Why would we want to read about the lives of sixteenth-century wives? One good reason is that, although living in a completely different world to ours, they had the same human nature, strengths, challenges and frailties as we do.
We can be enlightened and encouraged as we read these accounts of six ordinary women who aimed to live godly lives and put into effect all they were newly learning.
One was a former nun, one was married to an antagonistic unbeliever, and three were widowed. All but one were married to Reformers and one was widowed four times and married to three Reformers in succession.
One marriage was a partnership of equals, while another woman married her Reformer-husband to help curb his womanising! Two of the wives addressed in the book became public figures and were writers who used their gifts to defend the gospel, sometimes at the risk of their lives. One enjoyed discussing theology with the men — unusual for the times!
One Reformer married because his friends persuaded him that he should. His wife was rarely well and the marriage was often troubled, while another saw marriage as a place to serve Christ and his people. Her home was a place of refuge for many fleeing persecution, and we see how she gladly and selflessly ministered to their needs.
They all managed busy households, where there were many children, stepchildren and usually house guests to care for. There were trials and difficulties, bereavements and infant deaths, opposition to the gospel and persecution and exile.
Few of these couples married for love, but most came to love one another deeply. Luther wrote of his wife, ‘I love her more than myself’; a formerly womanising Zwingli became a devoted family man; Calvin, who married somewhat reluctantly, described his wife as ‘the best companion of my life’. Until the light of the gospel shone into their hearts, they would have lived by the accepted values of society as it then was, but now they sought to live by the rediscovered values of the Bible.
A short study at the end of each chapter invites the reader to consider issues faced by these Reformation wives, pointing to New Testament teaching about marriage and the way that believers should live. This book would be ideal as a gift.