The general image of the Middle Ages is of a period in which gender roles were quite rigidly defined, with warfare purely a male domain and only a handful of exceptions to that. The reality is of course much more complex, and this issue of Medieval Warfare magazine examines a wide range of female warriors and rulers who played many varied roles in the events of their times.
We start with a look at the possible occurrence of female warriors in the Viking, suggested in some chronicles and by grave goods. We then move on to individual named figures, beginning with Sichelgaita, a Lombard princess married to Robert Guiscard and who played a part in his campaigns in Italy and the Byzantine Empire.
Next is Tamar, Queen of Georgia, a very impressive monarch who was able to defeat external and internal enemies (including her first husband) and helped secure her kingdom. Her career was similar in some ways to two of the other women studied here, in that her military endeavours came about as she attempted to preserve her inheritance. The same was true for Jeanne de Flandres, the wife of one claimant to the duchy of Brittany during the fourteenth century Breton Wars of Succession, and an active military campaigner who helped get her son onto the Ducal throne.
Less successful in the long run was Margaret, Countess of Tyrol. She also had to fight to preserve her inheritance against powerful neighbours, although was only able to claim the Tyrol, losing part of her inheritance early on. She also repudiated her first husband, causing great problems with the Papacy. Margaret eventually defeated her main rivals and kept the Tyrol until her position was weakened by the death of her son and heir. After that she sought the protection of Rudolf IV of Hapsburg who received the Tyrol in return for allowing Margaret to spend her last six years in retirement in Vienna. There is also an interesting section here on how nicknames can mutate - an insult originally intended to suggest that Margaret was sexually voracious was later misinterpreted to mean she had a facial deformity, leading to the legend of the ugly duchess.
Inevitably any look at this study has to cover Joan of Arc. Here the emphasis is on her actual military role - what she wanted to do and what she was able to achieve. We get a picture of a somewhat frustrated figure who wanted a real military command, but who was rarely granted that power. On occasion she was able to seize control of the situation, especially during the siege of Orleans, and clearly fought in the front line, but her main value was as a morale booster.
Away from the main theme there is a look at the history of George Maniakes, a Byzantine general of the eleventh century who had a short but successful career before palace intrigue pushed him into a failed revolt - this is the sort of article that makes me wish I knew more about the Byzantine period. Finally there is a look at Falkes de Bréauté, a genuine sheriff under King John with a similar reputation to the fictional sheriff of Nottingham, and who was a great example of the perils that faced a low ranking but highly prominent man - eventually his higher ranked opponents forced him into exile.
Female warriors and generals: Historical Introduction
Ladies with axes and spears: Female Viking Warriors around the Baltic Sea
'A formidable sight': Sichelgaita of Salerno at Dyrrachium
The lioness of the Caucasus: Queen Tamar of Georgia
Manipulation and the Maid: Joan of Arc and the Siege of Orleans
The Flame of Britanny: Jeanne de Flandres
One woman, two husbands: Margaret, Countess of Tyrol
Byzantium's star-crossed general: George Maniakes
King John's scythe: Falkes de Bréauté and the Baron's War
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