My post in this Women’s History Month is dedicated to Hélène du Moulin (1644-1720), the wife of the Huguenot minister Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713), one of the most prominent and controversial theologians in early modern history. Hélène is an elusive figure who lived among some of the greatest minds of her generation. She has been haunting my imagination ever since I began working on this project. Little is known about her life, except that the lady suffered a terrible reputation in her husband’s entourage. According to Jurieu’s friends and colleagues, Hélène was temperamental, fanatical and promiscuous.
Of course, looking at a strong-minded woman through the eyes of male clerics can only distort our views of who she really was. Hélène Jurieu was without a doubt an intelligent woman, even an erudite scholar, according to a few sources who saw in her education the cause of Jurieu’s downfall. While she may have been controversial and somewhat radical in her beliefs, she was no Dorothy Harling, and deserves closer attention.
Hélène du Moulin was born in Chateaudun, France, on 18 March 1644 to pastor Cyrus du Moulin (1608-1670) and his wife Marie de Marbais (1618-1691). Her paternal grandfather was Pierre du Moulin (1568-1658), the celebrated Reformed theologian of the Académie de Sedan. In 1667, Hélène married her first cousin Pierre Jurieu, son of pastor Daniel Jurieu (1601-1663) and Esther du Moulin (1603-1639), Pierre du Moulin‘s daughter. The couple lived in Mer for a few years and moved to Sedan in 1674, where Pierre took a position as a Professor of theology and Hebrew. They became close to Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), then chair of philosophy at the Académie, who praised Hélène for her mind and beauty.
The Académie was closed by Louis XIV in 1681 and forcing the Jurieus, Hélène’s family and Bayle to seek refuge in Rotterdam, as the persecution of the Huguenots quickly intensified. Jurieu became the minister of the Walloon Church, while Bayle was appointed professor of Philosophy at the Ecole Illustre.
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in October 1685 turned these old friends into bitter ennemies. In short, Bayle remained a loyal monarchist advocating religious tolerance, whereas Jurieu actively encouraged Protestant resistance against Catholic oppression, seeing in the Revocation the accomplishment of Scriptural prophecies.
Critics promptly blamed Jurieu’s wife for his radicalisation and rumours of an affair between Hélène and Bayle while in Sedan circulated in the late 1680s. Some have ascribed Jurieu’s virulence against his former protégé to his jealousy. His last will and testament confirms that he deeply loved his wife until his death.
Jurieu found himself more and more isolated in the exiled Huguenot community. In the early 1700s, he actively supported the Camisard revolt, when most Huguenots distanced themselves from their claims to prophecy and use of violence. The Camisard Elie Marion and his followers later visited the Jurieus in Rotterdam. Pierre distanced himself from their prophetic claims, but Hélène continued to support them and was eventually excommunicated by the Walloon Church in 1710.
Cherchez la femme
After Jurieu’s death in January 1713, Hélène discovered that she had been disinherited by her husband for her support to the Camisards. Furious, she took off to London to join the Prophets. This episode did not come as a suprise in the couple’s entourage. Several letters suggest that she had become an infamous member of the group by then.
Sadly, Hélène completely disappeared from public sight at this point. Although she had relatives and friends in London, I have been unable to find her trace among the Prophets. Yet it seems hard to imagine that such an influential woman did not feature anywhere in their records. Was she ill? Did she remarry? Did she use another name? Did she travel as a missionary? She appears to have died in London in 1720, leaving the mystery of the last seven years of her life unsolved. Dear readers, can you help?