The Spread of Reformed Protestantism: The Evidence of Publishing

Beginning in the 1550s, Reformed Protestantism spread rapidly from its principal base in the Swiss city-state of Geneva and from the lesser, northern center in Emden, a major harbor town on the North Sea. During the 1540s, Geneva had become one of many refuges for people exiled from their home countries for reasons of belief; another such center was the Rhineland in Germany, whose Reformed congregations took in exiles from England, France, and the Walloon portions of the Netherlands; Emden, too, received exiles from the Netherlands. The surge in missionary activity, however, dated only from the 1550s. Its effect on the demand for Calvinist confessional literature can be discerned in these data from Geneva and Emden: in the half-decade after missions began, the volume of book publishing in Geneva more than doubled, from about twenty editions per year to nearly fifty in the peak year (1561).

Emden was less significant as a source of missionary preachers, but the effect of Calvinism's spread on its publishing sector was no less profound. The following chart describes book production and distinguishes among the various languages of publication in use there -- Latin, High German, Low German, and Dutch. The city of Emden was subject to a ruling dynasty with strong Lutheran leanings, but the city managed to introduce Reformed doctrine and practice despite this and quickly became a refuge for Dutch and English religious dissenters. This is reflected in the surge of publications for a Dutch-reading audience: in the decade of the 1550s and 1560s, Dutch crowded out all other languages of publication.