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There are several fictional works describing female knights in a fantasy world, but do they have any real world counterpart? For example, a knight or a high-ranking female military officer during the middle ages.

EDIT: As others have informed, I originally defined my question too strictly - knight is an honorary title given by a high-ranking leader, such as a king or queen.

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    According to the Bible Deborah and Yael have military roles in the battle between the Israelites and the Canaanites. – El Shteiger May 2 '18 at 0:39
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    An important note is that a fantasy world is not the same as "medieval Europe." Differences in magic, technology, and rules handed down by deities can cause substantial divergence - and that's if the fantasy work was even based on medieval Europe to begin with! – Obie 2.0 May 2 '18 at 3:07
  • @ElShteiger True, but that was way before the Middle Ages. – reirab May 2 '18 at 14:31
  • During sieges or in other self-defense situation many women actively fough, which made sense as most successful sieges ended with killing and raping the civilians. However being on a battle field as eg a mercenary made much less sense in a heavy cavalry / heavy infantry based war. – Greg Jan 28 at 4:39
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She wasn't technically knighted insofar as I'm aware of, but Joan of Arc springs to mind. She played a decisive role in ending the Hundred Years' War.

Cursory googling yields a few more female warriors here, but only Joan of Arc is from the European middle ages, and this Quora question on the same topic with a few more examples.

One of the Quora answers incidentally references the Order of the Hatchet as female knights:

The city of Tortosa, in northeastern Spain, was held by Islamic Moors until the Second Crusade. In 1148, Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona led his forces to wrest control of the city. The crusading armies then moved on to attack other places. This left the city open to counter-attack in 1149. Moorish armies found the city well-defended, though, for the ladies of the town donned men's clothing and fought with whatever weapon was closest to hand, including hatchets. Berenguer was so impressed with the spirited defense that he created the Order of the Hatchet and bestowed it upon the women soldiers.

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    How could I forget Joan of Arc! She certainly might fill almost all the criteria to a knight without being one. Also, she was sainted by catholic church. – Zeick Apr 30 '18 at 17:50
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    Boudica also comes to mind. Though that is probably pre-medieval. – James Apr 30 '18 at 19:50
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    I wonder if this story is related to that old slang term for an unpleasant woman: that old battle-axe? – Shawn V. Wilson Apr 30 '18 at 23:08
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    @James Boudica was most certainly pre-medieval; she was born around 30AD. – TylerH May 1 '18 at 13:26
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Depending on OP's interpretation of "knighthood" and how loose the answer can be:

Scaly Llama - My favorite source on the topic.

British History Podcast - I highly recommend this discussion of Aethefladd (I think episodes 270 through about 280 touch on the subject). BHP covers a number of high ranking commanders who happen to have been female, but my favorite is Aethfladd. " Among the towns where she built defences were Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Stafford, Warwick, Chirbury and Runcorn. In 917 she sent an army to capture Derby, the first of the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw to fall to the English, a victory described by Tim Clarkson as "her greatest triumph". In 918 Leicester surrendered without a fight. Shortly afterwards the Viking leaders of York offered her their loyalty, but she died on 12 June 918 before she could take advantage of the offer, . . . "

Isabella of Portugal, Duchess of Burgundy - ". . . , when Charles VII of France began attacking Burgundy in January 1432, Philip—leaving Coudenburg to defend Dijon—ordered that she represent him during his absence."

Women of the Cousin's war - this is a preferred source in how we think about women in warfare, and how their contemporaries felt about them. This isn't a simple source, but it helped me tremendously to understand how to interpret history about women in warfare. Based on this book I conclude that Margaret Beaufort commanded troops in the field.

She Wolves (hat tip to @AlgyTaylor for this one) including the Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Acquitaine, etc.

There are many examples of women commanding troops in defense during a siege - I'll have to wait till my professional historian girlfriend has time - she has a rant on this subject.

Wikipedia lists quite a few

Mental Floss has another set

Ms. Magazine lists a few

Rejected Princesses has to be mentioned just for the name.

Margaret of Anjou

if you don't mind leaving Europe,

Tomoe Gozen my personal favorite. Japanese women were trained to, and expected to defend themselves and their territory.

I believe Aisha (one of the wives of the prophet Mohammed) won reknown on the battlefield. (Hat tip to @Leo for reminding me of her name)

There is a lot of work going on right now in this field - recontextualizing our understanding of women warriors. I have a few more references scattered about the house, but I don't have time to find them right now. Marking this as CW so others can contribute.

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    Also: Empress Matilda led an army in England in the 12th century. There was a few "she-wolves" around that period in English history - her, Margaret of Anjou, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, .. – Algy Taylor May 1 '18 at 8:52
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    The wife of Mohammed you are thinking of is probably Aisha, who was a commander in the first Fitna war. – leo May 1 '18 at 10:29
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I strongly doubt that any medieval person was knighted if they were believed or known to be female. However, many high ranking females commanded armies or led the defense of cities and castles. And no doubt many women fought in the sense of shooting arrows or whacking enemies with axes and swords or stabbing them with spears or swords.

Here are examples of the three types of female military leaders and warriors.

Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd (c. 1100-1136) was the wife of Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth. In 1136 her husband traveled to Gwynedd to convince her father King Gruffydd ap Cynan to help him fight the Normans. Normans invaded Deheubarth while Gruffydd was away, and Gwenllian led an army to fight them. She was defeated near Kidwelly Castle. Her son Morgan (c. 1116-1136) was killed in the battle and Gwenllian and her son Maelgwn (c. 1119-1136) were captured and beheaded.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd1

Eleanor of Aquitaine (c.1122/24-1204) was beseiged in the castle of Mirebau in 1201. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_of_Aquitaine#Widowhood2

Jeanne Laisne (born 1456) was at the siege of Beauvais in 1472. A Burgundian climbed the battlements and planted a flag there. Jeanne, ax in hand, pushed him off the wall and threw down the flag, reviving the courage of the defenders, and became known as Jeanne hachette.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Hachette3

And there are many more examples of each type.

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In late medieval Asia, in Siam, a woman Suriyothai (ศรีสุริโยทัย) wore military armor (with her daughter), rode a war elephant, and died during a battle against Burma's invasion in 1549(1), protecting King Maha Chakkraphat (มหาจักรพรรดิ), her husband.
(1) See Page 113, The History of Siam, by W.A.R. Wood

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A bit off topic, but Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, was killed on 25 June 1218 while besieging Toulouse. His head was smashed by a stone from a mangonel, operated, according to one source, by the donas e tozas e mulhers ("ladies and girls and women") of Toulouse. Unfortunately we don't have names of the "ladies and girls and women", but they did a good job. Congratulations, ladies (in the widest sense of the word).

  • I know it's off-topic, but is the language you're quoting Occitan? It doesn't look like French, and I'd never seen "toza," but aside from that and a missing e in mulheres, the rest looks like modern Portuguese. – jdc May 1 '18 at 6:55
  • It's Occitan, and "toza" or "tosa" is an old world for girl. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/toza#Old_Occitan – Pere May 1 '18 at 9:14
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High-ranking women taking up arms as commanders was not uncommon in Northern Europe duing the late medieval period. Often, they were required to step in when their husband died, but they could also be appointed to lead if he had to be somewhere else.

During the bombardment of Copenhagen in 1428, Queen Philippa, married to Eric of Pomerania and daughter of King Henry IV of England, led the defense and rallied the citizens of the city.

In the upheavals that marked the end of the Kalmar union, Stockholm was besieged several times. In 1501-1502, Christina of Saxony, wife of King Hans of Denmark, was left to lead the defenses against forces under former Swedish regent Sten Sture the older, while Hans sailed for Denmark. During the siege, the defenders were reduced from about 1000 to just 70, before they surrendered.

A few years later, the wife of the Swedish regent, Sten Sture the younger, Christina Gyllenstierna, led the defenders of Stockholm against Christian II of Denmark, when her husband had been killed in earlier fighting. At the same time, Sweden's second most important castle at Kalmar, was defended by Anna Bielke (whose mother Gunilla Bese had for some time held command of Vyborg Castle). After Christina had surrendered, Christian instigated the Stockholm bloodbath.

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There's already a list of such warriors. Shouldn't it have been easier to use a search engine?

Specific to India, there's Queen Razia Sultana and Queen Rudrama Devi. This is assuming the middle ages span the 5th to 15th century.

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In the late 7th century, the Berber queen and war leader Kahina lead her tribe's resistance against Umayyad invasion in Numidia (part of present-day Algeria).

After a first victory that preserved Numidia for about 15 years and repelled the Arabs, lead by Hasan ibn an-Nu`uman al-Ghasani, back to Cyrenaic, she was defeated and died on the battleground, possibly in 703.

protected by Semaphore May 3 '18 at 9:26

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