Women in post-classical warfare

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A variety of roles were played by women in post-classical warfare. James Illston says "the field of medieval gender studies is a growing one, and nowhere is this expansion more evident than the recent increase in studies which address the roles of medieval women in times of war....this change in research has been invaluable". He provides a 20-page bibliography of dozens of recent scholarly books and articles, most of them connected to the crusades.[1]


Philippa of England commands the defenders of Copenhagen (1428)

5th century[edit]

  • 4th–6th century: Possible time period that the legendary woman warrior Hua Mulan may have lived.[2]
  • 451: Saint Genevieve is credited with averting Attila from Paris by rallying the people in prayer.[3]

6th century[edit]

7th century[edit]

8th century[edit]

9th century[edit]

10th century[edit]

  • 10th-century: According to legend, Saint Theodora of Vasta, in Arcadia of Peloponnesus, joined the army of Byzantine Empire in her father's stead dressed as a man, to spare her father from conscription, and had no brother who could take his place: when refusing to marry a woman who claimed to have been made pregnant by her, she is executed, resulting in the discovery of the biological gender of her corpse, and her status as a saint for the sacrifice she made for her father.[35]
  • 912–922: Reign of Æthelflæd, queen of Mercia. She commanded armies, fortified towns, and defeated the Danes. She also defeated the Welsh and forced them to pay tribute to her.[36]
  • 914: Queen Sugandha and her forces marched against the Tantrins. She was defeated and deposed[37]
  • 960: Ethiopian queen Gudit laid waste to Axum and its countryside, destroyed churches and monuments, and attempted to exterminate the members of the ruling dynasty of the Kingdom of Aksum.[38][39]
  • 971: Sviatoslav I of Kiev attacked the Byzantine Empire in Bulgaria in 971. When the Varangians were defeated in the siege of Dorostolon, the victors were stunned to discover shieldmaidens among the fallen warriors.[40]
  • 975: Adelaide-Blanche of Anjou, acting for her sons Guy and Bertrand, led an army to aid Guy (a.k.a. Guido II), Count-Bishop of le Puy, in establishing the "Peace of God" in le Puy.[41]
  • 986: The Khitan Dowager Regent Empress Xiao Yanyan of the Khitan Liao state, regnal title Chengtian, assumes power at age 30 in 982. In 986, personally led her own army against the Song dynasty and defeated them in battle.[42][43][44][45][46]

11th century[edit]

12th century[edit]

13th century[edit]

14th century[edit]

  • 14th century: Urduja, a Filipino princess, takes part in several battles. Many historians believe that she was mythical, however.[89]
  • 14th century: Women of the Mississippian Culture in the Central Illinois River Valley Region participated in warfare, defending their camp, if needed, while men were out hunting.[90]
  • 1326: Isabella of France invades England with Roger de Mortimer, and overthrows Edward II of England, replacing him with her son Edward III of England, with her and de Mortimer acting as regents.[91]
  • 1335: During the Second War of Scottish Independence Christina Bruce commanded the garrison of Kildrummy Castle and successfully held the castle against pro-Baliol forces led by David III Strathbogie.[92]
  • 1335: The Scots defeat a company led by the Count of Namur. Amongst the Count's casualties was a female lancer who had killed her opponent, Richard Shaw, at the same moment that he had killed her. Her gender was only discovered when the bodies were being stripped of their armor at the end of the engagement. "The chronicler Bower seems to have been at least as impressed by the rarity of two mounted soldiers simultaneously transfixing one another with their lances as with the fact that one of them was a woman."[93]
  • 1338: Agnes Randolph successfully defends her castle against a siege by England's earl of Salisbury.[94]
  • 1342–1343: Joanna of Flanders conquers the city of Redon and defends the city of Hennebont during the Breton war.[95]
  • 1354: Ibn Battuta reports seeing female warriors in Southeast Asia.[96]
  • 1351–1363: Han E serves as a soldier in the Chinese army as a man under the name Han Guanbao, and is promoted to lieutenant.[97]
  • 1351–1357: Cia Ordelaffi née Marzia degli Ubaldini an Italian noblewoman from Forlì came in help of Lodovico Ordelaffi during the battle of Dovadola (part of the Guelphs and Ghibellines war). In 1357 she took part in the defense of Cesena during the Forlivesi crusade induced by Pope Innocent VI.[98]
  • 1358: Richardis of Schwerin defends Sönderborg Castle on Als against Valdemar IV of Denmark.[99]
  • 1364–1405: Timur uses female archers to defend baggage trains.[96]
  • 1387: Queen Jadwiga of Poland leads two military campaigns.[100]
  • 1389: Frisian regent Foelke Kampana leads armies to assist her spouse Ocko Kenisna tom Brok, chief of Auricherland: after finding him dead on the battlefield, she returns to Aurich, and upon finding it taken by an enemy during her absence, she retakes it by military force.[101]

15th century[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]


  • De Pauw, Linda Grant. Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998), popular history by a leading scholar
  • Fraser, Antonia. The Warrior Queens (Vintage Books, 1990)


  • Bauer, Susan Wise (2010). The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade (illustrated ed.). W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0393078176.
  • Blythe, James M. "Women in the Military: Scholastic Arguments and Medieval Images of Female Warriors," History of Political Thought (2001), v.22 pp. 242–69.
  • Edgington, Susan B. and Sarah Lambert, eds. Gendering the Crusades (2002), 13 scholarly articles
  • Hacker, Barton C. "Women and Military Institutions in Early Modern Europe: A Reconnaissance," Signs (1981), v6 pp. 643–71.
  • Hay, David. "Canon Laws Regarding Female Military Commanders up to the Time of Gratian: Some Texts and their Historical Contexts", in A Great Effusion of Blood'? Interpreting Medieval Violence, eds. Mark D. Meyerson, et al. (University of Toronto Press, 2004), pp. 287–313.
  • Hay, David. The Military Leadership of Matilda of Canossa, 1046-1115 (Manchester University Press, 2008).
  • Hingley, Richard, and Unwin, Christina. Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen (2006).
  • Illston, James Michael. 'An Entirely Masculine Activity'? Women and War in the High and Late Middle Ages Reconsidered (MA thesis, University of Canterbury, 2009) full text online, with detailed review of the literature
  • Lourie, E. "Black women warriors in the Muslim army besieging Valencia and the Cid's victory: A problem of interpretation," Traditio, 55 (2000), 181–209
  • McLaughlin, Megan. "The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe," Women's Studies 17 (1990), pp. 193–209.
  • Maier, C.T. "The roles of women in the crusade movement: a survey" Journal of medieval history (2004). 30#1 pp 61–82
  • Nicholson, Helen. "Women on the Third Crusade," Journal of Medieval History 23 (1997), pp. 335–49.
  • Solterer, Helen. "Figures of Female Militancy in Medieval France," Signs 16 (1991), pp. 522–49.
  • Tuotuo. Liaoshi [History of Liao]. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974 (or Tuotuo, Liaoshi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974))
  • Verbruggen, J.F. "Women in Medieval Armies," Journal of Medieval Military History 4 (2006), pp. 119–36.


External links[edit]