European Battle Axes and Freedom Fighters, Part 2

Queen Sophia of Bohemia

Good King Wenceslas was actually quite mad. His wife, Queen Sophia of Bohemia had to hold by herself the royal stronghold against German’s invading emperor Sigismund and a barbarous cyclopean Bohemian named Ziska who fancied he would overtake and rule Bohemia himself. Ziska’s Army of Women was a ragtag bunch of Bohemian reformers and patriots, largely women and children, who took down Sophia’s professional soldiers with such original tactics as removing their clothes and tossing them on the battlefield to entangle the legs of the warhorses the Bohemian Royal Army rode.

The Knights Templar are quite well known, but their counterparts, the numerous crusading battle nuns known as the Martial Nuns are not, having been effectively “whited-out” of history—probably by jealous scribe monks! But there were armed nuns who accompanied fighting monks in the Crusades in the 1400s. But even nuns who stayed home were often armed—they had to defend their convents by themselves in the aggressively territorial Dark Ages. For example, when the anti-Christian Espartero invaded Spain in his famous siege, the nuns of Seville fought back and won. One nun who took up the pen and the sword wrote of her crusade to Jerusalem at the time of Saladin’s attack on the holy city, “I wore a helmet or at any rate walked on the ramparts wearing on my head a metal dish which did as well as a helmet. Women though I was I had the appearance of a warrior. I slung stones at the enemy. I concealed my fears. It was hot and there was never a moment’s rest. Once a catapulted stone fell near me and I was injured by the fragments.”

Jeanne d'Arc
Joan of Arc

Careful study of European military history shows a number of women armies, including many women of the cloth. Ultimately, success was too threatening to the men they fought beside and several popes declared such women to be heretics. Joan of Arc, of course, was the most famous. She was burned at the stake in 1431 on the letter of a law that was hundreds of years old that forbade women from wearing armor. At the same time, Joan was the national shero of France, having led the battle to free the French from the foreign power of England, at the advice of the voices of saints. Several women were inspired by Joan’s example and moved to courage by her murder. The most successful was Joan, the Maid of Sarmaize, who attracted a religious following that supported her in Anjou. She claimed to be the Joan of Arc returned and, like her predecessor, dressed in men’s clothing and armor. Several of Joan of Arc’s friends and family took her in and accepted her. Her actual identity was never known.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

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