Bringing the people of the past to life is a special art. The voices that reach us from distant centuries are all too often muffled and obscure, refracted through literary convention and bureaucratic formulae. To hear them, historians must attune their ears and become expert interpreters. This is what Suzannah Lipscomb attempts to do in her latest book. Based on exhaustive research in the archives of the Huguenot Church of 16th- and 17th-century Languedoc, it is an imaginative attempt to reconstruct the mental and social worlds of women who have otherwise left no discernible mark in the historical record.
Lipscomb’s painstaking study of some 1,200 cases brought before the male deacons and elders who manned the region’s Calvinist consistory courts offers compelling new insights into everyday life and popular morality in Reformation France. It is filled with salacious gossip and tales of sexual misconduct, thwarted love and