Medieval Women & War
Welcome to the Medieval Women and War page. Its purpose is to provide a reference tool, especially for students beginning their research. The books and papers listed here were selected because they provide references to primary sources about women waging war in the Middle Ages. The few that do not meet this criterion are noted. Currently the bibliography is arranged alphabetically by author. This can change as it grows.
Anyone who knows of a paper or book that should be here or who can further annotate what is already here (or correct an error) is welcome to contribute; all contributions will be acknowledged. Just email here.
A number of introductory books on medieval warfare are listed in the Medieval Warfare syllabus.
Amdur, Ellis. "The Role of Arms-Bearing Women in Japanese History." Journal of Asian Martial Arts 5:2 (1996).
Blythe, James. M. "Women in the Military: Scholastic Arguments and Medieval Images of Female Warriors." History of Political Thought 22(2001), 242-269.
Bossy, Michel-André . "Arms and the Bride: Christine de Pizan’s Military Treatise as a Wedding Gift for Margaret of Anjou." Christine de Pizan and the Categories of Difference. Ed. Marilyn Desmond. (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1998)
Bradbury, Jim. The Medieval Siege. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1992.
Chibnall, Marjorie. "Women in Orderic Vitalis." The Haskins Society Journal 2 (1990) pp. 106-121.
H.E.J. Cowdrey, "The Mahdia Campaign of 1087." The English Historical Review 92 (1977) pp. 1-29.
Derbes, Anne. "Imagined Encounters: Amazons, Crusaders, and the Histoire Universelle Manuscripts from Acre." Paper presented at The 29th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo MI, 1994.
DeVries, Kelly. Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1999.
________. "A Woman As Leader of Men: Joan of Arc’s Military Career." In Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, edited by Bonnie Wheeler and Charles Wood, pp. 3-18. New York and London: Garland, 1996.
Dennis, George T. "Woman Repels Pirates: Note in a Florentine Manuscript." Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 23 (1999) pp. 256-257.
Drew, Katherine Fisher. "The Carolingian Military Frontier in Italy." Traditio 20 (1964) pp. 437-447.
Dunn, Diana. "The Queen at War: The Role of Margaret of Anjou in the Wars of the Roses". In War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Britain. Ed. Diana Dunn. Liverpool, 2000.
Eads, Valerie. "The Last Italian Expedition of Henry IV: Re-reading the /Vita Mathildis/ of Donizone of Canossa. /Journal of Medieval Military History/ 8 (2010).
_______.“Sichelgaita of Salerno: Amazon or Trophy Wife?” Journal of Medieval Military History 3 (2005)
_______. "The Geography of Power: Matilda of Tuscany and the Strategy of Active Defense." Crusaders, Condottieri and Cannon: Medieval Warfare in the Mediterranean Region. Edited by L.J.. Andrew Villalon and Donald Kagay. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
________. Mighty in War: The Role of Matilda of Tuscany in the War between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV (Ph.D. Dissertation: City University of NY, 2000)
Echols, Anne and Marty Williams. An Annotated Index of Medieval Women. New York: Markus Wiener, 1992.
Edgington, Susan B. and Sarah Lambert, eds. Gendering the Crusades. Cardiff: Univ. of Wales, 2001.
Contains a number of articles of interest.
review by Christopher Corley
review by Jessalyn Bird
Freeman, E.A. The History of the Norman Conquest of England, 5 vols. Oxford, 1870-79.
Gillmor, Carroll. "Practical Chivalry: The Training of Horses for Tournaments and Warfare." Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 13 (1992) pp. 7-29.
Hall, Bert S. "‘So notable ordynaunce’: Christine de Pizan, Firearms and Siegecraft in a Time of Transition." Cultuurhistorische Caleidoscoop aangeboden aan Prof. Dr. Willy L. Braekman. Ed. C. De Backer. Ghent: Stichting Mens en Kultur, 1992.
Of all the works of Christine de Pizan, Le livre de fais d’armes et de la chevalerie has received the least attention and the least critical praise. This is attributed to "our general lack of knowledge about both late medieval military writings and the real importance of tactics and technology in Christine’s day." Also, "Few literary critics would have any background in the relevant texts to which Christine ought to be compared nor could they be expected to grasp the importance that new weapons had already achieved in her day."
Concentrating on Christine’s understanding of war, especially of gunpowder weapons and their use in sieges, Hall concludes that Christine intended not to translate a classic (Vegetius’ Epitoma rei militaris) but to bring it "into conformity with the best practice of the early fifteenth century, and she succeeded far more than even her modern supporters have recognized."
Hay, David. The Campaigns of Countess Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115): An Analysis of the History and Social Significance of a Woman’s Military Leadership. Ph.D. Dissertation: University of Toronto, 2000.
Lourie, Elena. "Black Women Warriors in the Muslim Army Besieging Valencia and the Cid’s Victory: A Problem of Interpretation." Traditio 55 (2000) pp. 181-209.
The entire story of the siege of Valencia in 1101 as presented in the Primera Crónica General is problematic. The Cid had in fact died two years earlier. The description of 300 black women archers with the besieging Muslim army is thus easily described as a piece of fiction and hardly worth investigating as anything but a literary device or dismissed as veiled male Tuaregs mistaken for women.
Lourie discusses a number of examples of African female warriors and concludes that the story originated in Arabic sources. Whether or not the women were actually there, they were described as panicking, thus providing an excuse for the failure of the siege. The story disappeared from later Arabic chronicles and in its European redaction was interpreted by European scholars as a Christian fiction. These points taken together, "constitute a striking illustration of the blind spots, special pleading, and sheer incredulity that occur when different concepts or femininity . . . are . . . merged into one brief narrative and when that narrative is then interpreted without reference to feminist literary criticism or even to precolonial concepts of gender equality in Black Africa."
Maier, Christoph T. "The Roles of Women in the Crusade Movement: A Survey." Journal of Medieval History 30 (2004) pp. 61-82.
Includes articles discussing possible military roles for women. Plenty of bibliography. Particularly interesting is the story of Margaret of Beverly whose pilgrimage coincided with the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. She was wounded while fighting on the ramparts wearing makeshift armor, paid a ransom after the city fell, and continued on in the East for another four years during which time she again became involved in fighting and took part in the subsequent plundering; she again experienced captivity as well as poverty, working as a washerwoman to complete her pilgrimage. A fascinating story.
Mazeika, Rasa. "’Nowhere Was the Fragility of Their Sex Apparent’: Women Warriors in the Baltic Crusade Chronicles." From Clermont to Jerusalem: The Crusades and Crusader Societies, 1095-1500. Ed. Alan V. Murray. Turnhout: Brepols, 1998.
McLaughlin, Megan. "The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe." Women’s Studies (1990) pp. 193-209.
McMillin, Linda A. "Women on the Walls: Women and Warfare in the Catalan Grand Chronicles." Catalan Review 3:1 (July, 1989) pp. 123-136.
McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1996.
Nicholson, Helen. Medieval Warfare: Theory and Practice of Warfare in Europe, 300-1500. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
There is no longer need to reinvent the wheel. This introductory textbook acknowledges work done on women and war in recent years. A very readable introduction to medieval warfare and a good starting point for any student with limited background in the subject, i.e., suitable for use in classes not labeled "women.".
________ "Women on the Third Crusade." Journal of Medieval History 23:4 (1997) pp. 335-349.
Pennington, Reina, ed. Amazons to Fighter Pilots: A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women. Westport CT: Greenwood, 2003.
Prestwich, J.O. "Military Intelligence under the Norman and Angevin Kings." In Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy: Essays in Honor of Sir James Holt edited by George Garnett and John Hudson, pp. 1-30. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994.
Searle, Eleanor. "Emma the Conqueror." in Studies in Medieval History Presented to R. Allen Brown, edited by C. Harper-Bill, Christopher J. Holdsworth and Janet L. Nelson, pp. 281-88. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1989.
Truax, Jean A. "Anglo-Norman Women at War: Valiant Soldiers, Prudent Strategists or Charismatic Leaders." The Circle of War in the Middle Ages: Essays on Medieval Military and Naval History. Edited by Donald J. Kagay and L.J. Andrew Villalon. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1999. Pp. 111-125.
Wainwright, F.T.R. Scandinavian England. Edited by Eugene Rice. Ithaca NY: Cornell, 1958.
Wright, Dana A. "Female Combatants and Japan’s Meiji Restoration: The Case of Aizu." War in History 8:4 (2001) pp. 396-417.
Willard, Charity Cannon. "Christine de Pizan on the Art of Warfare." Christine de Pizan and the Categories of Difference. Ed. Marilyn Desmond. (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1998)
Start here. Willard is a pioneer in the study of Christine as a military theorist.