Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Women Warlords



I don't remember where or when I picked up Women Warlord by Tim Newark. It's another case of a subject, women who don't follow the standards, that I said, "I'll read that sooner of later." The cover is of Matilda, the Countess of Tuscany with her warriors and is painted by Angus McBride. The book is published by Blandford, but the size, 144 black and white pages, and style, photos of ancient weapons, armor, and art, remind me of Osprey Publishing.

Written by Tim Newark, the book is broken into the following chapters:

The True Amazons: 

When talking about the Amazons that the Greeks battled, Tim makes a case for them being an actual historical group.

Sometimes these 'Amazons' are attributed a different name. For example, "There is a Scythian race,' wrote Hippocrates, 'dwelling around Lake Maeotis [the Sea of Azov] which differs from other races. Their name is Sauromate [Greek for Sarmatians]. Their women ride, shoot, and throw javelins when mounted. They remain virgins until they have killed three of their enemies and only then may they marry once they have performed the traditional sacred rites." (pg 12)

As I read a variety of material, I look at the supposed meeting between Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons and Alexander the Great. The two supposedly lay together for 13 days after which she left. Her sole purpose? To get a child of Alexander. I can see either a super hero comic or a modern thriller where the descendants of those two strive to live up to that legacy. Perhaps without knowing it, good old Doc Savage could be one of their children.

Amazons of the Jungle: 

Brazil and Dahomey. When searching for the lost city of gold El Dorado, beware the amazons lead by Conori. The 'problem' is that even thought this is happening around 1545, confirmation is still not easy to come by. First, it's across the ocean. The failures of the Spanish initially might have needed a little... 'boost' to explain that it was not normal failure and that victory was just around the corner.

Now that takes care of Brazil. In West Africa? Warrior women were not unknown. "A further four (women) stood behind him, carrying flintlock muskets on their shoulders. They were naked from the waist upwards, wearing gold rings around their arms and beads around their neck and in their hair. They were members of the king's elite bodyguard, composed completely of women. And this is during the 1850 era of slave trade.

There's some interesting quotes here. One of them reminds me of how mercenaries treat war. "War is our great friend,' said one. 'Without is there is no cloth, no armlets. Let us to war, conquer or die.' (pg 44)

The author of Imaro, Charles Saunders, had done enough research in his creation of Imaro to have enough material to create Dossouye, a warrior woman based off of West Africa body guards of kings, similar to the above.

Historically, it appears that ehre were four kinds of warriors as follows:

The Agbaraya or blunderbuseers: Veterans of the army and called into action only when urgently needed. The biggest and strongest warriors of the force, each accompanied by an attendant carrying ammunition.

The Gbeto, or elephant huntresses: The bravest warriors that carried out dangerous hunting expeditions and bore feocious scars of close encounters with wounded elephants.

The Nyekplehhentoh, or razor women. They carried a hinged sword about 18 inches long that shut into its scabbard like a razor. The blade was used for decapitation.

The Gulonentoh or musketeers, the majority of the armed warriors. (pg. 48)

Braver Than Her Husband: 


Artemisia and Zenobia.

Artemisia, Queen of Halicarnassus, goes back in time. From the time of the West African Amazons, the author takes us to the time of Xerxes in 480 B. C. Those who've been to the movies might recognize the name Xerxes as he's the villain in Frank Miller's novel and movie, 300. Turns out Artemisia was a skilled strategist who might have turned a few of the failures of Xerxes to victory had he but listened to her.

Zenobia was wife and advisor to Odaenathus, ruler of Palmyra. Here we have a scenario that sounds like it played out of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones. Zenobia and her husband did much together. She was well respected. She was known to the soldiers. She was 'reputed' to be a descendant of Cleopatra.

But her husband was going to leave the kingdom to his son Herodes, and this son was from a previous marriage and well, wasn't too useful. Listed as worthless and spoilt.

So apparently Zenobia has Maeonius, the ruler's cousin, kill him. The cousin is in turn killed by Zenobia's soldiers. Herodes disappears after his father's death.

Zenobia rules as regent for her son, Vaballathus. She was not a modest regent either. She took a troop of some odd 70,000 soldiers into Egypt and defeated the Roman-Egyptian forces there. Mind you, those forces had their own problems with Goth Pirates from the Black Sea. Timing is everything eh?

Unfortunately for Zenobia, Rome came under new leadership, Aurelian, Roman Emperor between 270 and 275. And to all things that rise, they must fall. Despite some daring stopping maneuvers, Aurelian won the conflict.

Celtic Queens: 


Medb, Cartimandua, and Boudica are included here. While I'm familiar with Medb and Boudica, I'm no scholar on either of them and it's good to see information on all three in one spot.

The author starts off with a brief telling of The Tain Bo Cuailnge. Medb having a confrontation with her husband about who was better off before they married the other. The husband has a slight advantage that Medb seeks to immediately redress by in her way the warrior known as Cuchulainn. She soon learns why they call him 'the Warped One' as when she seeks to trap him, he turns into a super human mass of muscle and power and tears through those setting the trap like tissue.

Lots of people turn up dying in this instance for one bull. Hundreds if not thousands. Heroes inflicting mass carnage and spilling gore of hundreds upon the land.

Cartimandua lives in the first century AD. She was the leader of the Brigantes, a confederation of tribes and was made richer by Roman governor Plautius who made her a client ruler.

Unfortunately, a falling out with her husband Venutius, winds up with Venutius leading Celts against Cartimandua who tries to rely on the strength of Rome to hold her position.

This indirectly leads to the rise of Boudica a few years later. When Boudica protest her treatment at Roman hands, she is whipped and her two royal daughters cornered and raped by Roman soldiers.

In exchange, Boudica gathered forces, spoken encouragement, waited while the Romans fought against the strength of the Druids in north Wales, and when the time was right, burned the colonial settlement at Colchester to the ground including all the men, women, and children.

When the legion IX Hispana was sent to bring order, only their leader, Petillius Cerealis and a few cavalry escape with their life.

Boudica continues her vengeance with some reports of deaths of Romans rising as high as 70,000.

It took several legions and one mass battle to decide the fate of Boudica and history at this time casts Rome as the winner.  That 70,000 number of Romans supposedly killed is matched in horrific manner as "no less than 80,000 Britons died".

Women of Christ: 


Included here are Aethelflaed, Matilda of Tuscany, and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Aethelflaed of Mercia is well known to me not necessarily because of any actual effort I've put into reading history. Rather the writer Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales gave the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great quite a starting role in several of the books.

Aethelflaed, after her husband's death, works with her younger brother, Edward, to make England more united than it had been previously, and in so doing, make it a stronger England able to withstand the Viking invasions.

She was a political creature at heart. She didn't name herself queen, but rather, Myrcna hlaefdige (Lady of the Mercians). An official title that doesn't put her at odds with her brother, King Edward.

Despite the threat of the vikings, the people of Mercia were under attack from numerous forces including Irish, Norwegian, and Welsh. Aethelflaed responded by building more burhs and fortifications and sending armies against those who would do her people harm.

Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, doesn't have the same historical problem that Aethelflaed did. For the Lady of Mercia, her brother had to be seen as the guiding power, the crafty hand, the sole mover of events.

Matilda did not have the issue. Rather as the sole remaining child of Boniface of Canossa, who was assassinated in 1052 through the plotting of Emperor Henry III, Matilda was trained to excel.

She did so through not only courtly learning, but that of arms.

And while Matilda had no love for the German emperors, she did however, have loyalty to the papcy of Rome.

Her own private life was not easy. Married to Godfrey the Hunchback, she suffered the loss of a child who died in infancy. She separated from her husband who'd been rumored to attempt an assassination on the Pope. In 1076, Godfrey was murdered.

At this point, Matilda's loyalty to the pope is tested as Henry IV sought to depose of the pope, rising an 'antipope'. But the threat of excommunication gave Henry IV pause not necessarily because of what he thought, but of how his enemies could use that event against him. Matilda allowed the Pope to stay at the castle of Canossa and humbled the German emperor but it was a temporary humbling at best as in three short years, Henry IV elected an antipope.

Henry's initial forays worked well and Matilda suffers greatly during this period. The only thing preventing a total victory by Henry is the weather as the summer forces the soldiers to retreat north to Tuscany.

The pope secures the assistance of Robert Guiscard and his Norman warriors. Claiming other business, Henry retreats to the north.

Not one to waste such an event, Matilda uses the confusion to lead a small force of soldiers including horsemen and foot-soldiers and using a classic night ambush, dispatches several of her foes.

When times passes and Henry lays siege to her again, she proves a worthy warrior and leads her elite men out of a secret entrance of her castle and using a dense fog as cover, panics the forces of Henry who retreat rapidly.

Closing out this section, Eleanor of Aquitaine inherited a vast estate in 1137 at the age of 15 upon the death of her father.  Due to this amount of wealth she controlled, the Capetian dynasty made her the Queen of France. As she grew older, she grew more involved with the politics of day to day. She traveled with Louis when in 1146 he 'took the cross', travelling the Holy Land.

Things didn't go well for Louis. Eleanor perhaps not taking the trip seriously, dressed in armor and carried weapons, as did her maids. Eleanor's favorite vassal, Geoffrey of Rancon, moved too far out of the other warriors and Turks ambushed them killing many. Geoffrey was held accountable and sent back to France.

Worse for Louis when in Antioch they meet Raymond, the prince of the city and Eleanor's uncle. Supposedly the two had something greater than he being her uncle between them. Conflict between Louis and her spread from that point until their marriage was annulled in 1152.

But she would be alone only a short time. So vast her wealth, she quickly took another husband, Henry Plantagenet, who might be more familiar as Henry II King of England.

But that relationship also went sour. She  have five sons and three daughters by Henry. Richard I and John, the last born, would also become Kings of England. With some suspicion of her being the 'ringleader' of a rebellion against him, Henry brought Eleanor home and had her imprisoned for some odd 15 years and it wasn't till his death that she was freed.

She didn't let age slow her down though and remained very active, including gathering the random for Richard I release from the Duke of Austria as well as supporting John when he became king.

Hundred Years War Women: 


While I'm reading for the new information, such as Jeanne of Montfort and Christine de Pisan, I did know Joan of Arc.

Jeanne is literally a leader. When he town is under siege, she dons armor, rides through the streets, encourages the people to fight. To take stones from the buildings and throw them at the enemy.

She leads a group of 300 horseman into the enemy's deserted encampment and sets it aflame.

When she escapes the French, she returns with reinforcements!

Because of her efforts, her town holds out long enough for the English army sent by King Edward to arrive.

That wasn't the only bit of action Jeanne had. She later wound up assembling 1,000 men-at-arms and 8,000 foot-soldiers to La Roche Derrien to fight against the encroaching French.

Further on timewise, Christine de Pisan was a writer who wrote Treasure of the City of Ladies in 1405. Her writings are a call to arms or rights if you will, for those women to take what is rightfully theirs and to seek "to protect her rights boldly by law and reason'. Another book mentioned here is Feats of Arms and Chivalry and compiles material from ancient military authors as well as modern ones.

Christine de Pisan died around 1429 and right before then, around 1428, Joan of Arc at the age of 16, is instructed to help the King of France.  In 1431, after a brief and brilliant time as a symbol of France, Joan is burnt at the stake.

Because its covering such a wide swath of history, if you wanted more details on any of the subjects and individuals brought up, further research is recommended. Thankfully Tim includes a great bibliography and there are many new resources these days as well as more information comes to light and research becomes easier and more expanded.