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Powerful women in Medieval era

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Quick, tell me the name of three female knights...

Could only think of Joan of Arc? That is an issue.

As you can read here, Joan of Arc, while she was brave and was a strong believer in that her God spoke to her and gave her missions, she was a terrible tactician and many times nearly cost her entire army to be slaughtered; and she even admitted that she did not wield a weapon in battle, merely her flag. Thus, she is not what we should think of when we think of female warriors and knights.

Lets face it, before "modern" religions, almost all pagan religions celebrated different forms of female warriors. Dating back to the Greeks, who, little do we think of now, but Athena was actually a goddess of warfare as well as beauty. Otrera was the wife of Ares and was a goddess of violence and chaos.

The Celts had Andarta who was associated with victory and overcoming enemies in war along with Andraste and Gualish who were warrior goddesses. The Norse had Frejya, Tyr, and the Valkyries (Valkyries being a form of "warrior angel" who came and helped the brave fallen to find their way into the legendary Valhalla.)

But once Christianity came into taking over the people, females were not regarded as equals in most ways. These thoughts and beliefs are still present in today's society. Think about how long it took for women to be allowed into the military at all, and they are still not allowed in certain positions.

That is not to say that there were not, in fact, women who did rise up above this and prove their worth.

  • The Order of the Hatchet

Founded in 1149 by Raymond Berenger, the count of Barcelona, this order was an all female order of "Dames". Though Dame was slightly different than "knight" it awarded them all the same benefits of their male counterparts.

The town of Barcelona was under a Moors invasion. The men of the town had gone to fight against the Muslims, leaving the town "defenseless". The women, knowing their fates in they did surrender, instead dressed in their husbands left pieces of armor and clothing and took whatever weapons they could find (including the aforementioned hatchets) and defended the city.

The women were given great honors by Count Berenger. The women who were admitted that day seem to be the only ones admitted into the Order of the Hatchet, and when the last woman died, the order was disbanded.

Still, these women surely were a sight to behold, a group of women who defied the odds. An order that a little girl dreaming of becoming a knight could look up to.

  • Duchess Gaita of Lombardy

Not much information exists on this lady, the Princess Anna Comnena of Constantinople seems to be taken aback by this Frankish (and thereby enemy and "barbarian") woman. In a direct quote from Princess Anna:

“Robert, they say, was a thoroughly unscrupulous rascal and working hard for a conflict with the Romans; he had for a long time been making preparations for the war; but he was prevented by men of the highest rank of his entourage and by his own wife Gaita, on the grounds that he would be starting an unjust war.”

Robert was Gaita's husband. Not only did she accompany Robert on the campaigns, but donned full chain and charged into battle along side him. As you can see in the quote, Gaita had quite a strong leadership role to be able to persuade Robert in matters.

In another quote from Princess Anna:

“There is a story that Robert’s wife Gaita, who used to accompany him on campaign, like another Pallas, if not a second Athene, seeing the runaways (the Norman army was in retreat) and glaring fiercely at them, shouted in a loud voice – words which were equivalent to those of Homer, but in her own language: ‘how far will ye run? Halt! Be men!’ As they continued to flee, she grasped a long spear and charged at full gallop against them. It brought them to their senses and they went back to fight.”

  • Jeanne Hachette

Not a member of the Order of the Hatchet, this is another female heroine whose history is vague.

Born in 1456 as Jeanne Laisne, also known as Jeanne Fourquet, on June 27 1472 she prevented the capture of the city of Beauvais by the troops of the Duke of Burgundy. The town was defended by only 300 men-at-arms

The Burgundians were making an assault, and one of their number had planted a flag upon the battlements, when Jeanne, axe in hand, flung herself upon him, hurled him into the moat, tore down the flag, and revived the drooping courage of the garrison. In gratitude for this heroic deed, Louis XI instituted a procession in Beauvais called the "Procession of the Assault", and married Jeanne to her chosen lover Colin Pilon, loading them with favors.

  • A different Joan, a "fiery Joan", Jeanne la Flamme

Born in 1295, Jeanne la Flamme was named Joanna of Flanders, also known as Countess Jeanne, and through her marrige Jehanne de Montfort.

She married John de Montfort in March of 1329.

John claimed the title of Duke of Brittany after is half brother died in 1341. This claim was contested by his niece and her husband, Charles of Blois. John went to Paris to ask Philip VI for aide in this dispute. Philip was an uncle to Charles of Blois and had John imprisoned even though he was promised safe conduct to John. He then set Charles and his wife as the "true heirs" though they truly were not.

Her husband imprisoned and possibly dying, Jeanne la Flamme as she would become known, named her infant son the actual leader of the forces, but since he was but an infant, she led the troops. Thus, she led the forces first on Redon and captured it, fighting herself fiercely along the way.

She then marched to Hennebont and prepared for a siege. Part of the preparations were to ask King Edward III of England for aide, which he provided as he was obviously at odds with Phillip for the throne of France and therefore he wanted to get all of Brittany as an ally with him against Phillip.

Charles of Blois arrived shortly after and the siege began. Jeanne was said to have told the women of Hennebont to "cut their skirts and take their safety into their own hands". She looked out of a tower window, saw that Charles's tents were nearly unguarded, she led a charge and burned all of the tents and provisions.

After three more failed attempts to thwart this fiery woman, Charles of Blois was defeated.

However, on her way to England after the siege, an ally of Charles of Blois, Louis of Spain, intercepted their ships and tried to take Jeanne.

According to Froissart, Joanna fought in person "with the heart of a lion, and in her hand she wielded a sharp glaive, wherewith she fought fiercely." Eventually the English forces beat off Louis's ships and made harbour near Vannes. Her forces then captured Vannes, besieged Rennes and sought to break the siege of Hennebont.

From there, she had little to do with direct fighting. With neither side able to achieve a decisive victory, by the treaty of Malestroit in 1343, her husband John was released and hostilities ceased for a period. He was later imprisoned once again, but escaped and resumed the conflict. When her husband died in 1345 in the midst of the war, she again became the leader of the Montfort party to protect the rights of her son John V against the House of Blois. In 1347, English forces acting on her behalf captured Charles of Blois in battle.

In the end, she lived in England and mental illness took root and she spent the rest of her life in confinement at Tickhill Castle. King Edward III entrusted her to the care of Sir William Frank until 1346, Haukeston Thomas (1346-1357), John Delves (d. 1370) and finally to his widow Isabella and Godfrei Foljambe.

She lived long enough to have experienced the final victory of her son John V, Duke of Brittany over the House of Blois in 1364, but she never returned to the duchy. The last mention made of the duchess and her guardian is the 14 February 1374. It seems she died that year.

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