Whoosh! Issue 53 - February 2001

WOMEN IN ARMOR: BOADICEA TO XENA

By Diane C. Bonacci
Content copyright (c) 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! Edition copyright © 2001 held by WHOOSH
2430 words



Women as Warriors (01)
Queen Boadicea (02-04)
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (05-06)
Joan of Arc (07-11)
Queen Isabella (12-14)
Elizabeth I (15-18)
Catherine II (19)
Xena (20-21)
Sources
Articles
Biography


Women in Armor: Boadicea to Xena




Women as Warriors

[01] Think of a woman. Think of a strong woman. Think of a fearless leader. Think of women throughout history. Who comes to mind? How is she dressed? Red velvet gown? Purple robe? Armor? How about Joan of Arc, who seems to the modern eye to look a lot like Ingrid Bergman? Most of us cannot come up with much more than Joan of Arc, yet there were others who entered battle on horseback, some with the metal armor of the times.


Queen Boadicea

If I hold my head like this, does my double chin show?
Statue of Boudica (Boadicea) in London

[02] Most of the historic, as well as fictional, Amazons are portrayed with the accoutrements of the well-equipped warrior: metal breastplates, shields, lances, etc. Celtic Queen Boadicea (first century C.E.) is portrayed thusly, and it is probably accurate. Her husband, Prasutagus, King of the Iceni in the southeast of England, died in 60 C.E. leaving half of his kingdom in Norfolk to her and their two daughters and half to the Roman emperor, Nero, hoping to protect his family by appeasing the money-grabbing bureaucrats. Catus Decianus, chief procurator, set out to get it all. Queen Boadicea was whipped, her daughters were raped, the villagers were slain, and the kingdom was ransacked. When freed, the tall, fierce, tawny-haired Boadicea set about planning her revenge. The people, warriors, escaped slaves, and Celtic bandits joined her in the rebellion. They destroyed the Romans at Colchester, slaughtering everyone. The settlement was burned to the ground, "leaving only a thin layer of ash for future archeologists."

[03] Brandishing a spear, Boadicea rode her chariot toward the trading town of London, which had been largely abandoned. Eventually they made their way northwest of Lichfield where they attacked the formations of Romans. The fight continued all day. Roman historian Tacitus wrote that 80,000 Britons died that day, not only the troops but also their families that had followed in wagons. Javelins, spears, swords, and stones were more powerful than shields. Stricken by defeat, Boadicea died one year later, some say by ill health, some say by poison. The rebellion so shook Nero that he ordered an investigation. Under Suetonius Paullinus, the Briton land was wasted, causing a famine. The subsequent procurator, realizing Britons could never be silenced by force, implemented a policy of peaceful coexistence.

[04] As the first great hero of the British nation, Boadicea's legend endures. Today her statue, erected in 1902, looks out over the Thames, near the Parliament Buildings in London.


Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine

Where IS the Aquaitaine, anyway?  Nobody seems to be sure...
Eleanor of Aquitaine

[05] Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was the wife of two kings, King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England, and the mother of two kings, Richard the Lion-hearted and John who is remembered in history for having been forced to sign the Magna Carta. Eleanor, who excelled in horsemanship and archery, was probably the first truly political woman, interested in both politics and the military.

[06] In 1147, Louis VII was persuaded to join the Second Crusade, and his wife Eleanor prevailed upon him to take her and a group of her ladies along on the trip. Although they packed trunks of pretty clothes, which eventually they had to discard, they dressed up in the armor of the Amazons. By the time they reached the home of her uncle in Antioch, Eleanor was pregnant with her second daughter and did not wish to head for Jerusalem. The King insisted and carried her into Jerusalem. This ended her armor-wearing days. Upon returning home, Eleanor, an educated and polished woman for that day, changed the tenor of the times by teaching knights to treat women with honor, generosity, and devotion. Apparently, Louis did not attend class, as he divorced her after accusing her of indecencies with her uncle and after being involved for many years with a young mistress. A great reader, Eleanor's tomb effigy shows her reading a book through all eternity.


Joan of Arc

Don't believe the movies--Milla Jovovich doesn't look a THING like me!
Joan of Arc

[07] The story of Joan of Arc (1412-1431), an illiterate but zealous young woman who put on her armor and led her French troops into battle, is well known.

[08] In the early 1420's the English and Burgundians had united against the French King and conquered most of northern France. In 1428, at the age of 16, Joan was divinely inspired by heavenly voices instructing her to help the King of France and raise the English siege of Orleans. After convincing the King of her mission, he provided her with a suit of armor, a squire, two pages, and two heralds. Joan, at 17, was at the head of some 4,000 men-at-war. Wearing full armor, she sat upon a white horse and rode towards Orleans.

[09] Her most valuable weapon, as far as the French were concerned, was her charismatic leadership. "Apart from the matter of war, she was simple and ignorant," stated the knight, Thibaud d'Armagnac. "But in the conduct and disposition of armies, in their drawing up in battle order and the raising of soldiers' morale, she behaved as if she had been the shrewdest captain in the world and had all her life been learning the art of war." So Joan embarked on a brief military career that won France a significant triumph in the Hundred Years War and ensured Joan's fame as arguably the most celebrated woman warlord in history.

[10] In May of 1430, after the battle of Rheims, she rode out to defend the town of Compiegne against a new offensive by the Duke of Burgundy. She commanded a successful sortie against the Burgundians but was outflanked by English reinforcements and forced to retire. Protecting her rearguard while they retreated over a bridge, she was forced into a field, where she was pulled from her horse by a mob of Burgundian soldiers who were keen not to hurt her, as they hoped to claim the ransom money.

[11] For 100,000 francs, Joan was handed over by the Duke of Burgundy to the English and put on trial at Rouen as a heretic. The English wanted to undermine her popularity, but she conducted herself with great dignity and maintained her belief in the divine inspiration that had sent her into battle. In May 1431, Joan, only 19 years old, was burned at the stake. Her brief military life has served as a model for female heroism ever since.


Queen Isabella

No one can escape the Spanish Inquisition!
Queen Isabella

[12] Another fascinating female leader whose name is prominent in American history is Queen Isabella (1451-1504). An 1869 author, John S. Jenkins, said that "In her, all the energy of manhood, the wisdom of the statesman, the devout servitude of a saint, and the tenderness and grace of woman, were more perfectly combined than in any female sovereign whose name adorns the pages of history." Disregarding the extravagant rhetoric of the day, her actions do bear out much of his evaluation. Although Isabella did not fully expect to become the Queen of Castile, her mother trained her for the job. When death and circumstances brought together Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the die was cast. Although their union was not always a happy one, politically it was successful. Despite Ferdinand's attempts to rule both their kingdoms, Isabella held firm and kept her position as ruler.

[13] Both loved the excitement of war, so the occupation of Granada by the Moors was a ready-made challenge. Although Isabella was described as being very feminine, she loved the look and feel of armor as much as fine dresses. In the field, Isabella scorned any suggestion of special consideration, and in the 10 years the two waged war against the Moors, Isabella managed to give birth to ten children. Five died in infancy. Small wonder. She was adamant about family and religion, so the children were dragged along to the battles, often in tatters. She wanted to supervise their training.

[14] Christopher Columbus followed her for years before he could get her ear to plead for his enterprises. As Isabella the Catholic, she considered his plan as a great opportunity to proselytize other lands that he might find. Isabella, who had become known as the Catholic Queen, was as devout on the field as off. Her troops had to attend services and were not allowed to drink, swear, or gamble. Her religious fervor, unfortunately, led eventually to the Spanish Inquisition and its horrors.


Elizabeth I

Call me Liz, and I will crush you under my heel, just like I do Europe!
Queen Elizabeth I

[15] Next in the chronology is Elizabeth I (1533-1603) whose own personality and mental toughness precluded in most situations the need for metal armor. Her story is also well known because of her incredible steeliness. She once said, "I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too." Later she declared, "I may not be a lion but I have a lion's heart." In addition, it is said she was "a sensational dancer, an accomplished scholar, a great sportswoman, and a witty conversationalist."

[16] Her absolute fealty to the throne of England led her to resist all marriage proposals. It also forced her to execute her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, and also, among others, a lover who posed a threat to the crown. She established Protestantism and its format as The Church of England.

[17] In 1588, Elizabeth learned that Catholic Spain was planning to invade her country with an "Invincible Armada" of 180 ships. The army, disbanded during peace, was called back to duty, and the navy, always filled with experienced seamen, assembled. At Tilbury, before the battle, dressed in full armor and mounted on a horse, she rallied her forces, vowing her undying allegiance to England and asking them to do the same.

[18] On July 30, 1588, the Spanish entered the English Channel. The swifter ships of Good Queen Bess reacted with great spirit and skill. After a chase of eight days, the Armada was forced into battle and defeated. Only 67 of the 130 galleons made it back to Spain. Elizabeth I's place in history was secure. Today she would be called "one tough broad."


Catherine II

I just LOVE my horse!
Catherine the Great

[19] Russia's Empress Catherine II, known as Catherine the Great (1729-1796), was a woman of intense vision and strength. An early proponent of liberality and democracy, she changed her views of democracy because of the reality of her strong nobility class and the impact of the French Revolution. The lore of history is replete with tales of her sexual exploits, but nonetheless she westernized Russia, codified its laws, instilled needed social reforms, and filled the Hermitage Palace with what is, to this day, the world's largest collection of western art. There, in the heart of the Palace, hanging next to her favorite horse, stuffed for eternity, is an oil painting of Catherine the Great, in uniform, commanding her troops. In fear that her military would rebel, she declared herself the head of the Russian army and the navy. The ploy worked.

Xena

look familiar?
Xena, Warrior Princess

[20] There are many kinds of armor—mental toughness, leather, metal—and Xena, Warrior Princess, knows that. Actor Lucy Lawless superbly fulfills the spectrum of the heroic, fictional television character of Xena. Wearing leather armor and breastplate, she fights the forces of evil. To defeat her foes, she relies on clever strategy, mental and physical agility, acrobatics, martial arts, and a variety of weapons, especially her chakram, a razor sharp discus-like weapon that she hurls at her enemies with astonishing speed. In her arsenal is also the "Xena Touch", a two-fingered pressure pinch on the neck, which she uses to extract information from uncooperative captives. Smart, fearless, and heroic, she always tries to solve things peacefully. However, once committed to a course of action, she is unrelenting.

[21] Many other women have also borne the armor of their causes. Each one leaving her mark, her deeds written in the annals that we may read them yet today. Women with zeal and fortitude armored against their foes. Audacious heroes serving as role models for all. Queen Boadicea, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Queen Isabella, Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, were all REAL women. Xena, Warrior Princess, is a modern heroic fictional character. Today's women of the world need both.


Sources

Adams, H.G., CYCLOPEDIA OF FEMALE BIOGRAPHY. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1869. 788 pp.

Davis, Mary L., WOMEN WHO CHANGED HISTORY: FIVE FAMOUS QUEENS OF EUROPE. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1975. 103 pp.

Newark, Tim, WOMEN WARLORDS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF WOMEN WARLORDS. New York: Sterling, 1989. 144 pp. il. Originally published in London by Blandford.


Articles

Diane C. Bonacci, "Xena is Born to the Purple, Also to the White and the Gold" WHOOSH #20 (May 1998)

Diane C. Bonacci, "This Septuagenarian Says Many Thanks" WHOOSH #29 (November 2000)




Biography

diane bonacci Diane C. Bonacci

Diane C. Bonacci has worked as an activist for numerous social and political causes, primarily the Second Women's Movement. Her career was spent in the Federal Government. After retiring, she authored "Heritage Remembered", a limited archival edition relating to her family and cultural history. A graduate of CCBI in Syracuse, NY, she also attended the University of Arizona and Syracuse University. An aficionada of the old classic movies, Diane has a cinematic library and a selective collection of original movie posters. Because of the strong feminist image projected in Xena: Warrior Princess, she has become a great fan of Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor. Currently serving as a resource person for the Central New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Diane is proud to be a feminist.

Favorite Episodes: TIES THAT BIND (20/120), HOOVES & HARLOTS (10/110), ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), THE DEBT I (52/306) and II (53/307), The Trilogy: THE RHEINGOLD 119/607, THE RING 120/608 and RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE (121/609).
Favorite Lines: Ares to Kirilus: "Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman" TIES THAT BIND (20/120); Gabrielle to Xena: "It's easy to believe in yourself after someone else has believed in you first." FORGIVEN (60/314); Xena's mother to Xena and Gabrielle: "What am I going to do with you two?" AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE (104/514).

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