The Protestant Reformation created some new questions in love relationships. For example, what’s an appropriate way for a Protestant preacher to propose to a lady or, even worse, for a former monk to propose to a former nun, without aggravating the accusations of Roman Catholics who accused Protestants of lewdness and incontinence?


Martin Luther and Katharina Van Bora

            The story of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Katharina Van Bora (1499-1552) is well known. Whether he had ever entertained thoughts of marriage for himself, she resolved the issue by proposing to him.

            She had arrived in Wittenberg with eight other ex nuns, looking to serve God outside the convent. As it had become customary in these cases, the leaders at Luther’s church worked hard to find these women good homes and, whenever possible, good husbands. Katherine was hard to please. In the end, she said that she would only marry Martin Luther or his friend, Nicholas von Amsdorf.

            At first, Luther laughed at the prospects of getting married, but his friends convinced him to do it. After all, he had been teaching for some time about the benefits of marriage. It was time to put his own words into practice. Besides, he would have finally pleased his father, something he had unsuccessfully aspired to do in the past.

            Luther and Katharina married in 1525.  He was 41 years old and she was 25. The marriage was long and happy.


John Calvin and Idelette de Bure

            John Calvin (1509-1564) would have gladly remained single if his friends had not convinced him to marry. While he opposed mandatory celibacy, he found marriage unnecessary. The only way he could make sense of marriage for himself was to reduce it to a practical matter. “If I do it,” he wrote, “then it is to devote more time to the Lord and less to daily duties.”[1]

            If his friends were serious about finding him a wife, he handed them a job description: she had to be hard-working, obedient, thrifty, and willing to take care of him through his frequent physical ailments. She also had to speak French. This last item was non-negotiable. He turned down a woman when she asked for some time to consider it.

            After he refused a second proposal, most of his friends gave up the quest, except for Martin Bucer, a renowned match-maker. He suggested Idelette de Bure (c. 1500-1549), the widow of an Anabaptist, who had hosted Calvin on several occasions. Calvin recognized she was one of a kind (singularis exempli femina). They married in 1540. He was 31, Idelette a few years older.

            They stayed happily married in spite of health challenges and sorrows (including the infant death of their only son) until she died of an illness in 1549. Calvin, who had started the marriage as little more than a business transaction, was crushed by Ideletts’s death. “I am no more than half a man,” he said.[2]


Edward Dering and Anne Locke

            Edward Dering (c. 1540–1576), one of the most popular and fiery London preachers of his day, faced the matter of marriage proposal as a good Calvinist, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, remembering that, ultimately, all matters are firmly in God’s hands. “If your affection shall be inclined as I do wish it to be bent, the Lord's name be praised. If you shall better like other where, I pray God bless you. I will endure my loss under this hope: when we shall have better eyes that shall be able to see God, our faith shall lead us both into a happy society.”[3]

            Dering’s letter must have worked because its recipient, Anne Locke (1530-after 1590), agreed to marry him. She was about 42 years old and her first husband, Henry Locke, had recently died of a stubborn illness. Dering was ten years younger than her, and might have reminded her of John Knox, another fiery preacher she greatly admired.

            Their marriage was short and troubled. His blazing sermons caused him to be suspended first from preaching and then from lecturing. The suspension was later revoked but his health began to give way, and he died of tuberculosis only four years after their wedding.


Heinrich Bullinger and Anna Adlischwyler

            In pursuing Anne Locke, Dering had followed the normal protocol of enlisting the help of a third party – in his case the wife of a friend. Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) opted for a more direct approach to pursue the object of his affections: Anna Adlischwyler (1504-1564).

            If Roman Catholics were horrified by the number of ex monks marrying ex nuns, Bullinger gave them a greater scandal to denounce. When he began courting Anna, she was still living in a convent. They were both 23 years old.

            He started with a very lengthy letter of proposal. Life in a convent, he explained, is not biblical, while marriage and procreation are. “Yes, you are young,” he wrote, “and God did not give you such a body, and did not create you so that you remain an eternal madam and do nothing so that fruit comes from you.”[4]

            After listing his qualifications, financial situation, personal integrity, and (of course) love for her, he asked her to take his proposal into careful consideration. “Read my letter three of four times, think about it, and ask God so that he tells you what his will is in this matter.”[5]

            One month later, he met Anna in church and she agreed to marry him. To avoid offending her elderly and invalid mother, however, they decided to keep their engagement a secret. This was also unconventional, because 16th-century engagements required the presence of witnesses.

            Anna remained in the convent for almost two years, until her mother died on 17 August 1529. Almost six weeks later, Anna and Heinrich finally married. The wedding was celebrated simply at a dinner table at the home of Heinrich’s brother Johannes, with Peter Simler (prior at Kappel) officiating. Far from being a dry and tedious ceremony, the wedding was livened by a love song written and sung by Heinrich for his “beloved hausfrau.

            Apparently, Anna took to heart Heinrich’s recommendation to be fruitful. The couple had eleven children in eighteen years.


John Hutchinson and Lucy Apsley

            John Hutchinson (1615–1664) found a way to a literary woman’s heart when he praised Lucy Apsley’s (1620–1681) interests before her beauty. He was perfectly sincere. He first became intrigued when visited her house in her absence and saw a stack of Latin books. When he asked who was reading them, Lucy’s younger sister told him it was Lucy. For John, it was love at first sight – with Lucy’s mind.

            “Then he grew to love to hear mention of her,” she recalled in her Memoirs, “and the other gentlewomen who had been her companions used to talk much to him of her, telling him how reserved and studious she was, and other things which they esteemed no advantage. But it so much inflamed Mr. Hutchinson's desire of seeing her, that he began to wonder at himself, that his heart, which had ever entertained so much indifference for the most excellent of womankind, should have such strong impulses towards a stranger he never saw he heard.”[6]

            His interest in her climaxed when he heard one of her poems being recited at the house of a friend, the composer Charles Coleman. He could hardly wait to meet her in person, in spite of his friends’ warnings that she was not interested in men. “She shuns the converse of men as the plague,” they explained. “She only lives in the enjoyment of herself, and has not the humanity to

communicate that happiness to any of our sex.”[7]

            Finally, Lucy came back home, met John, returned his love and married him on 3 July 1638. She was 18, and John 23. Looking back, she recognized God’s hand in this chain of events, particularly since the purpose of her trip from home had been to meet a possible candidate for marriage. “Certainly, it was of the Lord (though he perceived it not),” she wrote, “who had ordained him, through so many various providences, to be yoked with her in whom he found so much satisfaction.”[8]

            The couple continued to love each other “in health and in sickness, in riches and in poverty,” through the commotion of the English Civil War. After avoiding (partly thanks to his wife’s intervention) a few arrests, John was imprisoned in October 1663 under suspicion of plotting against the king. The evidence was inconclusive, but he had been under suspicion for other charges for some time.

            He died of illness, due to the unhealthy prison environment. His wife continued to defend him after his death. Her book, Memoirs of the life of colonel Hutchinson, was written as an attempt to clear his name. The couple had nine children, but one died as a child.

[1] Alexandre Ganoczy, “Calvin’s Life”, in Donald K. McKim, The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 14

[2] Calvini Opera Omnia 15.867, as quoted in Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, IVP Academic, 2009, 172.

[3] Adapted from Patrick Collinson, Oxford Dictionary of Biography, Anne Locke.

[4] Heinrich Bullinger, Works 1, 138,28-139,4, as quoted in Rebecca A. Giselbrecht, Myths and Reality about Heinrich Bullinger’s Wife Anna, Zwingliana 38 (2011), 53-66.

[5] Ibid, 138, 16-20.

[6] Lucy Hutchinson, Memoirs of the life of colonel Hutchinson, https://archive.org/stream/memoirsoflifeofc00hutciala/memoirsoflifeofc00hutciala_djvu.txt, 53-54

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid


Simonetta Carr