Women’s History Month: Meditations on Women and War

image purchased from Adobe Stock

Happy Women’s History Month, everyone!

Here in the U.S. I am blessed to be celebrating this month in peace, but I have been thinking a lot about the women of Ukraine, who are once again bravely defending their homes, some for the second or third time in their lives. From members of Parliament to citizens from the countryside, they are joining together in Resistance.

When we think about war, it is usually the soldiers on the battlefield or the government leaders (mostly men) who come to mind. But for all of known history, women have been fighting in their own ways.  Today, as we kick off this important month, I want to remember all the women, past and present, who have:

  • Like Boudicca, led revolts when their homes were invaded.
  • Like Boudicca’s daughters, survived rape and other forms of abuse at enemy hands.
  • Like Catherine Van Rensselaer and Peggy Schuyler, burned their own crops so the enemy wouldn’t have anything to eat.
  • Like Hypatia, defended the intellectual and cultural centers of their cities.
  • Like Irena Sendler, risked their lives to save children from death at enemy hands.
  • Like Virginia Minor, supplied hospitals with food and comforted the sick and dying.
  • Like Catherine McAuley and her Sisters of Mercy, walked bravely onto the front lines and into enemy territory to nurse the wounded and dying on both sides.
  • Like Catherine Jarrige and the martyrs of Compiegne, stayed true to their faith and values, even in the face of death.
  • Like Elise Rivet, gave their lives in exchange for those of the innocent.
  • Like Stanislawa Leszczyńska, aided women in their hour of need and brought new life into the world amid death and darkness.
  • Like Hedy Lamarr, used their intelligence to invent revolutionary technology in times of war.
  • Like Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah and Eleanor Roosevelt, used their diplomatic skills to try and broker peace.
  • Like Deborah Sampson, hid their sex in order to fight in their army.
  • Like Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter, worked in factories, producing the items men needed to fight.

And the millions of unnamed, ordinary women who have:

  • Taken up arms (legally or not) to defend her homes, families, and homelands.
  • Governed or run their lands while men were away at war.
  • Lost children, husbands, fathers, brothers and fellow women to war.
  • Lost their lives to bombings, gunfire and other violence.
  • Sewed clothing, made bandages and cooked food for those who would fight.
  • Raised money to aid their cause.
  • Prayed for peace while bombs fell around them and gunfire blared.

We salute you and thank you for all you have done. May we learn from your strength, tenacity and courage. And may your efforts never be forgotten.

If you are the praying kind, please do so for the women of Ukraine and all who face similar circumstances around the world.

Q is for Queens in the Celtic World

I love this image of Boudicca because I think she looks like Rachelle Lefevre.

“I am woman, hear me roar” may have been spoken out loud for the first time in the 1970s, but it may as well have been the mantra of Celtic women. Compared to their contemporaries in the Roman Empire, Greece and just about every other civilization, Celtic women had amazing rights and freedoms. I’ll go into more detail in the future, but suffice for now that they could own land, marry and divorce at will and were well represented under the law.

But yet, scholars disagree on whether or not Celtic Queens were the exception or the norm. Recent thought (in the books I’ve read) seems to show a disfavor for the idea of many historical queens, dismissing the ideal of the now mythologized matrilineal society/succession as unlikely, if not impossible. Personally, I think more women ruled than those we have records for. Do I have evidence for this? Absolutely not. But the Celts weren’t big on writing things down, so who is to say there weren’t more that are lost in history? I find it hard to believe that a society that was so supportive of women didn’t also have more women rulers. Since history is written by the victors (in this case, men), we’re lucky to know about the few we do.

But I digress. Here are two Celtic women from history who fought for and against the Romans, doing what they thought was best for their people.

  1. Cartimandua – Cartimandua was Queen of the Brigantes, a large tribe in northern Britain (around modern Yorkshire). According to the evidence we have to date, she was the first hereditary queen to rule any part of Britain. Unlike Boudicca, who married into her Queenship, Cartimandua was born to rule and her husbands held the role of consorts. It is likely that she was already Queen and married to her first husband, Venutius, before the Romans came in 43 AD. The Romans needed her help and protection if they were to extend their rule in Britain and Cartimandua was a wise woman, so she made a treaty with Emperor Claudius. However, her pro-Roman leanings were not popular and she had to quell a series of revolts among her subjects. In 48 AD, Roman forces helped her end these revolts. Three years later, her warriors captured the leader of the resistance, Caratacus, and turned him over to the Romans, winning their continued support. Twice during 52 – 57 AD, her husband attempted to overthrow her by allying with the anti-Roman Celts, but Cartimandua’s Roman allies intervened. During this time, some sources say she divorced her husband in favor of his cup-bearer (or armor-bearer, depending on the source), Vellocatus, while others say that eventually, Cartimandua and her husband came to an accord and reigned together until 69, when she then divorced him for Vellocatus. In 69, Venutius rebelled again and was successful in ousting Cartimandua from the throne. What happened to her after that is unknown, but her legacy is that during her entire reign, she kept her lands free from Roman occupation. Fun side note: Cartimandua is even said by some to be the model for the Arthurian character of Guinevere, thanks to the love triangle she created with her husband and lover.

  2. Boudicca – Boudicca (also spelled Boadicea) was of the Icini tribe in Southeast Britain in the early first century AD. Her husband, Prasutagus, saw advantage in allying with Rome, and this decision brought them many years of peace. When Prasutagus died, the Romans discovered he had named the Emperor co-heir with his two daughters. The Romans couldn’t bear the thought of sharing power – much less with two women – so they attacked the Icini villages. Boudicca, now Queen, was publicly flogged and her two daughters raped. Enraged, she rallied the people and they revolted, destroying several large Roman cities during the years 60-61 AD, including Camulodunum, Londinium (modern London) and Verulamium. Pursuing the Romans even further, she met Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and his forces in the Battle of Waltling Street. Although the Romans were vastly outnumbered, their military discipline and precision resulted in their victory. Thousands of Celts died. No one knows for sure what happened to Boudicca. She is believed to have survived the battle and either died from illness or taken poison (possibly along with her daughters) to avoid capture, public humiliation and eventual execution by Rome.

I was going to cover some mythological Queens, too, but I think this is enough for one day.

What do you think? Did the Celts have more Queens than these two? Have you  ever heard of Boudicca or Cartimandua before this? (Cartimandua was new to me, but I find her fascinating.)