The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
In my quest to call attention to important women of history via the TLCPL collection, let’s continue through the Medieval period. It may be no surprise to know that influential women of this era were often brushed over or overshadowed by the misogynist patriarchy. So, I have returned to the historical library blogging scene to shine the light on these amazing, strong, powerful women.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1201)
Not content as the wife of the King of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine divorced him and married King Henry of England. Ok. Then she decided she did not like Henry much and tried to run away back to France, taking his heirs with her. That did not sit well with ole Henry, so he locked her up for 15 years. When he died, their son, Richard I, succeeded to the throne and went off on a crusade, leaving the ruling of his country to his ole mum. She did a splendid job of it. After the Lionhearted (Richard) died, she made sure her second son John was crowned king. To our dismay, this is the King John we remember from the stories of Robin Hood! Eleanor lived to be 80 years old, which is quite a feat in the Middle Ages. You go girl.
Tomoe Gozen (1157-1247)
It is debated whether Tomoe Gozen was an actual historic figure, but for our purposes, she was. Women in literature are sometimes just as powerful as ones in the flesh. Tomoe Gozen was an onna-musha (the female equivalent to a samurai in feudal Japan). She commanded 300 samurai in a victorious fight against 2,000 warriors. Wow. The Tales of the Heike, describe Tomoe as a beautiful, skilled warrior worth a thousand, and ready to confront a demon or god. That is an impressive resume, Tomoe. Read more about her in these materials!
Khutulun (1260 – 1306)
Cousin of the infamous Kublai Khan, Khutulun was a female aristocrat, wrestler, and military campaigner. Marco Polo described her as a superb warrior. Not only did Khutulun prove her strength on the battlefield, she also insisted that any man she was to marry must be able to beat her at wrestling. Her suiters flocked by the thousands. Learn more about Khultulun in these books.
Joanna of Flanders (1295-1374)
Firey Joan (Jeanne la Flamme) earned her nickname on the battlefield, leading 300 troops to burn the tents and supplies of her enemy. She fought for her son’s rights to the Duchy of Brittany during the Hundred Years War, was allied with Edward III of England, and encouraged the women of her territory to “cut their skirts and take their safety into their own hands.” Joanna is believed to have inspired Joan of Arc 50 years later and is remembered as having the courage of a man and heart of a lion.
Julian of Norwich (1343-1416)
Julian was a celebrated mystic whose writings are considered some of the most amazing medieval religious texts. After being healed from a serious illness, she wrote about her visions of Christ and his Mother which discusses some of the most profound mysteries of Christianity: predestination, the foreknowledge of God, and the existence of evil. Because her writings were so clear and deep, people still study it today.
Christine de Pisan (1364-1430)
Christine de Pisan was one of the only female poets of the Middle Ages. In addition to beautiful verse, she wrote about courtly love, a biography of Charles V, and many works celebrating women. Her Italian father was an astrologer for the King of France, so she grew up in the French court and was provided with a lovely education. She was widowed at a young age, took up writing to support her and her three children. She expressed her feelings with grace and sincerity, successfully publishing love ballads, rondeaux, lays, and complaints. Many royals and lords supported her work enabling her to continue to grow and learn. Her last work was Le Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc which is the only French text written about Joan during her lifetime. Her writings are used today to understand French and European history as they are some of the only primary texts available.
Joan of Arc (1412-1431)
A canonized saint of the Catholic Church, Joan of Arc was and is a major religious icon. At a young age, she believed God had chosen her to lead the French army against the imposter king to set the rightful king on the throne. Joan left her small farming village, donned armor, and convinced Charles of Valois to let her lead the victory over the English at the battle of Orleans. She secured a major victory and the coronation of King Charles VII shortly followed. After the victory, she was captured by the English, tried, and burned at the stake as a witch for heresy, claiming visions and dressing as a man. Joan’s life and legacy are one of the most discussed and interesting of the Middle Ages.
Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482)
Margaret of Anjou was a key player in the Wars of the Roses in Medieval England. She was the queen consort of King Henry VI and the leader of the Lancastrians. She was strong-willed and very ambitious as she made her relentless (and unsuccessful) effort to put her son on the throne. Scheming, planning, fighting, fleeing, and fear were constants in Margaret’s life, but she must be commended for her determination to stand up for what she believed in and who she believed was the rightful king of England.