This essay will argue that Calvinism within the City-State of Geneva should not be simply characterised as a French take over. It will explore the possibility that the situation in Geneva was a combination of factors not limited to Calvin’s reforms and policies.
Would contemporary witnesses have predominantly classed the refugees as French, or as fellow evangelists? Did the Genevans even view the influx of people from their neighbouring state as having a different identity? It is conceivable that these immigrants had more in common with the populace of the City-State and their collective identity than the representatives of the previous Roman Catholic institution. National identity had not been fully established in many European countries with boundaries repeatedly shifting and limited communication between regions rendering some disjointed. However the recent adoption of the printing press began to effectively disperse information, evidence suggests that this greatly benefitted the reformists; Luther quotes ‘the business of Gospel is driven forward’, access to the same woodcuts and broadsheets provided a shared knowledge. (Grell, O’Day et al, 2011, p42).
By the time of John Calvin’s posting to organise a civic church in Geneva, the City-State treasured its new independence and the church had been widely reformed in comparison to its previous existence as a Catholic State. Mass had been abolished and the old papal authority had been renounced in favour of associated councils consisting of men holding full citizenship (Grell, O’Day et al, 2011, p53).
Geneva experienced a massive influx of evangelical refugees from France in the early to mid sixteenth century. They were fleeing from a country at war with Italy and whose king, Francis I was still linked to Rome under Pope Leo X. This dual leadership resulted in shifting policies regarding persecution against the Evangelical faith (Wallace, 2006, p103). The immigrants, principally law abiding individuals included French printers, nobles and merchants generated a healthy economy. It is plausible that the French speaking Genevan populace would have shared a common identity with the immigrants, keen to recognize alternative practices to that of Latin speaking Catholic Rome. Namely the immigrants spoke the same language, followed the same evangelical faith and potentially accessed the same messages via broadsheets and woodcuts.