By Jennifer Hillman

Hillman offers a desirable account of the position that girls performed through the Catholic Reformation in France. She reconstructs the devotional practices of a community of strong ladies exhibiting how they reconciled Catholic piety with their roles as a part of an aristocratic elite, hard the view that the Catholic Reformation used to be a male crisis.

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Yet if we are to better understand the devotional culture they pursued from the middle decades of the century, we also need to look to the spiritual heritage which many of them shared in the dévot culture of the early seventeenth century – something which has been largely overlooked. By briefly sketching some of the social and familial links between prominent Parisian dévotes and the Belles Amies, this opening discussion locates the emergence of the lay, female rigorist network within the longer history of female spirituality in early Catholic-Reformation France.

It was her transformation which nonetheless inspired the life-long piety of her friend the marquise de Sablé. Sablé’s spiritual life had been directed by the Jesuit Pierre Coton (1564–1626) until 1614, and then afterwards by Pierre de Sesmaisons (1588–1648). When Sesmaisons wrote a treatise arguing against abstinence from the Eucharist following a worldly engagement (something which Saint Cyran advocated as part of the penitential process), Sablé showed the invective to Guéméné who asked her own spiritual director to respond to it.

The regulars of the chambre-bleue during its heyday in the 1630s were drawn from the Parisian female aristocracy. These women were kept company by writers such as Jean Chapelain (1595–1674), Pierre Corneille (1606–84) and Vincent Voiture (1597–1648). 2 This story, then, begins in ‘the world’. The retreat of these young précieuses seems an appropriate moment at which to depart – representing as it does two dominant modes of feminine culture of the period. For as well as signalling the imprint of salon culture on the retreat, the verse also reflects the spiritual mood of the ‘century of saints’, and the piety of lay women such as the princesse de Condé who helped to pioneer the Catholic Reformation in Paris.

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