Jeanne de Jussie

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Entry by Madeleine Lazard, 2003

Jeanne de Jussie (ca.1510-after 1546), a little-known member of the noble but impoverished family of Jussie-l'Évêque, was born on an undetermined date at the beginning of the 16th century. She was the niece of Lord Pelicier and of Mother Guillaume de Villette. While still very young she entered the Poor Clares convent -the sole women's convent in Geneva prior to the Reformation. Equipped with a good education, starting in 1530 she became the scribe of the convent (that is to say the secretary, responsible for writing petitions, receipts for legacies, letters and requests) even though she was one of the youngest sisters. She clearly knew Latin, as she sometimes used terms from that language, but with simple French endings which are not found in any dictionary of the time.

When the first religious troubles broke out, Jeanne de Jussie was both participant in and witness to a very colorful episode: the successful resistance of the Poor Clares to the attempts of the reformers, who wanted to force them to leave their order. In August, 1535, after the abolition of Catholic religious practice in Geneva, she finally obtained permission to leave with the other sisters. She found refuge at Annecy, where the duke of Savoy allowed them the use of the convent of the Sainte-Croix [the Holy Cross], where Jeanne became abbess. It was there that she wrote her works, quite certainly begun in 1535 and finished probably around 1546, of which the first edition appeared only in 1611 at Chambéry.

Her narrative describes the situation in Geneva around 1530-1535, with the purpose of keeping alive in her community the memory of this troubled time. Three fifths of the account refer to the tribulations of the Poor Clares and the circumstances which provoked their forced departure (July, 1535-September, 1536). The end describes the vain attempts of the reformers to make them renounce their vows and marry, as well as the period from departure into exile, up to their arrival at Annecy. Sometimes Jeanne speaks in the first person (though remaining anonymous), sometimes in the third, citing "Jeannne" among the youngest sisters who were the most vulnerable because they were being sought out by the Genevan authorities. She takes issue with Luther (Calvin did not come to Geneva until 1536), Farel, Viret, and analyses the causes and consequences of the religious revolution of which she was a witness. Her very dramatic account teems with violent and tumultuous tableaux. It stages numerous confrontational scenes between "Lutheran heretics" and the nuns, and includes many vivid portraits, like that of Marie Dentière at the moment of the irruption of the reformers into the convent: a "monk-abbess, false, wrinkled, with the tongue of a devil, a husband and children, who meddled in preaching and perverted devout people". The date of Jeanne's death is unknown.

Feminist studies of the past decades have resurrected the writer-scribe of the convent of the Poor Clares of Geneva, but always as a counterpoint to Marie Dentière, the protestant ex-abbess who has attracted more attention.

(translated by Hannah Fournier,)


1535-1546? : Le Levain du calvinisme ou commencement de l'hérésie de Genève. Éd. A. C. Griel, Genève, Fr. Jullien, 1865.

Selected bibliography

- Chroniqueurs du XVIesiècle. Bibliothèque romande, Lausanne, 1974, «Jeanne de Jussie», introd., p.54 et suiv.
- Head, Thomas. «The Religion of the Femmelettes: Ideals and Experience among Women of the Sixteenth Century France», in L. Coon, K. Haldane and E. Somme (dir.), That Gentle Strength: Historical Perspectives on Women in Christianity. Charlottesville, Virginia, 1991, p.149-175.
- Lazard, Madeleine. «Deux soeurs ennemies, Marie Dentière et Jeanne de Jussie: nonnes et réformées à Genève», in B. Chevalier et R. Sauzet (dir.), Les réformes, enracinement socio-culturel. Paris, Éd. de la Maisnie, 1985, p.239-249.
- Pontenay de Fontenette, Micheline. Les Religieuses à l'âge classique du droit canon. Paris, Vrin, 1967.
- Roelker, Nancy. «The Appeal of Calvinism in French Noble Women in the XVIe Century»,. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2, 1972, p.402, 407.

Jeanne de Jussie
Birth date After 1500
Death Before 1600
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