Women in the book trade

In Renaissance Paris, a woman had to submit to the authority of her husband. She could neither set up her own business nor exercise a profession. And yet, women played a key role in the book trade in Paris. A daughter's marriage could forge an alliance, and a career could be made by marrying a widow. Simon de Colines owed his brilliant career to his marriage to Guyonne Viart, Henri Estienne's widow. Marrying a widow was often a way to gain access to the assets of a bookshop, or to the expensive equipment in a printing workshop. In 1520, when the bookseller Claude Chevallon married the widow of Berthold Rembolt, he had the workshop of the Soleil d’Or at his disposal, with which he launched a brilliant typographic career under his own name.

Although married women were not legally allowed to exercise a profession, the same was not true for widows.

Although married women were not legally allowed to exercise a profession, the same was not true for widows – it was accepted practice for a widow to succeed her husband as the head of a business. This was already established in the 16th century, and was confirmed in 1618 by the first regulation governing printing and bookselling, which stated that "widows of booksellers, printers and bookbinders may continue to run the bookshop, printing workshop and bindery, and to employ Journeymen."

Although most widows remarried after a few months, some led long and brilliant careers. Two of them became famous – Yolande Bonhomme, the granddaughter of Pasquier Bonhomme and widow of Thielman Kerver, continued, between 1522 and 1557, to publish the works that had made her husband a rich man. Charlotte Guillard, widow of Rembolt and then of Chevallon, continued to run a bookshop between 1538 and 1556, and published under her own name nearly two hundred editions, including many works by the Church Fathers.

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