Women Warriors Throughout History: 3500BC to 20th Century

Lothene Experimental Archeology Group

Women as Warriors in History

3500BC to the 20th Century

Click on these links for more biographical details, links, references, illustrations and further information on each period of history:

Prehistory and the Ancient World, Celtic and Roman, Vikings and Saxons, 11th Century, 12th Century , 13th Century, 14th Century, 15th Century, 16th Century, 17th Century, 18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century.

Laws forbidding women to fight

Women in Scotland

If anyone has any more examples of warrior women please send them and we'll add them on. Similarly, if there are any errors, let us know.

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"The first time it was fathers, the last time it was sons
In between your husbands marched away with drums and guns
And you never thought to question, you just went on with your lives
And all they taught you who to be was Mothers, Daughters, Wives"
(The Corries)

Throughout history war and fighting have been seen as men's activities, however women have always been involved in battles and seiges, not to mention duels, prizefights and so on. The most common occasion on which women would take part in battles was when their home, castle or town was attacked. A medieval lady would have expected to take charge of defence in her husband's absence. Some exceptional women like Boudiccia and Joan of Arc also led attacking armies. There were also a few women disguised themselves as ordinary soldiers or sailors in armies through the ages.

Below is a random selection of historical (and mythological) references to warrior women from various sources.

Historical references to women fighting –

Prehistory and the Ancient World

Ancient warrior queens included Vishpla, Aahhotep I, Zabibi, Samsi, Tomyris, Himoko, Jingo Kogo, Mavia, Saimei and Dihya al-Kahina. There are depictions of Hittite women warriors dating from 1300 BC. The Bible describes the Judge, Deborah, as a war leader and the Greeks had legends of the Amazons which may have been based upon Scythians or women from Turkey or Libya. Vietnamese rebels included Trung Trac, Trung Nhi, Tran Thi Doan, Phung Thi Chinh and Trieu Thi Trinh. Fa Mulan fought in the Chinese army.

more information and pictures

Celtic and Roman

Roman gladiatorial shows included "women of rank" in 63 AD. There was also a female chariot fighter competing against men. Women gladiators were described again in 88 AD. Women were members of the venatores, (gladiators who fought wild animals in the Roman arena). Emperor Alexander Severus issued an edict prohibiting women combatants in the arena in 200 AD.

A display of captured enemies in the 3rd Century included several women warriors.

Legendary Celtic women warriors included Medb (Maeve) of Ireland, Aife (Aoife) of Alba (Scotland), and Queen Scathach of Skye.

The Romans in Britain fought against Queen Boadicea (or Bodiecia, Bouddica, Voadica, Voada) of the Iceni in 61AD, but they were allies to Queen Cartimandua of the Briganties in a war against her consort in 43AD.

more information and pictures

Vikings and Saxons

An English Saxon Princess led an invasion of Jutland in the 6th Century. In the 8th Century Queen Aethelburgh destroyed Taunton. In the 9th Century Queen Thyra of Denmark led her army against the Germans.

In the 10th Century Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia led troops against the Vikings and Olga of Russia ended a revolt in which her husband had died.

The Viking Sagas and Saxo Grammaticus' "History of the Danes" mention many warrior women. Hetha, Visna and Vebiorg led companies of the Danish army. Sela and Alvid were pirates. Stikla ran away from home to become a warrior. Rusilla fought against her brother for the throne. Gurith took part in a battle to help her son. Freydis Eiriksdottir, Auðr and Þórdis all used weapons against their enemies.

more information and pictures

11th Century

Aristocratic ladies who led troops in seige and battle included Emma Countess of Norfolk, Matilda Countess of Tuscany (and her mother), Sichelgaita Princess of Lombardy, Urraca Queen of Aragon, and Teresa of Portugal.

Matilda of Ramsbury (mistress of the Bishop of Salisbury) held the Bishop's Castle in his absence.

more information and pictures

12th Century

Aristocratic ladies who led troops in seige and battle included Alrude Countess of Bertinoro, Eleanor of Castile, Queen Urraca of Aragon, Marguerite de Provence, Florine of Denmark and Berengaria of Navarre, Queen Tamara of Georgia and the Empress Maud (also known as Matilda, Empress of Germany, Countess of Anjou, Domina Anglorum, Lady of the English, Matilda Augusta and Matilda the Good)

Maude de Valerie was a Welsh revolutionary.

Women took part in the Crusades in the armies of Emperor Conrad and William Count of Poitiers in spite of a papal bull forbidding them to do so.

more information and pictures

13th Century

Nicola de la Haye, daughter of the castellan of Lincoln defended the town against several raids and was made sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1216.

Jeanne of Navarre led her army against that of the Count de Bar.

Ladies were admitted to the Chivalric Order of the Dragon, The Order of St Anthony in Hainault and the Order of the Garter.

more information and pictures

14th Century:

Isobel MacDuff Countess of Buchan, Jeanne de Danpierre Countess de Montfort (also known as Jane, Countess of Montfort), Isabelle of England, Christian Lady Bruce, Marjory Bruce, Mary Bruce, Phillipa of Hainault, Lady Agnes Randolph (also known as Black Agnes), Agnes Hotot of Dudley, Adelaide Ponthiey, Jeanne de Belleville, Margaret of Denmark

Ladies were admitted to the Chivalric Order of the Dragon, The Order of St Anthony in Hainault and the Order of the Garter.

more information and pictures

15th Century

Margaret of Denmark, Jacqueline of Bavaria (Countess of Holland, Hainault and Zealand), Jehanne la Pucelle (better known as Joan of Arc), Isabella of Lorraine, Maire o Ciaragain, Isabella I of Castile. The Bridport muster roll (a list of ordinary citizens called up for a battle) of 1457 lists Alis Gare, Alis Hammel, Sally Pens, "Condefer Wife" and Margaret Athyn, three of these women brought their own weapons and armour with them.

Ladies were admitted to the Chivalric Order of the Dragon, The Order of St Anthony in Hainault and the Order of the Garter.

more information and pictures

16th Century

Graine Ni Maille (also known as Grace O'Malley) was an Irish pirate. A group of 350 girls defended fortifications in Paris. Ameliane du Puget led a troop of women in Marseilles. Beatriz de Pardes and María de Estrada fought with the Conquistadors in the New World. Lilliard led the Scots into battle against the English. Isabella I of Castile led her army. Marguerite Delaye and Captain Mary Ambree fought in battles. Explorers in South America reported seeing native women leading warbands.

more information and pictures

17th Century

Kit Cavanagh (also known as "Mother Ross") started her military career disguised as a man, but later fought openly as a woman soldier. Mme de Saint Baslemont de Neuville and La Maupin, as well as two unnamed aristocratic sisters fought duels. Other notable women included Lady Ann Cummingham, Blanche the Countess of Arundel, Brilliana the Countess of Harley, Alyona of Russia, Anne Chamberlyne and Anne Marie Louise d'Orleans Montpensier.

During the English Civil War ordinary women frequently reloaded guns, as well as carrying powder and bullets to the front during battles. The Scots army which marched on Newcastle in 1644 is reported to have included women regular soldiers.

more information and pictures

18th Century

Women involved in the Jacobite Rising in Scotland in 1745-6 included Jean (Jenny) Cameron, Lady Anne Macintosh, Lady Margaret Oglivy, Margaret Murray and Lady Lude.

Women soldiers included Ann Mills, Phoebe Hessel, Virginie Ghesquiere, Angelique Brulon, Margaret Catchpole, Olympe de Gouges, Rose Lacombe, Theroigne de Mericourt, Mademoiselle de la Rochefoucalt, Jemima Warner and Hannah Snell

Duellists included Mademoiselle La Maupin, Mademoiselle de Guignes, Mademoiselle d'Aiguillon, Mademoiselle Leverrier, Lady Almeria Braddock, Mrs Elphinstone, Comptesse de Polignac and Marquise de Nesle.

Catherine the Great of Russia led her army in several campaigns.

more information and pictures

19th Century:

Women soldiers and rebels included Augustina the "Maid of Saragossa", Marie Schellinck, Gertrudis Bocanegra, Elizabeth Hatzler, Dr "James" Barry, Mary Ann Riley, Ann Hopping, Jane Townshend, Louisa Battistati, Clemence Louise Michel, Sylvia Mariotti.

Duels were fought by many women including Princess Pauline Metternich, Countess Kilmannsegg, Lady Almeria Braddock and a Mrs Elphinstone.

more information and pictures

20th Century:

Increasingly accurate records and improved communications mean that many more women are recorded as regular troops, pilots, rebels, partisans, martial artists etc.

more information and pictures

Warrior Women in Scotland

These include the Celts, Aife of Alba and Scathach of Skye.

Isabelle of England: (A.D. 1285?-1313?) took up arms against her husband and she was forced to flee to Scotland by Edward III.

In 1297 the Countess of Ross led her own troops during William Wallace and Andrew de Moray's battles with the English.

Isobel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan (1296-1358) fought for Robert de Bruce.

Christian, Lady Bruce defended Kildrummy Castle from the English during the Wars of Independence.

During the same war, the widow of David of Strathbogie defended the island fortress of Lochindorb against three thousand Scots.

Lady Agnes Randolph (1300?-1369?), known as Black Agnes, fought for de Bruce. In 1334, she successfully held her castle at Dunbar against the besieging forces of England's earl of Salisbury for over five months.

Phillipa of Hainault, Queen of Edward III, led twelve thousand soldiers against invading Scots in 1346 and captured their king, David Bruce.

In 1545, Lilliard led the Scots at the Battle of Ancrum.

The Scots army which marched on Newcastle in 1644 during the English Civil War is reported to have included women regular soldiers.

Jean (Jenny) Cameron, Lady Anne Macintosh, Lady Margaret Oglivy, Margaret Murray and Lady Lude were all involved in the Jacobite Rising in Scotland in 1745-6.

more information

Laws forbidding women to fight:

These provide evidence that women were definitely fighting immediately before each law was passed, and probably in reasonably large numbers, otherwise there'd be no need for the law. Also, the fact that a law exists doesn't mean that it is universally obeyed, or that those disobeying it would be social outcasts. (consider: traffic laws such as speed limits and parking restrictions, dog licencing in the UK, pirate videos and computer software, and so on)

Emperor Alexander Severus issued an edict prohibiting women combatants in the arena in 200 AD

Women were barred from military participation in a law passed at the synod of Druim Ceat in 590 A.D. The law proved to be unenforceable when the women warriors refused to lay down their arms.

Papal Bull of 1189 prohibited women from joining the Third Crusade

In 1644 King Charles issued a proclamation banning women who were with the armies during the English Civil War from wearing men's clothing.

In 1795 the French revolutionary government ordered Frenchwomen to return to their homes and prohibited them from attending political meetings, or gathering in groups of more than five.

Women were ordered out of the front lines of the Israeli Army by David Ben Gurion in 1950 (the last one left in the mid 1960s)


Bibliography

"Women in the Viking Age" – Judith Jesch – Boydell Press – 0 85115 278 3

"Peace Weavers and Shield Maidens" – Kathleen Herbert – Anglo Saxon Books – 1-898281-11-4

"Damn Rebel Bitches – Women of the '45" – Maggie Craig – Mainstream Publishing – 1-85158-962-7

"Hannah Snell, The Secret Life of a Female Marine" – Matthew Stephens – Ship Street Press – 0-9530565-0-3

"Women All on Fire" – Alison Plowden – Sutton Publishing – 0-7509-2552-3

"Female Tars" – Suzanne Stark – Pimlico – 0-7126-660-5

"Battle Cries and Lullabies" – Linda Grant de Pauw – University of Oklahoma Press – 0-8061-3288-4

"Maiden Warriors and Other Sons" – Carol J. Clover – Journal of English and Germanic Philology (JEGP), 85 (1986):35-49

"Women in the Medieval Town" – Erika Uitz – Barrie and Jenkins – 0-7126-3437-1

"On the Trail of Women Warriors" – Lyn Webster Wilde – Constable – 0 09 478080 3

"Women in Roman Britain" – Lindsay Allason-Jones – British Museum Publications – 0-7141-1392-1

"Most Wise and Valiant Ladies" – Andrea Hopkins – Past Times – 1 85585 481 3

"800 Years of Women's Letters"- Olga Kenyon – Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd – 0-7509-0725-8

The Royal Armouries Yearbook 1997 – HMSO – ISBN 1366-3925

"The Duel" – Robert Baldick – Spring Books – 0 600 32837 6

Royal Armouries Yearbook 1997 – 1366-3925

"Medieval Combat" – Hans Talhoffer – Greenhill – 1-85367-418-4

"War Behind Enemy Lines" – Julian Thompson – Pan – 0-330-36761

"British Battles" – Ken and Denise Guest – Harper Collins – 0-00-470968-3

"The Hundred Years War" – Jonathan Sumption – Faber and Faber – 0-571-16697-0

"English Martial Arts" – Terry Brown – Anglo Saxon Books – 1-898281-18-1

"18th Century Highlanders" – Stuart Reid and Mike Chappell – Osprey – 1-85532-316-8

"The Anglo Saxon Chronicles"

"History of the Danes" – Saxo Grammaticus (also known as "Gesta Danorum")

"Erik the Red's Saga"

"Laxdaela Saga"

"Ancient Warfare" – John Carman & Anthony Harding – Sutton – 0-7509-1795-4

"Women's Life in Greece and Rome" – Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant – Duckworth – 0-7156-1641-2

"Polyaenus – Strategems of War" – translated by Peter Krentz and Everret L. Wheeler – Ares Publishers

Websites

The Women Warriors Page has lots more detailed information, including biographies of African and Asian women.

see also Women Warriors Around the World

There is a page of info on Women who followed traditionally male careers while disguised as men, which includes some women soldiers.

Women Rulers and Women in Other Positions of Political Authority includes details of civillian as well as military leaders.

Women Knights in the Middle Ages has information on women in the medieval Orders of Chivalry.

Women Warriors of Japan gives the history of the development of martial arts such as the naginata.

Distinguished Women – Military and Warfare includes biographies.

Brantestone's Women Warriors Page

The Gladiatrix in History

Women's Battalion of Death Bibliography

Military Women Pilots

The Wetwang Chariot Burial

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force

A Catalogue of Female Cross-Dressers

Women Soldiers of the Civil War

Women Soldiers in the American Revolution

Female Gladiators

Women in Early World History

Historial Interpretations of the Amazons

The Amazons of Greek Mythology

Amazons

Chieftain or Warrior Priestess

Ancient Graves of Warrior Women Offer Hints of Amazons

The Graves of the Scythian Warrior-women

Description by Tacitus of the Rebellion of Boudicca (AD 60-61)

Maude de Valerie

La Conquistadoras

Granuaile – Grace O'Malley

Dona Catalina de Erauso

Moll Cutpurse

Wicked Lady Ferrers

La Maupin

Mary Read

Anne Bonney

Hannah Snell

Women of '98

Catherine the Great

Dr "James" Barry

Emilie Plater-Zyberk

Female Buffalo Soldier

Lothene Experimental Archaeology Site Map

Site compiled by Nicky Saunders of Lothene Experimental Archaeology

Nicky has had articles published in "Call to Arms" (2002-2003)"Echoes from the Past" (Feb 2001, Oct 2000, Feb 2000) and "Feudalist Overlord – The Chronicle of Edinburgh University Medieval Society"

Lothene is an entirely volunteer organisation. If you have found this page useful and would like to make a donation please look at the Wishlist for things we'd like to have. Thank you.

{short description of image} This site is included in the UK Social Science Information Gateway at the University of Bristol. Radio 4 - Woman's Hour Nicky was interviewed about Boudicea and other women warriors on "Woman's Hour" on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 9th May, 2002.
WWWVL - Military History Listed in the World Wide Web Virtual Library Military History Page {short description of image} Distinguished Military Site Award for 2001 from Military.com

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