Thursday, 9 October 2014

Important Women in Medieval History...

Published: july 28 2007 on Helium

From the "Dark Ages" of the 4th century to the awakening of the Renaissance in the 15th century, women dared to go against the patriarchal threads in the social and political tapestry of their day. This was the Medieval era when most rulers and leaders were male, teachers were male and most writers were male. In spite of adversity, the Medieval era gave rise to women of power, enterprising pioneer women, and women who simply dared to be different.

For each century in the Medieval era, there was an outstanding woman, imprinting her mark on time.

In the 4th century, Hypatia of Alexandria, Egypt was a renowned mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, scientist and philosopher in her own lifetime. Her work in mathematics gives us our first, surviving valuable insights into the minds of ancient mathematicians.

The 5th to 9th centuries are significant times for women in power. In the early 6th century, Emperor Justinian I of the flowering Byzantine Empire raised Theodora, a common comic actress, to upper class status so he could marry her. Once her position of power was secured, Theodora became a voice for women's rights. She persuaded Justinian to delete the law forbidding upper and lower classes to intermarry. Also in the 6th century, Suiko became the first Empress of Japan. She is credited with establishing and promoting Buddhism in Japan. In the 7th century, Lady Zac Kuk was on the throne of the Mayan Empire in Palenque, modern day Mexico. In Mayan history, she was one of only two Mayan women to rule alone. The other was her grandmother. And finally, Irene of Athens, in the 8th to 9th centuries was regent for her son. She is remembered mostly for restoring once banned icons to the Christian church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church she is revered as a saint.

The 10th and 11th centuries are marked by the exploits of unusual women. In 10th century Rome, Mazoria managed to get the reigning Pope imprisoned and suffocated. Her 20 year old son succeeded as the next Pope John XI. In the 11th century Byzantine Empire, Anna Comnena recorded details of the First Crusade in 1095, supporting Jerusalem from Muslim control, and she recorded Turkish attacks on the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. Her sister-in-law, Bertha Comnena, overseered the building of a pilgrim hospital at Constantinople. In 11th century Solerno, Italy, Trotula was highly acclaimed for her studies in medicine. And in England, also in the 11th century, Lady Godiva executed her legendary horse ride through Coventry, protesting against heavy taxes on the English lower classes.

The 12th century represents a remarkable wave of important, educated women. Hildegard of Bingen became known as the "Sybil of the Rhine". She founded a convent, composed music, (much New Age music is similar to her melodies), published and practiced the healing powers of plants and was a notable visionary. She has been beatified but not canonized. Heloise was a 12th century philosopher, but is best known for her impassioned letters to her lover Abelard, also a French philosopher. They were separated tragically by her uncle's vengeance. Some say this could have been Shakespeare's inspiration for "Romeo and Juliet". And Marie de France was a famed 12th century poetess.

But it is in the 13th to 15th centuries that we find the giants' among women. Part of the reason for their giant status, admittedly, is we have more recorded biographical detail of their lives. Eleanor of Aquitane became Queen of France AND England. She even accompanied her husband, Louis XVII, on the Second Crusade. Julian (or Juliana) of Norwich became a famed mystic. And Margery Kempe produced the first known, published autobiography, yet she could not read. Her work represents a pilgrimage through England, Europe and Scandinavia. Her journey includes a visit to Julian of Norwich.

The Medieval era closes with two women who seem to represent remarkable, self-driven "woman power". Joan of Arc, or the Maid of Orleans, was a mere peasant girl. Yet, strengthened by visions, she led an army helping the Dauphin secure the throne of France. And Christine de Pisan initiated the first recorded history of women, "The Book of the City of the Ladies".

Important women in Medieval times proved that even under patriarchal social conditions, the individual voice cannot be repressed. There are enough important women in medieval times to remind us that society may have rules, but the unique individual will always find a way to be known and heard, eventually.


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