The 500th Anniversary of Juan Luis Vives’s ‘De institutione foeminae Christianae’

The year 2024 marks the 500th anniversary of the first printed edition of Juan Luis Vives’s De institutione foeminae Christianae.[i] This landmark text on female education continues to have lasting impact on modern understanding of early modern humanism, education, and the roles of women. It was reprinted at least 50 times in eight languages by the end of the sixteenth century, demonstrating that it was immensely popular and informative to the development of early modern female education. Richard Hyrde’s English translation, A very frutefull and pleasant boke called the Instruction of a Christen woman, was printed nine times in the sixteenth century, until many of Vives’s ideas became embedded in other works of early modern literature.[ii] Nearly all significant scholarship on pedagogy for females printed after 1524 “followed Vives in their essential ideas.”[iii]

Though the impact of De institutione foeminae Christianae cannot be understated, it has had a contested legacy. In 1912, Foster Watson called the years from 1523 to 1538, the “Age of Queen Catharine of Aragon,” especially as he understood “the intellectual atmosphere of Spain, from which she came” to be the source of renaissance education for women in England, rather than the tradition of pious female education espoused by Lady Margaret Beaufort.[iv] Watson was even the originator of the concept that Catherine of Aragon commissioned Vives to write his text for Princess Mary’s instruction, an idea that has recently come under heavy scrutiny. Watson’s supposition easily took hold as fact because Vives dedicated his text to Queen Catherine of Aragon on 5 April 1523 in an attempt to cement a patronage relationship with a Spanish compatriot and English queen, as well as wrote two other books for Mary’s education: Satellitium or Symbola and De Ratione Studii Puerlis, both published in 1524.[v] As Catherine commissioned Erasmus to write a treatise on marriage as early as 1524, it is entirely possible that she engaged in the commission and patronage of several humanist texts all at the same time in order to provide a personalized education for Mary.[vi]

Juan Luis Vives, A verie fruitful and pleasant booke, called the instruction of a christian woman. Made first in Latin, by the right famous clerk M. Lewes Viues, and translated out of Latine into Englishe, by Richard Hyrde (London: Robet Waldegrave, 1585), pp. 30-31. STC 24862. Digital image 62589. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Since the feminist turn in literary studies, scholars such as Joan Larsen Klein have suggested that Vives’s treatise sanctioned Christian conservative options of women, often to their detriment.[vii] Virginia Walcott Beauchamp and her team of editors, further suggested that even though Vives offered one of the first programs of education for women, he should not be praised because he continued to advocate for women being obedient and staying within the home.[viii] Yet, they rightfully push more varied ways of understanding the English translation of Vives’s text as an educational treatise, a mirror for a princess, and a patriarchal guide that reinforced traditional views of women. 

Charles Fantazzi, the only modern editor of the original Latin version of De institutione foeminae Christianae noted both the text’s achievements and shortcomings. He concluded that at the time of its publication 500 years ago, Vives deftly addressed the education of women in three stages of life – virginity, marriage, and widowhood – through the lens of Christian, moral teachings, establishing himself as an authority on the subject. Though, Vives’s reconciliation of female education with traditional roles for women within the household, however, is often found wanting by modern standards.[ix]  

Though the significance of De institutione foeminae Christianae cannot be argued, there is still no historical consensus on many details about the text, such as specifically when Vives wrote it and if it was commissioned by Catherine of Aragon. Even Vives’s patronage relationship with Catherine of Aragon remains a thorny issue. However, the fact that this text can be studied, debated, and interpreted 500 years on is a testament to it impact and importance on sixteenth-century female education. De institutione foeminae Christianae also stands as a monument to Catherine of Aragon’s influence in England and her daughter’s humanist preparation to be queen.

By Dr. Valerie Schutte, independent scholar.

Dr. Valerie Schutte is a specialist of Tudor queens and their books and author of Mary I and the Art of Book Dedications: Royal Women, Power, and Persuasion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and Princesses Mary and Elizabeth Tudor and the Gift Book Exchange (ARC Humanities Press, 2021). Her other publications include seven edited collections and several articles and book chapters. A full-length article on reprints of Instruction of a Christen woman will be printed in the Journal of the Early Book Society, volume 26 (2023/2024).

[i] Juan Luis Vives, De institutione foeminae Christianae (Antwerp: Michel Hillen, 1524).

[ii] Juan Luis Vives, A Very Frutefull and Pleasant Boke Called the Instruction of a Christen Woman.  Trans. Richard Hyrde (London: Thomas Berthelet, ca. 1529).

[iii] Ruth Lina Marie Kuschmierz, “The Instruction of a Christen Woman: A Critical Edition of the Tudor Translation,” dissertation (University of Pittsburgh, 1961), p. lxxvi.

[iv] Foster Watson, ed., Vives and the Renascence Education of Women (London: Edward Arnold, 1912), p. 4.

[v] Juan Luis Vives, Introductio ad sapientiam; Satellitium sive Symbola; Epistolae duae de Ratione Studii Puerilis (Louvain: Peter Martens, 1524).

[vi] Valerie Schutte, “‘To the Illustrious Queen’: Katherine of Aragon and Early Modern Book Dedication,” inJulie A. Chappell and Kaley A. Kramer (eds.), Women During the English Reformations: Renegotiating Gender and Religious Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 15-28 (p. 21).

[vii] Joan Larsen Klein, ed., Daughters, Wives, and Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992).

[viii] Juan Luis Vives, The Instruction of a Christen Woman, edited by Virginia Walcott Beauchamp, Elizabeth H. Hageman, and Margaret Mikesell et al (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2002).

[ix] Juan Luis Vives, De Institutione Feminae Christianae. Liber Primus: Introduction, Critical Edition, Translation and Notes, edited by C. Fantazzi and C. Matheeussen, trans. by C. Fantazzi (Brill: Leiden, 1996), pp. xi – xxvii.

Cite this blog post
courtstudies (2023, December 6). The 500th Anniversary of Juan Luis Vives’s ‘De institutione foeminae Christianae’ The Court Observer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

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