Women of Medieval Europe

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Women of Medieval Europe
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Empress Matilda

(1102 - 1167) Matilda, also known as Maud, was the granddaughter of William the Conqueror. She retained the title Empress from her marriage to the German Emperor Henry V, who subsequently died. She decided to stake a claim for the English throne and wage war with her cousin Stephen of Blois. She personally commanded her army and accomplished a number of daring and wily escapes from besieged castles. At one point, she was under siege in London from troops commanded by Stephen's wife, who was also named Matilda.

The Great Seal of Empress Matilda


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Eleanor of Aquitaine's tomb effigy at Fontevrault
Eleanor of Aquitaine

(c. 1120 - 1204) An heiress, Eleanor was married at 15 to Louis VII, King of France. He took her on Crusade with him, where it is said she led an army of ladies all dressed in armor, expecting to pick a fight with infidels. Their marriage was terminated when it was alleged she had had an affair with (her uncle) Raymond of Antioch while in the Holy Land. This didn't stop her from making a profitable second marriage to Henry, a prince of England who would shortly be crowned Henry II. She had four sons by him, but when he took a mistress known as Fair Rosamund, she turned against him. She used sons Henry, Geoffrey, Richard, and John against their father, who was already troubled deeply by the murder of Thomas A Becket. Though she was imprisoned for her treason, she was later released and continued to be active in politics.


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Sheepfold from the Lutterell Psalter, mid -14th Century
Rose of Burford

(died 1329) Rose was active as a wool trader even while her husband was alive. After his death, she became even more active in the trade, exporting English wool to Calais. Her husband had been an officer of the crown who had loaned money to King Edward II. Edward hadn't paid his debt, so Rose wrote to the court several times repquesting that she be paid. When she at last arranged a scheme that allowed the debt to be paid in refunds from Rose's export duties, her request was granted and the debt paid.


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Anne of Bohemia
1366 - 1394
Anne of Bohemia


Anne of Bohemia (11 May 1366 Prague – 7 June 1394 Sheen Manor, England), also known as Good Queen Anne, was the eldest daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, King of Italy, King of Burgundy, and Elizabeth of Pomerania daughter of Imperial Duke Bogislav V of Pomerania-Stettin. She was a member of the House of Luxembourg and was the first Queen consort of Richard II of England. She had four brothers, including Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor and one younger sister, Margaret of Bohemia, Burgravine of Nuremberg. She also had five half-siblings from her father's previous marriages.Although Anne was originally disliked by the chroniclers, there is some evidence that she became more popular in time.


She was known to have been a very kind person and popular with the people of England, for example she was well known for her tireless attempts to 'intercede' on behalf of the people, procuring pardons for people in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and numerous other pardons for wrongdoers. She also made several high-status intercessions in front of the king. She interceded on behalf of Simon Burley, Richard II's former tutor during his minority, in the 1388 Merciless Parliament. She was also on her knees for the citizens of London in the ceremonial reconciliation of Richard and London in 1391. On the other hand, she never fulfilled many traditional duties of queens. In particular, she did not bear children, despite 12 years of marriage, and this is perhaps emphasised in her epitaph, whereby she is mentioned as having been kind to 'pregnant women'. The Evesham chronicler said, "this queen, although she did not bear children, was still held to have contributed to the glory and wealth of the realm, as far as she was able". Nevertheless, the fact that her popular legacy seems to have been that she was "Good Queen Anne" seems to suggest that this lack of children was unimportant to many contemporaries.


Anne is buried at Westminster beside her husband. Their joint tomb, now damaged, once showed them clasping hands. The inscription on her tomb describes her as "beauteous in body and her face was gentle and pretty." When her tomb was opened in 1871, it was discovered that many of her bones had been stolen via a hole in the side of the casket. Anne of Bohemia is known to have made the sidesaddle more popular to ladies of the Middle Ages. She also influenced the design of carts in England when she arrived in a carriage, presumably from Kocs, Hungary, to meet her future husband Richard. She also made the horned, Bohemian-style headdress the fashion for Englishwomen in the late 14th-century.


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Margery Kempe

(c. 1373 - after 1438) Though married to a rich merchant, Margery Kempe also ran her own businesses: a brewery and a mill. She had fourteen children, but she still found time to be a businesswoman. By her own admittance, she wanted the extra money to be able to dress as a woman of fashion.

Margery is also a mystic who made numerous pilgrimages. She wrote (or dictated) what is now known as "the Book of Margery Kempe," which records visions and events of her travels on pilgrimage.


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Helene Kottanerin

(c. 1395 - after 1450) After her second marriage, Helene Kottanerin became a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth, the queen consort to Albert II, the Habsburg king of Hungary and Bohemia. When Albert died in 1439, he left one legitimate heir who was born after Albert's death and christened Ladislas Posthumus. The infant's claim to the throne was challenged by Wladyslaw of Poland; to strengthen Ladislas's chances, Elizabeth asked Helene to steal the throne insignia. The theft was carried out successfully, but Elizabeth died shortly after, dashing the Habsburgs' hopes.

Holy Crown of Hungary (the Crown of St Stephen)



























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Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda
Princess of Melito
1540 - 1592
Ana de Mendoza de la Cerda



Ana de Mendoza de la Cerda was a Spanish aristocrat, 2nd Princess of Mélito, 2nd Duchess of Francavilla and 3rd Countess of Aliano. She was considered one of Spain's greatest beauties, despite having lost an eye in a mock duel with a page when she was young. Ana, also known as Princess of Éboli, Countess of Mélito and Duchess of Pastrana, married Rui Gomes da Silva, 1st Prince of Éboli when she was twelve years old (1552), by recommendation of Prince Philip. Her husband was Prince of Éboli and minister to the King. She was considered one of the more talented women of her time, and although she had just one eye, Ana was considered one of the most beautiful ladies in Spain. Ana had ten children by this marriage: After her husband's death in 1573, she spent three years in a convent, but returned to public life in 1576, forming an alliance at Court with the King's undersecretary of state, Antonio Pérez (1540–1615). They were accused of betraying state secrets which led to her arrest in 1579. Ana died 13 years later in prison on 2 February 1592.



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Caterina Fieschi Adorno
1447-1510
Saint Catherine of Genoa


Caterina Fieschi Adorno, born Genoa 1447 – 15 September 1510 is an Italian Roman Catholic saint and mystic, admired for her work among the sick and the poor. She was a member of the noble Fieschi family,and spent most of her life and her means serving the sick, especially during the plague which ravaged Genoa in 1497 and 1501. She died in that city in 1510. Her fame outside her native city is connected with the publication in 1551 of the book known in English as the Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa. Saint Catherine's parents were Jacopo Fieschi and Francesca di Negro, both of illustrious Italian birth. Her family had papal connections, and Jacopo became Viceroy of Naples. Catherine wished to enter a convent when about thirteen, perhaps inspired by her sister Limbania who was an Augustinian nun, but the nuns to whom her confessor applied refused her on account of her youth, after which she appears to have put the idea aside without any further attempt.


At sixteen, she was married by her parents' wish to a young Genoese nobleman, Giuliano Adorno. Their marriage was probably a ploy to end the feud between their two families.The childless marriage turned out wretchedly; Giuliano proved faithless, violent-tempered, and a spendthrift, who made the life of his wife a misery. Details are scanty, but it seems at least clear that Catherine spent the first five years of her marriage in silent, melancholy submission to her husband; and that she then, for another five, turned a little to the world for consolation in her troubles. Then, ten years after her marriage, she prayed "that for three months He (God) may keep me (Catherine) sick in bed" so that she might escape her marriage, but her prayer went unanswered.


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Diane de Poitiers
1499-1566
Diane de Poitiers


Diane de Poitiers (3 September 1499 – 25 April 1566) was a French noblewoman and a courtier at the courts of kings Francis I and his son, Henry II of France. She became notorious as the latter's favourite mistress. She was immortalised in art as the subject of paintings by François Clouet as well as other anonymous painters.She was born the daughter of Jean de Poitiers, Seigneur de Saint Vallier and Jeanne de Batarnay in the château de Saint-Vallier, in the town of Saint-Vallier, Drôme, in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. When still a girl, she was briefly in the retinue of Anne de Beaujeu, eldest sister of King Charles VIII, a capable and highly intelligent woman who held the regency of France during his minority. Diane was educated according to the principles of Renaissance humanism which was popular at the time, music, hunting, manners, languages, the art of conversation, and dancing. She learned how to read Latin and Greek, and became a keen hunter and sportswoman, remaining in good physical condition well into middle age. At the age of 15, she married Louis de Brézé, seigneur d'Anet, who was 39 years her senior. He was a grandson of King Charles VII who served as a courtier of King Francis I. She bore him two daughters, Françoise de Brézé (1518–1574) and Louise de Brézé (1521–1577). In 1524, her father was accused of treason as an accomplice of the rebellious Connétable de Bourbon. His head was already on the execution block when his life was spared by Francis I.


When Louis de Brézé died in 1531 in Anet, Diane adopted the habit of wearing the colours of black and white, her personal trademark for the rest of her life. These were among the permitted colours of mourning, which as a widow she was required to wear, but they were also the symbolic colors of the bright and dark sides of the moon. They played on her name, Diane, which derived from Diana, the name of the beautiful Roman goddess of the moon. Her keen interest in financial matters and legal shrewdness now became apparent for the first time. She retained her late husband's emoluments as governor and grand-sénéchal of Normandy, assuming herself the title of "sénéchale de Normandie". She challenged in court the obligation to return Louis de Bézé's appanages to the royal domain. The king allowed her to enjoy the appanage's income "until the status of those lands has been totally clarified." When still the wife of Louis de Brézé, she became lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude de France. After the queen died, she served in the same capacity to Louise de Savoie, then Éléonore de Habsburg.


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Maria de Medici
1575-1642
Marie de Medici


Marie de Médici (26 April 1575 – 3 July 1642) was queen consort of France, as the second wife of King Henry IV of France, of the Bourbon branch of the kings of France. Following his assassination in 1610, which occurred the day after her coronation, she acted as regent for her son King Louis XIII of France, until he came of age. Marie was a member of the wealthy and powerful Florentine Medici dynasty, being the daughter of Francesco de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. She was largely responsible for the construction and design of the Palais du Luxembourg. Born in Florence, Italy, she was the daughter of Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and of Johanna, Archduchess of Austria. Her maternal grandparents were Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary. Anne was a daughter of Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary and his wife Anne de Foix. She was one of seven children, but only she and her sister Eleonora de' Medici survived to adulthood. Marie was crowned Queen of France on 13 May 1610, a day before her husband's death.


Under the regent's lax and capricious rule, the princes of the blood and the great nobles of the kingdom revolted, and the queen, too weak to assert her authority, consented (15 May 1614) to buy off the discontented princes. The opposition was led by Henry de Bourbon-Condé, Duc d'Enghien, who pressured Marie into convoking the Estates General (1614–15), the last time they would meet in France until the opening events of the French Revolution. In 1616 her policy was strengthened by the accession to her councils of Richelieu, who had come to the fore at the meeting of the Estates General. However, in 1617 her son Louis XIII, already several years into his legal majority, asserted his authority. The king overturned the pro-Habsburg, pro-Spanish policy by ordering the assassination of Concini, exiling the Queen to the Château de Blois and appointing Richelieu to his bishopric. After two years of virtual imprisonment "in the wilderness" as she put it, she escaped from Blois in the night of 21/22 February 1619 and became the figurehead of a new aristocratic revolt headed by Louis's brother Gaston d'Orleans, which Louis's forces easily dispersed. Through the mediation of Richelieu the king was reconciled with his mother, who was allowed to hold a small court at Angers. She resumed her place in the royal council in 1621.


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Eleanor of Arborea
1347-1404
Eleanor of Arborea


Eleanor (Sardinian: Eleonora); 1347 – 1404) was the giudicessa ("judge") of Arborea from 1383 to her death. She was one of the last — and most powerful and significant — Sardinian judges; as well as the island's most renowned heroine. Born at Molins de Rei, Catalonia, Eleanor was the daughter of Marianus IV of Arborea, who had become in 1346 giudice of Arborea, on the west coast of Sardinia, and his wife Timbora de Roccabertí. It has been said that their family, the Cappai de Bas family, belonged to the House of Visconti. The house of Arborea, whose power extended over about one third of Sardinia, was the only independent part of the island at that point in history. During her childhood, she was raised with a natural tendency towards war and weapons. Her father married Eleanor to Brancaleone Doria, a Genoese nobleman who held the fief of Castelgenovese, in order to strengthen local alliances. Marianus died in 1376 and was succeeded by his son Hugh III. In March 1383, there was a republican uprising in Arborea and Hugh was murdered. Eleanor defeated the rebels and became regent to her infant son Frederick, who as next male heir became the official monarch of Arborea.


For the next four years Arborea was at war with the Crown of Aragon, which claimed the island. It lost much of its Sardinian possessions to Eleanor. Arborea obtained almost all of the island during this war. After rallying Sardinian forces, Eleanor was able to negotiate a favourable treaty. Her eldest son Frederick died during this war and was succeeded by her younger son, Marianus V. An alliance was formed with Genoa which sustained Arborea's independence for another generation. She died at Oristano in 1404. Eleanor composed the Carta de Logu, a body of laws which came into force in April 1395. They were considered to be far in advance of the laws of other countries, the penalty for most crimes being a fine, and the property rights of women being preserved. These laws remained in force in Sardinia until the Italian unification of 1861.Eleanor was particularly interested in ornithology. As a friend of birds, she was the first to legislate protection to a certain species of bird (falcon). Based on this, the Eleonora's Falcon (Falco eleonorae) was named after her.


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Mary of Sicily
1363-1401
Mary of Sicily


Mary of Sicily (2 July 1363 – 25 May 1401) was Queen of Sicily and Duchess of Athens from 1377 until her death. Born in Catania, she was the daughter and heir of Frederick III "The Simple" by his first wife Constança of Aragon. As she was very young at the time of her father's death in 1377, her government was effectively taken over by four baronial families who styled themselves "vicars." The regent named by Mary's father, Artale Alagona, was initially forced to form a government with other three Vicars, including Francesco II Ventimiglia, count of Manfredi III Chiaramonte, count of Modica, and Guglielmo Peralta, count of Caltabellotta, with a parity of exponents of the "Italian" and "Aragonese" parties. However, the four men ruled in their separate baronal lands alone. In 1379 she was kidnapped by count Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada to prevent her marriage with Giangaleazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, and imprisoned for two years at Licata. Moncada's move had been approved by King Peter IV of Aragon. In 1382 Mary was rescued by an Aragonese fleet; she was taken first to Sardinia, then, in 1384, to Aragon, where she was married to Martin "The Younger", the grandson of Peter IV (1389).


In 1392 Mary and the two Martins returned with a military force and successfully defeated the opposing barons, ruling jointly until Mary's death in 1401. At that time, Martin repudiated the
Treaty of 1372 and ruled Sicily alone. She also survived their only son, Pietro (1398 – 1400). The kingdom remained without a crown prince and it caused a succession crisis for Martin, who ruled by right of his wife. According to the last will of Frederick III, he named his illegitimate son, William of Aragon, Count of Malta as heir presumptive in this case of the extinction of his daughter's line and although William died in c. 1380, he had a daughter, Joan of Aragon, wife of a Sicilain noble man, Pietro di Gioeni, but she cannot have contested the claim of her aunt's husband and Martin's claim was confirmed and he continued to rule until his death. Mary of Sicily died at Lentini in 1401.


Anne de Foix-Candale

Anna of Foix-Candale (1484 – 26 July 1506) was a Queen consort of Hungary as the third consort of King Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary.Anne was the daughter of Gaston of Foix, Count of Candale, and Infanta Catherine of Navarre. Her mother was the youngest daughter of Queen Eleanor of Navarre, and Gaston IV, Count of Foix. Anne grew up at the French royal court in Blois. She was educated in Latin and the Classics. The nephew of the French monarch, the Duke of Longueville, is reported to have been in love with her and wished to marry her, but it was prevented because of a political marriage was planned for Anne. The elderly, twice-divorced and childless King Vladislaus II of Hungary of the Jagiellon dynasty had been searching a wife capable of giving him a son. His sights were set on a powerful alliance, closely related to French royalty was acceptable. Anne was engaged in 1500, the marriage contract confirmed in 1501, and wed in 1502 at the French court. On her way to Hungary, she was much celebrated in Italy, and In Venice, a conflict was caused when France and Hungary was unable to agree about whom should pay the expenses. On 29 September 1502, Anne wed Vladislaus in Székesfehérvár and she was crowned Queen of Hungary there that same day.[1] Anne brought a French court and French advisors with her to Hungary. The relationhsip was happy at least from the king's view, and he is reported to have regarded her as a friend, assistant and a trusted advisor. She was economically indebted to Venice and was said to favourise Venice. In 1506, her signature was placed on a document alongside the king's regarding an alliance with the Habsburg. Anne enjoyed great popularity after the birth of a son, but the pregnancies ruined her health. She died in childbirth.




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