1985 saw the tercentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the event which banished Protestantism from France after nearly a century of precarious legal protection. The anniversary, capably bruited by the Huguenot Society, was also seized upon for an enterprising non-denominational purpose. By extracting from a distinguished team, drawn from both sides of the Channel, the essays assembled in International Calvinism 1541-1715, Menna Prestwich has brought the findings of recent European scholarship - some of them reported at first, others at second hand - to an English audience hitherto under-acquainted with them. That was a clever move, for most of the book has little to do with 1685, a date by which the decisive contribution of Calvinism to the political and intellectual history of Europe (and, if it made one, to its social history) was past. The centre of the book's gravity is the later 16th and earlier 17th centuries. Deciding that 'it would not have been sensible or tactful to issue detailed directives' to leading scholars in the field, Prestwich gives them a loose rein. The result is a collection of essays which are without exception helpful but which vary disconcertingly in scope, in time-span and in polish. Some are patiently introductory, others densely sophisticated. The editor's introduction, although efficiently panoramic, scarcely draws together such threads as the book possesses.
LRB 23 January 1986 | PDF Download