Renaissance and Reformation Marie Dentière
Mary McKinley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0137


Marie Dentière (b. 1495–d. c. 1561) was the daughter of a noble family (d’Ennetières) and an advocate of religious reform who left her Augustinian convent in Tournai and joined French Reformers in Strasbourg in 1521. With her first husband, Simon Robert, she followed William Farel to the Swiss Valais, where Robert became a pastor. Widowed with several children, she married Antoine Froment (b. 1509–d. 1581) in 1533 and moved to Geneva in 1535. A pamphlet, La guerre et deslivrance de la ville de Genesve, fidelement faicte et composée par ung marchant demourant en icelle, recording the events between 1532 and 1536, culminating in the Protestant victory, has been attributed to her, but her authorship of that work is questioned. (The “merchant living in that city” suggests Froment, who was a merchant and a shopkeeper.) The couple became followers of John Calvin when he assumed leadership of the Reformed Church later in 1536. The Epistre tres utile, addressed to Marguerite de Navarre, appeared with a false printer’s name in Geneva in 1539. Most copies were confiscated and the printer, Jean Girard, was imprisoned. The Epistre contains a “Defense pour les femmes” that argues for women’s right to interpret and teach scripture. The Epistre affirms Farel’s and Calvin’s teachings on salvation through faith alone and attacks the Roman Catholic mass, clergy, and papacy. Dentière appears fleetingly as “Froment’s wife” (uxor fromentis) in the correspondence of Swiss Reformers, most strikingly in a disparaging report by Calvin to Farel in 1546. The preface to a rare 1561 edition of Calvin’s sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8–12 carries her initials. The word froment (wheat) appears in the final lines of both the preface and the Epistre, linking the two texts to Dentière’s husband, Froment, a probable collaborator. Dentière all but disappeared from history until several 19th-century historians restored her to view.


La Croix du Maine 1584 set out to catalogue all printed books published in French. Dufour 1970 (originally 1878) aimed to provide a complete list of books published in Geneva and Neuchâtel during the earliest years (1533–1540) of the Protestant Reformation. Higman 1996 is the fullest available bibliography of religious books and pamphlets printed in France between 1511 and 1551. Organized chronologically, it includes the libraries where the publications may be found. Hornus and Peter 1979 brought to light the rare volume in the municipal library of Lunel containing John Calvin’s sermon and Dentière’s preface; it offers a detailed bibliographical description of the volume. Peter and Gilmont 1994, now in three volumes, is the authoritative complete bibliography of Calvin’s works that were printed in the 16th century.

  • Dufour, Théophile. Notice bibliographique sur le Cathéchisme et la Confession de foi de Calvin (1537) et sur les autres livres imprimés à Genève et à Neuchâtel dans les premiers temps de la Réforme (1533–1540). Geneva, Switzerland: Slatkine, 1970.

    This valuable bibliographical study, first published in 1878, describes the Epistre, the circumstances of its publication by Jean Girard, and the efforts of Froment to recover the copies seized by the Geneva Council. See pp. 155–159.

  • Higman, Francis. Piety and the People: Religious Printing in France, 1511–1551. St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Aldershot, UK, and Brookfield, VT: Scolar, 1996.

    An essential resource cataloguing editions of religious writings published in French during the early years of the Reformation.

  • Hornus, Jean-Michel, and Rodolphe Peter. Calviniana rarissima à la bibliothèque municipale de Lunel. Montpellier, France: Etudes théologiques et religieuses, 1979.

    A detailed study of the volume containing one of the two clandestine editions of Calvin’s sermon on 1 Timothy 2:9–11 that includes a preface signed by “M. D.” Hornus and Peter identify the person behind those initials as “in all likelihood, Marie Dentière.” The authors propose that the pamphlet was printed in Caen. See especially pp. 53–55.

  • La Croix du Maine, François Grudé de. Premier volume de la bibliotheque du sieur de La Croix du Maine, qui est un catalogue général de toutes sortes d’autheurs qui ont escrit en françois depuis cinq cents ans et plus jusques à ce jourd’huy. Paris: Abel Angelier, 1584.

    The brief entry “Marie Dentière” (p. 310) lists her birthplace as Tournay and gives the long title of the Epistre, adding that she was alive in 1539, when it was printed.

  • Peter, Rodolphe, and Jean-François Gilmont. Bibliotheca Calviniana. Vol. 2, Ecrits théologiques, littéraires et juridiques, 1555–1564. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 1994.

    Peter and Gilmont describe the two editions of Calvin’s sermon on 1 Timothy 2:9–11 with a preface signed “M. D.”: entry 61/1 (Lunel, Bibliothèque Municipale, Fonds Médard) and entry 61/23 (Geneva, Musée Historique de la Reformation).

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