Tuesday, October 30, 2007


(2nd Century AD)

This Roman woman is known as being the first recorded (ie: known) woman doctor. Her identity is extremely obscure. Suffice to say that she wrote a treatise on gynaecology, which was extensively used till the 6th centruy AD and by midwives up till the 16th century. Unfortunately for her history would not be kind - many men who lived after her, copied her writings and blatantly used them as their own.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)


Empress of the Eastern Empire (Constantinople)

Daughter of the Eastern Emperor Arcadius and the Empress Eudoxia. She was the sister of Theodosius and Eudoxia.

At the age of 15 (414) her father died and her brother succeeded as Theodosius II. But her brother was weak and Pulchera took over the regency and was herself proclaimed Augusta. Pulchera was present when her brother received their aunt Galla Placida and her two children (421), and though Galla was disliked and distrusted by Theodosius, she was granted imperial rank (423). Theodosius then organized an invasion of the Western Empire (424). Pulchera was virtual ruler of the Eastern Empire until she was ousted from favour by intrigue (442/443).

Though a Christian by birth, Pulchera was educated in the pagan tradition; she was an intelligent woman, speaking fluent Greek and Latin and had a deep interest in medicine and natural science.

The Emperor Theodosius died (450) and aged 51, Pulchera took control of the government of the Eastern Empire. She then married Marcian, Army Chief of Staff, and named him co-Emperor (despite the fact that she had taken a vow of perpetual virginity and said would never marry). Pulchera died a few years later aged 54 (453) and in her will she left vast estates to the poor.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998
Women of History)

Trotula Plataerius

(11th Century AD)
Professor & Doctor

Trotula was an Italian woman who achieved fame in the medical profession. She was considered the most knowledgable of all women physicians of her time (and after).

Based at the medical school at Salerno, Trotula was a leading gynacologist and obstetrician, and also specialised in the study of dermatology and epilepsy. It was in the specialist field that Trotula became noted for her unique diagnostis methods: she used skilled questioning and close observation, and experience, to recognise the symptoms (a practice that was unheard of a the time).

Trotula was famed for her much-copied book on obstetrics and gynaecology. At the medical school of Salerno, Trotula was considered the most knowledgable of all the teachers (male and female) by her students, who included Rudolph Malecouronne, who studied under her (1040-1056) and went on to become the most important physician in Western France.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Women of History - Biographies

Just a short note regarding the biographies that are featured here on Women of History.

They are short - yes, purposely so (I have my reasons for not publishing the more detailed biographies). Suffice to say, that the biographies featured here are really just a window into the fascinating lives of these women.

Now, how do I select who to feature - well, at the moment I am re-publishing a lot of those biographies that I featured on my original Women of History website - which is 9years old!!!! However, there are some new one included as well.

I have, at present, many thousands of biographies from which to chose from - some are merely snippets whilst others are lenghty and quite detailed. So the options are endless.

However, as you may have noticed, I do tend to get side-tracked every now and again, and off I go chasing some historical event that has piqued my interest. (I tend to have a few things "on the go" at any one time).

Well, please continue to enjoy the biographies of history's fascinating women.

~~~ Melisende

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mary Stuart

(1542 - 1587)
Queen of Scotland (1542 - 1567)

Mary was born (7/12/1542) at Linlithgow, Scotland. She was the daughter of James V of Scotland (d.1542) and Mary of Guise (d.1560). From the day of her birth, Mary was betrothed to the future Edward VI of England (1542) - the vetoing of this marriage led to war with England.

The Scottish were defeated at Pinkie (10 Sept. 1547) by forces of Duke of Somerset. A French alliance was decided upon. Mary was sent to the French court aged 5 (1548), where she received a Catholic upbringing under her Guise uncles. Mary married (1) the Dauphin Francis (King Francis II of France) at Paris, France (24/4/1558). Her husband succeeded to the French throne (1559).

Mary became Queen of France but shortly after, Francis died (1560/1561). Mary was returned to Scotland (1561), and promptly proclaimed herself rightful Queen of England as the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Margaret Tudor. Back in Scotland, Mary had to adapt to the anti-monarchial, anti-Catholic, anti-French elements that had dominated Scotland in her absence. Then Mary embarked upon the illconsidered marriage (2) to her cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (29/7/1565) at Edinburgh, Scotland. Mary soon gave birth to a son, James VI & I (1566).

The following year Mary was caught up in the scandal surrounding the murders of Riccio and Darnley (1567). Mary made mistake upon mistake. Soon after both deaths, Mary made a scandalous marriage (3) to James Hepburn, 4th Earl Bothwell (c.1567), who just happened to have been recently acquitted of Darnley's murder, was then hastily divorced from his wife, and was swiftly promoted to the Dukedom of Orkney and Shetlands. There was an immediate uprising of Scottish lords which resulted in military defeat for Mary at Carberry Hill and Langside (1568).

Mary fled Scotland for England, and threw herself on the mercy of Elizabeth I, who kept her imprisoned in various strongholds. Following intrigues to rescue her and place her on the throne of England, Mary was placed on trial (Oct.1586). She was found guilty of treason and sentanced to death (25/10/1586). After delaying for as long as possible, Elizabeth reluctantly signed Mary's death warrant (1/2/1587) and Mary was executed at Fotheringhay (8/2/1587).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

St. Elizabeth of Portugal

St. Isabel of Portgual (1271-1336)
Queen of Portugal

Elizabeth was the daughter of King Peter III of Aragon and Constantia, grandchild of Emperor Frederick II. She was named after her great-aunt St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

Elizabeth was educated very piously, and led a life of strict regularity and self-denial from her childhood. At the age of 12yo, Elizabeth married King Denis/Diniz of Portugal, a poet, and known as "the working king" , in recognition of his work in the service of his country. His morals, however, were extremely bad, and the court to which the young Elizabeth was brought consequently most corrupt.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth quietly pursued the regular religious practices, all the while attempting to win the affections of her husband theough her gentleness and extraordinary forbearance. She bore two children, a daughter Constantia and son Affonso, within seven years. Elizabeth became the benefactor of the poor, orphans, and women, and devoted every spare moment of her time helping them, even pressing her court ladies into their service.

However, such a pious life was considered a reproach to many around her, and caused ill will in some quarters. Her own life was full of turmoil. Elizabeth was neglected by her unfaithful husband, whose morals were not improved until much later in his life. When her son Alfonso rebelled, as he greatly resented the favours being shown to the illegitiamte sons of his father, war was declared (1323). Elizabeth attempted to reconcile father and son, but was unjustly suspected by her husband of involvement in the rebellion, and banished.

Though away from court, Elizabeth still maintained influence. She succeeded in averting pending strife among her royal kinfolk. Upon the death of her husband Denis (1325), Elizabeth returned to her house at Coimbra, near the Poor Clare convent she founded. Here she took to wearing the habit of a Franciscan Tertiary, her only wish to spend the rest of her life in relative obscurity, devoted to the sick and poor.

When her son King Alfonso IV warred with King Alfonso XI of Castile (1336) - Alfonso had married his daughter Maria, and had ill-treated and neglected her, Elizabeth, despite her age and weakened condition followed the Portuguese army in field at Estremoz, and was succeessful in obtaining peace. But the exertion of obtaining the peace brought on her final illness.

Elizabeth died at Estremoz, of fever before she was able to return home. Elizabeth was buried at Coimbra, and many miracles were attributed to her. She was canonized in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Maria of Antioch

Empress of Byzantium

Maria was the daughter of Constance of Antioch (d.1162) and Raymond of Poitiers (d.1149), sister of Bohemond II, Prince of Antioch and Baldwin, and was cousin of King Baldwin III of Jerusalem (d.1162). Maria was famed for her beauty, rivalled only by Melisende of Tripoli. A marriage alliance was sought between Antioch and Constantinolpe, and Maria was married to Emperor Manuel (Dec.1160).

Unfortunately for her, Maria was not popular and was disliked by people of Constantinople as a Latin (they being Greek). After the death of Manuel (1180), Maria was regent for her son Alexius II (1180 - 1182). It was during this time that Maria took a lover, her advisor Alexius Comnenus.

But Maria's regency was opposed by her stepdaughter Maria Comnena (daughter of Manuel by a former wife) and her husband Ranier of Montferrat (brother of Conrad, who married Isabella, Queen of Jerusalem). Maria begged for aid from her brother-in-law Bela III of Hungary - but this was not forthcoming.

Andronicus Comnenus was sent for by popular acclaim and was crowned co-Emperor. He eventually assumed total control of Constaninople. Maria was condemned to be strangled, her son forced to sign the warrant by new Emperor Andronicus. Her son was murdered two months later (1182).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Caterina Sforza

Countess of Forli

Caterina was the bastard daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, though she became the legitimized daughter of Lucrezia Landiani (she had two mothers throughout her youth). At the age of 9yo, Caterina was engaged to Girolamo Riaria (relative of the reigning Pope). Aged 14, Caterina's father was murdered shortly after her proxy marriage (1477). Caterina left her home for Rome.

Though young in age, Caterina delighted in husband's power and rank. Aged 15, Caterina gave birth to her daughter Bianca (b.1478) - this was followed by six more children in nine years. Caterina was said to be tall, slim, and blonde - but she was far from being a bimbo, in fact was courageous, and sometimes even cruel.

With her husband, Caterina seized control of Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome during the turmoils (1484) - she surrendered 13 days later (Caterina was 7 months pregnant at the time and aged 21). Girolamo and Caterina left Rome and went to Romagna, where they resided in Forli. Caterina was an well educated young woman, and sought knowledge from all things. She was renowned for keeping book of receipes and prescriptions - many noble ladies corresponded with her exchanging receipes and seeking advice from her. Caterina's husband was a rather weak man, and not exactly an able soldier or ruler. In Forli it was Caterina who issued justice, especially after the revolt (1487) in which her husband failed to do anything.

The following year (1488), Caterina's husband was murdered by the Orsi family. Caterina was taken captive with children but escaped. Caterina sought and received help from Milan and Bologna. From here on, Caterina became noted as a brutal tyrant. Initially she was regent for her young son Ottaviano, but Caterina loved power and was reluctant to relinquish it and so assumed full control. Caterina took a lover, Giacomo Peo, and the two were secretly wed - she bore him a son Bernardino (c.1490). Giacomo was murdered (1495), and Caterina took revenge on all involved (it was said her son was the instigator - her revenge on him was to withhold any power and control from him). Caterina took another lover/husband/advisor in Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de Medici - she bore him a son Giovanni della Bande Nera (father of Cosimo, Grand Duke of Tuscany). Caterina's husband Giovanni died one year later of natural causes aged 29.

Caterina continued to rule her small lands until they were attacked by Cesare Borgia (1499). Caterina sent her children and her jewels to Florence for safety. Caterina was involved in a plot and tried to poison Pope Alexander VI. Meanwhile the Poe's son Ceasre was still beseiging her lands. Imola surrendered then Forli, and Caterina was besieged in the fortress of Ravaldino (1499) for 24 days. The fortress was taken, and Caterina was made prisoner by Borgia who delighted in his illtreatment of her. Caterina was then imprisoned in Belvedere Palace at the Vatican for four months. After a failed escape attempt, Caterina was imprisoned in Castel Sant' Angelo for one year. Caterina was released only after she renounced her lordship. Caterina retired to Florence, where she died eight years later (1509) of liver ailment, peritonitis and pleurisy aged 46.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

St. Adelaide

(Adetheida/Adelheide of Italy)
Holy Roman Empress

Born in Burgundy, the daughter of King Rudolf II of Burgundy (King of Italy). She married as her first husband (947) Lothair, King of Italy (d.950), son of King Hugh of Italy. From this marriage was born a daughter, Emma of Italy. The marriage came to an ubrupt end when Lotair died and she found herself a widow aged 19 (950). Lothair was succeeded by Berengar II, aged 50yo, who was crowned King of Italy. Adelaide was imprisoned by Berengar II (951), and so from her imprisonment, she appealled to Otto I the Great, King of Germany, who duly rescued her and then married her (Oct 951) as his second wife (1st wife was Edith, sister of King Athelstan of England).

As a result of her marriage to Otto, she was crowned Empress (962) by Pope John XII. She gave birth to a sons Henry (b. 952) and Bruno (b. 953), a daughter,Matilda of Quedlinburg, Abbess of Quedlinburg (bc.954), and finally Otto II of Saxony, Holy Roman Emperor (b. 955). She founded the Benedictine abbey at Payerne, Switzerland. Then came the death of Otto I after an 11 year reign (973), and she was again widowed, aged 42 (973). She did not retire from life during the reign of her son, Otto II (973-983), instead, through her role as Queen-Mother, she was influential in state affairs, though her lavish philanthropies became the source of conflict.

Adelaide's son Otto II was turned against her by his Greek wife Theophano. And so she left court to live with her brother in Burgundy. The death of her son Otto II (983) saw the successsion of his 3yo son (her grandson) Otto III. She became joint regent with Empress Theophano for the infant Otto III (983-991). At one point, she and Theophano were forced to rescue the infant Otto III from Henry the Quarrellsome, the deposed Duke of Bavaria (984) - who sought the Imperial Crown for himself. Aged 52, she became sole regent (991-996). Then, in what surely must have been a moment de javu, her grandson Otto III was turned against her by his wife. She was, however, was able to reside peacefully at the convent she founded at Setz, Alsace (996-999); conscientious, generous to the very end (d.16/12/999). She was canonized (c.1097?) and her Feast day 16th December.

The Calendar of Saints says her first husband was poisoned by his successor. When she refused to marry the murderer's son, she was imprisoned. King Otto the Great freed her and married her. He died and her daughter-in-law forced Adelaide to quit the royal presence. Throughout these troubles she remained gracious and loving and was canonised a hundred years after her death.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Lucrezia Borgia

(1480 - 1519)
Duchess of Ferrara

Daughter of Pope Alexander IV (Rodrigo Borgia) by principal mistress Vanozza dei Cattenels. Sister of Juan, Duke of Gandia and Cesare, Cardinal, Duke of Romagna, Duke of Valentinois (also known as "Il Valentino").

Lucrezia was blonde, beautiful, and cultured. She grew up in Rome during the Renaissance. At times, she was accused of complicity in the crimes of both her father and brother. There is however, no evidence to support any of these accusations. She often attended many of the "parties" arranged at the Vatican by both father and brother; and her closeness to her brother Cesare ignited rumours of incest between them - it may also have had something to do with the fact that Cesare had named one of his many bastards after his beloved sister. Cesare was athletic, charming, subtle, a diplomat, master of dissimulation, capable soldier and administrator, who preferred to defeat enemies by treachery; he deceived, betrayed and attacked without warning, killing without excuse, murdering and raping; he campaigned in the name of the church (and for his own personal aggrandizement) and was financed by it.

To further the political ambitions of her father and brother Cesare, Lucrezia was married three times:
(1) Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro (1493). A son, the Roman Infante Giovanni, was born (1498) of this marriage. This son was firstly passed off as the illegitimate son of her brother Cesare, then as a son of her father. However, despite this, the marriage annulled (on the grounds of her husband's alleged impotence) to allow a second marriage.
(2) Alfonso (Duke of Bisceglie) of Aragon (1500). This husband was then murdered by her brother Cesare (who had most probably murdered their brother Juan 1499) when the prospect of a more influential marriage was considered.
(3) Alfonso d'Este (1501) who became 3rd Duke of Ferrara (1505) - the same year her son from her first marriage died (1505).

Alfonso I d'Este was the son of Ercole d'Este, 2nd Duke of Ferrara and Eleanora of Naples. He was the brother of Isabella (m. Francesco Gonzaga and Duchess of Mantua), Beatrice (m. Lodovico Sforza and Duchess of Milan), Ferrante, Cardinal Ippolito, Sigismondo, and half-brother of Guilo. When Alfonso was aged 15 (c.1491) he was married to 18yo Anna Sforza who later died in childbirth (1497). Unfortunately for Alfonso, he was not attractive not likeable; he was coarse, uncivilised, brutal, brave, cruel, arrogant, licentious; patronized prostitutes. One his prized possessions was his own personal own foundry and cannon (symbol of prestige). When the engagement of Alfonso to Lucrezia was made public, his sister Isabella flew into a rage demanding the arrangements be broken off. However, Alfonso and Lucrezia were married, first by proxy in Rome, then in grandeur in Ferrara (1501).

Shortly after his marriage, Alfonso imprisoned brothers Guilo and Ferrante (1501) after plot to depose him was discovered ? he dealt with them cruelly. At Ferrara, she learned of the death of her father Pope Alexander VI and the fall from power (and death 1507) of her brother Cesare (his ambitions ended with their father's death (1503) which came about after Cesare accidently poisoned both himself and his father; he was imprisoned by the new Pope Julius II (1503); escaped to Naples (1504); shipped to a Spanish prison (1505); escaped but was killed whilst fighting in Castile/Navarre for the King of Navarre (12/3/1507) Viana. Patron of the arts, protector of Leonardo da Vinci. Praised by Machiavelli as a model prince).

After the death of his father Ercole d'Este (1505), he became Hereditary Prince of Ferrara and its third Duke - he was aged 25yo.

Alfonso was suspicious of her (due to a false reputation for wantonness) and spied on her and had her followed. At Ferrara where she established a literary and artistic court, she developed a number of amorous friendships, including Francesco Gonzaga (1505-1511) Duke of Mantua and husband of Alfonso's sister, Isabella and with the poet Pietro Bembo. She also devoted herself to the patronage of the arts and education, as well as devoting herself to works of charity and to the care of her children, including son Ercole II (b.1508).

Despite his suspicions, Alfonso appointed Lucrezia as regent of duchy during his many absences. He never loved her, but did respect her.

Alfonso was forced to defend Ferrara (1510) against Venetians. He fought at the battle of Ravenna (1512). However, he was detained in Rome but fled at coronation of de Medici Pope (c.1513).

After a difficult pregnancy and birth of stillborn child, Lucrezia died (1519) a week after. She was buried in church of Corpus Domin, Ferrara.

Alfonso lost no time in taking up with his mistress Lauri Dianti (who would bear him two sons). He was forced to defend Ferrara against Pope (1519); to defend himself against an attempt by Pope to kidnap him (1521). In the forthcoming wars, he tried to recapture Modena. He was loyal to France (1525) - sent aid. He captured Modena (1527). Plague (1528) at Ferrara. Met Emperor Charles V (1529) - he was aged 53; at Bologna (1530). Alfonso died 1534, and buried in the church of Corpus Domin, Ferrara, Italy; succeeded by his son by Lucrezia, Ercole II.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: Women of History)

St. Helena

Empress and Saint

Helena was a humble innkeeper's daughter from Bithyna. It was said that as a girl, Helena had been one of the supplementary amenities of her father's establishment, regularly available to clients, at an extra charge.

Helena married Constantius (r.293 - 306). She was the mother of Emperor Constantine I (b.274). Elevated to rank of Augusta, Helena kept her court at Boulogne. Helena was abandoned by her husband (305) in order that he could marry Emperor Maximus' adopted stepdaughter, Theodora. The following year witnessed the death of Helena's former husband at York (25/7/306) when he and his son went to England.

Helena embarked upon a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (c.324-325). She went to Rome (326) with her son Constantine. Helena disliked her daughter-in-law Fausta (daughter of Maximus whose stepdaughter stole her own husband over 40 years previous).

Aged 70yo (327) as passionate enthusiastic Christian convert, Helena made another pilgrimage to Holy Land to tour principal shrines. In the Holy Land, Helena was said to have unearthed the True Cross, which she sent back to Rome. In fact, Helena was a successful archaeologist; she set out for Palestine to uncover Calvary and find the relics of the Passion; her discovery was endorsed by Emperor who built a church, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Helena's was, in fact, the first recorded Christian pilgrimage. The length of her stay was unknown but she probably died there.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Catherine de Medici

Queen of France (1547-1559)

Catherine was born on April 13, 1519, in Florence, Italy, the daughter of the Florentine ruler Lorenzo de' Medici, called Lorenzo the Magnificent and Madeline de la Tour of Auvergne. Catherine grew up in the Villa of Coureggi (Fiesole) Florence. She would be the mother of the last three Valois kings of France, and a major force in French politics during the 30 years of Roman Catholic-Huguenot wars and an instigator of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.

Catherine married (29/10/1533) Henry (Henri) de Valois (c.1518 - 1559), King of France (1547 - 1559), Duke of Orleans, second son of Francis I de Valois, King of France and Claude de France. Henry was held as hostage in father's stead in Spain by Charles V of Austria (c.1526), and married Catherine prior to becoming dauphin (28/10/1536).

Although it was said that Henry loved her, their marriage was fruitless for nine years. Henry however, fathered several bastards on ladies-in-waiting; then Henry fell madly in love with Diane de Poitiers (she 38, he 29). Henry would be dominated by Diane, morally, socially, and politically until his death.

Catherine was the mother of: Francis II of France, King of France (b.1544); Elizabeth (b.1545); Claude (b.1547); Louis (1549 - 1550); Charles IX of France, King of France (b.1550); Henry III of France, King of France (b.1551); Margaret de Valois (b.1553); Hercule Francois, Duke of Alencon-Anjou (1554 - 1584); Victoire (b.1556); and Jeanne (b.1556).

When Henry II assumed the French throne (1547), Catherine had little power during his reign as she was completely overshadowed by his mistress Diane de Poitiers. Catherine's only successful taste of power came when Henry was recognized as Vicar of Empire (1552) - during his absence from France (1152 - 1155), Henry gave power to Catherine. During a tournament in Paris, Henry II lost an eye and died ten days later (10/7/1559) after suffering terrible agony. He was buried St. Denis.

Catherine also had little power during the reign of her first son, Francis II, but on Francis's death (1560) the government fell entirely into her hands. Catherine ruled as regent for her second son, Charles IX, and despite him reaching his majority and assuming power in his own right (1563), she continued to dominate Charles for the duration of his reign.

In her determination to preserve royal power at any cost, Catherine devoted her energies to maintaining a balance between the Protestant group known as the Huguenots, led by the French military leader Gaspard de Coligny, and the Roman Catholics, led by the powerful house of Guise. During the religious civil wars (1562=>), Catherine, a Roman Catholic, usually supported the Catholics; sometimes, however, political expediency led her to switch her support to the Huguenots. Her political manipulations also affected the personal affairs of her family.

She arranged (1560) for her daughter, Elizabeth of Valois, to become the third wife of the powerful Roman Catholic king of Spain, Philip II. Then, Catherine found it propitious to marry (1572) another daughter, Margaret of Valois, to the Protestant king Henry of Navarre, who later became Henry IV, king of France. Later that same year, she found the growing Huguenot influence over her son Charles, the French king, frightening. Accordingly, she instigated the plot to assassinate the Protestant leader Coligny that led to his death and the deaths of an estimated 50,000 other Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572).

After the death of Charles (1574) and the accession to the throne of her third son as Henry III, Catherine's power declined. In a vain attempt to regain control of the government, Catherine tried to reconcile Catholics and Protestants, but she was trusted by neither.

Catherine was a patron of the arts - her interest in architecture was demonstrated in the building of a new wing of the Louvre Museum, in initiating construction of the Tuileries gardens, and in building the chateau of Monceau. Her personal library, containing numerous rare manuscripts, was renowned in Renaissance France.

Catherine died in Blois, France (5/1/1589). Her son, Henry III would also die that same year (1589) and would be succeeded by Henri of Navarre as King Henry IV of France.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1988 Women of History)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lost and Found

You know that phrase "it was there right under your nose all the time". I had one of those moments today.

I have been looking into the genealogy of King Harold II or more specifically, his father Wulfnoth, this week. I have managed to find out quite a bit about the ancestry of Wulfnoth - however, much was speculative and I didn't have the primary sources at hand which I needed to shed light on the matter. All roads came rather haltingly to a dead end, so to speak.

And then I checked my email. And what do you supposed I had sitting there in the Inbox for the past week, which I filled, unread, into a folder marked "Anglo Saxon Geneaology" - yep - Wulfnoth's pedigree.

One might be forgiven for thinking that my own "research" into this (which covered barely one week) was rather half-arsed. Well, maybe it was; and then again, maybe it wasn't.

Anglo-Saxon genealogy is a newish area for me - at least as far as creating a line of descent going back more than one or two generations. When dealing with my "medieval women" I have tended to focus on their immediate parentage to within, as I said, one or two generations back. Going back further, say eight or nine generations, was not something I had considered - it would, I felt, make their story too long in the telling.

So, there you have it - well, rather - I had it sitting there in front of me for the best part of a week.

I think my temporal lobe is on vacation .....

Monday, October 8, 2007

Death of William Rufus

I haven't been neglectful of the "Women of History" Blog.

I have just been writing a rather lengthy article - "
The Death of William Rufus".

I enjoy a good mystery, espcially a medieval one and just couldn't resist adding my two cents into this rather curious event. So many suspects and still so many unanswered questions.

I have posted it on the "
Women of History" website as it is rather lengthy.

As I said, this is my own personal take on the events of 2nd August 1100.


Monday, October 1, 2007


Valide Sultan

Kosem was the Valide Sultan or Queen Mother of the Turkish ruler of Constantinople. She was a wily member of harem politics and intrigue when her husband, the Sultan Ostman II was on the throne. She was the mother of the Sultan Murad II (r.1623-1640) and the Sultan Ibrahim (r. 1640- ).

After the death of her husband Sultan Ostman II (1622), his uncle succeeded as Mustapha I (1622-1623). Mustapha was quite mad, and was deposed. Kosem's son, Murad, aged 13yo succeeded (1623). Kosem dominated her son during his minority and came to influence the politics of the court.

However, this was not a period of calm and prosperity. Military riots turned on the palace (1631), and there was a rapid succession of Grand Viziers (Prime Ministers) - and so no stability within the fragile government. Murad was succeeded by his brother (her son) Ibrahim (1640).

Kosem finally lost her grip on power (1651) when Constantinople slipped into complete anarchy. She was eventually hunted down in her private apartments, where she hid. However, she was discovered after a lengthy search, hiding under a pile of quilts. Kosem was assaulted and stripped of her clothes and jewels. She was dragged into the "Cushana" by her feet, where she was strangled by a piece of rope (which had to be found). Kosem was over 80yo, but fought back. It took four men quite a while to manually strangle her. It was only when she was completely still was her death proclaimed to the Sultan. Kosem was not dead but still alive, and so once again she was strangled and killed.

So great was this women that three days of mourning followed.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Wu Chao

Empress of China
Wu Chao was a young Chinese woman who, at the age of 14, became a 5th-grade concubine to the Chinese Emperor. The Emperor's heir fell in love the Wu Chao, and after the death of the Emperor, he rescued her from a convent (where all the late Emperor's concubines were supposed to end their days). Wu Chao was installed by the Emperor as his 2nd-grade concubine. She bore the Emperor a son but became such a threat to the Emperor's son-less wife and his favourite concubine (who had borne a son) that these two women conspired against Wu Chao.

But Wu Chao turned the tables on them - she succeeded in getting these two women imprisoned and later murdered. Aged 31, Wu Chao achieved, by manoeuvre and bribes, the position of Empress, whereupon she promptly had the late concubine's son sent away. The Emperor, mentally inferior to his intelligent wife, sufferd a paralytic illness (660) and for the next 45 years she was virtual ruler of all China, ruthlessly removing or executing all who threatened her. But Wu Chao had other achievments - she raised the intellectual level of the bureaucracy, was patron of literature, introduced freedom of religion (for all religions), and via a plan of her own devising, conquered and annexed Korea.

Following the death of the Emperor (663), Wu Chao spend the next seven years in complex political wrangling before she was proclaimed Emperor Wu Hau Huang-ti. On ascending the imperial throne, Wu Chao greatly increased her patronage of the arts, built temples, founded Buddhist hospitals and dipensaries; she ensured that the mentally ill were provided, and created a lay organization to administer the sick through state hospitals (701). Wu Chao also reformed and strengthened the government by loosening the control of the old aristoratic families. Women in China enjoyed greater freedom throughout the 50 year reign of Wu Chao, and her rule over the vast Chinese Empire paved the way for the supreme T'ang Dynasty, famed for it's culture.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998
Women of History


Hebrew Prophetess

Deborah/Debbora was the wife of Lappidoth. She was reputedly the only woman Judge in Israel. Deborah had been endowed with the gift of prophecy - this gave her authority over the tribes of Israel. She was said to sit under a tree between Ramah and Bethel, where people would come for her judgement on many matters. Deborah persuaded Barak to free her people from Canaanite oppression.

She told Barak to gather a great army about him, with which he would defeat the Canaanites. Barak agreed to do so on the proviso that Deborah accompany him. She agreed and further prophecised that it would be a woman who would kill the Cannanite general Sisera. Deborah instructed Barak how to deploy his troops, and when and how to attack the Canaanites. Sisera and the Canaanites were defeated at the Battle of Esdraelon. Sisera fled the battlefield and was killed, by Jael, wife of Heber the Henite, an ally of Canaan.

Following this victory, a long period (40 years) of peace ensued. It may be assumed that Deborah had a prominent role in the affairs of Israel during this time.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)