This is not a research post, but bear with me, I think you’ll like it.
I made a calendar to share interesting things that happen entirely online, but only at specific times. I’ll add things I’m aware of, but you should add some too! Anything you like– kid stuff, art, music, lectures, whatever. It’s public, so feel free to share these instructions with anyone.
Open a non-incognito browser window
Go to calendar.google.com
Sign in to the google account you want to subscribe from if needed
I haven’t written anything in a while– the holidays wiped me out and left me with a HUGE to-read pile. But I’m still here! My 2020 research and lecture plans are coming together. Lacking an exciting tale from history to share with you today, I thought I’d give a quick preview of what I’m working on and planning,
Annotated Ladies in Plating slide deck, with errata
Women as war leaders in the 14th century and Hundred Years’ War (Joanna la Flamme, Isabella the She-Wolf, the Lioness of Brittany, and more)
Louise Labé and Veronica Franco: female poets of the mid-16th century who were rumored to also be swordfighters
Paulus Hector Mair’s Latin translation of the Jud Lew gloss (and maybe I will post about translation more)
If all that war and poetry leaves me pining for some art history, I may do some collections of women with swords in art, probably more like an homage to The Toast than like deadpan essays. However, the art collection format is extremely vulnerable to falling deep into internet rabbit holes, so I will probably try to avoid it until I’ve got this year’s lectures well underway.
Finally, if this is all far too many complete sentences, but you’re not afraid of internet rabbit holes, you should know I post on twitter erratically but more often than on other platforms. If you’re hoping for pearls of wisdom I’m probably not who you should follow, but if you’re interested to learn what random topics I look up on Wikipedia, you’re in luck.
I discovered Walter
von Birbach in a story I now refer to as “The coolest miracle.”
Sir Walter was on his way to a tournament, perhaps near Darmstadt, when he passed a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom he was thoroughly devoted– in fact, preparing for the tournament, he had fastened her favour around his arm the way other knights did with their sweethearts’ tokens. He decided to stop and pray. A priest mentioned that he would be giving mass soon, and Sir Walter decided to stay for mass.
After a while, Sir
Walter realized he was terribly late for the tournament. As he hastened to the
field, he saw many men approaching who looked like they’d been fighting. The
tournament had ended. But before Walter could get very down on himself about it,
a very strange thing happened: the men approaching began to negotiate terms of
ransom and release with him, as if he had captured them during the fight.
They explained, by
and by, that a valiant knight in Sir Walter’s armor, with Sir Walter’s heraldry
and banners, had ruled the day, performing such feats of martial prowess as had
rarely been seen in living memory. Many prisoners were taken, many honors were
For while Sir Walter
was busy at his devotions, the Virgin Mary had gone and taken his place at the
Sir Walter threw down his armaments on the spot and declared he would devote himself thereafter to her service, forsaking knightly life.
I haven’t studied miracles nearly enough to really claim I know which one’s objectively the coolest, but I think this one’s a contender, and not just because it teaches us that Mary will dunk some scrubs when she wants to.
There’s something else important and striking about this story, which spoke to me in a personal way. Here is an unmistakable medieval hero who loses track of time. In really big ways. Giving in to a deeply significant personal obsession, he fell out of society for a whole day, failing at his cultural duties of manliness and chivalry.
While Walter is not rewarded for this transgression, neither is he punished– in fact, the end result is that he was perceived as successful, but took the opportunity to choose a new path to follow.
I’ve been thinking about it since I first saw the Christine de Pizan illustration that all my friends now call “Lady Finger-Guns.”
I was going to write about medieval finger guns for Pride Month, and then life happened. I realized too late that I had no hope of getting it written for Bisexual Visibility Day/Week. However, that heads-up gave me enough time to make it happen for National Coming Out Day!
At this point some of you may be wondering what I’m on about.
So. There’s this idea that bisexuality, for unknown reasons, often presents alongside other predictable traits.
My usual caveats about interpreting images apply here: these are images I’ve collected together because of what I saw in them. It’s up to you, gentle reader, to decide whether people who can’t sit straight or constantly bust out finger guns are possibly, probably, or definitely bisexual.
Without further ado: medieval and early modern images featuring bisexual stereotypes. Buckle up, there are a lot!
One of the first warrior women I fell in love with–and, really, maybe the first–was a Hopi story that I heard as a small child, when my dad would be sent to exciting desert places on research trips and Mom and I would go along for part of the trip and we would all go together to explore nature and visit indigenous artisans.
Hé-é-e , the Warrior Maiden, is one of the Hopi kachinas, forces of nature understood as archetypal characters. The characters are enacted as ceremonial performances and depicted in carved and crafted dolls or statues. She is a young woman with burned and battle-worn clothing, half of her hair up in a fancy arrangement.
Many years ago, tradition says that some Hopis were living outside of the main village, and the mother of this household was putting up her daughter’s hair. The mother had finished only one side of the hair whorls, the hair on the other side still hanging loosely, when they saw enemies sneaking toward the village. The daughter snatched up a bow, quiver and arrows from the wall and raced toward the village to warn the people. She then led the defense until the men in the fields could return and rout the enemy.
Many pieces of this story spoke to me, and many still pluck at my heartstrings. It’s a story of community, and personal relationships. It’s a story of priorities and significance. It’s a story that’s very different from most European warrior lady stories I encounter.
I’ve got lots to write up about women in armor, both from the last few weeks of research leading up to Swordsquatch and from conversations at and after ‘Squatch. This whole project has been even better received than I could have imagined, and I’m excited to dig into the details with all of you!
In the interest of expedience, this installment will have a lot fewer words than usual, but it does have nearly a hundred and fifty pictures. Here’s a PDF of the slides from my presentation:
I’m preparing to present the women in armor project for the first time at Swordsquatch, next weekend, so I probably won’t have time to do a proper blog post before then. But, by special request, here’s a quick little roundup: ladies in armor throwing finger guns.
First up is my favorite: Justice, from Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies. In most copies (and in the text), Justice’s attribute is a cup that she uses to measure out an equal portion for everyone. In some copies, she has a cup and a sword. In BnF Francais 609, Christine and the three allegories who visit her don’t have any attributes… except for this one armor sleeve and sword. (Side thought: has anyone done a City of Ladies/A Christmas Carol crossover?)
Secondly: Semiramis considering the walls of Babylon. (You can see a tiny bit of wall at upper right.) Her friend in the striking poppy-orange short gown has no name. Their subtle matching skirt/hat look is excellent.
Amazon co-queens Marpesia and Lampedo take no guff. Matching crowns and coordinated armor dresses show unity of leadership, while white gloves make important communication gestures easy to understand at any distance.
Joan of Arc knows you can’t just throw a finger-gun right in the Dauphin’s face. However, emphatic gesturing is key to making a story believable and genuine, and it’s important to present yourself well when explaining to the Dauphin why he should give you gear and an army.
Finally, I wish I had a higher res version of this illustration from the beginning of Pizan’s Book of deeds of arms and chivalry, but the BnF manuscript browsing site seems to be down. Here’s Minerva explaining to Christine that it’s time to get out there and educate some dudes.
Or, “Darth Kendra, how are you sure those are women?”
Well, to be entirely honest, I’m not.
I’m sure it will amuse all of you and surprise none of you that I have very few examples of what men look like handy. However, not all of those images are of women! Hit the jump to find out more.
Also, heads up, this is probably going to sound a lot more gender-essentialist than I usually tolerate– you’ll have to forgive me in advance. If it helps, I’m describing conventions I look for in 15th century art to tell whether the artist wanted me to think of a particular gender or person. None of these conventions are at all useful in other contexts! They don’t even work very well in the 14th century.
I didn’t forget about this project! But it’s been a busy year, and there is SO MUCH material from the 15th century. I can’t even figure out how to organize and group these– by subject? By armor type?
I had originally wanted to do a cool Pride month post about some women-who-love-women in armor, but that’s going to require more research. The first quarter of the 15th century may, too, but here’s a non-representative sample of some highlights I’ve examined recently.
Everyone’s well-dressed at the armor party! It’s tempting to expect that medieval writers might choose nine virtuous ladies when they wanted a counterpart to nine worthy men, but the evidence tells us otherwise. Which nine women they were tended to vary, and one version was described as “a group of rather bizarre heroines,” but since they’re the counterparts to nine war heroes famous for conquest and decimation, it’s clear that virtue is not the aim of this chivalric pantheon.
If fifteenth century writers thought women should only be retiring or passive in their virtue, they certainly weren’t encouraging that by presenting modest and dainty role models. Content warning: there’s a big ol’ bucket of blood behind the jump.