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The celibate life of clerics and nuns was frowned upon and the convents were to be thrown open. If we bear in mind that the convent was the only space available to women where they could be completely free of their biology and where they were not just allowed but encouraged to read, write, study and pray, we can see what a retrograde step this was for them.

By the Klarakloster was fighting for its existence in Reformation Nuremberg. Through the agency of Melanchthon in the convent was allowed to continue in existence but was doomed to extinction because of a prohibition against the admission of novices. Nor could the nuns receive the sacraments according to the old rites. Caritas died there in aged sixty-six, a woman whose learning was made possible by her life as a nun. He therefore was to be the sole fount of knowledge for his wife, should she need instruction.

In consequence only those women who came from an intellectual family, in whose discussions and reading they were allowed to participate, had a chance of acquiring learning. But were there not important women Reformers? Certainly there were women who worked and fought to further the cause of the Reformation.

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As the sixteenth century progressed, however, the formation of theological faculties in the new Protestant universities meant that religious interpretation was taken back into professional and therefore male hands and was carried on in an institution to which women by definition were not admitted. One of the main complaints of Anna Ovena Hoyers was precisely the exclusion of women from theological debate. The Reformation in the German-speaking world ensured, however, that at least one book in the vernacular was accessible to women — the Bible.

German women were never forbidden to read the Bible for themselves as English women were in the Act of Parliament promulgated in Women and literature As well as the social and historical factors mentioned above, there were literary constraints on women too. The novel purveyed lies and was furthermore a dangerous foreign import. Secular love poetry, based as it was on Petrarch or on the Latin poets, contravened conventions about the sexual purity of women. If we put all these factors together, it is obvious what the bulk of writing by women must consist of: predominantly verse and within that, religious verse and occasional poetry; in the realm of prose, non-fiction and autobiographical writing, with novels only making their appearance from the second half of the seventeenth century.

Let us now examine each of these areas in turn. As just mentioned, verse is the pre-eminent genre employed by women. Poems can be small in scale and unpretentious in theme and form; they do not need the long-term concentrated work of a novel or the co-operation of actors and the existence of a theatre before they can be realized. They are complete in themselves, they can be produced in private and even women had familiar models to emulate: Biblical psalms in translation, hymns in the vernacular, satirical verse on broadsheets, didactic verse in emblems and on gravestones, folksongs, as well as the occasional poetry familiar to all at weddings, christenings and in funeral sermons.

Of all forms poetry was the one women could most easily practise in private and without censure. The marriage appears to have been a happy one and she bore her husband at least nine children. He died in and in the course of the next ten years, Hoyers lost a large part of her fortune through law-suits and taxes. It was, however, her deviant religious views which led to her unsettled existence from and her ultimate refuge in Sweden. The movement towards Reform, itself so revolutionary and anti-orthodox in the early Reformation years, had hardened into two institutionalized churches, Lutheran and Calvinist.

The same faculties pronounced on which sects and writings were to be banned as heretical. It is clear that by the s Hoyers was reading a great deal of such banned material which circulated secretly among believers. They were both called to order by the Lutheran authorities and had to flee, first to other towns in Schleswig-Holstein and afterwards to Denmark.

Hoyers was able to remain in the area under the protection of the Dowager Duchess Augusta of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp and carried on holding private prayer meetings and worship as before. On the death of her uncle in she lost her last family protector and from seems to have moved around in North Germany. We know that she was in Sweden by , accompanied by five of her children, though the exact date of her arrival there is not certain, and that by now her financial circumstances were straitened. However, in she came under the protection of Maria Eleonora, Queen Mother of Sweden, who allowed her to live on one of her estates until her death in As a life history of a woman and a non-conformist in the early modern period her story would be fascinating in itself.

Even more interesting is that her emergence as a non-conformist in religious matters also marked The early modern period her emergence as a writer. Her second was her verse rendering of the Book of Ruth, which appeared in Sweden in Today she is chiefly known for her Geistliche und weltliche Poemata Religious and secular poems , an anthology which contains the two above-mentioned works as well as twenty-one others and which appeared in Amsterdam in A Stockholm manuscript put together by her sons Caspar and Friedrich Wilhelm after her death contains a further forty-seven poems.

Clearly these were to be used by a congregation as part of their worship and are characterized by a clarity and simplicity of diction, a heartfelt piety and a regularity of form reminiscent of Luther himself. She indeed saw herself as standing in direct descent from Luther, both in her criticism of clerical abuse and in her composition of hymns for actual liturgical use. She was born in Greifswald as the daughter of a lawyer of standing and education who served at the court of Boguslav XIV in Stettin and later became mayor of Greifswald.

The Thirty Years War meant that Schwarz and her siblings spent the years —31 not in Greifswald but in Fretow on the coast. It is clear that in her studies and in her poetry, which she must have begun to write at about the age of ten, she had the full support of her widowed father and of her brother. By the time of her death at the age of only seventeen, Schwarz had written some eighty poems, a fragment of a drama entitled Susanna and part of a pastoral novel.

Her poems, showing skilful use of such forms as the sonnet and the alexandrine, deal with a much wider range of themes than was usual for women, even later in the century.


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Of course she writes religious verse and occasional poetry but there are many poems on the theme of friendship and, surprisingly for a woman and a young woman at that, at least a quarter of her verse is Petrarchist love poetry. It would appear that when a talent such as that of Schwarz is given the necessary encouragement and education it can vie with the poetry of male contemporaries. The poetry of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg makes this point even more forcefully. This Austrian Protestant aristocrat lost her father at the age of seven, whereupon her step-uncle Hans Rudolf von Greiffenberg became her guardian.

He was also her first teacher and taught her the classical languages as well as French, Italian and Spanish. She read works on ancient and modern history, law, politics, astronomy, alchemy, theology and philosophy as well as the European literature of her day.

Her Protestantism meant that she and her family had to make long journeys to attend services at important religious festivals, usually to Western Hungary. After the death of her younger sister and only sibling, Greiffenberg had what she considered an important mystical revelation at Easter in Pressburg Bratislava. Among her friends in the educated Protestant aristocracy was Johann Wilhelm von Stubenberg, a notable translator from French and Italian who had widespread connections with the intelligensia of his day.

She showed him her poems; he acted as her literary mentor and adviser and put her in contact with the poet and scholar Sigmund von Birken —81 , who had settled in Nuremberg in Meanwhile Hans Rudolf, her step-uncle, had declared his long-standing wish to marry her and put her under great pressure to agree, though he was almost thirty years her senior. They were too nearly related for this marriage to be lawful in Austria and when Greiffenberg finally gave in, they had to be married in Bayreuth in After their return to their estates at Seisenegg in Austria in , however, Hans Rudolf had to spend a year in prison on a charge of unlawful cohabitation.

They bear witness to a deeply religious woman who longed for the solitude and the leisure to pursue her studies, her writing and her devotions, but who was constantly forced to abandon them either to help run the house and estate or to entertain the loud jolly company her husband enjoyed. Of all women writers in the early modern period Greiffenberg is the only one to be the subject of sustained research and discussion. These poems are remarkable by any standard.


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The physical world is seen as a set of ciphers which have to be decoded to arrive at the spiritual meaning. To do this she employs such tightly controlled forms as the sonnet and pushes language to its boundaries by creating unexpected compounds and by the use of emphatic prefixes. One is reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was driven by the same urge to express the unexpressible and who finds himself having to mould and distort language in the same way.

From her own point of view and that of her contemporaries her principal achievement as a writer was not her poems but her four extensive series of religious meditations in prose, interspersed here and there with poems, on the incarnation and early life of Jesus , His suffering and death , His teachings and miracles and His life and prophecies Margaretha Susanna von Kuntsch had no such like-minded associates to encourage her literary endeavours.

She explains that though her own inclinations led her to learn Latin and French and other branches of knowledge, her parents were more farsighted than she and decided that such occupation was more suited to a great lady than to a woman of the middle rank and so she had to give up her studies. At eighteen she married Christoph von Kuntsch, also an official of the Altenburg court. With the exception of a period of three years at the beginning of her married life, she spent the rest of her days in Altenburg where she had grown up. Most of her poetry takes exactly that form we outlined above as virtually pre-determined in the case of a woman writer of the period: it consists either of religious verse on Biblical or other pious topics or of occasional poetry, written for funerals, weddings and birth- The early modern period days or in the form of tributes to acquaintances and friends.

What strikes the reader is the extent to which her mind is preoccupied with the theme of death to a degree unusual even for a Baroque poet. Not only is there a large number of references to death, even in the birthday poems for her husband, and of poems on the topic itself but a heart-rending intensity is revealed in her treatment of the subject.

Remarkable in this regard is the series of poems on the deaths of her own children, whose names and precise ages to the day she lists in her curriculum vitae. She had fourteen pregnancies of which only one child, her daughter Margaretha Elisabeth, lived to adulthood. Two of the pregnancies ended in miscarriages, two were stillbirths, two were premature and no less than five others died at less than a year old.

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Two others died aged seven and nine respectively. In a skilfully turned poem she compares the courage needed by the warrior Agamemnon in battle with the far greater courage needed to cope with the loss of his child, and then contrasts herself, now the mother of nine dead children, both to Agamemnon and to Timantes, who like herself, is attempting to depict grief in art.

If he was unable to limn the pain of another, how can she present her own heartbreak?


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  5. It is clear that these women were active in various non-conformist religious groups throughout the seventeenth century, something we have already seen in the case of Hoyers. One of the best-known of these spiritual autobiographies is that of the noblewoman Johanna von Merlau, more commonly known by her married name of Johanna Eleonore Petersen.

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    For her this outward narrative is the framework for what really concerns her, namely, her spiritual development. She learns to depend absolutely on God and to see His hand in all things and as her spirituality becomes more and more inward and her own inclinations more ascetic, she finds the social role she is required to play, for instance, at court, deeply distasteful.

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    Had either of these women belonged to a different religious grouping, the convent would have been the obvious refuge. Johanna von Merlau, however, has to marry and her struggle to accomplish this and yet remain true to her religious ideals constitutes a constant thread in her narrative. Once she is married to Petersen and can express her spirituality in sympathetic surroundings, she then develops visionary and prophetic gifts. As an exploration of emotions and spirituality and in its insistence on their primacy over the happenings of daily life, this autobiography anticipates the eighteenth century.

    She addresses her memoirs ostensibly to her children but maintains that her intention is not didactic. Rather she is writing in order to commune with herself, to have someone to talk to in the loneliness of her widowhood. The sheer length of her account means that the reader is given a full and detailed picture of the customs, religious observance and daily life of the German Jewish community of her day.