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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).

This article is online: http://www.koryubooks.com/library/wwj1.html

Blythe, James. M. "Women in the Military: Scholastic Arguments and Medieval Images of Female Warriors." History of Political Thought 22(2001), 242-269.

This article delivers what it promises, a discussion of the comments of Ptolemy of Lucca and Giles of Rome on Aristotle's report that Socrates and Plato advocated military training and combat participation for women. Not surprisingly, both decide that women are unfit for war, but the scholastic propensity to give and refute counter arguments produces some interesting results. Blythe posits that the numerous examples of medieval landed women who performed in some military capacity led Giles and Ptolemy to take the question seriously, but the scholastic arguments quoted refer to women warriors in classical sources rather than to medieval images of female warriors. Definitely of interest to those researching the question of historical attitudes towards women in war. The text is online in PDF format at http://www.imprint.co.uk/blythe

 

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.

The citations in the index do not cover all the references to women and war that are actually in the book. The notes frequently cite other secondary sources, but give a starting point for researchers.

 

Chibnall, Marjorie. "Women in Orderic Vitalis." The Haskins Society Journal 2 (1990) pp. 106-121.

A number of references to instances of women involved in military actions described by Orderic Vitalis.

 

H.E.J. Cowdrey, "The Mahdia Campaign of 1087." The English Historical Review 92 (1977) pp. 1-29.

A true rara avis, this article shows that, although she did not take part personally, Matilda of Tuscany was active in planning and making possible this successful campaign undertaken during the short pontificate of Victor III.

 

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.

Gives both the Greek text and English translation of a brief description of a woman archer driving away two pirate ships in 1341. An article to develop some context for this brief report would be very welcome!

 

Drew, Katherine Fisher. "The Carolingian Military Frontier in Italy." Traditio 20 (1964) pp. 437-447.

Some of the capitularies cited by Drew list abbesses among those whose troops are being called up. An interesting insight into the responsibilities of landed women.

 

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.

Discusses the actions in which Margaret took part, her well-known image in Shakespeare and other writers, and compares her actions to those of other English queens who became involved in military affairs. No analysis of any of the actions, but a good outline of the career of Margaret of Anjou in the struggle for the crown of England. 

 

 

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).

________. "Means, Motive and Opportunity: Medieval Women and the Recourse to Arms," Paper Presented at /The Twentieth Barnard Medieval & Renaissance Conference: “War and Peace in the Middle Ages and Renaissance”/, December 2, 2006
http://deremilitari.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Eads-MeansMotivesOpp.pdf

_______.“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)

Matilda of Tuscany 

 

Echols, Anne and Marty Williams. An Annotated Index of Medieval Women. New York: Markus Wiener, 1992.

A limited survey of the secondary literature, mostly in English, this book turns up more than 100 women whom the authors label "soldier," plus an assortment of "rebels," "outlaws" and "crusaders." A possible starting place for anyone looking for a topic, but in some cases the cited bibliography does not point to the primary sources. Still useful, especially for undergrads.

 

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.

An example of an older historian who appreciate the importance of a woman’s role in military affairs. Describes the resistance to William the Conqueror undertaken after Hastings by King Harold’s mother, Countess Gytha.

           

Gillmor, Carroll. "Practical Chivalry: The Training of Horses for Tournaments and Warfare." Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 13 (1992) pp. 7-29.

Actually, not about women, but horses are an important aspect of war up to the middle of the twentieth century, and women certainly rode. 

                   

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.

After a hiatus of thirty years, there were two dissertations on Matilda of Tuscany defended in 2000. Gives a broad overview of the known actions undertaken throughout Matilda’s long life, rather than a detailed military analysis of specific actions. Discusses the evidence of Matilda’s charters for her involvement in war, but citations are to the 16th century editions rather than the Monumenta edition of 1998; includes discussion of the "canonical approaches to women’s military authority" and representation of Matilda in the polemical literature of the Investiture Controversy. A good piece of medieval military sociology.

 

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.

Gives excerpts from the specified chronicles; comments on likely accuracy of the descriptions; gives references to archeological finds.

 

McLaughlin, Megan. "The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe." Women’s Studies (1990) pp. 193-209.

This often-cited article gives a number of examples from primary sources and calls for further research. It is now a bit dated, which is a very good result for such a study!

 

McMillin, Linda A. "Women on the Walls: Women and Warfare in the Catalan Grand Chronicles." Catalan Review 3:1 (July, 1989) pp. 123-136.

"The women in the Catalan Chronicles, however, raise issues that go beyond their individual ‘desperate times’. When called upon, several of these women have skill with arms and knowledge of military strategy. Where was this training acquired and how widespread was it?"

These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked if the study of medieval women waging war is to progress from the collecting of anecdotes to military history.

 

McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1996.

This book gives a number of instances of religious women, because of their noble and landed status, becoming involved in events that had at least the potential for military action. And no shortage of notes!

 

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.

"This study focuses on the Third Crusade, for which the chronicle evidence is particularly full. Some of the [Christian] narrative accounts of the crusade never mention women or even deny that they took part, while others describe their assisting crusaders in constructing siege works or performing menial tasks. The Muslim sources for the Third Crusade, however, depict christian women taking part in the fighting, armed as knights. The study discusses the reasons behind these divergent depictions of women in the Third Crusade."

 

Pennington, Reina, ed. Amazons to Fighter Pilots: A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women.  Westport CT: Greenwood, 2003.

Not specifically medieval, but the editor put in considerable effort to cover a broad range in both time and place. The references to primary sources may be limited, but the emphasis is on the military reputation of each woman.

 

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.

Gives sources for women spies and the post-Hastings resistance to William the Conqueror led by King Harold’s mother, Countess Gytha.

 

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.

Does not maintain that Queen Emma led troops into battle, but does have some of the best lines on women and war to be found anywhere.

 

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.

"Thus there is a striking parallel between the roles played by women and clerics in medieval warfare. Both rarely, if ever, actually fought in battle for a variety of reasons such as advanced age, lack of physical strength, lack of training, religious vows and social prohibitions. However, it is clear that noblewomen, like clerics, acted as feudal overlords and therefore controlled military forces."

 

Wainwright, F.T.R. Scandinavian England. Edited by Eugene Rice. Ithaca NY: Cornell, 1958.

The chapter on "Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians" puts what is known of Æthelflæd’s fortification policy in the context of her father, Alfred the Great’s, burgh defenses against the Vikings.

 

Wright, Dana A. "Female Combatants and Japan’s Meiji Restoration: The Case of Aizu." War in History 8:4 (2001) pp. 396-417.

Definitely stretches the definition of medieval, but this article on 19th-century Japanese women in actual combat is worth a read, even by those who do not research in Asian history. Given the scarcity of cross-cultural studies of women in war, its value is doubled.

 

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. 

 

 

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