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Harvard Historical Studies 118

Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva

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$32.00 • £27.95 • €29.95

ISBN 9780674005211

Publication Date: 03/02/1995


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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

This is the first book published using the recently transcribed minutes of the Consistory, a body that oversaw the morals and marital issues in Geneva. It is written by the most eminent scholar on Genevan history in the United States, who inspired the transcription and publication of the Consistory minutes. Here he uses them in conjunction with city council minutes and court proceedings. The book is a sterling example of how useful this precious source is… [T]he book is excellent, clear, compact, and suitable for both scholars and classroom use.—Jeannine E. Olson, American Historical Review

Robert Kingdon’s latest work, the result of years of work transcribing the Consistory records during Calvin’s records in Geneva, provides unique insights into the life of the Genevan people. The issues of adultery, divorce, and remarriage go the heart of Calvin’s attempt to reform not only the theology of Geneva but also its morality. The author masterfully tells the stories of various families dealing with such moral issues and how the Consistory attempted to resolve such conflicts… This book brilliantly combines political, social, and religious history, as the author weaves together a fascinating narrative, detailing the interrelationships between the leading pastors, council members, and the populace of Geneva… [He] writes in a remarkably clear and readable style that makes this volume attractive for specialists as well as for undergraduates.—Martin I. Klauber, Calvin Theological Journal

This volume presents a fascinating series of case studies on Calvinistic Geneva’s attitudes toward marital disorder drawn from one of the most important and (hitherto) neglected sources on Early Modern social control—Geneva’s Consistorial minutes. The book is an indispensable entry into these records…[which] are of obvious interest to students of Genevan, Calvinist, and Reformation history. However, there is also much here to interest students of gender issues, social control, and urban history.—William G. Naphy, Catholic Historical Review

This book by the American expert on Calvin’s Geneva, Robert Kingdon, adds still another useful study to his manifold publications, as he successfully fulfills two purposes: preventing case studies of the history of divorce, and illustrating the work of Geneva’s Consistory.Church History

[T]he author has made a significant contribution toward the reader’s understanding of the workings of the Consistory and the dynamics of life in Geneva during Calvin’s ministry.—Francesco C. Cesareo, The Historian

Robert Kingdon’s objectives in this study are to make a contribution to the history of divorce and to illustrate the operations in John Calvin’s Geneva… Kingdon accomplishes his goal admirably. His description of the workings of the Consistory and its relation to the governing structures of Geneva illuminates the character of the Reformed brand of Protestantism that expects the state to support the church in regulating both faith and practice.—Stephen B. Boyd, Journal of the History of Sexuality

[Kingdon’s] purpose [in this book] is twofold: ‘One is to make a contribution to the history of divorce. The other is to illuminate the operations of the Consistory.’ He succeeds admirably at both… What makes [the sample narratives here] so engaging and, ultimately, convincing, is Kingdon’s knowledge of the city, its institutions, and its leader… This book may serve a third purpose beyond a psychohistory of divorce or an institutional history of the Consistory. It is a history of Puritanism as a lived experience.—Thomas Max Safley, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

This intriguing study by the leading American expert on Calvin’s Geneva makes two outstanding contributions. First, it enhances our knowledge of the history of divorce… Second, it gives us an ultimate look at the workings of the Consistory of Geneva, an institution initiated by Calvin which sought in a variety of ways to regulate human behavior. Kingdon’s work on the archival materials of 1542–1564 is the foundation for this book… A fascinating study for scholars across a variety of disciplines.—Donald K. McKim, Religious Studies Review

Robert Kingdon is the American expert on Calvin’s Geneva. Here, he lucidly explains the structure of Genevan government, the interaction of secular and religious authority, and the development of the legal process from first inquiry to end-game torture, while also keeping the human story alive.—Steven Ozment, Harvard University

Kingdon’s unparalleled feel for the specific context of the early Genevan Consistory balances his mastery of the theological and social contexts of divorce in Reformation Europe. He admirably portrays the formative phase of a sixteenth-century coeducational blood sport, confined to the propertied classes and arbitrated with increasing precision by Europe’s leading Reformed theologians.—William Monter, Northwestern University

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