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Medieval Women & War
by Valerie Eads


Welcome to the Medieval Women and War page. Its purpose is to provide a reference tool, especially for students beginning their research. The books and papers listed here were selected because they provide references to primary sources about women waging war in the Middle Ages. The few that do not meet this criterion are noted. Currently the bibliography is arranged alphabetically by author. This can change as it grows.

Anyone who knows of a paper or book that should be here or who can further annotate what is already here (or correct an error) is welcome to contribute; all contributions will be acknowledged. email: veads@nymas.org

Amdur, Ellis. "The Role of Arms-Bearing Women in Japanese History." Journal of Asian Martial Arts 5:2 (1996).

This article is online: http://www.koryubooks.com/library/wwj1.html

Bradbury, Jim. The Medieval Siege. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1992.

The citations in the index do not cover all the references to women and war that are actually in the book. The notes frequently cite other secondary sources, but give a starting point for researchers.

Chibnall, Marjorie. "Women in Orderic Vitalis." The Haskins Society Journal 2 (1990) pp. 106-121.

A number of references to instances of women involved in military actions described by Orderic Vitalis.

H.E.J. Cowdrey, "The Mahdia Campaign of 1087." The English Historical Review 92 (1977) pp. 1-29.

A true rara avis, this article shows that, although she did not take part personally, Matilda of Tuscany was active in planning and making possible this successful campaign undertaken during the short pontificate of Victor III.

Derbes, Anne. "Imagined Encounters: Amazons, Crusaders, and the Histoire Universelle Manuscripts from Acre." Paper presented at The 29th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo MI, 1994.

DeVries, Kelly. Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1999.

________. "A Woman As Leader of Men: Joan of Arc's Military Career." In Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, edited by Bonnie Wheeler and Charles Wood, pp. 3-18. New York and London: Garland, 1996.

Drew, Katherine Fisher. "The Carolingian Military Frontier in Italy." Traditio 20 (1964) pp. 437-447.

Some of the capitularies cited by Drew list abbesses among those whose troops are being called up. An interesting insight into the responsibilities of landed women.

Dunn, Diana. "The Queen at War: The Role of Margaret of Anjou in the Wars of the Roses".   In War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Britain. Ed. Diana Dunn. Liverpool, 2000.

Discusses the actions in which Margaret took part, her well-known image in Shakespeare and other writers, and compares her actions to those of other English queens who became involved in military affairs. No analysis of any of the actions, but a good outline of the career of Margaret of Anjou in the struggle for the crown of England. 


Eads, Valerie. "The Geography of Power: Matilda of Tuscany and the Strategy of Active Defense." Crusaders, Condottieri and Cannon: Medieval Warfare in the Mediterranean Region. Edited by J.L. Andrew Villalon and Donald Kagay. Leiden: Brill, 2002.

________. Mighty in War: The Role of Matilda of Tuscany in the War between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV (Ph.D. Dissertation: City University of NY, 2000)

Matilda of Tuscany 

Echols, Anne and Marty Williams. An Annotated Index of Medieval Women. New York: Markus Wiener, 1992.

A limited survey of the secondary literature, mostly in English, this book turns up more than 100 women whom the authors label "soldier," plus an assortment of "rebels," "outlaws" and "crusaders." A possible starting place for anyone looking for a topic, but in some cases the cited bibliography does not point to the primary sources. Still useful, especially for undergrads.

Freeman, E.A. The History of the Norman Conquest of England, 5 vols. Oxford, 1870-79.

An example of an older historian who appreciate the importance of a woman's role in military affairs. Describes the resistance to William the Conqueror undertaken after Hastings by King Harold's mother, Countess Gytha.

Gillmor, Carroll. "Practical Chivalry: The Training of Horses for Tournaments and Warfare." Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 13 (1992) pp. 7-29.

Actually, not about women, but horses are an important aspect of war up to the middle of the twentieth century, and women certainly rode.

Hay, David. The Campaigns of Countess Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115): An Analysis of the History and Social Significance of a Woman's Military Leadership. Ph.D. Dissertation: University of Toronto, 2000.

After a hiatus of thirty years, there were two dissertations on Matilda of Tuscany defended in 2000. Gives a broad overview of the known actions undertaken throughout Matilda's long life, rather than a detailed military analysis of specific actions. Discusses the evidence of Matilda's charters for her involvement in war, but citations are to the 16th century editions rather than the Monumenta edition of 1998; includes discussion of the "canonical approaches to women's military authority" and representation of Matilda in the polemical literature of the Investiture Controversy. A good piece of medieval military sociology.

Mazeika, Rasa. "'Nowhere Was the Fragility of Their Sex Apparent': Women Warriors in the Baltic Crusade Chronicles." From Clermont to Jerusalem: The Crusades and Crusader Societies, 1095-1500. Ed. Alan V. Murray. Turnhout: Brepols, 1998.

Gives excerpts from the specified chronicles; comments on likely accuracy of the descriptions; gives references to archeological finds.

McLaughlin, Megan. "The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe." Women's Studies (1990) pp. 193-209.

This often-cited article gives a number of examples from primary sources and calls for further study.

McMillin, Linda A. "Women on the Walls: Women and Warfare in the Catalan Grand Chronicles." Catalan Review 3:1 (July, 1989) pp. 123-136.

"The women in the Catalan Chronicles, however, raise issues that go beyond their individual 'desperate times'. When called upon, several of these women have skill with arms and knowledge of military strategy. Where was this training acquired and how widespread was it?"

These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked if the study of medieval women waging war is to progress from the collection of anecdotes to military history.

McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1996.

This book gives a number of instances of religious women, because of their noble and landed status, becoming involved in events that had at least the potential for military action. And no shortage of notes.

Nicholson, Helen. "Women on the Third Crusade." Journal of Medieval History 23:4 (1997) pp. 335-349.

"This study focuses on the Third Crusade, for which the chronicle evidence is particularly full. Some of the [Christian] narrative accounts of the crusade never mention women or even deny that they took part, while others describe their assisting crusaders in constructing siege works or performing menial tasks. The Muslim sources for the Third Crusade, however, depict christian women taking part in the fighting, armed as knights. The study discusses the reasons behind these divergent depictions of women in the Third Crusade."

Pennington, Reina, ed. Military Women Worldwide. Westport CT: Greenwood, 2002.

Not specifically medieval, but the editor put in considerable effort to cover a broad range in both time and place. The references to primary sources may be limited, but the emphasis is on the military reputation of each woman.

Prestwich, J.O. "Military Intelligence under the Norman and Angevin Kings." In Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy: Essays in Honor of Sir James Holt, edited by George Garnett and John Hudson, pp. 1-30. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994.

Gives sources for women spies and the post-Hastings resistance to William the Conqueror led by King Harold's mother, Countess Gytha.

Searle, Eleanor. "Emma the Conqueror." in Studies in Medieval History Presented to R. Allen Brown, edited by C. Harper-Bill, Christopher J. Holdsworth and Janet L. Nelson, pp. 281-88. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1989.

Does not maintain that Queen Emma led troops into battle, but does have some of the best lines on women and war to be found anywhere.

Truax, Jean A. "Anglo-Norman Women at War: Valiant Soldiers, Prudent Strategists or Charismatic Leaders." The Circle of War in the Middle Ages: Essays on Medieval Military and Naval History. Edited by Donald J. Kagay and L.J. Andrew Villalon. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1999. Pp. 111-125.

"Thus there is a striking parallel between the roles played by women and clerics in medieval warfare. Both rarely, if ever, actually fought in battle for a variety of reasons such as advanced age, lack of physical strength, lack of training, religious vows and social prohibitions. However, it is clear that noblewomen, like clerics, acted as feudal overlords and therefore controlled military forces."

Wainwright, F.T.R. Scandinavian England. Edited by Eugene Rice. Ithaca NY: Cornell, 1958.

The chapter on "┬thelfl┌d, Lady of the Mercians" puts what is known of ┬thelfl┌d's fortification policy in the context of her father, Alfred the Great's, burgh defenses against the Vikings.

Wright, Dana A. "Female Combatants and Japan's Meiji Restoration: The Case of Aizu." War in History 8:4 (2001) pp. 396-417.

Definitely stretches the definition of medieval, but this article on 19th-century Japanese women in actual combat is worth a read, even by those who do not research in Asian history. Given the scarcity of cross-cultural studies of women in war, its value is doubled.

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