7 Warrior Women Who Really Existed (and Their History)

Warrior women

Recent discoveries of female human remains, dressed in warrior grave goods, have opened the debate about women’s access to war activities. Perhaps from our cultural perspective, deeply trodden by a patriarchal tradition, it is difficult for us to accept that there were people in the past that fully accepted women warriors.. On other occasions, they were truly isolated cases, but so notable that they are worthy of mention. In any case, history is never what it seems at first glance.

Some of the most important historical women warriors

In today’s article we offer you a review of 7 of the most important historical women warriors, from Boadicea, the fearsome British leader who faced Rome, to the almost unknown Nakano Takeko, the last female samurai.

1. Boadicea (30-60 AD), the fearsome British leader

Several classical sources attest to its existence. On the one hand, Dio Cassius, a Roman historian of the 3rd century, who provides us, among other things, with an extraordinary description of her queen and a detailed account of her war against Rome. On the other, Tacitus, who states that, after her defeat, she took her own life to avoid shame.

That Boadicea (or Boudica, as she was called by her people) existed is a certainty. Another thing is that, as often happens, its history has been adorned with legends and additions, closer to myth than reality. But what we do know is that she was the queen of the British people of the Iceni, settled in what is now Norfolk, and that, After suffering humiliation at the hands of the Romans (she was stripped naked and whipped and her two daughters were raped), she brought together all the peoples of Britain under her aegis in a coalition that tried to put an end to the Romans forever..

While Boadicea and his people maintained the guerrilla war, the Romans were lost. The beginning of the disaster for Boadicea and his people came with the idea of ​​facing the Roman army in the open field, something for which his British collation was not prepared. The crushing defeat occurred in a place called Watling Street. From then on, the legend emerged, and the fearsome British leader became an authentic nationalist symbol, spurred centuries later by Romanticism.


2. Princess Zhao of Pingyang (c. 600-623), the historical Mulan

The story of Hua Mulan, the young woman who dressed as a soldier to prevent her father from serving in the army, is collected in a series of songs called Ballad of Hua Mulan, probably written during the Tang dynasty (although they may be much older). and that experts agree that it is only a legend.

But, Although Hua Mulan did not exist beyond myth, a series of women did who, in China in the first centuries of our era, managed to take the reins of the armies.; some true stories on which the legend of Mulan is probably based.

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One of these royal cases is that of Princess Pingyang, formally called Princess Zhao of Pingyang. The daughter of Li Yuan, Duke of Tang, she helped her father in his rebellion against the ruling dynasty (the Sui) and inaugurated what would become the Tang dynasty, of which Li Yuan would be the first emperor.

When her husband, Chai Sao, joined Li Yuan in his uprising, Princess Pingyang, far from hiding or waiting for their return, divided her possessions to ensure the loyalty of several thousand men, and thus amassed an enormous army. to help father and husband. Sources speak of no less than 70,000 soldiers under his command, an army that began to be known as the “Lady’s Army.”. With him, and once united with that of Chai Sao, Pingyang conquered Chang’an, the capital of the Sui empire.

While some historians claim that later Tang propaganda magnified the princess’s role, it is indisputable that Pingyang played a leading role in the overthrow of Emperor Sui and the enthronement of her father Li Yuan as the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty. In fact, when the princess died, in 623, she was given funeral honors as a soldier and national hero.

Princess Zhao of Pingyang

3. Joan of Arc (1412-1431), the Maid of Orleans

When it comes to talking about Joan of Arc, words are unnecessary. Her figure is enormously well known, in part thanks to the numerous films that have been made about her story, as well as the great devotion that her figure inspires in France.

Who was Joan of Arc, better known as the Maid of Orleans? Born in the French town of Domrémy, the bosom of a humble peasant family, it seems that, from a very young age, she heard heavenly voices that urged her to fight for France. To understand these visions we must talk about the context in which Juana was born and grew up: the so-called Hundred Years’ War, a very long conflict that pitted the English and French crowns against each other and that, in Juana’s time, prevented the legitimate king, Charles , hold the crown of France.

The sources narrate how a teenager Juana meets with Carlos and proposes to him to lead his army. Aware of the numerous legends that spread through the country, in which it is said that a young maiden would give victory to the French, Carlos accepts her proposal. Thus, Joan of Arc, barely seventeen years old, takes command of the army and conquers the city of Orleans, which at that time was in the hands of the English.

It is thanks to his triumph that Charles can finally be crowned in Reims as Charles VII. However, the girl will be the victim of a plot between the English and the Burgundians, who will send her to the stake in Rouen after judging her and condemning her for heresy. Currently, historians point out two possibilities that would explain the girl’s supposed “visions”: Either she suffered from a mental illness or she was simply an ambitious woman, capable of inventing any trick to seize power. Who knows.

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Joan of Arc

4. Catalina de Erauso (c. 1585 – c. 1650), the “ensign nun”

As happens with the majority of women who play male roles, there are many additions to the life of Catalina de Erauso and Pérez de Galarraga that distort her historical figure. In fact, there is a supposed autobiography of hers, unpublished until the 19th century, which still adds more mystery to the matter.

It seems that Catalina was born around 1585 in Guipúzcoa, although her baptismal certificate dates from February 1592; too long a gap indicating that one of the two dates is wrong (unless, of course, she was baptized at the age of seven). Be that as it may, her father was a respected military man, with whom a young Catalina trained in the arts of war, as well as with her brothers..

Forced to profess vows (something that did not match her impetuous nature), Catalina escaped from the convent, at the age of fifteen and dressed as a man, on the eve of Saint Joseph’s Day in 1600. She then began a hectic life that astonished society. of the moment. Always disguised as a man and under various names, Catherine worked as a page for various gentlemen and, in 1603, at the age of eighteen (and still dressed as a man), we see her leaving for America. In Chile he served as a conqueror and showed a terrible side with which he massacred many natives.

Catalina had no choice but to confess that she was a woman so as not to be executed as a result of one of her (many) skirmishes. The most extraordinary thing was that, upon her return to Spain, King Philip IV maintained the rank of second lieutenant that he had achieved and, in addition, nicknamed her the nun second lieutenant, which shows that the recognition of her status as a woman was not an obstacle to her. that they gave him military honors. Not only that; The monarch allowed her to continue using his masculine name, Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán, and the pope, Urban VIII, gave her permission to continue wearing masculine clothes.

Catherine of Erauso

5. Nakano Takeko (1847-1868), the samurai woman

In the very masculinized samurai society, however, a small group of women called onna-musha stood out, who were trained in the arts of war to be able to defend their home in case of attack. Among these samurai women, Nakano Takeko stands out, one of the protagonists of the war that pitted this group against the imperial forces during the 19th century..

Daughter of an important samurai military leader, Nakano Heinai, the young woman was later adopted by her instructor, Akaoka Daisuke. With him she was intensely trained in the warrior discipline, a fact that made her one of the best trained onna-musha of hers.

In the famous battle of Aizu, framed in what is known as the Boshin War (which pitted many Japanese feudal lords against the emperor’s openness), Nakano Takeko fiercely defended the Wakamatsu fortress. During the scuffle she was fatally wounded in the chest.. Her honor was unable to allow her body to be assaulted by the attackers, so the young samurai asked her little sister to decapitate her. She was twenty-one years old. Her head was buried in a temple, with all her honors, and her burial was later a place of commemoration.

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Nakano Takeko

6. María Pita (1565-1643), the Galician heroine

María Mayor Fernández de Cámara y Pita was the great heroine of La Coruña (Galicia, Spain), that year of 1589, in which, after the defeat of the Invincible, and as terrible revenge for the affront, Elizabeth I of England sent the Galician coasts a fleet under the command of Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596), the former privateer captain protected by the queen.

Once again, the real story of María Pita is veiled by a romantic breath that the writers of the 19th century were responsible for extolling. However, It is true that this heroine bravely participated in the defense of the city; especially, after the death of her husband at the hands of the English invaders.

Legend has it that Mary, full of anger and thirst for revenge, snatched the English flag and, with the spear that held it, killed Francis Drake’s own brother. Then, shouting Quen teña honor, que me seguir (Whoever has honor, follow me!), she faced the corsairs with extreme bravery. Pita was not the only woman who defended La Coruña from the attack; Inés de Ben was another of these brave women, who, according to sources, was wounded in the fight.

Maria Pita

7. Njinga Mbandi (c. 1583-1663), the African queen who resisted the Portuguese

She is one of the most famous African ngola (queen), who bravely resisted the Portuguese incursions during the 17th century, which fell on the indigenous populations in search of slaves. Njinga Mbandi was the ruler of the territories of Ndongo and Matamba, located in present-day Angola, a name that, by the way, was given to her by the Portuguese from the appellation ngola.

The first records we have of the queen tell us that she was sent as an embassy of peace to the Portuguese, for which she was baptized with the name Ana de Sousa. One of the stories about the event tells us that, irritated to see that the Portuguese governor was installed in a chair and that the floor had been reserved for her, she told one of her servants to kneel so that she could sit on it and be at the same height as the Portuguese.

Despite the apparent coexistence, the peace treaty was soon broken, and Njinga, now as queen, took up arms to defend her people. The cause of the end of the treaty is uncertain; The only thing we know for sure is that Njinga Mbandi’s armies fiercely attacked the Portuguese for decades, with some brief period of cessation of hostilities in between..

The invincible warrior queen did not die, however, in battle. She died at the age of eighty, a natural death, after having signed another peace treaty with the Portuguese. A little later, Portugal took over most of the territory. The colonization of Africa began, which would see its peak in the 19th century.

Njinga Mbandi