Search form


Outrageous Women of the Renaissance: Warriors, Artists, Rulers, and Thieves

These stories of saints and scoundrels, from Joan of Arc to Moll Frith, prove that the women of the Renaissance were as heroic -- and as scandalous -- as their men.

"During nearly 5,000 years of recorded history, female achievers have been on hand, making the world a more interesting place, often outraging their societies in the process," says author Vicki Leon in the introduction to her book, Outrageous Women of the Renaissance. And the women whose lives she has chosen to recount certainly prove her point!

Book Cover Image This book, the latest addition to the Outrageous Women series, profiles 15 women who lived -- who really lived -- during the years between 1350 and 1700. Although the experiences and achievements that resulted in their fame -- or infamy -- probably differed little from those of equally well known men of the time, their courage, independent spirit, and strength of purpose surpassed that of even the era's most admired men. For these were women who excelled despite the strictures and mores of the society in which they lived.

A cursory study of history can often make it seem as though the world prior to the 20th century was peopled by men who achieved and women who encouraged and supported them. Outrageous Women of the Renaissance makes it clear that women have made history as well as lived it -- throughout the centuries and throughout the world.

The book is arranged in five parts. Each section provides profiles of women from a specific area of the world. Some of the "outrageous" women students will meet in these chapters include:


France and Italy

Joan of Arc. Known as the Maid of Orleans, this young girl led the French army into fierce battles with the English, risking her life to drive the foreign invaders from her homeland. Although revered in France for her courage and piety, Joan was eventually captured by the English and convicted of the crimes of heresy and witchcraft. Abandoned by the French king she had served, this "warrior for God" was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and burned at the stake at the age of 19.


Holland, Sweden, and Denmark

Queen Christina of Sweden. "She had pop eyes, sallow skin, a hump on her right shoulder, and a big nose -- and she didn't care." She certainly didn't let her looks stop her from ruling with fairness and flair. During her reign, Christina expanded trade and industry, multiplied educational opportunities, sponsored the first Swedish newspaper, and made Sweden a world center for arts and culture.


The British Isles

Grace O'Malley of Ireland. Not all the Renaissance women were as saintly as Joan or as cultured as Christina. One of the most famous Irishwomen of the time was born Grainne O Maille, but became famous as Grace O'Malley, the Irish pirate queen. "Tough as her men, she cut her hair short, wore scruffy clothes, handled a cutlass and pistols with ease, and played cards like a fiend," -- which apparently didn't doom the Irish outlaw to a lonely life. In fact, this twice-married mother, who managed both her father's and husbands' fleets, often carried out raids with her own toddlers on board ship!


Spain and Portugal

Gracia Mendes Nasi. Born to a wealthy and prominent Jewish family, Gracia Nasi spent her life helping her fellow Jews escape Christian persecution in 16th century Portugal. Together with her brother-in-law, Gracia established escape routes, set up a spy organization to warn fleeing Jews of danger, and provided ways for escaped refugees to retain their money and property. In her later years, Gracia settled in Constantinople and continued her charitable work by funding hospitals, synagogues, schools, Hebrew-language printers, and Jewish scholars and writers.


The New World

Malinali of Mexico. Born in a Mayan village in an area that is now part of Mexico, Malinali was sold into slavery following her father's death and her mother's remarriage. Throughout her childhood, Malinali lived as a slave in a number of different Indian tribes until, as a teenager, she was part of a peace offering given to Hernan Cortes and his Spanish conquistadores by tribal leaders. Her intelligence, courage, and spirit, along with her ability to speak and understand the languages of the various Indian tribes, soon made Malinali a valuable translator and advisor to the Spanish conquerors -- and eventually won her wealth and freedom.

Students are sure to enjoy reading these vivid tales of women who made history -- of one kind or another -- during the Renaissance. Not all the characters in Outrageous Women of the Renaissance are likable or admirable, but all are colorful and memorable.

Outrageous Women of the Renaissance is available in bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate it, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.

Outrageous Women of the Renaissance, written by Vicki Leon, is published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 605 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10158-0012.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World


Related Articles from Education World