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The question of female knights


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Core rulebook gives several good examples, but i found some more, and wanted to share it. It seams that female fighters was somewhat more accepted than commonly believed.

In general, i read that, in defence of castles and towns woman commonly participated by throwing stones and pouring boiling water. But there was also examples of woman operating war machines on the walls ("His head was smashed by a stone from a mangonel, operated, according to one source, by the donas e tozas e mulhers ("ladies and girls and women") of Toulouse"), and fighting more directly.

Isabella of France, during her regency once lead her army personally "wearing armour, and mounted on a warhorse". There is another similar example.  There also example of noble woman who became pirate leader for revenge sake. (which means that whole crew of 3 ship agreed to be leed by woman). Also example of girl who dressed as knight participated in jousting duel and won.  But even more interesting was certain Isabel of Conches:

Spoiler

" The Anglo-Norman historian Orderic Vitalis noted a feud between Isabel of Conches, wife of Ralph of Tosny and Helwise, Countess of Evreux, in the 1090s. He writes “Both the ladies who stirred up such bitter wars were persuasive, high-spirited, and beautiful; they dominated their husbands an oppressed their vassals, whom they terrorized in various ways. But they were very different in character. Helwise on the one hand was clever and persuasive, but cruel and grasping; whereas Isabel was generous, daring, and gay, and therefore lovable and estimable to those around her. In war she rode armed as a knight among the knights; and she showed no less courage among the knights in hauberks and sergeants-at-arms than did the maid Camilla, the pride of Italy, among the troops of Turnus. She deserved comparison with Lampeto and Marpesia, Hippolyta and Penthesilea and the other warlike Amazon queens…” "

What i find especially interesting is attitude expressed in contemporary sources about all them. It universally amazement and admiration. Quite unlike rejection they was supposed to express according to stereotypes. 😄

Of course they wasn't officially knights, but it turn out female knights (or at least women who was knighted) really existed. While they (usually) wasn't expected to fight, this still was great honor.

And i was surprised that among fictional examples was omitted Bradamante, who was knight in both title and function. Another literature example i found is The Adventures of Orlando and Melora (Eachtra Mhelóra agus Orlando), 16th-century Irish romance, where protagonist is Melora (Mhelóra) a.k.a. Knight of the Blue Surcoat, King Arthur daughter (!), who go on adventure to save her boyfriend.

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You can also add Marine of Alarie and her troop of women from Wigalois, Silence from the Roman de Silence, Avenable from a Merlin romance and of course Britomart and Palladine from Spenser’s Faerie Queen. All women knights from Arthurian litterature. Technically Spenser’s also adds Amazons and at least one huntress knowledgeable and in fighting . In the litterature the reactions are either acceptance (Marine, Spenser’s) or they had to pretend to be men (Avenable and Silence) to act as knights. I didn’t know about The adventures of Orlando and Melora, thanks for giving something to look for so I can read it.

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Worth noting the reference to Camilla and other female warriors from classical texts in Oleksandr’s quote from Orderic.  Medieval readers were familiar with such figures both from classical works and from medieval reworkings of the material.  These classical and medieval texts are not in some box that hermetically seals them from Arthurian literature — there’s no reason why a medieval reader of Virgil would switch off their ability to admire Virgil’s Camilla when writing a work influenced by the Aeneid, but with a different setting.

Edited by Voord 99
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I guess there are hundred of examples both real and fictional, but I cannot resist mentioning two Italian ones.

The most famous, almost legendary, is Grand Countess (Margravine) Matilda of Tuscany (1046 – 1115) who was a major political player on the European stage in her times and was also celebrated for her military virtues - even if the extent to which she directly took part in specifically knightly endeavors is disputed. She was enormously admired, but also hated by some - not surprisingly given the power she had and the conflicts in which she participated. In later centuries she became a quasi-mythical figure of warrior woman.

Less famous but really striking is the example of Princess Sikelgaita of Salerno (1040 – 1090), the Lombard wife of Duke Robert Guiscard of Apulia. She fought the Byzantines at the Battle of Dyrrhachium riding in full armor. The Byzantine Anna Comnena, not surprisingly, compared her to the Greek goddess Athena describing her with verses from the Iliad.

  

 

Edited by smiorgan
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smiorgan, well, Sikelgaita was among examples in rulebook. That's why i omitted her. 😉

As another example, i read that in early Robin Hood stories maid Marian was excellent archer and better fencer than Robin.

P.s. what i find funny is that, in modern highly politicized society, i meat angry comments in similar discussions from member of both extremes of political spectrumRight-wingers can't believe this because it doesn't align with attitude of "distant past" (a.k.a. last few generations), while left-wingers often reject it because middle ages supposed to be exclusively oppressive and unfair. 🤣

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28 minutes ago, Oleksandr said:

smiorgan, well, Sikelgaita was among examples in rulebook. That's why i omitted her. 😉

As another example, i read that in early Robin Hood stories maid Marian was excellent archer and better fencer than Robin.

P.s. what i find funny is that, in modern highly politicized society, i meat angry comments in similar discussions from member of both extremes of political spectrumRight-wingers can't believe this because it doesn't align with attitude of "distant past" (a.k.a. last few generations), while left-wingers often reject it because middle ages supposed to be exclusively oppressive and unfair. 🤣

Sorry, I don't have 5th edition Pendragon. I'm still at the 4th edition brick.

Ideological reading of the past is as ugly as widespread. For the Middle Ages it starts right from the Renaissance. And yeah for women's condition it's supposed to serve as the standard example of evil. 

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13 minutes ago, smiorgan said:

Ideological reading of the past is as ugly as widespread. For the Middle Ages it starts right from the Renaissance. And yeah for women's condition it's supposed to serve as the standard example of evil.

Yep. I was shocked how narrow minded such "ideological" reading of history can be. As particular example, in late medieval eastern European manor houses women spent a lot of time in one particular room. Some "researchers" concluded that, of course, they was forced to, like in islamic harem. Obviously, noblewomen couldn't simply choose to spend time in fanciest and most comfortable chamber in the house. 🤣 Whoever made this conclusion probably never met slavic women))

Anyway, to more interesting stuff. Since CAP mix later literature and historical early middle ages, this will be fitting too:

250141234_852695095395703_33859101287980

from Osprey publishing "Pictish warrior". Realistically, romans couldn't stampp out such traditions completely. Especially with all this picts, irish and hill tribesmen running around.

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There also evidence for similar germanic traditions earlier
 

Spoiler

102 BCE – A battle between Romans and the Teutonic Ambrones at Aquae Sextiae "the fight had been no less fierce with the women than with the men themselves... the women charged with swords and axes and fell upon their opponents uttering a hideous outcry." The women attacked both the Romans and the Ambrones who tried to desert.

102/101 BCE – General Marius of the Romans fought the Teutonic Cimbrians. Cimbrian women accompanied their men into war, created a line in battle with their wagons and fought with poles and lances, as well as staves, stones, and swords. When the Cimbrian women saw that defeat was imminent, they killed their children and committed suicide rather than be taken as captives

And later (1, 2, 3). It's entirely realistic that there could be warrior-women among anglo-saxon.

p.s. What also need to be pointed out (since it wasn't mentioned in rulebook) is that in cultures like ancient celts, where female combatants and military leaders was more common, attitude to violence against women was way more pragmatic, for obvious reasons. And this not align to well with "classic" chivalry...

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3 hours ago, Oleksandr said:

*MUCH SNIPPAGE*

p.s. What also need to be pointed out (since it wasn't mentioned in rulebook) is that in cultures like ancient celts, where female combatants and military leaders was more common, attitude to violence against women was way more pragmatic, for obvious reasons. And this not align to well with "classic" chivalry...

On the does "not align well with "classic" chivalry..." point, if I recall there was an adventure in an earlier Pendragon book of adventures which focused on "chivalry" where the PKs are trying to help teach a new knight about how chivalry works, and one of the tests is how to treat a female knight who is also Saxon.

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Yeah, there was also similar adventure, with Morgan Le Fay setting up test for knights (in Blood&Lust). However, realistically, with all this raids from pict, irish and saxons, most knights likely already fought (and killed) female opponent before. As i understand, older editions was closer to romances (and time period this romances was written), where female warriors was somewhat rarer than in real dark age Britain.

I also noticed that in some similar threads here many people expressed opinion that in Arthurian time female knights would be more common and accepted than in earlier phases of campaign. I have a feeling that (due to several factors) it would be the other way around...

P.s. in such discussion question about physical strength often raised. I read that, before stirrups was invented, cataphracts tied their lances t saddle, thus only strength of the horse was used to strike and bear recoil. Female knight may use same trick.

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1 hour ago, Oleksandr said:

I also noticed that in some similar threads here many people expressed opinion that in Arthurian time female knights would be more common and accepted than in earlier phases of campaign. I have a feeling that (due to several factors) it would be the other way around...

That's an interesting take!  Yes, I think you could certainly argue that, insofar as Escalation corresponds in many respect at least to historical "progress".  So eventually, I'm Henry the Eighth I Am, I Am -- strict egalitarian nor equity we're not.  But surely that's only one dimension to it:  there's the Christian vs Pagan thing, and there's the whole Magical Justice of Arthur himself, as that waxes and then wanes.  And maybe something there could be material PK agency in helping to determine, surely!

(Of only sociological (if even) interest, I happened across an utter trainwreck of a discussion on A Certain Other Forum, in which someone issued dire warnings that due to "leftest females" (sic), the next Pendragon will feature "mandatory" female knights.  I assume that means that otherwise David Larkins rides on his charger straight to your house, siege-engines his way inside, and then military-flails the rulebook out of your hand.)

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21 hours ago, Oleksandr said:

I also noticed that in some similar threads here many people expressed opinion that in Arthurian time female knights would be more common and accepted than in earlier phases of campaign. I have a feeling that (due to several factors) it would be the other way around...

That's my opinion, too.

I see early phases as being closer to actual 5th century britain, and having less emphasis on what is culturally acceptable.
You're a woman or a man and have the skills to fight on a horse ? Ok, fine, do it, at your own risks.
I'm not even sure I'd use the term "knight" at all.

i also think it should depend a lot on culture and religion. I think Pagan Cymri will be more enclined to accept femal knights than Christian Occitans.

Social rank is also another factor : if you're a Queen, no-one will publicly risk judging your behaviour.

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On 11/2/2021 at 4:13 PM, Alex said:

there's the Christian vs Pagan thing

4 hours ago, Mugen said:

i also think it should depend a lot on culture and religion. I think Pagan Cymri will be more enclined to accept femal knights than Christian Occitans.

It should be noted that early Christianity was far less strict toward women in comparison with later times (1, 2 (last part particularly)). But yes, Pagans probably seen even less issue with this.

And, since Arthur rule brought peace and prosperity (and a little bit of decadence😆), along with idea of Romance (all this "knight serving Lady" stuff, which some researchers interpret as early feminism), which means that lady can advance in society through court intrigue, with much less risk involved.

 

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5 hours ago, Mugen said:

I see early phases as being closer to actual 5th century britain, and having less emphasis on what is culturally acceptable.
You're a woman or a man and have the skills to fight on a horse ? Ok, fine, do it, at your own risks.
I'm not even sure I'd use the term "knight" at all.

"Knight" is definitely not applicable for me before Phase 1 (as we used to call it Back in the Day, though I think that went by the wayside a decade or two ago?), really not until nearer Phase 2 if you want to follow the historical parallels of the Escalation very closely.  Which of course is difficult and pointless to do after a certain point.  Whee, we're in the sixth century and the fifteenth at the same time, somehow!  Worse still if you get into the linguistics of the actual word...  until the 13th C. (playing the role of Phase 3), everyone of player character is speaking French, and the German root of "knight" means something more like "adolescent in training to be a warrior".

As to gender and status in 5th century Britain...  funnily enough just recently I was reading something of a tirade by a historian of the early medieval Celts about the "everything was much better for women in the EME, than Christianity showed up" narrative.  The extent laws were extremely to women's disadvantage, so the best-case assumption is that Anarchy -- and hence presumably utter lack of enforcement of them -- works to their overall good.  Which personally for me isn't sounding hugely likely to be historically accurate, but if it works for the premise of someone's game, then of course totally legit, go for it.

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27 minutes ago, Alex said:

Which personally for me isn't sounding hugely likely to be historically accurate, but if it works for the premise of someone's game, then of course totally legit, go for it.

The information we have is that the Britons, who were Christian since the Roman times in the West and Southwest!, in practice had significant power for women. (I shy away from terms like "Celt" because there wasn't really shared cultural norms across the channel, nor any awareness of relationship between Britons and Gaels, and the influx of the latter into the Isle of Briton and the probable invasion of the former into Ulster were just "oh shit barbarians".)

Hild of Whitby was England's first saint and it's been suggested her ascent to power was entirely powered by tapping into British networks of Christianity, where she would be respected as a political and spiritual leader. Born of noble heritage, she had no route to power in the kingdom of Deira. (Not that I am questioning her conversion, but)

Did this power mean only for nobles? Maybe. We don't know. But certainly it was notable in comparison to that of the Germanic societies.

Edited by Qizilbashwoman
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Personally, as a general rule of thumb, the way I'd handle it is that the more Romanized a part of Britain is, the more they've adopted Roman-style patriarchy and monopolization of arms. So the civitates where even common city-dwellers claim to be "Roman citizens" are the places least accepting of warrior women, then more generally any part of Britain that was subject to prolonged Roman rule and influence (i.e. most of modern England, including all of Logres), and so on. This will of course mean that those who oppose the idea will be able to argue that the practice is inherently barbaric and/or pagan, but even pagans in a place like Logres have likely grown unused to the idea of women warriors among themselves due to centuries of inevitable Roman influence in both culture and religion.

This isn't necessarily to pin the blame on Rome and Christianity or write pre-Christian Celtic paganism as idyllic and wonderful, though admittedly it's easy to read as that. It's just what I think is a good way to incorporate the stuff that's been discussed here in regards to women warriors among the Irish and Picts in particular but keep the phenomena something seen as relatively new and regarded with suspicion within the parts of Britain where most stories are likely to take place (and thus makes for good fodder for culture shock, either as knights go abroad or come from elsewhere).

You might write the rise in status and freedoms of women, only for it to start to degrade later into Arthur's reign, as just one of the many indications of the gradual decline of Arthur's reign, as Arthur and his realm start to stagger and totter under the weight of their own successes and their small failures and failings compound and start to come home to roost. You could even make it emblematic of Guenevere's failings in the way the fall of the realm is sometimes ascribed to Arthur's, as she becomes so consumed by things like the Courts of Love and her relationships with Arthur and Lancelot that she increasingly neglects the other aspects of womanly power that she once championed early on.

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15 hours ago, Alex said:

so the best-case assumption is that Anarchy -- and hence presumably utter lack of enforcement of them -- works to their overall good

Another thing about Anarchy, is that such unstable and violent times is very good incentive for women to learn some combat skills. As example of similar environment, in feudal Japan, while few women fought on the battlefield, all noblewomen was trained as warriors, just in case.

6 hours ago, Leingod said:

This isn't necessarily to pin the blame on Rome and Christianity or write pre-Christian Celtic paganism as idyllic and wonderful

I would say that it was more of a roman (perhaps greco-roman) influence on both Britain and Christendom as a whole.

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3 hours ago, Qizilbashwoman said:

(I shy away from terms like "Celt" because there wasn't really shared cultural norms across the channel, nor any awareness of relationship between Britons and Gaels, and the influx of the latter into the Isle of Briton and the probable invasion of the former into Ulster were just "oh shit barbarians".)

I had that qualm the other way around;  to wit that the specific evidence of terrible legal position of women in Britain and Ireland in that period didn't preclude just moving the "Celtic Druidical Princess Crap" (as that author put it) over the Channel, or back-dating it a tad.

 

3 hours ago, Qizilbashwoman said:

Did this power mean only for nobles? Maybe. We don't know. But certainly it was notable in comparison to that of the Germanic societies.

Or power "in practice" contrary to the legal baseline so rare as to be the exception that's worth jotting down for future generations.

Is that the comparison we wish to make, though?  Surely the question is more whether the situation in Late Romano- or Early-Early Medieval Britain is notably better than High or Late Medieval England?  Or perhaps more precisely, better than the literary norms for what we're typically presenting as medievalised Arthurian stories, variable as that itself of course is.  Of course that's itself very much moving the goalposts from "historical" -- KAP situation normal, naturally enough, so why angst too much about it too much.

I think personally for me the game issue here is much less the history -- want a different opinion, ask a different historian.  It's what's the game arc will look like.  Do we really want to present Phase 0 as a gender-role utopia, and then crush every non-traditional avenue slowly away?  (OK, the Arthurian story is indeed a tragedy, but customarily mainly when we eventually get to Phase 5!)

 

8 hours ago, Leingod said:

You might write the rise in status and freedoms of women, only for it to start to degrade later into Arthur's reign, as just one of the many indications of the gradual decline of Arthur's reign, as Arthur and his realm start to stagger and totter under the weight of their own successes and their small failures and failings compound and start to come home to roost.

Status I can see, but which freedoms in particular?  Are we going to have warrior women in Phase 2, and pedestals and gilded cages in phase 4?  Or something more like the opposite?

 

2 hours ago, Oleksandr said:

Another thing about Anarchy, is that such unstable and violent times is very good incentive for women to learn some combat skills.

Certainly.  But it'll make for a very awkward narrative, for my money, if that looks like Rosy the Riveter works out great, and then it's back to behind the pinny (or period- and class-appropriate equivalent).

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17 minutes ago, Alex said:

Do we really want to present Phase 0 as a gender-role utopia, and then crush every non-traditional avenue slowly away?

Well, as i pointed out earlier, in culture where female warrior are more common, and women don't by default seen as weak and helpless, attacking and killing women seen as not different than attacking man. Glimpses of such attitude remains in oldest celtic literature (even filtered by monks edition), but many women would not perceive this as utopia.

21 minutes ago, Alex said:

Are we going to have warrior women in Phase 2, and pedestals and gilded cages in phase 4? 

There was some research which imply that women on average tend to be less reckless and more pragmatic than men (admittedly, some people find this controversial...). Which suggest that many women would prefer "gilded cages" but with great potential for power behind the scene. Especially when such intrigue and manipulation not just acceptable, but encouraged.

Meanwhile, in earlier phases, when "might may right", there is big incentive to be combatant. In other words, it's big, but not entirely unrealistic cultural shift (besides, game is already anachronistic, and compress centuries of changes). On the other hand, rarity of female knights in later phases make them more unique, hence period appropriate amazement and admiration.

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4 minutes ago, Oleksandr said:

Well, as i pointed out earlier, in culture where female warrior are more common, and women don't by default seen as weak and helpless, attacking and killing women seen as not different than attacking man. Glimpses of such attitude remains in oldest celtic literature (even filtered by monks edition), but many women would not perceive this as utopia.

Big difference between "deep culture" and the sort of relatively brief Anarchy of an interregnum, though.  Though that cannons into what Phase -1, Phase -2, etc, etc were like, so maybe that's a less than helpful framing.  I guess if you're seeing that as essentially continuous from "look to your own defence" in 410, it'd be pretty bedded down.

 

4 minutes ago, Oleksandr said:

There was some research which imply that women on average tend to be less reckless and more pragmatic than men (admittedly, some people find this controversial...).

I think I took a wrong turn someplace and ended up in the Orlanthi Homelands discussion! 🙂

 

4 minutes ago, Oleksandr said:

Which suggest that many women would prefer "gilded cages" but with great potential for power behind the scene. Especially when such intrigue and manipulation not just acceptable, but encouraged.

Which is precisely the "traditional roles" character option (maybe minus the "enchantress" one we kinda-sorta had for a while).  Certainly this has possibilities.  It tends to get pushback on the grounds of baking sexism into the (broad sense) game system, and because making them at all playable in practice means much more far-reaching changes to the game as a game.  Entirely changes the procedures, the flow, the "default" game activity.   While I'm not suggesting that Mandate-by-Mace (cavalry mace, naturally!) is at all the way forward, each of those options probably needs more explicit support and discussion than the game has traditionally (as it were) done.

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30 minutes ago, Alex said:

I guess if you're seeing that as essentially continuous from "look to your own defence" in 410, it'd be pretty bedded down.

It looks like all period from 410 onward (and, to lesser degree, long period of roman decline beforehand) wasn't much better than Anarchy. Few brief periods of relative stability notwithstanding. Constant raids and attacks from nearly all sides, especially by more conservative celts (i.e. ones who had female warriors in largish numbers)...

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44 minutes ago, Alex said:

Not following your rationale, there.

What do you mean? 🤨 It's all logical. Realms, regularly attacked by raider gangs that include female combatant, may become more accepting of their own amazons. And, since such raiders are less likely to spare women (for aforementioned reasons), women of attacked lands are more likely to learn self defense.

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