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Was Joan dancing by herself?

Joan of Arc is one of the most famous fighting women in history. She is often shown dressed in armour, with a sword in her hand and waving a flag. Joan was determined to get the Dauphin (the next in line to the French throne) crowned as King of France. Dramatic, right? But she was not the only woman in history to play a major part in war. Let’s have a look at some other warrior women from Europe in the 1400s and 1500s.

Margaret of Anjou 1430-1482

Queen Margaret of Anjou with a sceptre in her left hand and reaching to her husband with her right hand.

This is Margaret of Anjou. You can see she is wearing a crown and has a sceptre in her hand, showing that she is a queen. Image courtesy of the © British Library, MS Roy. 15. E, VI f. 2v.

Margaret came to England from a part of France called Anjou when she was just 15 years old. She married King Henry VI and became Queen. Unfortunately her husband had serious mental health issues which meant he was very ill for months at a time. He even missed his own son being born because of his illness. So Margaret had to fight for her husband and her son’s right to the throne.

One of Henry’s cousins thought he should be King instead of Henry. This began a war for the English throne called the ‘War of the Roses’. You might have heard of it. Margaret did not put on a suit of armour and charge into battle screaming (unfortunately), but she did have the brains to pull together resources and people to help her. She rallied lords and gained support for her husband and son. Margaret succeeded at a time when it was not common for women to be involved in military matters. But all her efforts were not enough. Her son was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and her husband was killed whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Despite failing to reach her goal, Margaret is remembered as a fearsome woman. Over a hundred years later, playwright William Shakespeare called her the ‘She-wolf of France’! Rude.

Isabella of Castile 1451-1504

Portrait of Isabella of Castile

Isabella of Castile does not look very happy in this portrait, does she? © 2019. Museo Nacional del Prado

Born in Castile, which is part of Spain, Isabella was never meant to be Queen. After the death of her two brothers and a lot of family squabbles (well… a war actually) she was crowned Queen of Castile in 1474. Unusually for her time, she inherited the throne and became Queen in her own right. She was only 23 years old.

Isabella is known as a ferocious queen. It is believed that she once rode out to talk to rebels who had risen up against her rule, and that she was successful in stopping their rebellion. Few monarchs would have had the bravery to face rebels in person. So she was clearly not scared to stand up for herself. Isabella did not fight in any battles during her reign, and there were a lot of battles. She did travel with her armies and advise on military tactics, while also organising field hospitals to help wounded soldiers. Very cool for a queen to do.

Katherine of Aragon 1485-1536

Portrait of Katherine of Aragon

This portrait of Katherine of Aragon when she was Queen of England © National Portrait Gallery, London

You might think this queen looks familiar. That is because she is the youngest daughter of Isabella of Castile. Katherine is also the first wife of the famous King Henry VIII of England. When Henry was away fighting in France in 1513, the Scottish invaded England. This was not a surprise, since the relationship between the kingdom of Scotland and the kingdom of England was often a bad one. But Katherine and the lords of England still needed to defend the country. Katherine worked with the Earl of Suffolk to get the English armies ready for  war. The Battle of Flodden was a victory for the English: King James IV of Scotland was killed during the battle. Katherine wanted to send her husband the body of the Scottish King as a gift to celebrate. Gross. But she was persuaded only to send King James’ blood-stained coat. Still gross.

Helping England win against an age-old rival made Katherine a very popular queen.

Don’t you, forget about me

Unlike Joan of Arc, all of these women would have had a place in history  for being queens. But like Joan, they used their intelligence and will power to go after their goals, even if people around them thought they shouldn’t. This has given them a special place in history as warrior women. And we have only looked at a few women! We could have included Boudica of the Iceni tribe in the 1st century, Empress Matilda of England and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 12th century, Queen Mary I of England in the 16th century without even leaving Europe. There are many, many more from all over the world.

Can you think of any other famous women from history who are heroes?

Other fun things to do

Download the Joan of Arc Fun Activity Pack (pdf, 2 MB) to explore further the world and tactics of 15th century war. Watch the story telling to see how Joan went from average teenager to a roaring legend. Also, read our article all about how Joan’s life has continued to inspire people for the last 600 years. Finally, learn the British Sign Language for ‘blade’ and Makaton for ‘sword’ to help you tell the epic story to your friends and family.

Alternative communication formats

Please contact us if you require any of our downloadable documents in an alternative format.

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