November 2016 – Bernardino Ochino and the Women Who Made His Career Possible

Julie D. Campbell for the SSEMW Blog


Bernardino Ochino

In January 2106, I attended a webinar entitled “Networking Early Modern Women,” intended to help scholars add early modern English women’s names to the Six Degrees of Francis Bacon project, a DH endeavor produced by a partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and Georgetown University. The Bacon project, co-founded by Christopher Warren and Daniel Shore, “aims to be the broadest, most accessible source of who knew whom in early modern Britain.” Warren says that Six Degrees shows two degrees of relationship—“Think friends and friends of friends.”[1] It occurred to me that if one mapped the friends and friends of friends of Bernardino Ochino (1487-1564), the Sienese Franciscan friar and, later, Capuchin monk, famous for his reform theology, the result would be a fascinating constellation of “two degree” relationships between English and continental women. In particular, it would raise intriguing questions about what the young English women he befriended late in his career might have learned of the continental women who were his early supporters. Moreover, such an endeavor would illustrate how elite, highly educated women aided him materially and in the spread of his ideas and works throughout his career.

Ochino’s charismatic personality and preaching brought him fame across Italy in the 1530s, attracting crowds of thousands in Florence, Ferrara, Rome, and Venice. In 1541, his reformist convictions led him (pursued by the Inquisition) to Geneva and Augsburg, then on to England, where he spent six years before returning to the continent.

Caterina Cibo

Caterina Cibo

In the late 1520s, Caterina Cibo (1501-1557), Duchess of Camerino, petitioned her uncle, Pope Clement VII, Giulio de’ Medici, to make official the status of the order with which Ochino was associated and to allow them to take Franciscan vows of poverty; in 1528, a Bull authorizing their activities was issued.[2] In 1531, she provided the order a house and land near Camerino to use as a convent.[3] In 1534, at odds with the Capuchins, Pope Clement VII issued a papal bull to dissolve the order and expel their novitiates from Rome. At this point, Vittoria Colonna (1492-1547) joined Cibo in writing letters to powerful people requesting aid for Ochino. Colonna wrote to Charles V and Cardinal Contarini, among others, and, ultimately, the pope relented.[4] In 1536, Colonna convinced the new pope, Paul III (Alessandro Farnese), to restore relations with the Capuchins and to name Ochino “general of the order.”[5] Ochino also interacted with Cibo and Colonna in Naples, as all three were habitués of the salon of Giulia Gonzaga (1513-1566), which she held in her rooms at the convent of San Francesco delle Monache. In reformist salon society throughout Italy, Ochino was in contact with powerful, elite women in addition to key male instigators in the movement. Other regulars of Gonzaga’s salon included Juan Valdés, Pietro Carnesecchi, Giovanna d’Aragona (sister-in-law of Colonna), Costanza d’Avalos (aunt to Colonna’s husband), Benedetto Varchi, and Marcantonio Flaminio. Various subsets of this group would gather in numerous cites in Italy, including Rome, Florence, and Viterbo. Ochino’s Dialogi sette (1542) feature Cibo as an interlocutor, and Diana Robin points out that Cibo’s salon in Florence clearly provided “the raw material” for them.[6] Toward the end of his time in Italy, Cibo was a life-line for Ochino. Robin writes, “It was in Cibo’s home in Florence … that Ochino took off his friar’s robes and changed into lay clothes before he fled to Geneva.”[7]

Renée de France

Renée de France

In 1537, Ochino and Colonna were in Ferrara at the same time to see the duchess, Renée de France (1510-1575), their fellow religious sympathizer and wife of Duke Ercole II d’Este (1508-1559). Ochino would preach in the cathedral there. During this period, the courtesan poet Tullia d’Aragona (1501/5-1556) was a regular in Ferrarese court society. She probably wrote her sonnet “To the Preacher Ochino” at this time. In it, she praises his “dolce dir,” sweet speech, but protests his “arroganza,” arrogance—that is, his Calvinist beliefs—which would deny “il libero arbitrio,” the free will, that God gave humankind.[8] While Aragona sided with her Catholic friends and patrons (such as Girolamo Muzio, who denounced Ochino[9]), Colonna aligned herself with his reformist beliefs in her work. Scholars have suggested that in a sonnet on Mary Magdalene, Colonna engaged with Ochino’s language in his “Sermon preached…on the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalen.”[10] Moreover, in 1538, she followed Ochino’s tour of preaching in Verona, Bologna, Lucca, and Pisa (where he had been invited by Margaret of Austria, daughter of Charles V).[11] Renée de France, who hosted Colonna and Ochino in her circle during their time in Ferrara, was, like Cibo, said to have aided Ochino in his escape to Geneva.[12]

Tullia d'Aragona

Tullia d’Aragona

In Geneva, Ochino was acquainted with John Calvin, who reported in a letter in October, 1542, to Pierre Viret, that “The city has already permitted him to preach as often as he likes.”[13] Karl Benrath writes that around the middle of August, 1542, Ochino traveled to Basel and Strasburg, and that Calvin gave him introductions to “Myconius at Basle, and to Madame de Falais at Strasburg.”[14] Madame de Falais was Yolande de Brederode, a Protestant noblewoman married to Jacques de Bourgogne, seigneur de Bredam et de Falais; Bourgogne was in the service of Charles V, but gave up his position to follow his religious inclinations.[15] Also in Strasburg, Ochino would meet up with his friend Pietro Martire Vermigli (1499-1562), who, like Ochino, had been part of Gonzaga’s salon[16] and would also be a key connection between continental and English Protestants. Apparently Ochino was married in Geneva, but little is known of his wife and children.[17] In a letter to Henry Bullinger in 1549, John Hooper would write, “Bernardine’s wife exhibits herself in England both in dress and appearance as a French lady of rank.”[18] Ochino fled Augsburg for England in 1547, the year that Edward VI came to the throne. He would reside in England from 1547-1553. Ochino and his friend Vermigli were taken to England in the care of the English merchant John Abel, and soon after their arrival the Princess Elizabeth (1533-1603) reportedly described Ochino as “holy and learned.”[19] Ochino’s charisma was clearly intact.

Princess Elizabeth

Princess Elizabeth

“Ochino fever seems to have gripped the English literati,” observes Anne Overell.[20] She points out that dates “suggest that translators either worked at breakneck speed or had begun work before Ochino set foot on English soil.”[21] One of those translators was the Princess Elizabeth, whose double translation—from Italian into Latin—of Ochino’s sermon Quid sit Christus (Che cosa è Cristo), was a New Year present to her brother, the king, in 1547/48.[22] When she was Queen of England, Ochino dedicated to her his Labyrinthi (ca. 1561), his writings on predestination and free will. In his dedication, he reminisced that when she was a young princess, she had read some of his Prediche, and had “summoned [him] to discuss . . . obscure points in this doctrine,” and that the “penetration she evinced, and her lively interest” made him decide some ten years later to dedicate this work to her.[23]


Anne Cooke Bacon

Ochino was welcomed into the Protestant circle of Sir Anthony Cooke, a group which included Cooke and his wife Anne Fitzwilliam’s well-educated daughters Mildred Cooke Cecil (1526-1589), Anne Cooke Bacon (c.1528-1610), Margaret (c.1533-1558), Elizabeth Cooke Hoby Russell (c. 1540-1609), and Katherine (c. 1542-1583). Anne was particularly useful in the effort to disseminate Ochino’s writing in England. In her early twenties, she translated several of his sermons into English; they were published and widely circulated.[24] Like the Princess Elizabeth, she seems to have begun translating Ochino’s work either before or soon after he arrived in England. Overell notes that Anne’s first volume of his sermons “appeared in July 1548,” following Richard Argentyne’s volume in January.[25] She writes, “Italian works were suddenly in vogue at this humanist court where translation from the works of other reformers was already a popular activity.”[26] Louise Schleiner observes that Elizabeth Cooke was reading the work of Bishop John Ponet, which most likely included his translation of Ochino’s Tragedie or Dialog (1549).[27] Overell reminds us that The Tragoedie or dialoge of the uniust usurped primacie of the bishop of Rome “recorded the overthrow of the usurped power of the Pope by that godly troop, Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer and Edward VI,” noting that it “was a perfect theme for an exile seeking acceptance.”[28] In 1605, her sister Elizabeth would publish her translation of Ponet’s Diallecticon viri boni et literati (1557), which her father had edited and published.[29]

Of Ochino’s preaching in London, Overell states that “the great and the good went to hear him preach in Italian” and that his “regular listeners seem to have included the devoutly protestant Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, William Parr, the Marquess of Northampton and the Imperial Ambassador [François van der Delft]….”[30] Catherine Willoughby (1519-1580) was the fourth wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, whose third wife, Mary Tudor, was a sister to Henry VIII. In 1555, she would move with her family (her second husband and children) to the continent to escape religious persecution.

In 1553, King Edward died, and many of the reformers left England, Ochino among them. He was sixty-six when he returned to Basel. In August of 1554, the erudite Olympia Morata (1526-1555) wrote from Heidelberg to her sister Vittoria: “I hear that Bernardinus Ocellus, a man of tried Christian temper, has been obliged to flee from England to Geneva. The times are such that, whoever wishes to be a Christian, must everywhere bear his cross.”[31] Morata’s letter suggests that learned, elite women continued to follow Ochino’s career.

Unfortunately, neither Ochino’s good reputation nor his supportive followers could save him from being ostracized from Protestant society in the end. His Dialogue of Polygamy (1563), a commentary specifically on polygamy in the Old Testament, was seized upon by his enemies and pronounced heretical (as were his writings on divorce). His detractors incited the reformist community against him and drove him out of Zurich; he would then be displaced repeatedly until he died in Moravia in 1564.[32] His writings, however, lived on. Overell points out that in England, “Ochino was to have a minor comeback . . . in the mid-seventeenth century,” adding that the Dialogue of Polygamy was “used by Milton, then translated and printed as part of the midcentury divorce controversy” and that Milton also made use of Ochino’s Tragoedie when seeking inspiration for his figure of Satan in Paradise Lost.[33]

In any case, during the majority of his career, it is clear that Ochino’s cultivation of his acquaintance with elite, learned women on the continent and in England was key to his success. Through their acquaintance with him, they may be seen to stand only a very few degrees removed from each other.

Julie D. Campbell, Eastern Illinois University is Professor of English and Women’s Studies Faculty at Eastern Illinois University. She is the author of Literary Circles and Gender in Early Modern Europe (Ashgate, 2006) and the editor and translator of Isabella Andreini’s pastoral tragicomedy, La Mirtilla (ACMRS, 2002). With Anne R. Larsen, she has edited and contributed to Early Modern Women and Transnational Communities of Letters (Ashgate, 2009). With Maria Galli Stampino, she has edited and contributed to In Dialogue with the Other Voice in Sixteenth-Century Italy, The Other Voice Series, Toronto (CRRS, 2011). Her most recent article, “Marie de Beaulieu and Isabella Andreini: Cross-Cultural Patronage at the French Court” was published in The Sixteenth Century Journal 45.4 (2014). Her book chapter “Humanism, Religion, and Early Modern Englishwomen in Their Transnational Contexts” is forthcoming in A History of Early Modern Women’s Writing, ed. Patricia Phillippy (Cambridge University Press). Projects in progress include co-editing and co-translating Isabella Andreini’s Contrasti (1617) with Pam Brown and Eric Nicholson, forthcoming ACMRS, and a monograph on sixteenth-century salon culture in France.

[1] See

[2] See “History of the Franciscan Movement 2, the Capuchin Reform,”

[3] Diana Robin, Publishing Women (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 15.

[4] Karl Benrath, Bernardino Ochino of Siena, trans. Helen Zimmern (London : J. Nisbet & Co., 1876), 14.

[5] Robin, 15.

[6] Robin, 163.

[7] Robin, 163.

[8] Tullia d’Aragona, Poems and Letters, ed./trans. Julia Hairston, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe (Toronto: ITER-CRRS, 2014), 97-99.

[9] Benrath, 130-132.

[10] Vittoria Colonna, Sonnets for Michelangelo, ed./trans. Abigail Brundin, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 76-77; Maria Galli Stampino, “Centrality and Liminality in Bernardino Ochino’s ‘Sermon Preached…on the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalen,” In Dialogue with the Other Voice in Sixteenth-Century Italy, edited by Julie D. Campbell and Maria Galli Stampino, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe (Toronto: ITER-CRRS, 2011), 328-329.

[11] Robin, 27.

[12] Benrath, 113-114.

[13] Benrath, 150. Trans. Benrath.

[14] Benrath, 168.

[15] Françoise Bonali-Fiquet, ed. Introdution, Lettres à Monsieur et Madame de Falais, by Jean Calvin. (Genève: Librairie Droz, 1991). 13-14. The letter to Mme de Falais is dated 15 August 1545.

[16] Benrath, 169.

[17] Benrath, 169-170. Benrath notes that his wife and a young daughter followed him to England by December of 1548,186, and that a son was born in England, 188. Benrath records that at some point his wife “lost her life by an unfortunate fall,” 272, and that three of his children died of plague before he did, 297. Anne Overell states that he married in Geneva in 1542, but doesn’t cite her source [Italian Reform and English Reformations, c. 1535-c.1585 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 43].

[18] John Hooper, quoted in Overell, 42.

[19] Elizabeth, quoted in Overell, 42.

[20] Overell, 47.

[21] Overell, 47.

[22] Overell, 47-49.

[23] Benrath, 208.

[24] Valerie Wayne, Introduction, Anne Cooke Bacon, The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works, edited by Betty S. Travitsky and Patrick Cullen (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2000), x. Wayne points out that the Sermons of Barnardine Ochine of Sena (STC 18764) [1548] include five sermons translated by Anne, but do not name her as the translator; the Certayne Sermons of the ryghte famous and excellente Clerke … (STC 18766) [ca. 1551] include twenty-five sermons, nineteen of which are Anne’s, though she is not identified as the translator. Also ca. 1551, Fouretene Sermons of Barnardine Ochyne, concerning the predestinacion and eleccion of god … Translated out of Italian in to oure native tounge by A. C. (STC 18767) includes the last fourteen sermons from Certayne Sermons plus a dedication from Anne to her mother and a preface in praise of Anne’s work; then later, “around 1570, there appeared an edition (STC 18768) that reprinted the same twenty-five sermons published around 1551 for which Anne was the only translator named, although six of the translations were from R. Argentyne.” See also Overell, 48-49.

[25] Overell, 48.

[26] Overell, 48.

[27] Louise Schleiner, Tudor and Stuart Women Writers (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994), 254.

[28] Overell, 49-50.

[29] Schleiner, 254n4. For commentary on the contexts of the translation and publication of Diallecticon, see Patricia Phillippy, ed., Elizabeth Cooke Hoby Russell: The Writings of an English Sappho, trans. from Greek and Latin by Jaime Goodrich, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe, Toronto Series, 14 (Toronto: Iter-CRRS, 2011), 318-416.

[30] Overell, 46.

[31] Morata quoted in Benrath, 216.

[32] Benrath, 297.

[33] Overell, 201-202.

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2 Responses to November 2016 – Bernardino Ochino and the Women Who Made His Career Possible

  1. Allyson Poska says:

    Fantastic and super useful for understanding the power of female intellectuals!

  2. Anne Larsen says:

    So interesting! This story could be repeated again and again in various other countries and contexts.

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