Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christiana Davies, "The Pretty Dragoon"

Christiana Davies was better known to her friends as Kit Cavanaugh. A fierce fighter with a violent streak and a nose for plunder, Kit's fellow soldiers in the British Army called her "the Pretty Dragoon." The nickname was ironic - they all thought she was a man. Christiana was, indeed, masquerading as a man, on a mission to find her lost husband. She found him, but not in the way she expected. Along the way she racked up enough points to earn her a place among the Badass Chicks of History.

Davies was born in Dublin, Ireland. Her father was a respected brewer and maker of fine malts. He started his little daughter off with sewing lessons. She was terrible at it and bored by it. Then he decided to teach her to read and write. Her tutor said she had no patience for it, but was instead "mad with desire for the out-of-doors." Eventually her father relented and allowed her to work with the men. She spent her early teen years plowing, making hay, and going horseback riding. She loved to ride a gray mare her father and uncle gave her, and would spend hours bareback storming around the countryside. 

Like many teenage girls, she developed an inappropriate crush on a male relative of her mother's. The fellow took advantage. This was quietly hushed up. Further romantic entanglements were put off by wars in Ireland conducted by King James II of England. He was Catholic, and was eventually forced to cede the crown to his daughter Mary and her husband. Even though Davies' father was a Protestant, he supported James. Wounded in battle, his property was confiscated and the family fell into poverty. 

Harassed by local Catholic militias, Davies' mother once took refuge in a parish church with some other belligerent Protestants. A Catholic militia blocked up the church and intended to burn it down, with the Protestants inside. When Davies heard of this, she took a cooking-spit and ran to the rescue. The teenage girl stabbed a grown sergeant in the leg. She was arrested, but the attack was diverted, and because it wasn't authorized, the authorities released Davies with a warning. 

The family fortunes having fallen, she moved into Dublin proper to work at her aunt's pub. Davies excelled at the work. When her aunt died, she left the place to her. Davies met her first husband here, Richard Welsh. He worked as a waiter in the pub while she ran the place. They had two children together, and while she was pregnant with their third, he disappeared. 

She later received a letter from him, saying he'd been press-ganged into service in the British Army and was currently serving in the Netherlands. There is, however, evidence that he in fact volunteered for this service. But Davies was determined to track him down. She left her kids with her mother, took some of Richard's clothes, cut her hair, and joined up with the British infantry. 

It's reported she passed all military drills with flying colors, and she soon found herself in Holland as a member of the 1st Royal Foot. She survived numerous battles, and developed a reputation of being greedy for loot. But Davies was captured by the French and sent to a military prison. She was released after nine days in a prisoner exchange - in the meantime, no one learned her secret. She was terrified of being discovered, however, because the French captain at the prison was actually her paternal cousin. He never recognized her. 

Soon after, she became involved in an affair. She began, in her own words, "very merrily making love to the young and pretty daughter of a wealthy burgher." The girl fell madly in love with Davies, ending her relations with a British sergeant. He was angry about it, and challenged Davies to a duel. She killed him and was arrested. The girl's father, however, anxious to avoid scandal, arranged for Davies to be released. But as soon as she was free, Davies broke it off with the girl, pretending to have received a commission to join the Royal Dragoons (dragoons are soldiers who ride into battle on horses, but dismount to fight). She did, however, manage to successfully join up with the dragoons voluntarily, relying on her childhood horseback riding experience.

This is when Davies got her nickname "the Pretty Dragoon," and put up with a lot of good-natured teasing from her fellow soldiers for being so feminine-looking. She managed to fool them all. Davies said in her autobiography that she even urinated with her fellow soldiers by wearing a "tube affixed with leather straps." One wonders what other uses Davies but this tube to, because she was apparently so successful at impersonating a man that a prostitute accused her of being the father of her child. Rather than expose her secret, Davies was obliged to pay child support for a kid that couldn't possibly have been hers. 

One contemporary described her as "absolutely fierce," particularly when it came time for plundering a city or town after a battle (this was one way soldiers supplemented their incomes). Davies was instrumental in taking down the bell from a Catholic church and having it shattered so the men could share the metal. She once looted 100 hats from a shop, intending to re-sell them. But her favorite plunder was silver plate, and she was particularly fond of a huge silver chalice she stole from a burning church in Bavaria. "I spared nothing," she wrote. "I burned or destroyed anything I couldn't carry away."

Once, when on a routine patrol, Davies' unit got lost. They came across a peasant's hut, where a sow had birthed several piglets. Mouth watering for fresh pork, Davies beat the peasant and took one of the pigs. A fellow soldier tried to take it from her, and a fight erupted. He cut off her left pinkie finger, and she put his eye out with the butt of her pistol. The two were disciplined when they returned to headquarters, but Lord Hay, the general of the dragoons, was so fond of his "Pretty Dragoon" that Davies escaped any serious punishment. 

Davies soon found her husband. She was shot in the leg at the Battle of Schellenberg, and exasperated the wound by continuing to fight. After the battle, she was given less strenuous duty of guarding French prisoners. One of the other soldiers stationed to guard them turned out to be her husband, but she recognized him before he recognized her. Worse for him, he was in the process of publicly making love to a Dutch girl when Davies found him. She "abused him and great length and hit him about the face," says a contemporary, but she ended up forgiving him (after all, it had been 13 years since the two had seen one another, and both had been unfaithful). Richard agreed to keep her secret, and they told everyone they were brothers. 

Davies was the jealous type. When she learned that one of Richard's former mistresses was following the army, she attacked the poor girl and cut her nose off! 

At the Battle of Donawert in 1704, Davies was shot in the hip and thrown from her horse. It took three surgeons to remove the musket-ball, but throughout the operation, Davies managed to conceal her gender. 

However, when she was struck in the head with a fragment from a mortar shell at the Battle of Ramillies, she suffered a serious skull fracture. While she was unconscious, army doctors discovered that she was a woman. But - in a move that really is astounding when you consider the time - Lord Hay, commander of dragoons, ordered that her pay be continued. When she recovered, he asked her to stay with the army as a cook and quartermaster.

"She is a pretty lass," Hay wrote, "but she was the best man I ever had." 

Hay thought it best for propriety's sake if Richard and Davies were remarried in front of the soldiers. None of them seemed to think any less of her after they realized she was a woman. In fact, she became a beloved mascot of the dragoons. At her wedding, all the soldiers lined up to kiss the bride, a process which took hours. They all chipped in to buy her a female wardrobe. Some begged for scraps from her garments to wear into battle, or asked her to kiss their muskets for good luck.

Though she spent her time now dressed as a woman and doing woman's work - such as cooking and issuing supplies - she couldn't stop her addiction to looting. Whenever a battle ended and there was pillaging going on, she'd dress as a man and join in. 

Her reunion with Richard didn't last long, sadly. He was killed at the Battle of Malpaquet. Davies was grief-stricken, and spent a day and a half examining some 200 corpses, so that she could find and bury her husband. 

A certain Captain Ross took her under his wing, and the troops began to call her "Mother Ross." The relationship does not seem to have been romantic, however, because Davies married another dragoon named Hugh Jones. But he too died in battle soon after. 

In 1792, the war was in its final stages. Davies returned to England with the rest of the Dragoons. Hay introduced her to noble patrons who ensured she got an audience with Queen Anne. The queen is said to have been fascinated by Davies, giving her a cash award and a modest lifetime pension. 

Davies went back to Dublin, where she was reunited with her children. But it's said they did not recognize her and had little to do with her. She opened a new pub, and then met an ex-soldier named Davies. They married, and that's how she got the name we know her by. But Davies was something of a jackass. "My evil genius persuaded me to marry him," she wrote. He ran through her pension as soon as she got it, and no matter how much money she made at the pub, it slipped through her husband's fingers. The two were not settled, stay-at-home types anyway, and soon sold the pub and spent years travelling all over Ireland, Scotland, and England. They were supported in part by Davies' noble patrons and admirers. 

But they were both getting older, and their health was failing. Davies suffered from both scurvy and dropsy and a host of other ailments, as did many ex-soldiers. However, Lord Hay managed to secure her a living space at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a nursing home for military veterans. He even got her husband a job there. 

One night, as her husband was ill, Davies stayed up all night at his bedside. In doing so, she caught a cold, which blossomed into a terrible high fever. She, who had been shot at least three times and lived to tell the tale, fell victim to a germ and died soon after. 

Lord Hay made sure her final request was honored. A burial with full military honors was ordered, and as a final mark of respect, the Royal Dragoons insisted Davies be buried in her uniform. And so another Badass Chick of History passed into legend. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nancy Morgan Hart

Somewhere in South Carolina in 1735, a girl was born to the Morgan family, frontiersmen and future patriots in the American Revolution. The girl's cousin would grow up to be the talented American general Daniel Morgan. The girl herself would grow up to fight the British and Tories (British loyalists) with unremitting fury. Her name was Nancy Morgan Hart, and there's no doubt she was a Badass Chick of History.

Even as a child, folks noticed her short fuse. She had a temper, made worse by a simmering spirit of revenge against anyone who wronged her or her family. Alas, she was no great beauty, said to be close to six feet in height, with long limbs, wiry, unruly red hair, and a face scarred by smallpox. She was also cross-eyed. Perhaps because of this, she did not marry until she was 36 years old, when she wed Benjamin Hart (whose descendants would include Thomas Hart Benton and Henry Clay). Together, the two eventually settled on fertile farmland in the Broad River valley in Georgia, building a modest cabin that would later become famous.

Nancy may not have been a glamorous woman, but she was capable! Despite being cross-eyed, she was known as an excellent shot with a rifle. She often did the hunting for the family, and even the local Native Americans, with whom she was friendly, praised her tracking and survival skills. Later, they even came up with a nickname for her: "War Woman." She certainly earned it.

Turns out, it was Nancy, not Benjamin, who "wore the pants" at home. Said to be domineering, she took complete charge of the management of the family farm and finances. Benjamin, a quiet, unassuming man, was content to let his wife manage their large family (which eventually grew to eight children!). Nancy was ably assisted by her oldest daughter Sukey. This was especially true when Benjamin was called up to join the Georgia Militia to fight the British and American Tories. By now, the Revolutionary War was in full swing and the British had moved up from St. Augustine, Florida, to capture Savannah, Georgia.

Nancy's first entanglement in the war came when, in the absence of Benjamin, she was on the family horse, taking a heavy bag of grain to the local mill. A group of Tories accosted her, knocked her from her horse, and stole it. Witnesses say she said nothing, but picked up the heavy bag and carried it all the way to the mill herself. Grimly, she filed this insult away for future retribution.

As British and Tory scouts advanced into the Georgia interior, they searched for places where a large force could ford the Broad River. They returned to base, complaining of "incessant sniper fire." According to Nancy's children, it was Nancy who pulled the trigger. She stationed herself in a tree on "her side" of the river and took pot-shots at the scouts every time they tried to cross.

Her temper was well-known, and a Tory agent went to spy on her and find proof. Sneaking up to the cabin, he peaked in through one of the many cracks in the walls. He didn't see anything too suspicious - just Nancy boiling lye to make soap. But young Sukey looked up and saw the eyes staring through the cracks. Rather than screaming or fainting, Sukey quietly pointed them out to Nancy. Without missing a beat, Nancy took a ladle-full of boiling lye and dashed it at the cracks in the wall. The spy was completely blinded. Nancy captured him and brought him to the Georgia Militia.

Probably in collaboration with militia Colonel Elijah Clarke, who learned guerrilla tactics fighting the Creek and Cherokee tribes, she went on several espionage missions herself. Thanks to her height and non-traditional looks, Nancy was able to disguise herself as a man. To avoid uncomfortable conversations, she took on the role of a mentally retarded laborer. In this guise, she was able to penetrate Tory-friendly taverns and eavesdrop, dutifully reporting to her husband or Clarke any worthwhile plans she overheard.

According to her grand-niece, Nancy was actually with the militia visiting her husband when the force was mobilized to defend the mouth of the Broad River against a British advance. Legend has it the militia had eight swivel-guns and only seven swivel-gunners. Nancy volunteered to man one herself during what became known as the Battle of Kettle Creek. Stunning British losses here helped convince the loyalists that while they could capture towns and coastal centers, it would be a tall order to penetrate the dense interiors of North America.

The most famous story about Nancy is her single-handed capture of six Tory soldiers. They were chasing a prominent rebel leader when they came across the Hart cabin. The group's officer questioned Nancy: had she seen the rebel captain? Had he taken refuge there? Truth is, he had, but Nancy wasn't telling. She said she didn't know what they were talking about. The officer clearly believed she was lying, and decided to extort a fine meal from her. She had a prize turkey that the family only used for breeding. The officer ordered the animal shot, and forced Nancy to prepare it. Inside the house, the Tories leaned their loaded rifles in a corner and set to the feast. While they were guzzling copious amounts of wine, Nancy sent Sukey out to get water from a local spring - supposedly. Sukey's real instructions were to blow a conch shell hidden in a stump, which the locals used to warn one another of outsiders. Nancy hoped her husband and neighbors would hear the call.

Meanwhile, as the Tories' attention was on the turkey and wine, Nancy secretly moved to where the rifles were stacked and, one by one, slid them out of a crack in the cabin wall. When the soldiers finally realized what she was doing, there were three rifles left. Nancy brandished one and told the intruders not to move. The officer ignored her and she shot him dead. Another soldier made a move for the rifles, but she snatched up another one and fired, killing him, too. She took the remaining rifle and held the rest at gunpoint until Benjamin and a posse of neighbors arrived. Benjamin wanted to shoot the Tories, but Nancy said hanging would serve them better. She tied all the nooses herself and watched with satisfaction as they swung from the tree just outside the cabin.

The cabin was actually swept away by floods during her lifetime, though it has since been reconstructed by the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1912, railroad workers were clearing space to lay a track through the territory and found six skeletons buried in a line, four of which clearly had broken necks - a rare confirmation of what many considered a folk tale.

After the war, Nancy became deeply religious. Ironically, it was her temper that led her to the church. When she heard a new Methodist congregation had started nearby, she went to check them out. She found them deep in a prayer meeting, and, as was the custom in those days, the church doors were tied with a leather thong to discourage latecomers from disrupting worship. Irritated, she produced a hunting knife and hacked through the thong. She kicked the doors open and stalked into the church. Somehow during this meeting, she was saved, and spent the rest of her life "fighting the devil as hard as she ever fought the British," according to her grand-niece.

Nancy's supportive spouse Benjamin died in the early 1780s, and she went to live with her son. They moved around quite a bit, but eventually settled in Henderson County, Kentucky. That's where Nancy spent the rest of her days in peace and relative prosperity as the proud, commanding matriarch of a frontier family. She lived to the ripe old age of 95.

Now if that's not a Badass Chick of History, I don't know what is.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Catalina de Erauso, The Nun-Lieutenant

In 1592, a young girl was born to a prominent Basque family in Spain. Destined for the nunnery, she escaped a cloistered life, decided to become a man, and spent the next 20 years rampaging across the New World. And in the end, rather than be condemned for this behavior, she was praised for it. Meet Catalina de Erauso, a Badass Chick of History.

The hidalgo of St. Sebastian was her father, a well-known military man. All of her brothers joined the Spanish Army. When Catalina was four years old, her father sent her to a Dominican nunnery to be raised to enter the church as a nun. She stayed until she was 15, but for all those years she hated it and planned to escape. One day, when Catalina's mother came to attend church services at the convent, she didn't even recognize her own daughter - and that gave Catalina the germ of her idea.

A few days before she said her final vows and took up a life "behind the veil," Catalina escaped from the convent. Hiding in a grove of chestnut trees for several days, she cut her hair short and altered her clothes as much as possible to appear to be a boy. Once she was satisfied, she began her great adventures.

Living as a man, she took various jobs as a servant, a page, and a clerk, all with a view toward getting a berth on a ship bound for the New World, where she hoped to make her fortune. As luck would have it, she actually got onto the crew of a Spanish galleon commanded by her own uncle - who didn't recognize her.

Arriving in South America, she began calling herself Alonzo Dias, and joined the army. She led men to victory in several skirmishes against natives, and eventually her military opinion was often solicited by the Spanish generals. However, Catalina/Alonzo developed a terrible reputation for drinking, gambling, fighting, and general trouble-making. Said one contemporary: "(She) chose for (her) associates the most desperate and reprobate characters, and seemed to take a fiendish delight in outdoing them." 

Once, at a theater, a gentleman blocked her view. This precipitated some harsh words. Eventually Catalina stabbed him, sparking a chase that led across several towns before the authorities settled the matter. To get her out of trouble she was posted to the job of assistant to a Spanish commander. This commander turned out to be her own brother. But, despite working alongside Catalina on a daily basis, he never recognized her.

It's worth stopping to note an eyewitness description of Catalina from this time, from a fellow writing after he discovered she was a woman. "She was tall and strong, very fond of conversation. She applied an Italian medicine to her breasts to shrink them. She was masculine but appeared more like a eunuch."

Today, we'd probably say Catalina was transgendered. She was certainly gay. In fact, part of her bad reputation was based on the fact that she often "put peasant girls into compromising positions, then fled before the marriage date." 

Catalina admired her brother. She also admired her brother's mistress and attempted to seduce her. This led to a fist-fight, and Catalina was sent away to Chile to fight the Mapuche Indians in the Arauco War - one of the most savage and bloody conflicts in the history of the Spanish conquest of South America. Here, Catalina distinguished herself. A native chief captured the Spanish flag during a battle. He and several warriors fled with it. Catalina personally chased them down and re-captured the flag. She (as Alonzo, of course) was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and given her own company to command.

But it didn't take long for her violent nature to cause a fall from grace. In the town of Concepcion, in a house of ill-repute, she got into an argument with an important man-about-town and stabbed him. His relatives came after her, so she fled. After another murder she was captured and sentenced to hang. Seemingly unfazed, she called the hangman a drunk, and, as he bungled tying the noose, she quipped "put it on right or don't put it on at all!" However, a Basque friend of hers arranged for the Spanish military to come in with what turned out to be a literal last-minute reprieve.

For a time she wandered across South America, serving as a mercenary, a sailor, even a lawyer. Eventually, she rejoined the Spanish military, where she had a second, fateful encounter with her brother. A friend asked her to be his second in a duel. Late at night, he went to meet his opponent. It was so dark, Catalina later remembered, she couldn't see her hand in front of her face. Her friend got the worst of the fight, and flouting duelist convention, Catalina jumped in to help. Her friend's second then also jumped into the fight, and Catalina stabbed him in the dark. When she realized it was her brother, she was horrified. She spent eight months in prison on charges of rebellion, but she escaped with the help of her friend, the famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.

Fleeing to Peru, her bad temper got her into another fight that ended up with some poor bastard dead on the end of Catalina's sword. The authorities chased her and she took refuge in a church. There, the bishop took pity on what he saw as a young male criminal. He urged "Alonzo" to repent. Moved by his pity, Catalina fell to her knees, sobbing, and told the bishop she was a woman.

He took her under his wing and arranged for her to live in a convent. She stayed there for two years. Meanwhile, the story got out. It was a sensational tale for its time. She became known as "The Nun-Lieutenant." When the story drifted back to Spain, a verse play was produced about her. So when she  got permission to return to Spain in 1624, she found a crowd waiting for her in Cadiz. Her fame (or infamy) preceded her. Wherever she went, crowds would turn out to see her. The Spanish king gave her a lifetime military pension for her service, and Pope Urban VIII (the jackass who persecuted Galileo) was so impressed with her he gave her a papal dispensation to live as a man, take a man's name, and wear men's clothing for the rest of her life.

But Catalina (now officially re-named Antonio) could not rest in Europe. She went back to the New World and became a merchant, bringing riches out of the interior to the coasts in massive, well-defended mule trains. She died there of natural causes at the age of 58.

So yeah, she had a violent streak a mile long. And she probably wouldn't even appreciate being included in a list of women. Catalina/Antonio wanted to be a man all along, and, shockingly, the King of Spain and the Pope actually let her do it. That's a rarity for its time, no doubt about it. There's also no doubt that even though she'd rather not have been a chick, that Catalina de Erauso is certainly a Badass Chick of History.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Boudicca - also called Baoedicea, Bonduca, Vonduca, Voadicea, Woda, Bonduca, Vloadiciea, and so on - is probably the best-known of our Badass Chicks of History. She was an ancient queen of a British tribe who stood up to the Roman Empire. Ever since, she's served as an example of how effective a native insurgency can be against foreign occupying troops. She's also become a symbol of courage in the face of a lost cause. Let's learn more about her, and her lesser-known daughter of the same name who took up the fight after Boudicca's death.

Boudicca's name probably comes from an early Celtic word "bouda," which means "victory." An English equivalent of her name might be, therefore, "Victoria." Britain was not under a single ruler at this time. Various warlords ruled tribal kingdoms. One of the most powerful were the Iceni, who lived in northeastern Britain, and it was this kingdom that Boudicca married into. She was the daughter of the King of the Brigantes (another tribe), and through her mother, Europeia, the daughter of the King of Scots, she claimed to be descended from the Trojans and from Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy. If true, that's a pretty convoluted bloodline, but it's indicative of the fact that Boudicca certainly saw herself as descended from badasses.

Like a lot of legendary women, Boudicca had a wicked stepmother, Cartismandua. She forced Boudicca to marry her son by her first marriage - Arviragus, also called Prasutagus, the King of the Iceni. Not a bad marriage, all things considered.

Meanwhile, the Emperor Claudius had come to Britain to conquer. He needed military victories to bolster public opinion of him. Despite the fact that Julius Caesar had made much of "conquering" Britain, the truth is he was essentially driven off the island. Claudius saw himself as concluding unfinished business. Plus, the British Isles were rich in timber, tin, and slaves. And after all, Rome was running out of places to conquer by this time.

At any rate, Claudius's legions defeated Arviragus not once, but several times. In order to obtain peace, Arviragus was compelled by Claudius to divorce Boudicca and instead marry Claudius's daughter Gwenissa. This attempted brokerage of peace backfired, sparking a widespread rebellion among the Iceni and surrounding tribes. At first, their leader was Caractacus, Boudicca's brother. Later, Arviragus himself renewed his relationship with Boudicca and joined his forces to her brother's.

However, they were defeated by the Romans every single time they took the field against them. The Roman general Vespasian (who would later become Emperor) defeated Caractacus and Arviragus and made peace on terms that humiliated and essentially bankrupted the British.

Time passed; Claudius died and his degenerate nephew Nero became Emperor. Arviragus, at the end of his life (and still legally married to Gwenissa), hoped to protect Boudicca and their two daughters after his death. He came up with a terrible plan - he made the Emperor Nero the co-heir to his kingdom, along with Boudicca and her daughters.

The Romans did not acknowledge any transfer of power or property through a female, however. When Arviragus died, the Roman Governor of Britain, Suetonius (no relation to the Roman historian of the same name) was out of the country on business. He'd left his jackass procurator, Catus, in charge. Within a few weeks of Arviragus's death, Catus descended up on the Iceni. He confiscated all of Arviragus's property, levied crushing taxes, and demanded a huge payment from Boudicca (this was either a repayment of a loan made to her father by the Romans, or the re-imposition of some kind of extortion-type payments her father had once made).

Boudicca didn't have the money. Catus had her stripped and publicly flogged. Before her eyes, he ordered his legions to gang-rape Boudicca's two daughters. But for some reason, that was enough, and he left the territory, with Boudicca "burning for revenge," in the words of one historian.

As months past, word got out, and the Britons were outraged. Boudicca personally rode about the country in her war-chariot with her daughters, raising troops for a rebellion. She quickly amassed some 80,000 warriors from various tribes. It is estimated that some 5,000 women actually served in this force (which really isn't all that unusual among Celtic peoples - more than one Roman historian has written of "Amazons" fighting among the Celts of Europe).

Boudicca's force struck like lightning, with rapid successes - at first. They "rushed down like wild beasts" upon the Roman-held city of Camoludunum, and executed "with every torture they could devise" some 70,000 people. It's not to Boudicca's credit, but she made a point to execute all of the noble Roman women by cutting off their breasts and vaginally impaling them on tree branches as sacrifices to the Old Gods. I guess she was irritated.

Then even more Britons flocked to her banner, including her other brother, Corbred, King of Scots. They together devastated various Roman manors and agricultural centers, before falling on the city of Verulam (now St. Alban's).

There, however, the 9th Legion (and some auxiliary troops from other legions) under the command of Petilius Cerialis, were waiting. A fierce battle followed before the gates of the city, but the Romans, perhaps underestimating their opponents, were totally defeated. Even the Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio say Boudicca's forces killed more than twice the number that they lost, and that not a single Roman foot-soldier escaped the slaughter. The cavalry, along with Petilius, fled the scene to fight another day. Meanwhile, the pro-Roman citizens of Verulam were put to unspeakable tortures and eventually all killed, regardless of age or gender.

One person Boudicca really wanted to capture, though, fled the battle. Catus, who'd ordered the rape of her daughters, was wounded in the battle. He fled to Gaul (France) and never came back, escaping her revenge.

This defeat obliged Suetonius, the governor, to come back to Britain in a hurry. He was able to raise a force of 10,000 legionnaires from various other legions in Germany and Gaul. He marched his force toward the relatively new commercial center of Londonium (London), which was full of Romans and Romanized Britons. Suetonius then got word from his scouts and spies that Boudicca was marching on the city with a force of about 100,000 (another source says 250,000).

Now Suetonius was no idiot, and as far as Roman governors go, he wasn't even that bad a guy. But he was going to follow orders. Irritated with Catus for instigating all of this with unnecessary cruelty and greed, he demoted him and ensured that Catus would have no career in Roman politics. Suetonius was pretty sure his 10,000 Romans couldn't take 100,000+ Britons, especially ones full of righteous indignation. He decided to pull out of the city, regroup elsewhere, and look for a better battle site to face Boudicca. This he did, despite the wailing and begging of the people of Londonium - who by now knew exactly what fate they, their wives, and children would face at Boudicca's hands.

And face it they did. Boudicca's army fell on Londonium and after only a token resistance, the town fell. True to form, Boudicca ordered every single inhabitant of the city killed in imaginative ways. By now, I think it's safe to say Boudicca may have lost a bit of the moral high ground.

Suetonius was no coward but he was understandably reluctant to face Boudicca's much-larger force in the open. He was also reluctant because he saw the entire war as resulting from mismanagement and mistakes on the part of the Romans. But eventually, he found a good place to draw Boudicca into battle. No one knows exactly where it was, but it was a long, narrow field bordered on two sides by hills and one by a dense forest. Suetonius lined up his legionnaires with their backs to the forest, let it be known where he was, and awaited Boudicca's attack.

He chose his ground wisely. The narrowness of the battlefield ensured that the British war-chariots didn't have much room to maneuver, and Boudicca couldn't even fit her entire fighting force into the field. They could only attack in waves, which was to the Romans' advantage.

It's worth pausing here to recount an eyewitness Roman description (through Dio, writing later) of Boudicca, who they could plainly see riding in the chariot, exhorting her troops to figh:

"She was a woman of lofty stature, with a noble, severe expression, and a dazzlingly fair complexion, remarkable even among the British women, who are famous for the whiteness of their skin. Her long yellow hair, floating in the wind, reached almost to the ground. She wore a tunic of various colors, hanging in folds, and over this was a shorter one, confined at the waist by a chain of gold. Round her alabaster neck was a magnificent torque of twisted gold-wire. Her hands and arms were uncovered, save for the rings and bracelets which adorned them. A large British mantle surmounted, but did not conceal the rest of her attire."

As bold as they were, the British fought in an undisciplined manner. They relied on overwhelming numbers and tactics designed to inspire fear, donning war-paint and screaming like banshees throughout the battle. This worked well when they had a lot of room to run around in. But again, the battlefield was narrow. Suetonius also had more experienced troops than any the British had faced before. They were all 10 to 20 year veterans who'd seen battle in Germany and Gaul. Their iron discipline, superior weapons and armor, and phalanx-style tactics were simply better for fighting in this environment, even against greater numbers. After dispatching the first few waves of British with heavy javelins, they formed a wedge and moved forward. The British fell back under the weight of the phalanx, and, fleeing, found their route blocked by a line of carts they'd set up as a last line of defense (where their families were waiting). Trapped, only a few managed to escape. The rest were slaughtered. Suetonius ordered a pursuit.

Boudicca knew that if she was taken alive, she'd be lucky to be killed. Most likely she'd be raped, tortured, and sent to Rome in chains to march in a triumphal parade before being strangled in the Temple of Mars. She was also distraught because her daughters had been lost in the fighting - she assumed they were slain. Boudicca took poison - suicide being an honorable way out in most ancient cultures - and died. Some say she fell ill and died. Either way, she was buried as a queen with full honors.

But the story doesn't end here! Boudicca's daughters hadn't been killed in the battle - they'd been captured. They were brought before Suetonius, who complimented them on their bravery in battle. He apologized for the way Catus had treated them, and expressed sympathy for them. It was too little too late, but for a Roman, it was an admirable bit of damage control.

The oldest daughter was named Heanua (or Lannosea). Suetonius arranged for her to be married to Westmer (called Marius by the Romans). He was the son of Arviragus and Claudius's daughter Gwenissa (so he was both half-Roman and his new bride's half-brother). The Romans then made Westmer King of the Iceni, and he ruled them quietly for a long time.

But the youngest daughter, also named Boudicca, inherited more than just her mother's name. She was sent to live with her sister and Westmer in his court. But there, her hatred of the Romans and her ambitions for revenge made Westmer nervous. He was afraid she'd stir up trouble, so he banished her from his court.

True to her namesake, this younger Boudicca raised an army of Brigantes (another British tribe) and Picts from Scotland, and sailed to Galloway. This was a Roman-controlled region of southwest Scotland. In the dead of night, she launched a surprise attack, and killed several hundred men before the Roman commander, our old friend Petilius, re-grouped the startled Romans. The British were defeated, and the Romans chased them back to their camp, slaughtering many. But young Boudicca escaped. The next day she marched her remaining forces to the Roman headquarters in Galloway, attacked it and set it on fire. But soon afterward, she was captured in an ambush. Some say she killed herself with poison. Others say she was captured and interrogated, and, giving a disrespectful answer, was killed by guards. Who knows?

What we do know is that Boudicca has become a symbol for fighting against oppression. If her revenge tactics were a little heavy-handed, perhaps she can be forgiven. Frankly, I think Suetonius comes off pretty well in this story. But the truth is, the Emperor Nero was so discomfited by this rebellion that he considered pulling out of Britain forever. He launched an investigation and decided the Romans had acted inappropriately (seriously? Nero thought someone acted inappropriately?). He blamed Suetonius and installed another governor.

I think it's safe to say that Boudicca had every reason to be outraged. I also think she over-reacted a bit. But one thing I can't deny: Boudicca is certainly a Badass Chick of History.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Jeanne de Clisson, Lioness of Brittany

When you think of female pirates, Anne Bonny or Mary Read come to mind. But they didn't have awesome nicknames like Jeanne de Clisson, the Lioness of Brittany. Driven by revenge for her husband's unlawful execution, Jeanne commanded a fleet of black ships and wielded a massive battle-axe, personally beheading any French nobleman she found. She got away with it, too, seeing her husband's honor posthumously restored, and died happily of natural causes. But it was a long, hard road on the way.

Jeanne was born in 1300, so she lived well before the so-called Golden Age of Piracy. Her hunting grounds were pretty much limited to the English Channel. Her prey: the French. Always the French. Particularly the French nobility. She was either a great heroine or a bloodthirsty bitch - maybe a little bit of both. But whatever else she was, she was certainly a Badass Chick of History.

Brittany is a part of northern France, but in the 1300s, they thought of themselves as Bretons, not Frenchmen. Jeanne's father was a nobleman, and her mother was from a noble family as well. They wanted to ensure young Jeanne had a strong marriage. At age 12 (not at all unusual for the time) she married the 19-year-old Baron Geoffrey of Chateaubriant. They had two kids, a boy and a girl, who would inherit their father's estates one after the other. Goeffrey died when he was 33 years old, leaving Jeanne young and still marriageable.

Four years later, she married Olivier de Clisson IV, a knight who held an important castle and estates in Brittany. It was the second marriage for both of them, and it was fertile: Jeanne bore five more children to Olivier. All in all, Jeanne spent the first part of her life in peace and domestic tranquility, despite the winds of war that had begun to blow.

Brittany was ruled by a Duke who paid nominal homage to the King of France. In reality, French kings were often weak and local nobles had a lot of power, relatively speaking. But when the Duke died without a direct heir, there were two nobles who each had a claim to take the duchy - Charles of Blois, who the French preferred, and John Montfort, who the English preferred. Unfortunately, this led to the War of the Breton Succession, which was just a chapter in the so-called Hundred Years War. The situation was complicated and we can't get into it all here, but it proved to be fateful for Jeanne.

Olivier and Jeanne supported Charles of Blois, as did most of the nobles in Brittany. But Montfort acted fast, and with English backing, took the Breton city of Vannes in 1342. Olivier and another nobleman were in charge of the defenses of the town. They did a good job at first - it took Montfort and the English several tries to take it. In the end, Olivier was captured. He was ransomed back to the French for such a low amount that Charles of Blois became suspicious. He accused Olivier of not doing all he could to defend Vannes.

When a truce between the English and French cooled things down for a while, Charles invited Olivier and several other nobles who'd irked him to a tournament in Paris. Once there, Olivier was captured and beheaded. His body was hung in a gibbet in Paris and his head returned to Brittany for public display as a warning to anyone else who might piss off the mighty Charles of Blois. This shocked the nobility. There was no demonstration of guilt, no trial, and public display of the body was a slap in the face to the family honor, as such treatment was usually reserved for low-class criminals.

It was this act of brutality that turned Jeanne into a Badass Chick of History.

She took her two sons to see the head of their father, and swore revenge against the French king, Philip VI, and Charles of Blois. Returning home, she sold every scrap of real estate she'd inherited - she had a plan and needed every ounce of money she could squeeze out of her estates. She used some of this initial money to hire a mercenary force of fighters who were at least nominally loyal to Olivier's memory, and she personally led them in several assaults on French forces.

Jeanne was merciless. She took a castle in Brittany and massacred every single inhabitant without regard to age or gender. She left one person alive to tell the French king what she had done. The force then stormed off and destroyed to a man another French garrison nearby.

Charles and the King turned up the heat, and Jeanne, now landless but with significant funds and a band of loyal followers, decided to get out of the kitchen - for now. She escaped by boat and fled to England. Unfortunately one of her sons died on the way; she left the others in the care of John of Montfort, who she now supported as the rightful ruler of Brittany.

Popular in England, she found the English nobles ready to assist her. With the rest of her own money, and some assistance from the King of England, Jeanne ordered the construction of three huge warships. As if three ships of war weren't fearful enough, she had them painted entirely black, but had the sails dyed a deep red crimson. Jeanne wanted to make sure everyone - especially the French - knew whose ships those were.

As soon as the ships were complete, Jeanne took her remaining band of soldiers, gathered up more from British ports, and sailed out into the English Channel. Within a week she'd taken a French merchant ship and slaughtered everyone on board except for one sailor. Him, she sent back to Paris with a warning for Charles and the French king. Ship after ship followed - together, her three warships were almost unstoppable. Her force quickly became known as The Black Fleet.

Before long, Jeanne had earned the nickname "The Lioness of Brittany." She didn't take prisoners, and looting enemy ships was just a way to pay her men. Revenge was her driving aspiration, and it kept her going for 13 long years on the sea. She's believed to have captured or scuttled almost 100 French ships, raided at least a dozen coastal villages, and put more than 3,000 French to the sword. And she didn't just order her men to kill everyone, either: no, Jeanne had all the survivors lined up on the deck of the captured ship, and she personally ran every one of them through with a broadsword. At some point in her career, she became fond of the battle axe as a weapon, and began using it to behead any French noble she found. She'd send the heads back to Paris (now ruled by King Jean II) with taunting, threatening letters.

She also assisted the English in the Hundred Years War. When King Edward III of England invaded France, the Black Fleet supplied his troops at the Battle of Crecy. This is when she met Sir Walter Bentley, and English knight who'd been instrumental in helping Edward III storm across France. In fact, he'd triumphed with English forces when he was outnumbered more than two to one at the Battle of Mauron. He was, you might say, a Lion fit for the Lioness of Brittany. He was rewarded with a castle and lands in Brittany. In 1356, Jeanne perhaps felt that she'd had enough revenge. After all, the English had taken control over much of Brittany, and after 13 years of piracy and slaughter, maybe Jeanne was running out of steam. Her old enemy Charles of Blois had been captured by the English (he was held as a prisoner for nine years, then ransomed). King Philip VI was long gone. She was fast approaching 60 years old. Jeanne decided to call it a day.

Together, she and Sir Walter settled in the castle of Hennebont, a port town on the coast of Brittany, overlooking the sea where Jeanne had been responsible for so much violence. Happily for her, she lived out the rest of her days in peace, seeing most of her children be granted estates or married well. Her son Olivier, who'd been fostered in England by Montfort, eventually inherited his father's estates and title. In fact, he'd go on to serve as the Constable of France under King Charles VI.

Jeanne lived for three more years in peace, writing that she was "content that justice has been served" (maybe a little too much justice, to be honest...). Jeanne died quietly of natural causes in 1359.

She left behind her a legend and legacy that was later novelized by romantic writers on both sides of the Channel. However, today her legend is less well-known. It should be noted that the Hundred Years War was a stage of action for many Badass Chicks of History, including Montfort's wife, who supposedly went into battle with a flaming sword, and the most Badass Chick of them all, Joan of Arc. Maybe Jeanne de Clisson, the Lioness of Brittany, has been a bit overshadowed by more famous or more recent fighting women. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that Jeanne surely ranks highly among the Badass Chicks of History.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sarah Emma Edmonds

Franklin Thompson was a soldier, mail courier and spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was also a woman. 

When Sarah Emma Edmonds was a little girl growing up in New Brunswick, Canada, she read a book called "Fanny Campbell, the Female Pirate Captain." It told the tale of a woman who, dressed as a man, had dashing adventures as a pirate. She later said it was this book that inspired her to start dressing like a boy.

Sarah's father was a farmer, and he'd really wanted boys to help with the crops. He was irritated that instead, he got a daughter, and he treated her abominably, physically and emotionally abusing her. She'd often dress as a boy and hire herself out for labor jobs just to escape the drudgery of her real life.

In 1857, as the American Civil War was brewing south of the Canadian border, Sarah's father attempted to force her into an arranged marriage with a much older man she did not love. She decided this would not be her fate. Running away from home, she slipped across the border to America. Terrified of being tracked down - and more than a little inspired by her childhood hero Fanny Campbell - Sarah decided to disguise herself as a man, and took the name Franklin Thompson. Her good looks shone through as "boyishly handsome," and she quickly landed a job as a traveling Bible salesman. She turned out to be amazingly successful at this, and was sent west to Michigan, where she ended up in Flint, staying at a boarding house and continuing to sell Bibles.

"Thompson" was considered by the Flint locals to be intelligent and politically active. She was a strong believer in the Union. She wrote that she believed if the Confederacy was allowed to secede, it would be the eventual death of the United States. When the Civil War broke out and recruiting posters went up for the Union Army, "Franklin Thompson" decided to enlist.

"Franklin Thompson"
So in May 1861 joined up for a three-year stint with the 2nd Michigan Infantry. Luckily for her, extensive physical examinations were not required to enlist, so no one knew her secret. Her compassionate nature (and possibly a feminine nurturing instinct) ensured she was assigned as a male leader of a nursing unit assigned to the army of Union General George B. McClellan. She was at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), and although she wasn't involved in the forward fighting, she stayed behind to help cover the retreat of wounded soldiers. In fact, she barely escaped a Confederate cavalry picket, hiding until they passed by. Eluding them, she made her way back to the Union forces, and was present at several other major battles, including the Second Battle of Bull Run, a few skirmishes in the so-called Peninsula Campaign, and the battles of Antietam and Vicksburg.

While she was normally in the rearguard of the army in some sort of field hospital during battles, Sarah saw actual combat more than once. At the Battle of Williamsburg the field hospital was overrun by Confederates, and she took up a musket and helped fight them back, even personally leading a bayonet charge, according to one eyewitness. Then, under withering cannon-fire and later pouring rain, she and another soldier carried stretcher after stretcher of wounded soldiers to safety miles away.

At the Second Battle of Bull Run, she was assigned to carry messages - more dangerous than it sounds. Carrying orders from one part of the battlefield to another, Sarah was thrown from her horse when it was shot out from under her. She landed in a ditch, broke her leg, and sustained several internal injuries. It's speculated she might not have sought out the level of medical treatment she really needed, because she didn't want to be discovered as a woman and sent home. She also acted as a courier in the Battle of Fredericksburg, serving as an orderly to Col. Orlando Poe. She avoided direct action but was in the saddle constantly throughout the battle, relaying orders.

During this time, Sarah was assigned to military mail delivery, which was incredibly dangerous. It often involved journeys of more than 100 miles, and when it wasn't directly through enemy territory, mail carriers were in constant danger from "bushwackers" and southern sympathizers behind Union lines. While she would often be assigned back to nursing duties, Sarah continued carrying mail - always as Franklin Thompson, of course - and it was sometime during this service that she began to act as a spy for the Union.

It turns out Sarah was aching for revenge - she had a close male friend in her unit, James Vesey, who may have known her secret. He was killed in a Confederate ambush and she was devastated. When she learned a Union spy had been captured and executed in Virginia, she applied for the job, and, as Franklin Thompson, got it. 

Used to riding long distances alone and handling herself without an escort, Sarah was sent behind enemy lines to gather information. Already a master of disguise, fooling her own fellow soldiers and commanders, she adopted new disguises to help in her espionage work. She even had an alternate identity in the south as a black man named Cuff, which she'd use to get close to Confederate troops to overhear plans and make notes of troop strength and locations. To do this, she used silver nitrate to dye her skin black, and wore a black wig. No one ever suspected Cuff. She also operated as a white woman under the name Bridget O'Shea. "Bridget" was an Irish immigrant, a peddler who sold soap, fruit and other luxuries to Confederate soldiers. Another time, she disguised herself as a black woman to get a job as a laundress for the Confederates. This paid off when she found a packet of official war papers an officer had left in his jacket when he sent it to be laundered. We don't know what was in those papers, but we know it was important enough that she immediately returned to Union territory and "delighted" the Union command with the contents of the papers. The commanders then sent her (still thinking she was Franklin Thompson, of course) into Maryland disguised as a detective named Charles Mayberry to track down a secret agent working for the Confederates. It's worth noting that no official proof of any of these spying activities has come down to us, other than stories Sarah herself shared. But formal records, then and now, of espionage activities were often not kept.

Although Sarah managed all of this without ever taking a bullet, without ever letting her real identity and gender be known, there was one enemy she couldn't fight - malaria. When she realized she'd come down with it, she was terrified that army doctors would discover her secret.

Sarah applied for a medical furlough, but it was denied. One evening in the spring of 1863, "Franklin Thompson" slipped away from camp, and Sarah Emma Edmonds entered a private hospital. By the time she'd healed, she was ready to resume her identity as Thompson and go back to war - but, to her horror, she saw posters saying Franklin Thompson was being hunted as a deserter.

Rather than risk execution as a deserter, Sarah decided to quit while she was ahead. She acquired feminine garb and started living again under her real identity, fears of her father's vengeance long gone. But Sarah was still called to serve. She quickly secured a position with the United States Christian Commission as a nurse - a female one - and went right back into the field hospitals to care for wounded soldiers.

As the war wound down, newspaper stories about other female soldiers who had dressed as men to serve the Union began to surface. Frances Clayton was one, and we'll visit her in a future article. Pauline Cushman was another. Sarah realized she had a story to tell, and she wasn't likely to be punished for her Franklin Thompson charade. She wrote a book called "Nurse and Spy in the Union Army." It was a best-seller, and, continuing her convictions, she donated almost all of the proceeds to help wounded soldiers in their recovery.

Things turned out well for Sarah. She met and married a mild-mannered Canadian mechanic named Linus Seelye three years after the war. They had three children together. In the late 1870s she attended a reunion of the 2nd Michigan Infantry and was "warmly received." Her fellow-soldiers remembered Franklin Thompson as "fearless and active." Despite the fact that women who'd done what she did were often considered "mentally ill" (that's 1860s code for "lesbian") or prostitutes, the men of the 2nd Michigan Infantry treated her like a hero.

In fact, her fellow soldiers thought so much of her they joined together to petition to have the charges of desertion against Franklin Thompson formally rescinded. They also fought to get her a military pension due to her injuries from the fall from her horse at the Second Battle of Manassas. Wouldn't you know it - one act of Congress later, they were successful. Sarah received a full military pension and Franklin Thompson was cleared as a deserter.

Sarah lived on and was active with veteran's organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic, of which she is the only female member. She lived until the late 1800s, and was buried with full military honors in Houston in 1901.

So it seems Sarah was able to live out her dreams of dressing like a man and having adventures after all. And, like the storybook hero Fanny Campbell, Sarah got a happy ending.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bona Lombardi

After spending some time in the 20th century in our last two posts, let's go back to Renaissance Europe, which has always been a historical arena for badassery. Lots of women from European history stand out, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine or Queen Elizabeth of England. But let's meet a woman who isn't as famous as either, and was more of a badass (physically speaking) than both.

Bona Lombardi was a popular, beautiful and intelligent peasant girl who became a mercenary warlord in war-torn Renaissance Italy. True love led her to fight for a living. It's also possible true love killed her - but a sword never did.

Few places and times in Europe were more horrific than Italy in the 1300s and 1400s. Italy was not politically united, with small principalities and city-states constantly at one another's throats. Worse still, paid bands of mercenary soldiers from all over Europe were strutting their stuff around Italy, in the pay of one local warlord or another. They'd often switch sides. When they weren't paid, the mercenaries tended to loot, pillage and rape whatever and whoever was nearby.

These warlords were known as Condottieri. Some were statesmen and talented generals. Most of them were overpaid thugs with a curse of ignorance and a penchant for needless brutality. As it happens, female Condottieri were not unheard of, and Bona Lombardi was one of them. But she didn't start off that way: she was, in the beginning, just a beautiful peasant girl.

Around 1430, a gentleman from Parma, one Captain Brunoro, was ordered by the ruler of Milan to set up a base in the middle of some recently conquered territory, the better to keep an eye on the restless province. Of course, that didn't keep him occupied 24/7. Even Captain Brunoro needed some time off. When he got it, he loved to go hunting. During one such trip, he stopped for a rest in a wooded grove where the local peasantry was putting on a spring festival. One of the girls there hit him "like the thunderbolt," as the Italians say. Not only was she the prettiest girl there, in Brunoro's opinion: she surprised him with her wit and charm and the sophistication of her answers to his questions.

Brunoro returned home, but he couldn't stop thinking about the girl. Using his power to ask around, he found out the girl was Bona Lombardi, and that he wasn't the only one who was smitten with her. Local lads from throughout the neighborhood of the town of Sacco had all sought her hand, with no success. Even the local girls admired her, and often made her the "Queen" in their nature festivals. Bona was an orphan, raised by her uncle, who was a priest, and his sister, the manager of a thriving country household.

Bona's father, Gabriel, was a warrior - another private mercenary in one of the ubiquitous Italian armies - and he was killed when she was just a child. Her mother, stricken with grief, died soon after. Perhaps some of Gabriel's martial spirit passed into his young daughter. Certainly there was some dark foreshadowing of her own fate in the fate of her parents.

Needless to say, Brunoro found plenty of opportunities to just happen to amble past Bona's household that summer. He visited with Bona often, and eventually, he asked her to marry him. She agreed, but was afraid her uncle and aunt would not approve, so they kept the marriage a secret.

It soon became apparent that Bona was just as smitten with Brunoro as he was with her. She couldn't stand to be away from him, even for a short separation when his military endeavors would take him away for a mission. Instead of waiting for him at home, Bona dressed herself up in Condottierre armor and followed her husband into all his battles.

Mercenaries work with a dynamic national soldiers don't: they're not fighting for a cause, but for pay. With the ever-shifting tapestry of battlefields and constant rise and fall of petty princes throughout Italy, Brunoro often found himself obliged to switch employers. Like a lot of Condottierri, he sometimes found himself going up in battle against respected former employers.

Because of these shifting loyalties, Brunoro managed to anger someone who would have been better left alone: King Alexander of Naples. For some reason - we're not sure exactly why, but it had to do with shifting political moves - Alexander developed a bitter hatred for Brunoro, and was determined to do him in. Alexander ordered his men to lay an ambush for Brunoro as he and a small band went on a fact-finding mission. For once, Bona wasn't with him. Brunoro fell for the ambush hook, line and sinker. He was captured and by the next day found himself languishing in the prisons of Naples.

He probably would have stayed there until he died, but for the courage and tenacity of his badass wife. Bona tried everything. First she offered Alexander bribes to let Brunoro go. Alexander refused. Then Bona begged him, trying to rouse pity in the king's heart. Despite her good looks and charm, this too failed. Finally, she flat-out threatened Alexander with military intervention if he didn't release Brunoro. Alexander laughed in her face. But when it became apparent that Bona's good name and her husband's reputation had earned her a host of local allies, Alexander relented. Rather than face a mercenary force led by a female Condottierri - and possibly face the ignominy of losing to her - he released Brunoro.

The two continued to fight together as husband and wife. Said one contemporary, "(Bona) learned the art of war to perfection." She was so admired by the people of Venice, for example, that she was offered command of the defense of the the town of Negropont on the Greek island of Euboea. The Turks were hell-bent on making headway into the Mediterranean world through the Black Sea and Greece. In the end, propriety reigned, and Bona and Brunoro were offered joint command together, rather than her alone, which showed she had respect for her husband's abilities (and, probably, pride).

As the constant wars stretched on, Brunoro managed to get himself captured again. During a war between Milan and Venice, Brunoro led an attack on a Provoze Castle in Brescia. Bona was traveling a few days behind her husband with a small relief force. When she arrived and learned he'd been captured, she went ballistic (to use a modern turn of phrase). She went among the disheartened Venetian soldiers and with a combination of shame and good coaching, roused them to a renewed sense of vigor. Bona personally led the charge in a second attack on Provoze Castle - and this time, with her at their head, the Venetians stormed the gates, scaled the walls, and took the castle in a matter of hours.

Brunoro, languishing away in chains, must have been very happy to see Bona, who personally released her husband and all the rest of the prisoners.

But Brunoro and Bona's story doesn't have a happy ending. He died in 1468 - whether from natural causes or as the result of a battlefield injury we don't know, although the latter seems likely. Bona descended into a terrible depression. She told everyone she couldn't - and more importantly, wouldn't - long survive her husband. She ordered the creation of a marble tomb to hold both of their remains. After interring Brunoro in it, she simply wasted away. She didn't commit suicide, but seems to have literally died of a broken heart. Said one contemporary, "she sank into a state of languor from which she never recovered." She died soon after her husband, and both were buried together.

So while it may not have turned out all right in the end, Bona and Brunoro had a good ride, and before it was over Bona Lombardi certainly proved that she was a Badass Chick of History.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Violette Szabo

This time let's flash-forward to World War II. Violette Szabo was a British spy who aided the French resistance against Nazi domination. She had courage, spirit, an infectious laugh, and a cute Cockney accent. She also spoke fluent French, was good-looking, and an expert marksman. Although her superiors thought she wasn't smart enough, and too driven by revenge to be an effective spy, she proved them wrong and received the George Cross after the war. Unfortunately, she was not alive to collect it personally. She paid the ultimate price to stop Nazi aggression.

She was born in Paris in 1921, but grew up mostly in London. She did return to France briefly to live with in-laws because her parents were having trouble making ends meet during the Great Depression. However, by the time she was 11 she was back in London. The only girl among four brothers and multiple male cousins, Violette was considered a "tomboy," and she excelled at sports--particularly biking, skating and gymnastics. Her father, although he was a strict disciplinarian, was devoted to her. He enjoyed sport-shooting, and taught Violette to be an excellent marksman. This would come in handy later. However, she was headstrong, and rebelled against her father's authority. She even ran away to France once when she was a teenager. By the time she was 14 she'd left school and was working at Woolworth's selling perfume.

When World War II began, she joined the Women's Land Army, which was a group that did agricultural work to replace men who had been called into military service. After spending some time picking fruit in the country, she was bored enough to return to London and get a job in an armaments factory.

France had fallen to the Nazis quickly, and many French refugees crowded London. The city fathers honored them with a Bastille Day celebration and parade. Violette's mother (who, along with Violette, spoke fluent French), sent her to the parade to find a homesick French soldier and invite him to dinner where he could speak in his native tongue. Violette took one look at the dashing French officer Etienne Szabo and decided it had to be him. She was 19 and he was over 30, but the two were married only 42 days later. Almost immediately, he left for Africa to fight with Free French units alongside the British.

Violette got a job as a telephone operator, and worked through the Blitz in London. But she wanted to do more. With her good looks and charm, she managed to talk her way into an anti-aircraft gun unit in a job called "director," which meant she used trigonometry to help gunners hit moving targets (specifically, German bombers). But almost as soon as she started, she found out she was pregnant, and returned to London to give birth to a daughter, Talia. When the baby was born, Violette sent her to the country, out of harm's way, and worked at an aircraft factory alongside her father.

Meanwhile, her husband was in North Africa, fighting with Free French and English troops against the feared Afrika Korps of Erwin Rommel. He barely escaped with his life after a battle with the 15th Panzer Division, and a few months later personally led an attack at the Second Battle of El Alamein. He was shot in the chest and killed in action.

When she heard this, Violette was filled with rage and vowed revenge. After a seemingly innocuous conversation with a recruiter who realized she spoke fluent French, she was invited to train as a secret agent with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), with an eye toward assigning her to the so-called "F Section" in France. She could speak French and was attractive. The SOE had learned that Nazi troops tended to give good-looking women more leniency than men, when it came to searches and curfews. F Section was in desperate need of female couriers and intelligence-gatherers. Violette was sent to Scotland to train in paramilitary and commando warfare. She was also trained in "silent killing," escape and evasion tactics, demolitions (for sabotage work) and cryptography.

But her superior officers were reluctant to use her in the field, primarily because of her "fatalistic" attitude. One wrote that she "seems perfectly willing to die" as long as she could get revenge for her husband's death. They also thought she was too impulsive. Furthermore, her training course grades were somewhat mediocre (she received the equivalent of a "D"), and it was determined that she had "only average intelligence." But the need outweighed the risks, and partially because she was the best female marksman they had, they decided to activate her. She was trained in parachuting, but on her first jump, she landed badly and wound up with a terribly sprained ankle. As it turned out, this injury would later have tragic consequences.

After healing, she passed the course and was sent to join a spy unit operating in France under the code name SALESMAN. She was popular among both the men and women she worked with. Her Cockney accent and infectious laughter endeared her to her cohorts. She had high spirits and enjoyed playing practical jokes. One contemporary called her "a dark-haired slip of mischief." When it came time for her to go on her first mission, her commanders gave her one last chance to refuse, saying she had only a 1 in 4 chance of survival. She went anyway.

In 1944, Violette and spy-organizer Phillippe Liewer parachuted out of a B-24 Liberator bomber into Nazi-occupied France. Her cover was that she was a secretary who was a resident of Le Havre - this ruse got around Nazi rules and allowed her to go to her "home" in the so-called "Restricted Zone" along the French coast. Her code name was Louise. She traveled the countryside and collected intelligence about arrested spies. This intelligence convinced Liewer that the SALESMAN unit was compromised beyond repair. In fact, she learned that the Nazis already knew Liewer's identity and code name. She also figured out which factories were making war material for the Nazis, which helped the Allies determine targets to bomb.

After this, it was deemed prudent for her to return to England, but on the way, the plane she was in was hit by anti-aircraft guns. She'd not yet gotten a look at her blonde-haired, blue-eyed pilot, so when he made an emergency landing and opened the door, she thought  he was a Nazi. Screaming curses at him, she tried to physically attack him, but soon realized her mistake. Instead of hitting the pilot, she kissed him.

Her service wasn't over, however. Just after D-Day (on June 8 1944) she parachuted into France again, this time near the village of Sussac. She was part of a four-person team of British and Americans. This time, her cover was that she was the widow of an antiques dealer. What she was really doing was sabotaging Nazi communication lines.

Then a new mission came: she and a French associate, Dufour, were to travel to organize resistance fighters in Correze and Dordogne. Violette was an avid cyclist and wanted to take a bike, especially because the Nazis had banned the French from driving cars. But partially because of the need for speed, and partially because of her bad ankle, Liewer insisted on her taking a small Citroen. Violette, at her own request, was armed with a submachine gun and eight clips of ammunition. On the way, they picked up another resistance fighter called Bariaud. He told them something they didn't know: that the 2nd SS Panzer Division was in the area, searching for a commander that had been captured. They soon came upon a roadblock, and Dufour, the commander of the mission, wasn't taking any chances. He slowed the car so that Bariaud could jump out and warn resistance fighters elsewhere of the Panzer division's presence.

Dufour stopped the car some way before the roadblock, but within sight of the Nazis. He and Violette ran from the car in opposite directions - he into a cornfield, she into a stand of trees. A gun battle ensued in which one innocent farmer's wife was killed. Szabo crossed the road under fire to join Dufour in the cornfield. Still under fire, they ran through the field, across a stream, and up a hill toward a large apple tree. But her old ankle injury came back to haunt her: she fell, badly twisting the ankle, and could barely walk, let alone run. Dufour chivalrously attempted to carry her, but she demanded that he save himself while she provided covering fire. She literally dragged herself to the apple tree, and started shooting at the Nazis while Dufour escaped to hide in the barn of a resistance-friendly fighter.

For a full half-hour, Violette single-handedly held off the Nazi pursuit. She killed at least one Nazi officer, and it's possible she killed a few more. She wounded nearly a dozen. But eventually, she ran out of ammunition. Two Nazis dragged her to an armored car, where she spit in the face of a Nazi officer. Defiantly, she demanded that they untie her so she could smoke a cigarette.

Violette was interrogated for four days at a local SS Security Service building, but they couldn't get anything out of her. Meanwhile, Dufour was desperately making plans to try to free her, and he may have succeeded, had she not been transferred first. The Gestapo stepped in, and informed the SS that since she was fighting behind enemy lines in civilian clothes, the Geneva Convention did not apply to her. She was transferred to the French Gestapo headquarters. There, she was interrogated under torture. She didn't give up anything, and gave them a false name, but German intelligence eventually deduced her identity as the agent code-named Louise.

She and other prisoners were transferred to Germany by train. On the way, an allied air strike caused the Nazis to abandon the train for a time; chained to another female prisoner, Violette brought water to the male prisoners, who were kept in cages, which encouraged them so much they sang patriotic songs once the train got going again, to the irritation of the Nazi officers, who issued a few beatings to shut them up.

Eventually, kept on starvation rations in squalid conditions, she was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, a place specifically for women prisoners. It was notorious for the brutality of its guards. Violette and other women were place in a hard labor gang, forced to work outside cutting trees in the dead of winter - while obliged to wear only summer clothes. They were given barely-digestible bread crusts and forced to sleep in unheated huts with no blankets. Many froze or starved to death.

Not Violette. She kept making plans to escape. Survivors who knew her said she was upbeat and confident of either liberation by the Allies or that her escape plans would work out. She even managed to construct a makeshift transmitter on the sly and tried to send coded messages back to England, but it's unknown whether she succeeded. When this was discovered, the Nazi guards brutally beat her and sexually assaulted her, then threw her into solitary confinement. Weeks later, she and two other similarly treated female prisoners were led to the grounds of the crematorium. The other two were too badly beaten to walk, but Violette managed to hold her head high. Her morale had suffered, but she remained defiant, refusing a blindfold and demanding a cigarette, which the amused guards gave her. After that, they shot her in the head three times and cremated her body. Violette was only 23 years old.

No one knew what happened to her until 1946. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross, as well as numerous French medals. Her five-year old daughter Talia solemnly accepted the George Cross from King George IV personally. Today, there are no less than seven monuments to her in England and France. She was the subject of multiple books at one 1958 film starring Virginia McKenna.

And she wasn't the only one. Women played a huge part in SOE operations during World War II, and very few of them survived to tell the tale. Said one, Odette Hallowes, of Violette: "She was the bravest of us all."

I think it's time for another movie, personally, to introduce this hero to a new generation - because without a doubt, Violette Szabo was truly a Badass Chick of History. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Black Agnes," Countess of Dunbar

Let's travel to Scotland in the early 1300s. A nobleman called Patrick, the Earl of Dunbar and March, married well. His lovely bride had pale skin, flashing black eyes and blue-black raven hair. She was the daughter of the fierce fighter Randolph, Duke of Moray - a powerful crony of William Wallace and later Robert the Bruce - and as it turned out, she inherited his belligerent nature and sarcastic attitude. It would serve her husband and her people well.

After the wars of Scottish independence, Robert the Bruce's son, David II, ended up King of Scotland. But David was just a child, and the English weren't at all happy with an impudent and free Scotland just north of the border. The English King Edward III, who was in the midst of fixing the problems he inherited from his incompetent father, backed an upstart called Edward Balliol, who had a decent claim to the Scottish throne. Edward III stormed into Scotland and installed Balliol on the throne.

Meanwhile, Edward III had more important things on his mind than Scotland - mainly that he believed he should be the King of France as well as England. Devoting himself to that, he left the continued pacification of Scotland in the hands of his lieutenants. One of those was Montague, the Earl of Salisbury. There was one castle Montague had to take before Scotland could be tamed - the Castle Dunbar, which lie at a vital strategic point. It had been recently fortified by Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and March. But Patrick was away, fighting elsewhere. He left his beautiful wife Agnes in charge.

She had earned the nickname "Black Agnes" because of the great contrast of her dark eyes and hair with her pale complexion. Turns out, the name was also a fit moniker for her warlike spirit. She was determined that Montague wasn't going to take Castle Dunbar on her watch.

Montague rolled up his troops before the castle, believing it wouldn't take much more than intimidation to settle things. He was wrong. It soon became apparent that Black Agnes was a skillful commander. All in all, Montague was obliged to spend almost half a year trying to take the castle. Worse, Agnes appeared on the walls daily to taunt her opponents with what one historian has called "biting sarcasms."

In a famous scene of history, the English rolled up catapults, battering rams and other siege engines. Hurling boulders at the walls, they called for Agnes to surrender. Instead, she and her chief ladies marched out onto the ramparts, wielding not swords, but hankies. They sarcastically proceeded to wipe down the battlements, insinuating that Montague had accomplished nothing but to kick up some dust.

By this time, Montague had figured out that Agnes was no ordinary woman. He'd come to respect her, and maybe he even had a little crush on her. When he was personally overseeing the installation of some siege engines, an arrow whizzed out from the castle and thunk! It pierced the chain mail armor of a knight who stood next to Montague. The knight fell and died right at Montague's feet. Montague sighed and said, "Agnes's love-arrows shoot straight for the heart!"

His next strategy was something called "the sow." It was essentially a massive battering-ram covered with boiled and hardened leather to protect the men operating it. With great trouble, the English rolled it up to the walls. Seeing it, Agnes couldn't keep her sarcasm at bay. She hollered, "Montague, be careful! Soon that sow will give birth to pigs!" At that, she directed a dozen men to hurl a massive chunk of masonry onto the sow, crushing both it and its occupants.

Montague tried bribery next, convincing a gatekeeper to open it for him in the dead of night. But the gatekeeper informed Agnes. She told him to go ahead and open the gate. Montague led his raiding party through the darkness. One of his soldiers, John Copeland, passed in front of Montague to enter the gate, and at that moment, Agnes dropped the portcullis. She meant to snag Montague himself, but made the best of the situation. As he was dragged away from the walls by his men, Agnes called to him, "Farewell! I'd hoped you would dine with me tonight and help me defend my castle from the English!"

Montague thought he'd scored an ace in the hole when the English captured Agnes's brother, John, the Earl of Moray. The prisoner was paraded out before the castle, in chains and wearing a noose around his neck. Montague threatened to execute John if Anges didn't surrender. She called, "Then execute him, and I shall inherit the Earldom of Moray." To Montague's credit, he didn't kill the hapless fellow, who survived the war and lived on. 

Frustrated, Montague couldn't think of anything else to do but blockade the castle and starve them out (one wonders why he didn't try that in the first place). He lined up ships on the sea-side and troops on the landward side. But the fierce Scottish patriot Sir Alexander Ramsay had heard of Agnes's bravery. With only 40 hand-picked men, he eluded the English patrols and snuck into the castle through a postern gate by the sea-side. The next morning, Agnes, Ramsay, and the able-bodied men of the castle stormed out of the gates and utterly routed the advance guard of the besieging English.

At that point, Montague decided he'd had enough. Saluting Agnes, who stood proudly on the battlements, he withdrew his army and went away. Agnes was reunited with Patrick and she lived another 30 years, dying peacefully of natural causes. So with a combination of martial prowess, an acid tongue, and the help of a few friends, Black Agnes proved she was a Badass Chick of History.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Semiramis, Queen of Assyria

Let's go way back to the Assyrian Empire for our next Badass Chick of History: Semiramis, Queen of Assyria. While she was certainly a historic figure, our information comes from men who wrote about her hundreds of years later. Much of her story is wrapped up in myth and legend. But it's unlikely that such tales would have sprung up about a woman who wasn't out-of-the-ordinary, and we can assume from the stories that survive, whatever their truth, that her contemporaries thought of her as a badass.

Tales about her childhood are obviously mythical. She was the natural daughter of a goddess of the Philistines. But her mother, behaving oddly as most ancient deities did, abandoned the baby girl in the woods in Syria. Luckily, a flock of doves came and fed little Semiramis. She was discovered by a shepherd who raised her as his own. This sounds like about a dozen other ancient myths.

When she was about 14, Semiramis met the warlord Menon, who was one of the chief lieutenants of Ninus, lord of the Assyrian Empire. Menon was inspecting the king's flocks when he noticed the shepherd girl. He was charmed by her beauty and intelligence, captivated by the fact that he could actually hold a conversation with her. He essentially kidnapped her by tricking her into coming back to the palace with him. He kept her prisoner until she married him. When she did, she turned the tables on him, charming everyone at court and amassing huge influence, much greater than her husband's. She had two boys with Menon. But traditional family life wasn't for her - she ached to distinguish herself. All she needed was an opportunity. Her charm and popularity gave her the freedom to create one.

Soon, King Ninas invaded the land of Media. Semiramis insisted on going to war alongside her husband. The campaign was a blitzkrieg, as city after city fell to the conquering Assyrians. However, when the army reached Bactria, they found the walls nigh-impregnable. A bitter siege followed, but the Bactrian defense was so effective that Ninas decided to retreat. Semiramis would have none of it. She showed up to a council of war and offered to personally lead an assault on the walls. For whatever reason, the warlords let her. She rose to the occasion, storming the fortifications amidst showers of arrows and stones. The soldiers, shamed by her example, were spurred to greater efforts, but Semiramis was the first to climb atop the battlements. After a brief but vicious struggle on the city walls, Semiramis raised the standard of Assyria, winning the battle the king wanted to avoid.

King Ninas hadn't taken much notice of Semiramis before. He did now! He was smitten. He asked Menon to divorce her. Menon refused. Ninas offered his own royal sister in trade, but Menon still refused. Legend has it he even went a little bit crazy. Irritated, the king had Menon's eyes gouged out and threw him into prison, where he committed suicide. Ninas then married Semiramis, who bore him a son, Ninyas.

Ninas knew Semiramis had charisma, but he didn't count on her popularity with the court. She gave generous gifts and made sure to be friendly with the king's most powerful advisers and lieutenants. Eventually, she begged the king to let her show her stuff by putting the empire under her absolute rule for five days. Finally, Ninas relented and let her take control. Big mistake. Avenging poor Menon, she used her power to throw Ninas into prison and had him executed. She beautified the city of Babylon, and, legend has it, surrounded it with its famous wall. She is also credited with quite a few civic monuments and inscriptions that are almost certainly not her work, but again, this is more proof of how large her legend loomed.

This wasn't enough for her adventurous spirit, however. She had dreams of conquest, and unlike most women of the time, she had the power to make them come true. Under her leadership, the Assyrians stormed into Ethiopia and took most of it, making the Assyrian Empire even larger. While she was in Ethiopia she consulted a popular oracle there. She asked the prophet how long she had to live. The oracle told her she would not die until her son conspired against her. Following her conquest of Ethiopia she turned her army west toward Lybia and conquered it, too.

Like Alexander the Great after her, Semiramis could not rest until she'd conquered exotic India. She raised an army of more than three million, says one ancient historian. This is surely an exaggeration, but we can assume it was a huge force. Semiramis knew the power of the Indian army was its war elephants. Lacking any of her own, she ordered her artisans to create huge wicker-and-skin coverings for the biggest camels she could find. From a distance, it appeared to the Indians that she, too, had acquired war elephants. Stabrobates, the Indian king, sent envoys to ask Semiramis exactly what she was up to. She replied that her business was none of his, but that he'd learn her intentions in good time. She quickly marched to the Indus river and made a bridge of boats in an attempt to cross. The Indians fought hard, however, and even though they eventually retreated, a great many Assyrians lost their lives in the battle.

Undaunted, and against the advice of her military advisers, Semiramis pushed across the river and into the heart of India. But it turns out Stabrobates had only ordered a strategic retreat earlier. He'd had time to turn and face the Assyrians once again. This time, the real elephants charged into the fake ones and went hog wild, stomping and crushing everything in their path. The Assyrian army was scattered. But Semiramis, utterly unfazed by this, rallied her men. Mounting her warhorse, she stormed the Assyrian ranks with, as the ancient historian Diodorus tells us, "as little regard for her own safety as though she had been the meanest soldier in the army." Stabrobates, seeing her in the midst of the fiercest part of the battle, rode forward to take her on himself, and even though he wounded her twice, she fought him off. But by that time, the Assyrians were completely routed. Semiramis was pragmatic enough to realize there wasn't much more she could do. Spurring her horse, she fled Stabrobates, and, perhaps because she weighed much less, easily outdistanced him.

The Assyrian army made it back to the Indus, but the soldiers were panicked, and without martial discipline, crowded onto the makeshift boat-bridge. Thousands of Assyrians were trampled to death in the confusion. When Semiramis made it across, she ordered the bridge destroyed. The Indian king had the good sense to let it go at that - as long as she wouldn't cross the Indus, he had no desire to pursue her.

By the time Semiramis returned to Babylon, she learned that her son had been conspiring to take her place. This fit perfectly with the oracle she'd heard in Ethiopia. She loved her son. To avoid conflict with him, she voluntarily abdicated the throne in his favor. He became king and she retired with honor, living to be 62 years old.

In all of ancient history, only two rulers had the wherewithal, courage, and skill to carry a battle eastward past the Indus river: Alexander the Great and Semiramis. I think that's enough to make her a Badass Chick of History.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Marie-Christine de Lelaing, Princess d'Espinoy

Marie-Christine de Lelaing was descended from badasses on both sides of her family, and was married to one, too. When her town came under attack in 1581, she personally led the defense and stood up to the infamous Duke of Parma. Wounded in battle, she lived to tell the tale...for a little while.

We all know the date July 4, 1776, when the United States declared independence from Great Britain. Lesser known is the date July 26, 1581, when the United Netherlands declared independence from Spain. The Spanish Empire had taken vast swaths of the Netherlands as part of the devastating wars that followed the Protestant Reformation. The Netherlands, spitting in the eye of Spain, invited the French Duke of Anjou to rule over them as an independent constitutional monarchy.

Of course, Spain would have none of this. The Duke of Anjou boldly entered the Netherlands at the head of a massive army - some 12,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry troopers. But the Spanish governor of the Netherlands, Alexander Farnese, the Duke of Parma, was a military genius. Even worse, the Dutch themselves were not unilaterally Protestant, and many welcomed the Spanish rulers. With the Dutch people divided, and Farnese's skill as a soldier and administrator, the Duke of Anjou's army was frustrated at every turn. Eventually, decided maybe ruling the Netherlands wasn't such a hot idea after all and went home.

That left a lot of locally recruited Protestant-friendly soldiers out of work. Most of them flocked to the nearest friendly city, Tournai, in modern Belgium. Its French-elected governor, Pierre de Melun, the Prince d'Espinoy, had created there a haven for a strong Protestant community. He was away, however, serving in the Prince of Orange's army. Farnese saw the leaderless town as easy prey, perhaps, and marched against it.

Governor Pierre's wife, known to the people as Princess Christine, surprised everyone by immediately taking command of the town and preparing to resist the Spanish. It should have been no surprise. Her father was Count Charles II, a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece and seasoned military veteran. Her mother was related to the French admiral Duke Montmorency, a war hero who opposed the sinister Cardinal Richelieu and came to a glorious end in battle. Defiance in the face of danger was in Christine's blood.

Donning armor, she appeared on the city walls and bolstered the courage of the citizens. Her words, as history has transmitted them: "It's me, the wife of your governor who is marching into war, risking his life for you and his country. Follow my lead! I would rather die than abandon my nation!" Or something like that.

According to some accounts, the soldiers wept with joy to see her. When Farnese maneuvered his troops into place against Tournai, he called upon the lieutenant of the garrison to surrender. But Christine herself appeared on the walls to answer him with what one witness called "a defiant refusal." The odds were against the town, but Christine's bravery inspired the soldiers to put up a valiant defense in the first assault, pushing the Spanish back from the town walls. Farnese, seething, settled in for a siege, writing that he would reduce the place in two weeks.

Two months and several major assaults later, the Spanish had not yet taken Tournai. Every day, the Princess Christine donned her armor and appeared on the town walls in sight of both the Dutch and Spanish. She was more than an inspiring figurehead - she issued orders to her husband's lieutenants and supervised all the defenses in person. When the Spanish attacked, she fought alongside the defenders. In a particularly hard-fought battle she took a terrible wound in the arm. Hearing this, Farnese again called for Tournai's surrender. Again, the Princess was defiant.

But this state of affairs couldn't last. Spanish sappers had been busy undermining the walls from outside the town. Meanwhile, inside the city, a Dominican friar called Father Gery - part of an order that essentially amounted to a black ops organization for the Vatican - was undermining the morale and spiritual confidence of the soldiers from within. There were also many Catholics in the town, and Father Gery had taken advantage of the turmoil to unite them.

With crumbling walls and hostile neighbors, the Protestants of Tournai begged the Princess to surrender the town. They told her they were afraid an insurrection would break out among the Catholic inhabitants any moment. Christine was hesitant. If the Spanish were true to their reputation, Farnese's men would brutally and thoroughly sack the town.

Like a good ruler, however, she was pragmatic enough to know when to quit. Had she not been, in her reported words, "abandoned by Protestants and Catholics alike," she would have fought on. Instead, she turned a strategic defeat into a victory of propaganda. Negotiating herself with Farnese under a flag of truce, she obtained surprisingly honorable terms of surrender. In lieu of storming through the town with fire and sword for rape, murder and looting, Farnese accepted a payment of 100,000 crowns from the city treasury. Princess Christine, with her cavalry escort and entourage, were allowed to pass through the gates of the town "with all the honors of war," carrying every last bit of her and her husband's personal property with her.

As the Princess passed through the ranks of her Spanish enemies, they spontaneously erupted in applause. Brutal and oppressive on the whole, there was a spirit of gallantry and daring among the Spanish commanders. Throughout the siege, Christine had acquired their respect. She marched to join her husband in Oudenaarde, and enjoyed a high reputation in Europe as the story spread. The couple retired to Antwerp where she died soon afterward (the manner of her death is not recorded).

In 1863, the city of Tournai erected a statue to honor her. It still stands today in the heart of Grand-Place in Tournai as a testament to the courage of a woman brave enough to thumb her nose at the Spanish Empire and live - at least a little while - to tell the tale.