Anna Bullinger (c. 1504–64) shaped a home that had a similar effect on the Swiss Reformation. With eleven children beside her, she welcomed vast numbers of visiting Protestants and refugees—up to dozens at a time—into her home. The picture we get of the couple’s house is of a place where Anna was perpetually busy showing Christlike love for other Christians. When not at home or church, Anna often visited Zürich’s poor, giving out food, clothes, and money when she could. She followed the example set by Anna Zwingli, whom she cared for after her husband, Huldrych, died in battle. Anna Bullinger herself set an example that became known through Europe, partly through her guests and partly through her husband’s writings on marriage and family life.
For a pastor’s wife in the Reformation era, opening one’s home and family to people who needed them was a public denunciation of monasticism. This biblical lifestyle directly challenged the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on clergy, marriage, and more, as well as proving that convents and monasteries were not needed: Protestant pastors’ wives could pray, read, garden, care for the sick, host travelers, and foster an intellectual climate just as well as monks and nuns had for centuries. Protestant housewives made monasticism obsolete. Though their work was not always visible, Protestant wives attacked Catholic presuppositions by their very domestic work, putting Rome on the defense. And their nurture of children raised a new generation of Protestants who were ready to stand on Scripture alone in the face of Roman Catholic persecution.
Queens and princesses had very public roles during the Reformation. A disproportionate number of royal women converted to Protestantism; they believed much more readily than their male relatives. And they were not following political trends, either. High-profile Protestants were often easily targeted. The same is true for high-ranking nuns: abbesses were often aristocratic, too, and created scandal by converting to Protestantism. While Reformers’ wives faced a staggering amount of work behind the scenes, Reforming queens and abbesses faced isolation, intimidation, and violence in the most public ways.
When her alcoholic and adulterous husband died in 1555, Jeanne d’Albret (1528–72) became queen of Navarre. Sandwiched between the two powerful nations of France and Spain, Jeanne was in a vulnerable position. This did nothing to slow or discourage her. Having made public profession of the Reformed faith years before, Jeanne, on her accession, labored successfully to bring reform to Navarre, making the country a safe haven in a sea of Roman Catholicism. Her children were kidnapped, her life was threatened, rebellions erupted, war broke out with France—her love for the church was greater than all of these. She called herself “a little princess” and believed that, like Esther, God had put her in her position to defend His people. Her work provided shelter for Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion. But she was also an example of faith under fire: her courage and doctrinal resolve were discussed internationally and brought comfort to other suffering believers.