Geneva’s Long Shadow

In April 1782 the first of a series of revolutions that were to change the shape of Europe broke out in the republic of Geneva. It was fuelled by a long rift between advocates of the French Enlightenment and opponents of Franco-Catholic imperialism, as Richard Whatmore explains.

A meeting of the General Council of Geneva that took place outside the City Hall, on Febuary 10th, 1789. Contemporary painting by the Swiss artist Christian Gottfried Geissler. AKG Images/De Agostini Picture LibraryDuring the era of the Enlightenment the republic of Geneva achieved a prominence in the world it had last experienced in the evangelising decades following Jean Calvin’s arrival in the city in July 1536, when it had renounced Catholicism and the shared rule of a bishop and the Duke of Savoy. A number of illustrious Genevans emerged in the 18th century, distinguished in areas including natural philosophy, theology, literature and politics. The latest renaissance owed a debt to Calvin.

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