A very fruteful and pleasant Booke called the Instruction of a Christen Woman…

Arriving in England in 1523, Juan Luis Vives was welcomed by King Henry VIII, Queen Catherine (of Aragon), and Sir Thomas More. Vives was the most eminent Spanish humanist of the age. He had converted from Judaism to Catholicism, studied in Paris, and was a widely respected colleague of Erasmus. Devoted to the education of her daughter Mary, Catherine commissioned him to write De Institutione Feminae Christianae (published in 1524). Vives helped Catherine educate Mary while he taught at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The English translation, The Instruction of a Christen Woman, first appeared in 1527, survived the Reformation, and served to guide girls’ education throughout the sixteenth century. The present copy, the seventh of nine early editions, is missing all preliminaries prior to Chapter 1. 

Vives had a modern perspective on the necessity for women to be well educated: “Of maydes, some be but lyttle meete for learning, Lykewyse as some men be unept… Therefore they that be dulle are not to be discouraged, and those that be apt, should be herted and encouraged.” The responsibility of the mother with “skill of learning” was to “teache hir little children herself… that thei mai love hir also the more, and learn with better courage and more speed.” Vives identified good books for girls to read and proscribed books of chivalry and romance, lest the stir up undesirable passions. However, Vives held traditional views on the role of women in society, based on scripture and Greek and Roman authorities. “Chastitee is as the queene of vertues in a woman…” Then come “other sorte of vertues longyng unto women, Demurenes, Measure, Frugalitee, Scarsite, Diligence in house, Cure of devotion, Mekenes…” In marriage, “the two shall be made one” but the wife’s many duties to her husband are described in detail. Yet, “The wise sentence sayeth: A good woman by lowely obeysaunce ruleth hyr husbande.”

Life for eleven-year-old Mary changed dramatically beginning in 1527 with Henry’s efforts to divorce Catherine. Her foundational education—based on precepts such as women should not “medle wyth comon mattiers of realms and cities”—and her isolation from the government of her half-brother, King Henry VI, ill prepared her for queenship in 1553. Incidents in Mary’s life exhibited intelligence, courage, and compassion. Her failures as queen stem in part to her lack of trusted, experienced counsellors; her religious zeal; her marriage to Philip; and the animosity and actions of avid Protestants, which led to their persecution and her remembrance as Bloody Mary.

Chrzanowski 1557v *

STC 24861

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675