In contemporary Western society, Joan of Arc is often considered the “Woman Warrior” of the Medieval Ages. In this blog post, I will be comparing her to other famous Woman Warriors of history, both real and fictional: Zenobia, Boudica, and Tomoe Gozen, giving brief summarizations and contrasting their fates with that of Joan of Arc.
Queen Zenobia of Palmyra ruled over Syria and fought against the Roman Empire. She was wife to King Septimius Odaenathus and took control of the empire after his death. For a period of time she worked with the Romans, until she decided to sever ties with the Romans and led a rebellion against them. After much success, she was eventually defeated by the Romans in 274 and taken hostage to Rome (Schriber 1982). Zenobia’s fate is a mystery, although some popular myths include: suicide by poisoning or hunger strike, death after her arrival in Rome through illness or execution, or a happier tale in which she so impressed the Romans with her beauty and dignity that she was freed and lived the rest of her days in a luxurious villa (Ball 2000).
Boudica was a Celtic Queen and ruler of the British Iceni tribe. She is described of having “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women”. She was married to King Prasutagus, who was a Roman ally. After his death, he left his kingdom to the Roman Empire and to his two daughters, but instead, the Romans annexed the kingdom, called in its debt, and raped his daughters. This was enough to enrage Boudica, who led a savage rebellion against the Romans in Brittany, sacking their strongholds. Eventually, her forces were defeated. While general consensus in the academic world concludes that she died or disappeared before the Romans could reach her, there is debate of the specifics. A popular theory is that in order to prevent herself from being captured, she committed suicide (Keegan 1978).
Tomoe Gozen (pictured above) considered a rare example of a Japanese Woman warrior, fought during the late twelfth-century, in the Genpei Wars. She was a concubine of Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka, and commanded his armies (Nussbaum 2005). According to modern scholars, she was known not only for her skills in archery and combat, but also for her physical strength and beauty, and it was said she was “a warrior equal to a thousand men” (Brown 1998). While her strength and skills in combat were praised, her physical beauty and desirability were also heralded. Today, most her story has been infused with legend. Conflicting accounts name her as the child of multiple parents, and even her exact relationship to her Lord Kiso Yoshinaka is uncertain: some claim she was even his foster sister. Kiso no Yoshinaka was eventually defeated, and the fate of Tomoe Gozen remains up for debate (Brown 1998). Theories of her fate are abundant: she married an enemy, she became a nun, she actually stayed behind and died in battle, the options continue on. Gozen became such a part of legend that much of the original story has been lost.
A common theme in the three examined women warriors is their social status: all three were of nobility and had the means to command militaries through a male marriage/sexual partner. In contrast, Joan was a self-confessed daughter of farmers and members of the peasant class (Joan of Arc, Translated Minutes of Her Execution Trial) and was revered for her virginal status. Additionally, Joan’s beauty was not celebrated as sexual, but virginal (Barstow 1988). Interestingly, all four women were unable to sustain their victories against enemies, with three of the women warriors losing in battle, and Joan’s execution being well documented. However, in the case of the three women examined above, with no primary sources to confirm their specific fates, their stories lent way to legend. Joan didn’t have the option of being imagined with a happy ending—her life—probably much like the reality for the examined three women—ended after falling into the hands of her enemies. Her status as a peasant girl in medieval France undoubtedly led to her different image and the specific scholars have of her fate, but matched the doomed female warrior archetype seen previously in history.
Ball, Warwick. “Rome in the East.” Routledge (2000)
BARRETT, W. P. THE TRIAL OF JEANNE D’ARC: Translated into English from the original French and Latin Documents. 1932. 24 April 2014.
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. “Joan of Arc: Heretic, Mystic, Shaman.” Speculum (1988): 620-622.
Brown, Steven T. “From Woman Warrior to Peripatetic Entertainer: the Multiple Histories of Tomoe.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (1998): 183-199.
Keegan, P. “Boudica, Cartimandu, Messalina and Agrippina the Younger: Indepdent Women of Power and the Gendered Rhetoric of Roman History.” (2014).
Nussbaum. “Tomoe Gozen.” Japan Encylcopedia (2005): 984.
Schriber, Mary Suzanne. “Justice to Zenobia.” The New England Quarterly (1982): 61-78
Toyohara Chikanobu, Tomoe Gozen with Uchida leyoshi and Hatakeyama no Shigetada. 1899. Artsanddesignsjapan.com,WikepdiaCommons