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Women Throughout the Ages
by Bonnie Moss (c) 2010 -06



FEMINISTS, AND PROPHETESSES:
LESSONS FROM A WOMEN'S MOVEMENT IN THE HIGH MIDDLE AGES 

by Abraham Van Luik, abevanluik@thoughtsandplaces.org

Europe in the high middle ages was a seedbed of socio-political and spiritual turmoil from which 
sprouted the institutions of modern civilization: the breakup of feudalism, the rise of capitalism, the 
breakup of Catholicism, the rise of the Reformed churches, and the separation of church and state. 
In every century from the tenth through the fifteenth, events occurred that could be cited to indicate 
the pending dawn of the modern age.

In Herbert Roggen's biography of St. Clare of Assisi, he describes this woman as a follower of 
St. Francis and as the founder of an order for women dedicated to living contemplative and active 
lives in holy poverty. Roggen notes that she lived in a peculiar age: women's movement  was starting , 
women started to revolt against authority, or left traditional roles like marriage and raising a family.
 Note: Excerpts  


In the Medieval Age, the monastery offered alternative to women. It was considered a better 
life than living in the shadows of their husbands, a life of insecurity, child-bearing and degradation. 
Before the 12th century, religious houses were independent of one another. Standards were developed
for the behaviour and life behind these walls. It was beleived that in denying marriage and entering an 
abbey, women are able to preserve mind and body. It  was a time when  women realized education 
will make them equal to men and not inferior to them. Literacy was a privilege many women opted for. 
Intelligence and knowledge was a powerful tool.

Entering a monastery was not free- high-born women were able to give a dowry. This gave rise to 
women who did not have the financial means to join together and open their own house. There was 
also a time where double houses were common- one wing for men and another for women. These 
places opened up hospitals, there was a library, gardens and other amenities  beneficial to the group. 
An abbess was elected as a leader with certain limitations as imposed by the prelate of the the area.
An abbess had considerable power especially if she came from nobiity or the royalty. However, they 
cannot hear confessions nor give communion- this was the sole privilege of a priest- a male.

Among them are:
 Hildegard of Bingen
 Teresa of Avila,
 Heloise
 Herrad of Lansberg
 St. Edith of Polesworth. 

The aristocratic women of the Medieval age were legally and socially autonomous as  medieval documents 
show. Women received homage for what was due from fiefdoms, inheritance, or bequethed properties. 
They took the responsibility of taking care of these matters personally. This is important to know as 
feudal relationships and circumstances can be difficult- knights, vassals and sovereigns were indeed 
all male. Homage was important and instructive and this reinforces the fact that women in the medieval 
society exercised key roles in preserving the structure of society in that era.

Other women of fame:
Queen Elizabeth I- daughter of King Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. It in her rule that Columbus 
discovered America, and other explorations.

Pharoah Meritneith of Egypt- around 2952 BCE
According to Manetho, It was in her reign that it  was decided that women might occupy the throne. 
Historians believed that Meritneith was successor of Zir and thereby makes her the 3rd ruler of the  
first dynasty. She has her own tomb at the Abydos cemetery,a king's cemetery.

Queen Nefertiti of Egypt 1353-1336 BCE
Believed to have been a reigning pharao. There are more statues and drawing of her 
than her husband Akhenaten. Some say she introduced monpotheistic religion of Aten. 
After 15 years of rule, she disappeared, a mystery to this day. Some scholars believe 
she may have been banished in a northern palace.

Augusta Julia Agrippina of the Roman Empire- 16-59 BCE
She was the mother of Nero, married to  Claudius at age 34. At the last five years of Claudius' 
reign, she became more powerful. Her son,Nero succeeded the throne at age 17.  Agrippina acted 
as regent till Nero came of age. Nero moved her out of the imperial palace. She denounced her 
son publicly, when the tension got too much, he had her killed.

Lady Godiva
Medieval Women in Arts and Letters
In Greece at this time, men preserved ONLY literature written by men.

Sappho.. Greek poetess published ten books of verse  by the third and second centuries BCE. 
By the middle ages, copies of her work were lost. What is known of her poetry is only through quotations 
from other writings.Sappho introduced a set of standards for poetry in an era when society was 
separated by sex.

Erinna was a most gifted student of Sappho.

Hypatia 355 or 370 BCE
From Alexandria, killed by a mob incited by a bishop. The library containing her works were burned 
by the Arab conquerors. In late aniquity, she wrote on science and mathematics, she was an inventor 
and a teacher.       ..from  2006 Jone Johnson Lewis
                                                     
Women Warriors
Women in the beginning of time actively participated in the wars. There were women who 
took up arms in battle. 

Aethelflaed -870 AD 
She  was the daughter of King Alfred the Great, ruler of Essex in England.,married to Aethelred, 
King of Mercia who was killed in battle against the Danes. She took over the leadership and led 
the battles herself.

Zenobia 
An Egyptian who, in 269 C/E, had the Roman prefect to Egypt beheaded. She ruled the 
Palymerene Empire . She was defeated  by Roman General Aurelian and taken prisoner to Rome. 
She impressed her Roman captors that they freed her. This remarkable woman made a new life in 
Rome and became a prominent and sociable matron in Roman society.

Boudicca :
Historian Tacitus wrote about this Celtic warrior queen . Prastagus the king of Icene enjoyed a 
prosperous rule until the Romans plundered his kingdom. She ruled Icene tribe of East Anglia 
along with her husband . Hoping to preserve his kingdom he made Nero and his daughters a 
co-heir to his kingdom.  After his death, Roman officers plundered his land, raped his daughter, 
flogged his wife and violated the nobles and slaves.  Boudicca organized a troop and led them  
to rebel against the Romans. They  were victorius to the extent of burning Londinum ( London). 
Seutonius was defeated, but this prompted him to assemble a troop of 10,000, thus defeating 
Boudicca in the battle of the Midlands of England inAD 61. She rode around with her daughters 
in her chariot  before the battle, exhorting them to be brave. She cried that she was descended 
from mighty men but she was fighting as an ordinary person for her lost freedom, her bruised body 
and outraged daughters. Perhaps as taunt to the men in her ranks, it is said that she asked them 
to consider: 'Win the battle or perish: that is what I, a woman will do; you men can live on in slavery 
if that's what you want.

Jimena Díaz de Oviedo of Toledo 1099-1102  Sovereign Countess Governor of Valencia 
and Toledo (Spain) Widow of Governor Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (El Cid Campeador)
defended Valencia against the Muslims, but in the end she lost. 

Saint Joan of Arc or The Maid of Orléans 1412-1431
She claimed to hear voices and divine guidance. She led the French army to several important 
victories in the 100 Years War. Indirectly, she was responsible for the coronation of  Charles VII.
She was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English and tried by an ecclesiastical court 
sentenced her to be burned at the stakes. Charles VII after 24 years ask Pope Calixtus III ro reviews 
her case. He found her innocent and declared a martyr. It took over 400 years before she was cannonized. 
She remains an important figure to this day.

Samurai Women of Japan- between 12- 19th century.

The Japanese skill with the sword and spear is well recognized. Women were also trained in this art 
although the word “ samurai” is a masculine word. Upper class Japanese women weere trained in the 
martial arts and actually joined the war alongside the men. Women were expected to fight to the end 
and die with honor with sword in hand. Legendary among these women of that time was Empress Jingo.

Empress Jingo  (c. 169-269 A.D.)
led an invasion of Korea. She pressed on to Korea despite her pregnancy. She succeeded to bring the 
kings of Koryo, Pekche and Silla under her rule. She gave birth to Prince Homuda upon her return 
from the expedition. She ruled as regent. According to the stories, Jingu was married to the fourteenth 
emperor of Japan, Chuai, who reigned between 192 and 200. After his death, she ruled as a regent for 
her young son. To pass the time, she invaded and conquered Korea (without shedding a drop of blood,
according to the legend).

Tomoe  Gozo  a samurai warrior who played a pivotal role in the capture  of Kyoto in the 
12th century in the Genpei War. However,  Yoshinaka who she fought under was defeated eventually.  
There are conflicting stories about what happened to her. Her story was romanticized depicting her as 
getting married to a war-lord. After he died, she became a nun. Another story says that she fled the 
battlefeld clutching an enemy head and never to be seen again.

Andal- an Indian poetess who wrote devotional poetry to Krishna
LadyLi- a Chinese artist credited with inventing monochrome ink in bamboo painting
Zahra- the favorite wife of Caliph Adb-er Rahman  III who inspired the palace of 
al-Zahra near Cordoba,Spain

It is not the intention of this article to cover the whole subject of women's place in history. This would 
take pages to fill a book and more. It is, however, meant to provide information and to get readers 
interested in the topic of women and their efforts to prove that they are not the weaker nor inferior sex.

References: Karen King- Women in Ancient Christianity
            The Gospel According to Woman- Karen Armstrong
            Pope Joan - Peter Stanford
            Warrior Queens
            Notable Women of Medieval Europe - John Johnson Lewis
   On-line resources: worldwide guide to WomenLeadership.com
                       ancient history.com
                       pbs.org
                        about.com

  

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