The Renaissance, a period of great change and reformation, art and science, a rebirth of society…for men. Take a moment to think about how many women you can name who lived in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds. Maybe one? While the Renaissance was a time for men to flourish in various areas of study, women flourished in the role of the housewife. They were considered property of their husbands, even though they often worked alongside them in the fields, or helped them run their husbands’ businesses. Even women of nobility only learned the skills necessary to run a successful household: cooking, sewing, entertaining, and other ladylike activities. If you were a women in the renaissance and were unmarried, you couldn’t even live independently. You lived in a convent or with a male relative.
But as in every time period, there are the women who break the mold. The girl bosses, the revolutionaries, the ones who defied orders. They were unpredictable, fought for what they wanted, and wouldn’t take no for answer. While many of the women of the Renaissance were stuck at home with their children in the village, these women were out getting stuff done! Eclipsed by the Michaelangelos’, the Shakespeares, and the kings of their time, these women shone bright and created their own path…
Mary Queen of Scots : I want someone to make Mary Queen of Scot’s life into a movie, because it so awesome it deserves to be on the big screen. An epic story of love and murder, Mary Queen of Scots was only 6 days old when she became the Queen of Scotland. She grew up in France, and married King Francis II, where she was the Queen until his death one year later. Returning to Scotland, she brought the traditions and influences of the French Court to the Scottish monarchy, and married her first cousin, Lord Darnley. Together they had one child, James, before Lord Darnley was murdered in the garden a year later. Both Mary and her lover, the Earl of Bothwell, were put under suspicion for the murder. Bothwell was put on trial, but convinced Parliament that he was not guilty, and to let him marry Mary! After the Earl of Bothwell’s death in 1542, Mary became Queen of England, but was put on trial and executed by Elizabeth I for being Catholic.
Isabella d’Este, called “The First Lady of the World”, Isabella d’Este was the Marchesa of Mantua. She was not only a major artistic patron and fashion influence during this time, but also took control of her husband’s military forces when he got captured, and held invaders off for three years! When her husband was finally released and saw how his wife had been more successful than him in his position, he was angry and humiliated. Their marriage started to break apart, and so Isabella left and traveled by herself until the death of her husband. When she returned to her son in Mantua, she continued to rule as Regent for her young son! (Another cool fact: she was almost the “Mona Lisa”. Leonardo Da Vinci considered her as a possible subject of what would become his most famous painting.)
Joan of Arc was a national Hero of France, who led the French army to an astounding victory at Orleans against the English in the Hundred Years War. She was strong mentally and physically, with lots of common sense. She left her village dressed in men’s clothes and crossed territory held by the enemy and arrived at the military headquarters of Chinon. She convinced the guy in charge to let her lead an attack on the English. After much interrogation, making sure she was not a heretic or a witch, she was allowed a company of her own. One day many years into her time as a military leader, she was resting when she jumped up and announced she must go and attack the English. She continued to participate in the war, and was going to visit some friends in Compiegne when she was captured and burned at the stake by the English for being a heretic. Joan of Arc is like the Mulan of her time : bold, brave, and fearless.
Catherine de’ Medici : Queen Consort of France and married to Henry II, she was one of the most influential women during the time of her reign. Catherine was enchanted by the French court of Francis I, which inspired her to pursue politics and architecture (she designed many chateaus herself! So cool!). With Henry she had ten children over the years, though they didn’t have a particularly romantic marriage. She was made the Regent of France when her husband was captured during war, and had her hand in various political issues, keeping the country in line after her husband died. Catherine fought to maintain peace, her most notable achievement being the Edict of January in 1562, which allowed Calvinists religious protection in France. She was blamed for the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day in Paris in 1572, which put her out of favor with the public. She continued to participate in politics until her death in 1589. Throughout her life, Catherine de’ Medici was one of the most powerful women in France, fighting until the very end.
These are just a few of the women in history who deserve recognition, and often go without it. While we can easily think of the modern grrls who paved the road to get us where we are today, it’s also the ancient ones we must remember, who did the impossible in a time of domesticity and peasantry; women who were eclipsed by the men of their time, and are often forgotten.