When a Female Pope Meets a Biconfessional Town: Protestantism, Catholicism, and Popular Polemics in the 1630s


  • Jan Machielsen Cardiff University




Pope Joan, confessional polemic, confessional coexistence, Duchy of Cleves, Dutch Revolt, Puritan exiles, Church of England, Arminianism


The early modern afterlife of Pope Joan has been remarkably little studied, perhaps because its contours have seemed familiar: Joan’s existence was embraced by Protestants for its challenge to the apostolic succession of the papacy and rejected by Catholics for the same reason. This role reversal, which cast Protestants as defenders of monastic chronicles and Catholics as their critics, offers ostensible proof for the mercenary use of history in confessional polemics. This article uses an overlooked 1635 defence of the popess, the longest ever written, as a case study to argue the opposite: debates over Pope Joan could be vehicles for popular confessional grievances and identities, and they can teach us much about the difficulties facing the Catholic and Reformed churches in the 1620s and 1630s. Written in Dutch by a German minister of the Church of England, this lengthy treatise possesses a significance well beyond the local conditions – a public disputation in a small biconfessional town in the Duchy of Cleves – that gave rise to its publication.


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Author Biography

Jan Machielsen, Cardiff University

Jan Machielsen is Lecturer in Early Modern History at Cardiff University. He completed his PhD at the University of Oxford in 2011. His first book, Martin Delrio. Demonology and Scholarship in the Counter-Reformation, appeared with Oxford University Press in 2015 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Royal Historical Society Gladstone Prize for best first book in non-British history. He is also the editor, with Clare Copeland, of Angels of Light? Sanctity and the Discernment of Spirits in the Early Modern Period (Leiden 2013).




How to Cite

Machielsen, J. (2019). When a Female Pope Meets a Biconfessional Town: Protestantism, Catholicism, and Popular Polemics in the 1630s. Early Modern Low Countries, 3(1), 1–31. https://doi.org/10.18352/emlc.88