March 2014 was Women’s History Month in the United States and March 8th 2014 marked International Women’s day, so this is a tad tardy, but I wanted to write something to commemorate all the brave and courageous women that have fought as warriors in a man’s world. The medieval era was one where war was commonplace, so there are countless examples where women were forced to defend their people and their homes. I thought I would introduce some of them to you in this post.
Matilda of Tuscany 1046 – 1115
Matilda was an Italian noblewoman who was renowned for her military strategy in defense of the Pope Gregory VII
The Order of the Hatchet
This was a military order of knighthood for women. It was formed in 1149 by Raymond Bergenger, Count of Barcelona, to honour the women of the town of Tortosa who took up arms to defend the town against a Moor attack. They fought with anything at hand, including hatchets.
Nicola de la Haye
In 1217 Nicola, Constable of Lincoln, held Lincoln Castle against the French forces for one month until help could arrive. She was in her sixties at the time.
In 1335 Christina defended Kildrummy Castle from an English attack, led by David Strathbogie, until her husband, Andrew Murray, could come to her aid.
Agnes Randolph – Countess of Dunbar
In 1338 Agnes held Dunbar castle against a five-month siege by the English. She succeeded in utterly defeating and demoralising her enemy. My post on 14th December 2013 goes into more detail.
Joanne De Montfort also known as Joanne of Flanders
In the siege of Hennebont, in 1342, she dressed in armour and led raids, protecting the town in the name of her infant son.
Joan of Arc 1412 – 1431
No blog on medieval women warriors would be complete without mentioning Joan of Arc. She led the French forces against the English and was responsible for their victory and the coronation of King Charles VII. Captured by the English, she was tried for heresy, not as a witch as some believe. The main charges against her seem to stem from her wearing men’s clothing. But the Catholic Church dictated that women were allowed to wear men’s clothes in order to protect themselves. Joan was justified in wearing her suit of armour on the battlefield. In May 1431 she was executed by burning. She was so influential and inspiring that the English destroyed her body and dumped it in the River Seine, so no relics could be collected.
Margaret of Anjou 1430 - 1482
Her husband, Henry VI of England, was prone to frequent bouts of insanity, so Margaret ruled the kingdom in his place. By all accounts she was not a very nice person. Leader of the Lancastrian faction in the War of the Roses, she led several battles against the Yorkists before ultimately being defeated.
This list is by no means complete. It seems that the average medieval noble woman was expected to defend her home and that instruction in the martial arts was not as limited as you might expect, as shown in this illustration from the Walpurgis Fechtbuch – a fourteenth century German training manual. If there is an historical woman warrior that has sparked your interest I would love to hear about her.