Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

ARGULA VON GRUMBACH
(1492-ca. 1563)

Germany
Protestant Activist

Noblewomen who sponsored and protected Protestant reformers were often successful and respected leaders, but women who took the next step and began speaking or writing publicly on issues of theology and church government were almost always thought to be operating beyond their legitimate sphere. During the first decade of the Reformation in Germany, Argula von Grumbach set aside the injunction of St. Paul that women should be silent in the presence of men and entered into the public controversies generated by the Reformed message. Her letters and appeals to a variety of public authorities won the tacit support of the Protestant leader Martin Luther and placed her at the center of discussion over the role of women in the spiritual life of the Christian community.

Born into the noble Bavarian family of Hohenstaufen and twenty- six years old when, in 1517, Luther began his criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church, Argula had learned to read and to write German as a young girl. Due to the impoverishment of the family, she had spent her teen years as a maid-in-waiting to the mother of the Duke of Bavaria. Upon the loss of her parents to the plague around 1505, she became a permanent member of the Duke Albrecht IV's household, and in 1516 she was married to Friedrich von Grumbach, a caretaker of ducal estates at Dietfurt and Lenting in Bavaria. She began to read Luther's works as they became available in German, and she corresponded with a number of early Protestant reformers: Andreas Osiander in Nuremberg, Paul Speratus in Würzburg, and Luther's friend George Spalatin in Wittenberg. Although technically of noble birth, Grumbach inherited nothing from her parents, and she considered herself to be common both in terms of education and with respect to her access to political power.

Grumbach's brief public career began in 1523 when an instructor at the University of Ingolstadt, Aracius Seehofer, was forced to re

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