Christine de Pizan has a strong claim to being the first professional author of any gender. Born in 1364, she was the daughter of an astrologer at the court of Charles V of France. She grew up in a highly cultural and intellectual society, and could have made use of the royal library. She married a court secretary and had two children by him, but was widowed at just 25. It was at this point that her writing career began, with ballads dedicated to her husband’s memory. These drew the attention and patronage of the French aristocracy. For the rest of her life she would be obliged to continue writing in order to support herself and her family. Continue reading Christine de Pizan
Julian of Norwich (approx. 1342-1416) is thought to have been the first woman to write a book in the English language.
Very little is known about her, not even her real name. She was an anchoress (a kind of religious hermit, someone who retires from the world for spiritual reasons) and got her name from living in a cell at the Church of St Julian in Norwich. Some believe that she may have come from a rich family in the area and that she might have lost her family during a plague epidemic, but almost no definite information about her personal life still exists. Continue reading Julian of Norwich
Margaret was born on 31st May 1443 during a period of instability known as the War of the Roses. Her father was the great-grandson of Edward III and she was a wealthy heiress. She was well educated and highly religious.
To help secure his fragile reign Henry VI proposed the marriage of Margaret to his half-brother Edmund Tudor. While girls could legally marry at the age of twelve, it was usual for them to remain with their parents until they were old enough to safely have children. However, Margaret became pregnant at the age of thirteen and six months later Edmund died of Plague. Margaret fled to her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor. At Pembroke Castle she gave birth to Henry Tudor but both nearly died in labour and Margaret was unable to have more children. Continue reading Lady Margaret Beaufort – Mother of the Tudor Dynasty
Lady Anne (or Anna) Cunningham was a Scottish noblewoman, businesswoman, and warrior, born at the end of the sixteenth century into the tumultuous of world of the European Reformation.
Daughter of a wealthy Protestant noble family, in 1603 she was married to the fourteen-year-old James Hamilton, and over time they had eight children. Her husband inherited his father’s lands and title in 1604, and consequently spent much of his time at court, leaving Anne to manage their estates, which she did competently: she was evidently educated and had a good head for business, undertaking projects such as the improvement of the family palace and the development of industrial projects like coal mines. Continue reading Lady Anne Cunningham
In the medieval world, dominated by men, Anne of Brittany spent her life fighting for her Duchy to retain it’s traditional independence.
Born in 1477, Anne was the daughter of Duke Francis of Brittany. Her older half-brother had died within weeks of birth, and her younger sister died aged twelve. As the eldest of the two girls with no brother following them, Anne was Francis’ heir.
Brittany was an independent Duchy, bordered by France but technically separate. As the French kings expanded their borders, Brittany came under threat. Duke Francis spent his life fighting to keep the Duchy independent, and must have hoped that sooner or later he would have a son who would continue that fight. He had Anne educated, she was his presumed heir after all, but he no doubt believed that he wouldn’t actually have to leave his Duchy to a girl, with all the political problems that would ensue.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read are two of the most well known female pirates who ever lived! They sailed the seas of the Caribbean, gaining a reputation for how fearsome they were.
Anne Bonny (then Cormac) was born in Ireland in 1702, while Mary Read was born in Plymouth around the same time (no-one knows the exact year she was born.)
Anne’s father was a wealthy man who had left his wife for her mother, who was a servant. When Anne was a child her father dressed her up as a boy and said that she was his nephew, to avoid the shame of having a child with a woman he wasn’t married to. Eventually, when Anne was a young child, their family left Ireland to travel to the ‘New World’: America.