Calvin’s married life, though happy in mutual companionship, was one of sorrow through the trials incident to human experience. His only child, Jacques, born July 28, 1542, lived but a few days; and his wife’s health was always feeble after the birth of their son. On March 29, 1549, she, too, was taken from him. In spite of the severe repression of Calvin’s references to his affliction,—a fortitude of mind worthy of admiration in the judgment of his intimate friends at the time,—it would be an injustice to regard his sense of bereavement as other than profound and lasting. His marriage, though having little of romance in its beginnings, had in it much of the satisfaction that comes from mutual trust, and of loving absorption, at least on the part of the wife, in the other’s interests and work.*
Who was this little known woman? The best description is that found in Smyth’s excellent volume –
There was in Strasburg a pious lady named Idelette de Bure. She was a widow, and all her time was spent in training the children she had had by her first husband, John Storder, of the Anabaptist sect. She was born in a small town of Guelders, in Holland. She came to the capital of Alsace as a place of refuge for victims of persecution. The learned Dr. Bucer knew Idelette de Bure, and it was he apparently who recommended her to Calvin’s attention.
Externally, there was in this woman nothing very attractive. She was encumbered with several children of a first marriage; she had no fortune; she was dressed in mourning; her person was not particularly handsome. But for Calvin, she possessed the best of treasures, a living and tried faith, an upright conscience, and lovely as well as strong virtues. As he afterwards said of her, she would have had the courage to bear with him exile, poverty, death itself, in attestation of the truth. Such were the noble qualities which won the Reformer.
The nuptial ceremony was performed in September, 1540. Calvin was then thirty-one years old and two months. He was not constrained by juvenile passion, but obeyed the voice of nature, reason and duty. The papists who constantly reproach the Reformers are mistaken. Luther and Calvin, both of them, married at mature age: they did what they ought to do and nothing more.
No pomp in Calvin’s marriage, no ill-timed rejoicings. All was calm and grave, as suited the piety and gravity of the married pair. The consistories of Neufchatel and of Valengin, in Switzerland, sent deputies to Strasburg to attend this marriage; a striking mark of their attachment and respect for Calvin.**
She was, by all accounts, the perfect wife for Calvin. Sadly, their marriage lasted very little time at all due to her untimely death. Still, she’s a person with whom you ought to become acquainted. Smyth’s volume already cited contains an entire lengthy appendix which is devoted completely to her biography.
*W. Walker, John Calvin: The Organiser of Reformed Protestantism (p. 237).
**T. Smyth, Calvin and his enemies: A memoir of the life, character, and principles of Calvin. (pp. 170–172).