Category Archives: 16th Century

Gaspara Stampa

Gaspara Stampa was born in 1523 to a bourgeois family. Her parents were known for hosting cultural salons, and they ensured that Gaspara and her siblings were educated in Latin, literature, and music.

She became an excellent lute-player and singer, as well as an exceptional lyric poet. When she began to host her own cultural salons, she often performed her own work. Modern Western poetry was born from the Medieval culture of performance; poets would sing their own compositions, since most people were illiterate. However, in the later middle ages, there was a shift towards writing and reading rather than singing and listening. Gaspara was one of the last poets who was equally skilled at writing and performing, and she quickly became a much-admired figure in the cultural circles of her native Venice. Continue reading Gaspara Stampa

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Amelia Bassano Lanier – Shakespearean Shero

Amelia Bassano Lanier (1569-1645) was the first English woman to publish a book of original poetry. It now appears she may also have been the long-sought major author of the Shakespearean plays.

She was born into a family of Venetian Jews who had been brought to London to be the Court recorder musicians, and who lived as secret Jews or Marranos practicing their faith covertly.  From the age of 7 she was educated like a countess in the household headed by Lord Willoughby, the Danish ambassador, and his sister Countess Susan Bertie. About the age of 13 she was given to be an ‘honest courtesan’ to Queen Elizabeth’s half-brother Lord Hunsdon, 43 years her senior. He was the royal falconer, a judge, a general, and the Lord Chamberlain in charge of Court entertainments and the theater industry.

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Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi

Gracia Mendes Nasi was one of the most influential and wealthy Jewish women of Europe in the 1500s. Her family was originally from Spain but was expelled from the country as all Jewish people were at the time. They fled to Portugal but were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition.

She married a wealthy trader, Francisco Mendes Benveniste, whom she was connected to through her mother’s side of the family. While they had a public and lavish Catholic wedding, they also had a private Jewish ceremony and rituals. Francisco died soon after, leaving Gracia a young widow with an infant daughter. He also left Gracia in charge of half of his business, leaving the other half to his brother Diogo. This was a very unique situation, as most women did not hold positions of any power.

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Gráinne Ní Máille (Grace O’Malley) – “A notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland”

Born in 1530 in the far west of Ireland, Gráinne Ní Máille (anglicized as Grace O’Malley) was the only child of Margaret & Owen O’Malley. Her father was chieftain of the O’Malley clan and made his money through seafaring, fishing, international trade and exacting tolls on shipping in the O’Malley waters off Mayo. As a child Grace’s determination and indomitable spirit was apparent, legend has it that on being told she couldn’t sail with her father’s fleet because her long hair would get caught in the ships rigging, she cut her hair and was subsequently nicknamed Gráinne Mhaol – bald Grace.

Continue reading Gráinne Ní Máille (Grace O’Malley) – “A notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland”

Emilie du Chatelet

This week’s post is written for us by Eileen Tull, who is directing a workshop of a play about Emilie du Chatelet’s life.

I’ve always been something of a history nerd. I come from a long line of history teachers, so I grew up watching Ken Burns’ documentaries, voraciously consuming books about historical figures, and enduring my father’s repetitive jokes about the battle strategies of the French. What most fascinated me, though, was the ever-evolving role of women in history, from Queen Elizabeth to Sacajawea to Carrie Nation to Eleanor Roosevelt.

As I grew up, I began to pursue my creativity passions: the theatre! Through my career, I have created a handful of theatrical projects stemming from history or relating to historical figures in some way.

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Margaret Fell – the Mother of Quakerism

Margaret Fell (1614–1702): The Mother of Quakerism

Margaret Fell (née Askew, later Fox) was born into a wealthy gentry Lancashire family in 1614. By the time of her death in 1702 she had gained an international reputation as a leading figure of Quakerism.

Known as the ‘Mother of Quakerism’, she played a crucial role as an organiser, innovator, author and elder of the early movement. Although the details of her life as a Quaker leader are well-known, her influence in the early movement was greater than traditional Quaker history has suggested and is a subject that is only just beginning to receive due acknowledgement by historians.

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