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Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva

Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva

Robert M. Kingdon

ISBN 9780674005211

Publication date: 03/02/1995

In Calvin’s Geneva, the changes associated with the Reformation were particularly abrupt and far-reaching, in large part owing to John Calvin himself. Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva makes two major contributions to our understanding of this time. The first is to the history of divorce. The second is in illustrating the operations of the Consistory of Geneva—an institution designed to control in all its variety the behavior of the entire population—which was established at Calvin’s insistence in 1541. This mandate came shortly after the city officially adopted Protestantism in 1536, a time when divorce became legally possible for the first time in centuries.

Robert Kingdon illustrates the changes that accompanied the earliest Calvinist divorces by examining in depth a few of the most dramatic cases and showing how divorce affected real individuals. He considers first, and in the most detail, divorce for adultery, the best-known grounds for divorce and the best documented. He also covers the only other generally accepted grounds for these early divorces—desertion.

The second contribution of the book, to show the work of the Consistory of Geneva, is a first step toward a fuller study of the institution. Kingdon has supervised the first accurate and complete transcription of the twenty-one volumes of registers of the Consistory and has made the first extended use of these materials, as well as other documents that have never before been so fully utilized.


  • A resounding success in terms of both social and institutional history… Kingdon’s analysis of the social and political context of divorce, the role of servants, etc. is compelling and provides an important window into Calvin’s Geneva… [This is] a fascinating picture not only of divorce in Geneva, but also of the nuts and bolts operation of the city’s church and government. The depth and breadth of knowledge of the Genevan archives and the careful, precise use Kingdon makes of them is nothing less than we would expect from a scholar of Kingdon’s stature. But what makes this book truly remarkable is the combination of impeccable scholarship with a clear, almost conversational style that works with the intrinsic interest of the material to make this book a genuine pleasure to read… This is an extraordinary book, scholarly, elegant, and humane, that can be read with profit and enjoyed by scholars, undergraduate and graduate students, and the general public alike.

    —Glenn S. Sunshine, Sixteenth Century Journal


  • Robert M. Kingdon was Hilldale Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Book Details

  • 224 pages
  • 5-13/16 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press