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.