as this book describes in chapters on Catholicism and Reform and Evangelicalism. For those sustaining an interest in Calvin the chapter about what happened when Katherine fled England during the reign of Queen Mary is particularly interesting. Katherine Willoughby’s views of the Eucharist were influenced by her friendship with Martin Bucer and she adopted the doctrine of predestination following John Calvin and the later Calvinist reformers.
In 1554 Katherine and her husband requested permission to settle in Wesel and joined the English Church there. Although they supported the doctrine of predestination they rejected the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They upheld the self-government of the church supervised by the minister and groups of elders. They did not adopt the Genevan Liturgy in common with English churches in Frankfurt and Strasbourg.
This book assists us in that it awakens our thoughts about the rapid spread of the Protestant Reformation in particular the one stimulated by John Calvin. By the time Katherine Willoughby and her husband were settling in Wesel in 1554 at the time of the Marian persecution in England Calvin had produced three editions of the Institutes (1536, 1539 and 1550). He had yet to produce the version he regarded as the most complete and authoritative (the 1559 version). Events in Europe involving the persecution of Protestants, not just in England had precipitated the translation of the Institutes into Spanish in 1540 and Italian in 1557. The story of Katherine Willoughby opens our eyes to these events and sets them in a wider European context. It also gives interesting insight into the role of women within the protestant reformation and is a worthy read for this reason too.