The Rhetoric of Martyrdom and the Protestant Community in Reformation France, 1520-1570

Nikki Shepardson

In the chaos of the Reformation, a declaration of one's faith was not solely a religious matter, but at times a choice between life and death. Sixteenth-century Europe witnessed a renaissance of martyrdom and the rebirth of a specific rhetoric that celebrated the sacrifice, constancy, and conviction of the martyr. This rhetoric shaped and defined the experiences and worldview of the French Calvinist community.


Nikki Shepardson explores this rhetoric of martyrdom and situates it firmly in the historical context of Reformation France. She examines the ways in which martyrdom and its accompanying language became powerful tools for the Reform movement, providing the means to resist persecution and legitimate the existence of the faith, to strengthen and mobilize the movement from within, and to recruit new followers. Her investigation focuses on questions of authority, gender, and community. She analyzes how the rhetoric of martyrdom was used to transform complicated individuals into venerated stereotypes who reflected the values and beliefs of their religious movement, such as in the case of Anne Du Bourg. This transformation proved particularly tricky concerning female martyrs whose actions did not conform to the prescribed gender roles and behavior for women. As religious difference and persecution broke down traditional bonds of community, the rhetoric of martyrdom created new expressions of communal identity based upon the language of sacrifice and suffering. The martyrs, through this rhetoric, were used to unite and defend the community from the Nicodemites, to rewrite and reinterpret its history, and to construct a new type of communal memory.


This study draws on the martyrologies of Jean Crespin and Antoine la Roche Chandieu, contemporary histories, religious treatises, political pamphlets, and archival sources. Shepardson's study shows that while the lives and sacrifices of individual martyrs are important, it was the rhetoric that surrounded these martyrs that unified and defined the Reform movement's struggle for survival in the chaotic and violent world of sixteenth-century France.

9781611460407 (R&L)
9780934233874 (AUP)
Lehigh University Press - Burning Zeal