[Yes, the woman who named her site after a VNV Nation song just dropped a Wu Tang reference. Not even sorry.]
My husband has a huge head and a normal neck. Those of us who sew know what this means, it means a gaping maw of a neckline that shows off the Norman’s delicate ginger skin. And while it’s nothing a nice brooch and a gallon of sunblock can’t fix, it’s not -right-.
I’ll be posting soonish on dressing my husband in Byzantine, (yes, really, men’s garb, you heard it hear first), as well as including a new page on Norman Garb here on my site (*faints*) but I needed to reassess my approach toward fit.
During my short time in Caid, I had a discussion with a friend about necklines. American reenactors and re-creators make our necklines too big. After her visit to Scandinavia and meeting with Viking reenactors in the land of Where This Stuff Actually Happened, she gave me some tips on how to fix my stupidity.
I’m sure that this technique is known to a few people and I’m going to get a “WELL, DUH!” Gibbs Slap in the comments, but knowing also that there’s some derpy sewers out there who probably make the same mistakes I do, this post is important.
For the longest time, I’ve been following a formula given to me a while ago: You draw your neckline 3-4″ each way from the center point, 2″ down in the back, 4″ down in the front, and add a keyhole slit. This gives a lopsided oval effect with a shorter back than front, which is essential for comfort, but it’s just too wide around the neck. My husband’s head is 26″, his neck is 17″. He’s not a jacked guy, but he’s tall and broad, so making garb that doesn’t choke him has been a challenge.
Here is my new hack: Neckline gauges.
A true circle with the circumference of our necklines (13.5″ for me, 17″ for him), marked up showing increments of 1/2″ from the back toward the center mark. Ignore where it says “+ allowance”, I tried that and it made it too big. Just go with the regular neck measurement, the hem or facing will take care of that ease.
You place the gauge on the fabric, center mark matching to the dead center of where you want the neckline to be. Then, move it forward to where you want the depth of the back to be. I’ve done both 1″ and 1.5″ with good results. The dotted line helps you maintain the angle toward the front, and where you can mark your slit.
Here I am demonstrating it on a piece of scrap linen:
Give that a shot. Practice on a scrap and put it over your head. You should have a neckline that comes right up if not a bit above the clavicle, and looks more accurate. Voila!!
Clearly, a closed slit is vital to the tight necks in Byzantine artwork, but you never see the slit! What do we do?
I’ve constructed this for my husband with great results, both with, and without the band collar. This is also where I learned to NOT ADD A SEAM ALLOWANCE ON THE NECKLINE. I’ll be posting a better walkthrough once I’m done with his new collection of tunics so I can discuss my experience using the pattern above.
The other option is to put the slit off-center. The most common is just down the left side of the neck, as seen in the Alb of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Palermo Tunicella. While both not “Byzantine” garments, the Eastern influence is evident.
No, really. Somehow, it ended up in a box of our holiday decorations because that’s how military packers and movers roll.
We aren’t pros, we have a basic know-how of the art thanks to a couple classes at Pennsic, and dropped a few hundred dollars on supplies because it sounded like a good idea at the time and then FORGOT ALL ABOUT IT.
So we decided to fire it up and see what kind of horrible we could make. We have a Sutton Hoo-era Coronation for our last hurrah here in Caid, so might as well go all out with some Anglian enameled jewelry. Sure, we could totally do this.
Deciding that we were going to turn our early Anglian garb into Founders Era Harry Potter subtle SCA cosplays of Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor (Yes, I know that they founded the school in the 10th Century and not the 6th, but they were Anglo-Saxon so bear with my madness, please, we go any later and my Norman husband will declare war on himself and things get messy) I started planning stuff out, since I’d be doing most of the work, anyway. I needed brooches, but since I’m Ravenclaw, I needed some house pride. I’m really unsure if the plethora of bird brooches used between the Anglo-Saxon, Frankish/Merovingian, and Gothic cultures were used on the peplos dresses, but I decided to take that risk for my impression.
Now, there’s some REALLY IMPRESSIVE enameled and inset stone eagle fibulae out there. Way beyond what I can do, so I needed to keep it simple. I found that Quiet Press had a style I could possibly emulate, only in red, but I wanted to find his source before being a jerk and ripping off a respectable merchant I buy from frequently. I have no intention of selling my enameling work, or even attempting to compete in the reenactment jewelry market, ever, so I used that thought as a soothing mechanism, and reminded myself I was still learning. I still sought to find a few other birds I could work from for my “eagles.” (Let’s face it, they all look like Gonzo.)
This guy is from a lot at Christie’s, and I decided I liked the wire work for the cloisonne and the inclusion of the pearl. As you can see, red garnets were the thing for this period, but it didn’t work with the color scheme I’m going for.
Finding enough supporting evidence for my Gonzos and some line variants, I went ahead and made my shape, and the Norman cut them out of copper, which was chosen for the type of enamel we have. They do make enamels for bronze, brass, gold, silver, etc, but we have the copper kit. I sat, watching some bad television, and filed the edges of my birds down while the kiln warmed up. It went pretty fast.
Once things got hot, I went ahead and prepped the pieces with the clear base coat:
And fired them:
Once they were fully cooled, I started the wire work. A note about the temp: this is not a “fresh out of the oven” hot, this is surface of the sun hot. You will get severely injured if you are not cautious. This is 20g copper wire. It took me quite a bit of time, and I used Thompson Blue Stic glue to keep it down. I am unsure if any adhesive was used in period, but I assure you, it’s a pain if your wires move. It’s also a lot easier to work with smaller cuts of wire, as I found out almost immediately. Hopefully as I improve, I can handle manipulating larger pieces.
Once the glue was dried, completely (this is not a “fast” art), I put down the blue enamel, emulsified in water.
Fire! You can see how red-hot the stones get.
And cooling down to the blue. I had to do a second coat with the enamel since I had some coverage issues.
Husband made some fibulae pins from brass wire, and he showed me how to solder them on in about 5 minutes. Again, HOT. LET COOL. OMG. SO EASY TO REALLY BURN YOURSELF.
And then the sanding. This is how you get your wires to show up again, after oxidizing in the kiln. During the process, one of the brooches popped some air bubbles in the enamel. This upset me, but I’ve seen period pieces with similar imperfections. Part of the learning curve, I suppose. I was still pretty pleased (see also, hooting, hollering, and down right ECSTATIC over how these were coming out.)
For the finishing touch…pearl eyes. We gently sawed a couple pearls in half to get the right size, and glued them in the eye sockets. The period technique would have them set in, but I’m not really there as a jeweler, and probably never will be, but Gieffrei insisted I do this almost entirely myself, so…E6000 it was.
But seriously though…they aren’t museum quality works of art, but I am insanely proud of this project. Behold, Rowena Ravenclaw’s Gonzo, I mean, Eagle, fibulae!
I have a long way to go before I’m ready to do intricate Byzantine style enamels, but it certainly beats my “warm-up” project from the day before.
I learned a lot. I think I learned how to do some troubleshooting on the appearance of the enamel, but this is going to take some time to really get into. I have some great friends in the East Kingdom that do enameling, so next I see them, I’ll have to see what kind of tips they can give to work with the minimal tools we own. I don’t know if we’re going to invest in a larger kit just yet, because it’s not our primary art form, but rather another corner of the Middle Ages that have entered our home. Or rather the entirety of our dining room. In fact, we had a ton of friends over on Saturday to give it a try with us, and we had a ton of fun with great results just after 2 little projects.
Well, I suppose Godric Gryffindor needs some kind of lions next. Stay tuned for the next segment of our Anglian Experience.
So I’m currently in the lead over at Fabrics-store.com’s Reenactment and Costume Contest, which is sort of funny, because I had to get my arm twisted to enter anyway. It’s even funnier than it’s our Norman garb, but I digress, I could use some votes to stay on top!
It’s simple! Just make an account (free!) and vote once every 24 hours for the next 2 days. The store doesn’t spam you with emails, and you can toggle that once you have an account. I would also appreciate a share or two on social media if you can spare the milliseconds and bandwidth.
We have an event here in Calafia called Winter Arts. Being that it’s one of the few events in the barony where you’re indoors, typically, you want some fancy duds. Back in September, a group of us decided that we would tackle something different, and something different being Burgundian.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure 99.9% of the women and those identifying as such, who grew up with Sleeping Beauty, wanted a dress with a hennin and to be a princess and spin in circles and look pretty all the time when they were little.
…The 1% was me, who wanted to be Maleficent, but anyway, I digress. Burgundian is that clothing style that invokes the memory of a romantic High Middle Ages of pointy hatted damsels and dramatic gowns of fur and fancy fabrics. So, why the hell NOT do it?
Being that I was moving soon (note that past tense for the moment), I set limits for myself on what I could and could not use when drafting this project.
1: All fabric needed to come from my stash, or have minimal cost.
2: If I finished my gown, Gieffrei would get his, but not vice versa.
3: I would make the ridiculous hat and be fabulous. 4: I would absolutely not use that fuchsia linen and be Maleficent.
Being that my fabric is mostly Byzantine, as a result, so was my Burgundian. I had a ton of black ecclesiastical stuff I picked up at a yard sale last year, and I decided that would be my gown, because nothing says high gothic garb like being…gothic. The kirtle I would totally do the right way with front lacing and make it fitted and supportive. By myself. Okay, sure, Anna. The fur I got from a friend who has bags and bags of the stuff because she does viking living history and random people just give it to her. So, I got the real mink. I don’t mind using real fur, especially if the animals had been dead long before I was born. Or in this case, my grandmother was born. We’re talking some seriously old vintage sleeves.
For the patterns, I used a combination of Reconstructing History, and the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant. I probably didn’t NEED the paper patterns, but sometimes I need a bit more of a visual in order to grasp a new concept, after that, I usually “get” it. Kass’ patterns are usually pretty simple blocks that give me a lot of leeway for customization and fitting, anyway.
These were my stages of madness:
First garment: The front laced kirtle. Second garment: The v-necked gown. Third garment: Gieffrei’s houppelande. Fourth garment: Gieffrei’s chaperon. Fifth garment: My double hennin. INTERMISSION: The epic meltdown. Sixth garment: Replacement Caid-friendly kirtle. Finishing touches.
First garment: The front laced kirtle.
I’ve wanted to be fitted for a cotehardie for a while, now. Despite all the crap I give my friends in the 14th Century Mafia (who all rightly deserve it,) I’m intrigued at the idea of having a supportive garment that is comfortable for all-day wear at an event. The short-sleeved type I attempted is more fashionable in the 15th Century, and often seen with contrasting, decorative sleeves. Using the basic bodice block that came in the RH pattern, I extended the skirt from it, versus attaching one at the waist seam (this is also seen in some period artwork I came across.) The real bitch was fitting it. You cannot do this by yourself. It was Thanksgiving night in my house, I was upstairs getting my chest jacked up by a friend who had come over for dinner. It’s what SCAdians do on holidays.
I need tweaks, but I did end up with a supportive gown. The material is a light wool coating, and it will work great as an undergarment, or a standalone dress. I figure once I get a proper fitting and pattern made for -me-, I’ll be way more successful, but as my first attempt at any form of the Gothic Fitted Dress, I can’t complain. I am soooooo not used to the wider neckline, though. I feel like it’s staying up by some sort of magic, and I pretty much feel naked, even though that is the style. (I also look pregnant, which is also, an unfortunate piece of historical accuracy that modern sensibilities need to get over.)
…Then I checked the weather. San Diego wasn’t going to get cooler than the 70s-80s for the event. Wool under brocade, even indoors, could be a death sentence. Did I have time to make another fitted one from linen? No. I would have to improvise, so I set this aside for another day. It’s currently hanging up on my closet door, needing more eyelets and a hem, and body linen, because wool against the skin is awful. I will be returning to this project.
Second garment: The v-necked gown.
This was way easier than I thought it would be. Rectangular construction on the body, fitting your figure on the side seams above the gore, and inset sleeves. I finished the bulk of the gown itself in a matter of 2 hours on my machine. The hard part would be the fur, but that was being saved for later. I skipped the train, because I don’t like people stepping on my garb. Fortunately, there was plenty of fullness without it. The v-neck is simply shaped out of the front seam.
Third and Fourth Garments: Gieffrei’s houppelande and chaperon.
Jeff was super reluctant to do this, SUPER reluctant. Not all men are into the idea of fancy later period, so it took some coercing. I would make the garments in the larger, less fitted style versus the short, pleated doublets of younger men seen in period artwork. This also eliminated my need to fit my husband for joined hose, and he could get away with wearing a set of braies and chausses. I had a nice herringbone linen tunic he could wear as his undershirt, and we would just fluff him up with accessories to give the period look.
I was short on fabric for the houppelande, but I did what I could. He basically had no gores to add any sort of fullness, so I had to work with the width of the brocade. This resulted it things getting off center and making me want to cry.
In the end, it came out passable. AND FAKE FUR IS AWFUL TO WORK WITH.
I also knocked out his chaperon/dagged hood in about a half hour. I did this the traditional way, just cutting the hood out of the wool and sewing 2 seams. Then you roll the face opening of the hood up and plop it on top of your head so you look like a weirdo. Bam! Instant hoodlum. (This is where the term comes from!)
Fifth garment: My double hennin.
We had a hat day that included brunch and mimosas. If you don’t craft with mimosas and brunch, I highly recommend you try it, it seriously helps.
I’m not a hat maker, I’m pretty awful at it, so I was expecting to make a regular truncated hennin and lappet, and call it a day.
But no, Anna can’t do anything basic.
Adelwyn made the pattern for the double hennin from The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, and my brain went full on Sleeping Beauty evil fairy queen at the sight of it, and the rest was history. We shared the pattern, and I got to fight with buckram.
And that’s when Maleficent was born. I decided that I would cover the hennin in the same black fabric as my gown, and I would make the replacement kirtle out of this fuchsia linen I had just laying around in my stash. It wouldn’t be exact, as Maleficent is clearly wearing a houppelande and not a fitted gown, but I would make it work.
INTERMISSION: The epic meltdown.
There is one thing worse than real life punching your SCA, and that’s real life punching your EVERYTHING. Without warning or explanation, Gieffrei’s orders back to the East Kingdom were cancelled, nine days out from turnover and twelve days from our scheduled move. He was being rerouted to an unincorporated corner of Meridies on the Trimaris border in February.
This sucked the life out of me. Right. Out. I already suffer from depression and anxiety, and I will be making a post about this next, but this was like taking a baseball bat to the chest. What about our house? What about my job? What about my life? Everything we had planned to do when we got back to New England was ripped out from underneath us like a carpet in a cartoon, and it hurt just as much.
In one final blow, his current position ordered him to work during the event, after I had done all of this sewing for the both of us.
Winter Arts stopped mattering. I was ready to toss the project aside, curl into a ball and cry while I mourned the next 3 years of my life. Jeff was having none of this. I got dragged upstairs back to my studio, and told to finish it for him. He stood and watched as I cut the covers for my hennin, and he gently cut the seams on the vintage mink for me while I sat at the sewing machine spewing vicious epithets at the US Navy (which didn’t hear me). The project was now a rage sew, versus a fun new thing.
Sixth garment: Replacement Caid-friendly kirtle.
Nothing special about this, just making the wider neckline out of a typical tunic dress. Fighting my depression, I threw this together in 2 hours of absolute rage including industrial music at full blast and yerba mate tea. I wasn’t sleeping anyway, so it no longer mattered. I think it was like 10pm when I took this picture.
I was down to the wire. The hennin needed to be covered, attached, and veiled. After I covered the buckram, I made the fillet out of black velvet, and put it on over my gold snood. This provided a base for the pins, and created friction to keep the hat on. Normal hennins that encompass the entire head will sit on your head without pins as long as this band or lappet is in place. It’s a neat trick. I dug out one of my favorite dirty pilgrim badges as a piece of flare.
The night before, I was working on the belt and Adelwyn came over, and I helped her figure out the last pieces of her puzzle. Isolde also showed up, and offered to attend the event as Gieffrei so the garb would get worn.
I still had to attach the fur and the sleeves to my gown. There are no pictures of this. It’s me, on the couch, sneezing a lot from handling old fur, and tacking it down onto my dress in a manner that I could remove it.
Around 9pm, I finished.
I have to admit, I totally felt like a damn princess. Not in the SCA sense, but in the little girl fairy tale sense. Pointy hats, full dresses, this is the Middle Ages we all know as a little kid. The best part, is that everybody in the group did different variations of the houppelande or fitted v-neck gown, so we really looked like the amalgamation of color and hats that is seen in the period paintings. Totally worth the stress.
I had to throw in this last finishing touch. Maleficent leggings to give the stealth cosplay a bit more fluff.
So, you want to have a Byzantine persona? Welcome to the ranks of the mysterious medieval orient.
This, and more, are going to become a page here on my site shortly *points up to links*, I just need to find time to sit down and do it. Until then, I feel the information I am presenting here is somewhat necessary for SCAdians to find direction in their path, either to a full-fledged persona, or a garb project for a themed event.
Often, when people ask me what a Byzantine should wear, I respond with, “What period?”
This gets me a look of total confusion, and a response of, “You know, Byzantine.” I take a deep breath, and prepare to either bore the poor individual to tears with a well-rehearsed speech on the massive construct that was over 1000 years of history, or I open the flood gates and get them more excited about digging into more. I always hope it’s the latter, but the foremost argument I have to make is this:
There is no “Byzantine period.”
Repeat after me:
There is no “Byzantine period.”
That is the equivalent of asking somebody for French garb, and nobody ever just says “French”, there’s usually a century attached to it. Why is this never the case when it comes to Byzantine? Byzantine, like French, is a culture, it’s a place, it’s not a standalone period.
The Byzantine Empire, which is an anachronistic term for the Eastern Roman Empire, was the longest running medieval culture in Christendom. I use that term specifically, since it was not really a European culture, as much as it was an “Eastern” culture, or, generally referred to as “oriental.” Of course, that word today has a completely different connotation that comes across as somewhat pejorative of the Far East, but in actuality, it literally just means “eastern”, and that is exactly how the Western Europeans viewed the Romans, whom they referred to as Greeks. Both are correct, but a Roman would never call themselves Greek. 😉 They barely viewed themselves on the same plane of existence as the rest of the continent, as it was, and as my brother just haughtily remarked on my Facebook page less than 3 minutes after announcing I was writing this post, viewing the Eastern Romans as “medieval” is even somewhat insulting, but for the sake of the instructional nature of what I’m trying to do, this is the approach I’m taking. (What can I say? Byzantines were snooty people.)
So, as a newcomer, consider the Byzantines the medieval Greeks, because that is exactly who they were. Wash the romantic imagery of draped clothing, columns, and Socrates out of your head, because I know that’s exactly where you went. 😉 While ultra-early Byzantine would be basically Roman, let’s fast forward a bit to the 6th Century, during the reign of Justinian and Theodora. Here, we find what most scholars refer to as the shift into what is considered “Byzantine,” versus Late Antiquity. The culture did shift, and with that, so did clothing, language, religion, law, architecture, etc.
This is the period most SCAdians view as “Byzantine”, the 3 pages in their Western Civilization textbook devoted to the laws of Justinian and how his wife may have been a prostitute, and onto the feudal system you go in the next chapter. This is where I need my readers to start thinking outside of this box, because you’re looking at a total of 38 years encapsulated within the time Constantine renamed the Greek town of Byzantium to the new Roman capital of Constantinople in 330, to 1453 when Constantinople was taken by the Ottoman Turks. That’s a lot time to assume that everybody wore exactly what Justinian and Theodora wore in the San Vitale mosaics.
I break the Byzantine Empire down into 4 parts for ease of understanding culturally, but there were still shifts within. Heck, I just got an older book this week on the cultural changes between the 11th and 12th Century, which is where I “live”, so even I still need to do more nailing down.
The Byzantine Periods According to Anna:
Roman Period 330-500 CE Early Byzantine Period (including Iconoclasm) 500-900 CE Middle Period (Golden Age) 900-1204 CE Late Period (Collapse) 1261-1453 CE
Important dates you NEED TO KNOW:
First Iconoclastic Period: 726-787 Second Iconoclastic Period: 814-882 Establishment of the formal Varangian Guard: 980’s Sack of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade:April 12th, 1204 Latin Empire/Empire of Nicaea: 1204-1261 Empire of Trebizond: 1204-1461 Despotate of Epirus: 1204-1479 Fall of Constantinople: May 29th, 1453
I’m not going to go into a detailed history of the Fourth Crusade and the successor empires during this post, but as you can see, after the sack in 1204 by the crusaders, things kinda hit the fan and shattered. The Empire did not recover fully, and it remained unstable through to the absolute fall at the hands of the Ottomans in 1453. In my opinion, both scholarly and SCAdianly, anybody who wants a persona post-1204 has their work cut out for them. It can be done, it SHOULD be done, but I have yet to really see anybody nail it. My persona was probably dead by the mid 12th Century, so it’s all science fiction to me. 😛 Likewise, anybody looking for sources during the 8th and 9th centuries will also run into a lot of dead ends. Iconoclasm resulted into the loss of most artistic record from that period and earlier, which is why we have more illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, and mosaics from the 11th and 12th centuries than we do the 6th and 7th. These are all unfortunate events that are part of the Empire’s history, and as researchers and re-creators, we need to come to terms with it. Some things will just not be done easily, but what you can find could be incredibly rewarding.
I’m going to wrap up this post with a short selection on clothing, since that’s what a lot of people want to know about. When I make my full page, I’ll go into more detail regarding other factors.
Sumptuary laws are, and always were, a thing. Many pieces of artwork we have are just of imperials, and the average aristocrat, and certainly not the commoners, would be wearing the same fashions as their rulers. While, as far as I know, there are no harsh rules in the SCA regarding dress aside from peerage elements and coronets in some kingdoms, in period a fashion faux pas could be devastating depending on when and where you lived, so if you plan to take the Byzantine route seriously, such laws need to be taken into account when it comes to your wardrobe, both male and female. Even shoe color was regulated. That idea of Byzantines always wearing red shoes? Drop it. That was for Imperials ONLY according to De Cerimoniis, a court manual written in the 10th Century. Prior to that? It seemed to be more widespread. Little things like that can make the difference between, “That guy in the clavii striped tunic and red shoes is a Byzantine” to, “Wow! You’re wearing something I’m not familiar with as Byzantine, tell me more.” There is so much of this culture that the SCA has just not explored.
Look at the differences between the clothing in the images below just to get a sense of how much things really changed over time.
The purpose of this post is, of course, not to chastise, but rather remind folks that there’s so much more out there to explore. Break out of the SCAdian conscience of just “Being Byzantine”, and find your home somewhere within your own personal One True Century, within the One True Empire.
If you don’t have a subscription, I will post an update as soon as the stock clerk has them available on the SCA website. I plan to also purchase additional copies aside from my author copies, and have them available at Birka.
I know I haven’t been posting as much as I used to. I do have content coming, but I was focusing on getting this off the ground, and, preparing for another fun-filled exciting cross-country move back to the East Kingdom from Caid. I was hoping they’d give us another winter in SoCal, but nooooooo. 😦
Yet another find of women’s bones in a Norse gravesite, and the media blows up that she was a a fierce, Viking warrior before the archaeologists get her in the lab.
It seems like modern men and women, dazzled by the success of Vikings, really want to grasp at anything that comes across questionable websites as truth, that they forget that there’s plenty of evidence of women engaging in combat and more, aside from the legendary Norse shieldmaidens, who were, very much a real thing. Fauxhawks and Game of Thrones costume cast offs not required.
“Yeah, but did women really fight?”
I get this one a lot, being a medievalist and a SCAdian. Women absolute fight in the SCA, we have female knights and masters-of-arms. We’ve had Princesses and Queens that fought and won Coronet and Crown Tournaments in their own right. It definitely is a dream come true for many a girl and those identifying as such. It was, after all, drilled in through their childhood that women were nothing more than damsels in distress locked in towers, as their brave knightly husbands went off to fight the evil baron next fiefdom over.
Yeah, that’s utter crap, based on Victorian subjugation, leading to ideas of women should be seen and not heard. The romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelites fueled the fire of an idealized Middle Ages consisting of pointy hats and flowing gowns that fit perfectly over the hourglass corset that they clearly all wore. *eyeroll*
“Wait, are you saying that women went off to battle?”
You bet your bezants they did.
I mean, we all know about Eleanor of Aquitaine, right? Eleanor, the richest woman in Western Europe, married Louis VII of France, and went off on the Second Crusade with a parade of her ladies in waiting. Whether or not she actually rode in bare-breasted like an Amazon, of course, is disputed, but a fun legend, nonetheless. She came home, annulled Louie because she had the balls to leave him for Henry II, and ended up outliving all but one of her children.
Niketas Choniates, in his O City of Byzantium, did compare her to the mythical Queen of the Amazons and had many nice things to say about her. What he said about other Frankish and German women coming in on horseback, fully armored, left little to be desired:
“…But while the emperor governed the empire in this fashion, a cloud of enemies, a dreadful and death-dealing pestilence, fell upon the Roman borders: I speak of the campaign of the Germans, joined by other kindred nations. Females were numbered among them, riding horseback in the manner of men, not on coverlets sidesaddle but unashamedly astride, and bearing lances and weapons and men do; dressed in masculine garb, they conveyed a wholly martial appearance, more mannish than the Amazons. One stood out from the rest as another Penthesilea, and from the embroidered gold with ran around the hem and fringes of her garment was called Goldfoot.” (Choniates, p35.)
So, while Eleanor paraded in like a queen, it seems that her ladies, or rather actual women soldiers, weren’t worthy of the title of Amazon. Ouch. It certainly sounds like there were an impressive amount of women outside of Eleanor’s retinue, as he seems to focus on the Germans, versus Franks. There was enough dealings between both the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, and France, to know they were separate kingdoms.
Of course, this is just the opinion of one man, who was an ecclesiastic, so conservatism was his middle name.
On the other hand, Anna Komnene seems to admire the feats of Sichelgaita, wife of Robert Guiscard, during the Battle of Dyrrhachium as she wrote in The Alexiad. So much, as a matter of fact, she compared her to Athena. (Alexiad, IV.6, page 121 in the Penguin edition.)
Timothy Dawson, in By the Emperors Hand, provides a brief description of women being involved in the defense of the Byzantine Empire in the 12th Century, including a female spy, as written by Theofanes, and archers and stonethrowers who garbed themselves as men, as written by Bishop Evstathios. (Dawson, Plate 8.)
And those are just Byzantine sources, and not even all of them.
According to Ramon Muntaner in his memoirs as part of the Catalan Grand Chronicles, a well-built Spanish woman donned armor to go fetch herbs outside of the walls of Perelada, when it was under Frankish control during the years of the Spanish March. She was attacked by a French knight on horseback. She unhorsed him with a lance, and forced him to yield. You can find his whole chronicle here: http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/muntaner_goodenough.pdf
Speaking of the Spanish, let’s not forget the Order of the Hatchet, an actual chivalric order for women from the town of Tortosa in Catalonia dated to 1149. Unfortunately there is not a lot on it, as it seems after the initial wave, no further members were added, and the order died with its members. The basis appears to be that women of the town donned men’s armor, and weapons, including hatchets, and basically went to town against the Moorish occupants. The Count of Barcelona was so impressed, he created the Order for the women that fought.
According to this site, the Order of the Garter’s bylaws from as early as the 17th Century, include the origin of the Order of the Hatchet. Velde also lists several other medieval orders for women, including The Order of the Glorious Saint Mary from 13th Century Italy. Martial prowess is not mentioned.
Badassery didn’t stop at just being able to fight, as being able to lead or even wield a pen was just as potent. So if you’re not a fighter, that doesn’t mean you can’t be fierce.
Yeah, we know Anna Komnene wrote her father’s biography (and frankly, she’s my Byzantine spirit animal), but have you heard of Christine de Pizan? Most medieval enthusiasts have, and I know that some students in AP European History had to read her, but if you haven’t, you should. She was well trained in writing and rhetoric, and served as a court writer for several French dukes.
She did no harm, but took no shit.
And I mean none.
In between writing for dukes, composing poetry and political treatises, she completed her magnum opus The Book of the City of Ladies, and its sequel, The Treasure of the City of Ladies. I haven’t read the latter, but the former is pretty well known.
Sure, I could go on and discuss the fabulous things that Christine talks about regarding an allegorical city of the greatest women in history, both real and mythological, but in actuality, The Book of the City of Ladies was written as a direct slap in the face to the men that opposed her, and the idea of women being educated in general.
“Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.”
I love that line. Because she makes it perfectly clear that she’s not mad at men. In fact, the overarching theme of the book is intellectual equality based on the practice of virtues, rather than feats of strength, and that the wisest men agree with her. Rather, she flat out attacks that its the fools, the uneducated men, that hate the idea of seeing women actually know things. Its as if nothing has changed since the 15th Century. (Yeah, I went there.)
And for those that though Christine wrote just a bunch of feminist drivel (which it isn’t), she was also an authority on arms and warfare! (which you can find on Amazon, of course.)
And this is me just scratching the surface of the more well-known figures. I didn’t even get into the Renaissance yet, with Elizabeth I, Veronica Franco, Sofonisba Anguissola, etc.
You don’t have to wait for archaeological finds for proof. The information you need is already well documented. And while one day we will hit that gravesite or reliquary jackpot, we don’t have to sit on our hands until we do.
Now, go out and be badass, Ladies of the SCA. It’s period.