Category Archives: Women’s history

Books Feminism Women's history

Notes from Tamta’s World: The Life and Encounters of a Medieval Noblewoman from the Middle East to Mongolia, by Antony Eastmond

p. 15 Despite its complexity, Tamta’s life can be summarised in one sentence. Of Armenian birth, she was raised at the Georgian court before being married to two Ayyubid rulers, raped and then married by the Shah of the Khwarazmians, captured by the Seljuks, transported by the Mongols, before finally returning to the city of Aklat as its ruler for the last decade of her life.”

p. 22 Even to define her family’s ethnicity is problematic. “… the Armenian-speaking historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi essentially regarded them as Armenian … his idea of what constitutes ‘Armenian’ fluctuates, as elsewhere in his history he notes the family was of Kurdish descent… the Ayyubid family of Saladin into which Tamta was to marry are similarly recorded by Arab historians as being of Kurdish descent, originating from a village near the Armenian city of Dvin … they reinvented themselves as Arabic-speaking rulers. ”

p. 26 Whatever the origins of Tamta and her family, the Mqargdzelis rose to prominence not in Armenia but Georgia. Following their father Sargis, Ivane and his elder brother Zakare found promotion at the Georgian court of Queen Tamar (r. 1184-1210_. Tamar, the only daughter of King Giorgio III, had faced considerable opposition to her elevation to the throne on her father’s death. However, after a decade of rebellion and plot she managed to establish herself as the legitimate, sole ruler. This later enabled her daughter Rusudan, to succeed to the throne after her son, Giorgio IV Lasha, died without legitimate heirs…. Zakare, the elder brother, was appointed by Queen Tamas … commander of her army, and Ivane was made … chamberlain…”

p. 73 Akhlat … is now a small provincial town on the north-west shore of Lake Van in eastern Turkey, its population of just 20,000 dispersed over a wide area … its old buildings were burned down during the Khwarazmian and Mongol sieges of the 1220s and 1230s and what was left was destroyed in two devastating earthquakes in 1246 and 1276…cold and snow are cliches in all of the medieval descriptions of the tosn … its key value lay in its location: it was the meeting place of four different worlds … to the north-east stood the Christian kingdoms of the Caucasus, Georgia and Armenia. It was from here that Ivane drew his army that was to face defeat in 1210 by the walls of Akhlat… the city’s population was largely Christian and Armenian … in the north and west was the plateau of Asian Minor. Although historically a province of the Byzantine Empire, much of the territory had come under the control of Turkish tribes in the course of the 12th century .. still contained a majority Christian population, mostly Greek speaking, but also Armenian and Syriac. To the south lay Syria and the Jazira, a confederation of Arabic city-states, divided among the Ayyubid family of Saladin. Finally to the south-east lay the Persian world of Azerbaihan and Iran. And … from the 1220s Akhlat became a frontier for yet more groups to cross and conquer, the Khwarazmians from Central Asia and then the Mongols.

p. 77 “Under its Sokmenid rulers the fabric of the city had been transformed over the previous 50 years using the income it earned from its position on the trade routes between Anatolia and Iran as well, perhaps, as the spoils it had taken from the Georgians in the 1160s. This had enabled Shahbanu, the wife of the Shah-i Armen Nasir al-Din Sokmen II, to begin an extensive building programme in the city. Like Tamta, she had come to Akhlat as a diplomatic bride to form an alliance with the neighbouring emirate of Erzurum… a campaign had begun to renew and repair all the roads leading to Akhlat; the old wooden bridges were replaced with new stone ones and a series of caravanseais was established along the roads leading to the city…

beseiging the city, Ivane was captured, p. 82 “although al-Awhad was still in command of Akhlat … it seems that he was barely in control: his army was effectively beseiged in the town’s citadel by its population Indeed even al-Awhad’s marriage to Tamta seems to have been organised without his knowledge … it balanced the needs and bargaining strengths of three different groups… although she started off simply as a pawn … she stood to be transformed by the wedding. The act of marriage provided a new and potentially powerful dimension to her identity as the figure that each party in the negotiation needed in order to placate the others. … Tamte’s ability to reduce taxation of monasteries and improve access for pilgrims to Jerusalem show she was able to capitalise on this, and convert her position to one with real power.

p. 89 the marriage of Simonis, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) to Stefan III Milutin, the King of Serbia …in 1299 the Byzantine Emperor was forced to agree to the marriage: Byzantine power was on the wane, and he needed a way to prevent further incursions from Serbia into his territory. Simonis’ dowry was Byzantine lands in the north-west of the empire, which were already in Milutin’s hands: presenting them as a dowry legalised the transfer of ownership and allowed the Emperor to save face… p. 90 Simonis was just five when the marriage was agreed. Milutin was in his forties. This would be his fourth marriage (possibly his fifth) and his sexual appetite was legendary.. Simonis’s age outraged Byzantine society. Andronikos had to plead forgiveness from the Patriarch of Constantinope, wringin his hands like Pilate and claiming that it was a matter beyond his control… Simonis was forced to go to live at her new husband’s court in Serbia, supposedly looked after until she reached puberty. But within three years – when Simonis was at most only eight – she was repeatedly raped by her husband, leaving her unable to have children. Over the years that followed she tried to escape and get back home on more than one occasion; but even when she succeeded … she was forcibly returned by her own brother. Adopting a nun’s habit had proved no defence; her brother simply ripped the clothing off her back and tied her to her horse for the return…. Milutin’s ability to mistreat his bride with impunity clearly symbolised the impotence of the empire”

Tamta married Al-Awhad’s brother Al-Ashraf when the former died … her influence seems to have worked throughout the Ayyubid confederacy. Tamta’s advocacy for pilgrims indicates that she also still retained contacts with the Georgian and Armenian heartlands in which she had grown up.”

p. 216 “The most impressive account of a pilgrimage made during Tamta’s time as wife of al-Ashraf comes away from Jerusalem, at the monastery of Gandzasar, located in the eastern Armenian prvince of AStsakh (now the disputed territroty of Nagorno-Karabagh in Azerbaijan). It concerns a woman named Khorishah, a senior member of the ruling family of the region and a close ally of the Mqargrdzelis.. an inscription set up on the north side of the nave in 1240 by Khorishah’s son … “my mother became a nun and went three times to Jerusalem. There, from the gate of the Holy Resurrection, she took herself to the dwelling of the nuns wearing a hair shirt and, after many years spent in … penitence, she passed into Christ, adorned with the seal of light, and her remains are preserved there.” [travelled between 1216 and her death in 1238 ” “Once in the Holy City she earned her own living my making and selling embroideries. Indeed, this was the one form of employment that was deemed honourable for (noble) women to undertake.”
p. 322 The battle of Garni “the latest invaders, the Khwarazmians, appeared in the Caucasus in 1225 at Garni. This site, in cetral Armenia, possesses the eastern-most building of the Graeco-Roman world. … a peristyle temple probably erected in the 1st century AD… still standing in the 13th century.. the shadow that Ivane drew up his forces to face the Khwarazmian army in 1225. .. Jalal al-Din captured Akhlat in April 1230 p. 327 “he entered the palace where he passed the night in the company of the daughter of Ivane”… “rape was a common tactic of war … but it was much rarer to employ it against female members of the elite … rape simultaneously humiliated the Georgians, the Armenians and the Uyyabids .. Tamta’s treatment was subsequently legalised by marriage, giving Tamta her third (and in this case bigamous) husband. The marriage only lasted four months we must assume she stayed behind in Akhlat.”

p. 340 al-AShraf … having restored Tamta to Akhlat her left the city and rode on to Sinjar and then back to Damascus. He was never to return to Akhlat. .. Tamta’s capture by the Mongols in 1236 shows that she cannot have travelled with al-AShraf … in 1232 Akhlat was firmly brough back into the Turkic world of Anatolia, after the 30 year interlufe of Ayyubid rule. .. it was possible for Tamta to shift allegiance without losing power.”

p. 347 “as the crow flies it is more than 4,800 km from Akhlat toi Kakakorum; on the ground, whether travelling on foot or on horseback, it is considerably longer. This was the journey that Tamta made twice, as she travelled to and from the capital of the Great Khan. She was probably away from Akhlat for between five and nine years.”

p. 369 “The decision of the Mongols to return Tamta to Akhlat suggests that they believed she still represented the Ayyubid government in Akhlat, even though no Ayyubid had been in control of the city for more than a decade. However, the fact that Queen Rusudan requested her return indicates that even after her years in capitivity Tamta still possessed a complex, multi-faceted identity which enabled her to retain a value and relevance among the different groups across the region … to the Armenians and others in Akhlat she was still regarded as their ruler, although she now had to meediate between them and her Mongol overlords, rather than the Turkic and Arabic powers that had previously been in power. It was convenient for all sides to believe that Tamta had inherited rule of the city and its surroundings from her husband.

p. 380 The cultural traditions of the Mongol world accorded women much higher status and independent power than they received among the people they conquered to the west. The women who married into the family of Genghis Khan and his relatives possessed considerable rights. Each organised her own ordo (court) Wwith multiple tents, carried on up to 200 carts ,… they had independent wealth, could own property and conduct trade, all of which could be passed on to other women on their deaths; they could command armies and even fight; and they determined the faith and education of their children. [[Culture and Conquest of Mongol Eurasia, TT Allsen.]]

Books History Women's history

From How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Bakewell

p. 150
Libertinism remained a minority pursuit, but a disproportionately influential one, because out of the libertins would evolve the Enlightenment philosophers of the following century. They gave Montaigne a dangerous yet positive new image, which would stick. They also spawned a less radical breed of salon socialites,: aphorists such as La Bruyere and La Rouchefoucauld whose Maximes gathered together brief, Montaignean observations on human nature:
At times we are as different from ourselves as we are from others.
The surest way to be taken in is to think oneself craftier than other people.
Chance and caprice rule the world.
And, as it happens, one La Rochefoucauld maxim provided a neat comment on Montaigne’s own 17th-century predicament:
We often irritate others when we think we could not possibly do so.

p. 174
According to Giovanni Botero, an Italian political writer living in France in the 1580s, the French countryside of that decade was so rife with thieves and murderers that every house was obliged to keep “watch of the vineyards and orchards: gates, locks, bolts and mastiffs’. Apparently Botero had not visited the Montaigne estate: there the only defender was a person whom Montaigne described as ‘a porter of ancient custom and ceremony, who serves not so much to defend my door as to offer it with more decorum and grace’.
Montaigne lived this way because he was determined to resist intimidation, and did not want to become his own gaoler. But he also believed that, paradoxically, his openness made him safer … Locks made a place look valuable, and there could be no sense of glory in robbing a household where one was welcomed by an elderly doorkeeper. Also, the usual rules of fortification hardly apply in a civil war, ‘your valet may be of the party that you fear’ … far better to win the enemy over by behaving with generosity and honour.
,, once travelling through a forest in a dangerous rural area, he was attacked by 15 to 20 masked men … “I owed my deliverance to my face and the freedom and firmness of my speech’… this was the kind of confrontation that could happen at any time, to any person, and Montaigne often wondered about the best way of dealing with it. Is it wiser to face up squarely to your enemy and challenge him, or should you curry favour by showing submission. Should you throw yourself on the aggressor’s mercy and hope that his sense of humanity will make him spare you? Or if that foolhardy?”

p. 179 “For Montaigne, all humans share an element of their being, and so do all other living things … ‘There is a certain respect, and a general duty of humanity, that attaches us not only to animals, who have life and feeling, but even to trees and plants. We owe justice to men, and mercy and kindness to other creatures that may be capable of receiving it. There is some relationship between them and us, and some mutual obligation’….
We owe other beings the countless small acts of kindness and empathy that Nietzsche would describe as ‘goodwill’ … Montaigne added this remark about his dog: “I am not afraid to admit that my nature is so tender, so childish, that I cannot well refuse my dog the play he offers me or asks of me outside the proper time.” He indulges his dog because he can imaginatively share the animal’s point of view: he can feel how desperate the dog is to banish boredom and get his human friend’s attention.”

p. 291 “Marie le Jars de Gournay, Montaigne’s first great editor and publicist … was a woman of extreme enthusiasm and emotion, all of which she uninhibitedly threw at Montaigne on their first meeting in Paris … her family, minor provincial nobles, lived partly in Paris and partly at the Picardy chateau and estate of Gournay-sur-Aronde, which her father bought in 1568. In adulthood, Marie took her last name from this estate. Such a right was normally reserved for sons, but it was typical of her to ignore this rule … By 1580, Marie was confined to a provincial world … she did what she could to educate herself using the books in the family library. By reading Latin works alongside their French translations, she gave herself the best classical ground she could. The result was a patchy knowledge, unsystematic but deeply motivated.”

Books Feminism History Politics Women's history

Notes from The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains by Choo Waihong

p. 120 The very existence of a woman-centric society in a sea of patriarchy that has inundated the whole world … calls into question the inevitability of human society involving as the male-dominant archetype. The Kingdom of Women has shown that it is possible to have an alternative model … forging a better environment in which a woman can e nurtured and fostered to reach her full potential as a complete, confident person ready to contribute as meaningfully as a man to society … the Mosuo model that puts the female at its centre without downgrading the male to purgatory appears to be a much better option. In a mad moment … I had a vision that I must have been a Mosou woman in a past life. How else could I make sense of the feeling of connectedness I feel in the midst of my Mosuo friends, never again having to fight against covert male chauvunusm in my previous law firms in Singapore or be as aggressive as the next man in an all-male network of lawyers in Los Angeles.”

p. 121. “Gumi … her direct maternal ancestor is Malaxshimi, whose clan is found today in the southern parts of Asia and on the islands of the Pacific as well as in Mongolia, Korea, India and Pakistan.”

p. “I became curious to find out where Zhaxi’s ancestors [a particularly prominent, popular, six-foot man] came from … his genes revealed that he was descended from the paternal clan ancestor of Sigurd, the dragon-slayer of Norse mythology. Here was a he-man from Lugu Lake who could trace his ancestry to the Vikings of Norway .. it might suggest why Zhaxi and his Musou brothers look so different from the Chinese and other ethnic minority groups in this part of the world.”

p. 147 “An axia pair may decide to go on meeting on a regular basis that progresses over time into a stable relationship, and this is when their affair is more open, with the ‘walking’ man not hiding his presence in front of the woman’s family … the male axia comes and goes openly, though still only at night “

p. 149 “the ‘nuclear’ family is a separate unit consisting of the grandmother and her children and all her matrilineal descendants’”

Books History Women's history

Notes from Ottonian Queenship by Simon Maclean

p. 1 “one of the features of the Frankish world in the 10th century which distinguishes it clearly from the 9th-century heyday of the Carolingian Empire. The Carolingian kings and emperors of the 9th century had always married social inferiors, usually aristocrats from families within their own kingdoms with whom they wished to strengthen an alliance. Some of these queens were powerful; some left little more on the historical record than their names. But after the end of the empire in 888, one of the strategies used by kings representing the new dynasties struggling to project themselves as authentically royal was precisely to seek marriage with women from more prestigious royal families in neighbouring kingdoms. A practice which had in the early 9th century been expressly forbidden by Carolingian rulers anxious to limit the size of the royal family became, in the 10th, a routine dynastic strategy.” The historian Richer of Rhems in the early 990s claimed it was a matter of principle.

p. 2 Richer’s comment on the appropriate status of West Frankish queens was certainly informed by the spectacular power of the Ottonian empresses of his own day, whose careers and posthumous reputations mark them out as some of the most famous queens in medieval history. The Byzantine princess Theophanu, widow of Otto II, was in effect the ruler of the kingdom in place of her inant son between her husband’s death in 983 and her own in 991 – such was her status that we have a document of 990 dated to the years of her reign as ‘Theophanius imperator’”… her mother-in-law the Empress Aldelheid, was not only Otto I’s second wife but also a daughter, sister, mother, and widow of kings. She presided over three generations of Ottonian power in east Francia and Italy before her death in 999.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

p. 97 “The London draper’s wife, Katherine Fenkyll, had her own views on the subordinate position of wives, which she made very plain. A few years after she was widowed, in 1499, her ‘familiar and old acquaintance’ Joanne Johnson, a wealthy widow, came to visit her on confidential business. It was, she admitted, a delicate matter, since she had agreed to marry a gentleman, Robert Long of Windridge, but there was the small matter of both her personal effects and her debts. She had, she believed, around £500 in goods, including furniture, plate, money and jewels, which Long was anxious to acquire as his own property on their wedding day. Nonetheless, the widow wanted to protect herself.  She agreed with Katherine, as well as two other friends, that they would hide away £300 of the goods, intending to ‘cloak and colour the same’ from her husband so that she ‘might give and have or otherwise bestow the same at her liberty and pleasure. Instead of acquiring his new wife’s fabulous jewels, Long therefore found himself liable for her existing debts of more than £200. This was a bad bargain, and he was furious, rushing to the courts … Joanna Johnson, however, as a wife, could not be sued in court independently of her husband.She got off scot free.”

p. 100 “At the end of the Tudor years, in 1604, the aristocratic Eleanor, Lady Fettiplace, compiled a book of more than 200 recipes, complete with her marginal notes and amendments indicating that she had tried and tasted them herself. Inexperienced housewives of sufficient means could also make use of published texts, with Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife being particularly influential in the early 17th century. He considered that the first step to gaining a profound understanding of cookery was to ‘have knowledge of all sorts of herbs belonging to the kitchen, whether they be for the pot, for salads, for sauces, for servings, or for any other seasonings, or adorning. This the young wife should learn through her own labour and experience. She must know what to sow in her garden, and when to sow it.”

p. 102 “In 1511, two years into the reign of King Henry VIII, the widow Dame Katherine Fenkyll arrived at the Guildhall in London, accompanied by a young man named Henry Lenton … she confirmed before witnesses that she had taken him on as an apprentice… Two years later, Katherine Fenkyll returned again to the Guildhall, this time with Raynold Love in tow, who had also come to learn a trade from her.”

p. 103 “There was normally nothing in the way of legality to stop women taking the Freedom too – but very few did. One draper who, in 1570, arrived in the company’s hall with a female apprentice, seeking her Freedom, was turned away…This case caused much murmuring, since many in the company suspected that the woman did indeed have the right to be enrolled – but it was not a trend they wanted to encourage. Indeed, only 73 women are known to have been enrolled as apprentices in 16th-century London, among the many thousands of men… Girls could sometimes have their apprenticeships secured by charitable institutions: the destitute Margaret Gyllam, for example, who had been a patient at London St Thomas’s Hospital, was sent after her discharge to learn needlework and button-making with one John Delow and his wife in 1564.

p. 118 “Many of the more modest buildings occupied a small area of just one small room, before rising precariously high above the street. At ground level, there was usually a shop of some kind; on the floor above a hall, and then sleeping quarters higher still. Those people who were lucky enough to have a small yard squeezed into their property’s tiny footprint could keep the privy a reasonable distance from the main living quarters. For others, with no outside space, there was only the attic, leaving residents with a long trek upstairs to answer the call of nature. The inhabitants of these poorer dwellings though, did have one advnatge over the residences of their social superiors: the single chimney stack running up through the house, like a spine, allowed fireplaces in every room. .. a well in the yard behind the house meant that the well-to-do had a private water supply, rather than relying on the nearest street pump or conduit.”

p. 320 “The London hospitals not only took in women: they were staffed, in many respects, by women. Elizabeth Collston, possibly the wife of St Bartholomew’s hospital porter, was employed for more than 25 years as its matron, from 1597. She held a position of some authority, being in charge of all the women and children, as well as overseeing most of the female staff. The matron also took delivery of necessaries brought to the hospital, such as blankets and clothing for the inmates. The role of matron seems to have attracted capable, dedicated women. The first known matron was a widow named Rose Fisher, first appointed as a ‘sister’ of the hospital in 1551.. She was a no-nonsense woman, prepared to get her hands dirty. In 1552, for example, an order was given that all the ‘very feeble and sick’ inmates should eat in her presence, ensuring that she could monitor their sustenance. She also supervised the making of bed coverings for patients and the interrogating of pregnant inmates as to the father of their children, as well as being entrusted with money, collecting in bequests from charitable benefactors.”

p. 321 “Some forms of paid work could be a form of charity in themselves, and in this respect elderly women were often employed by their parishes to undertake work such as nursing care. One Mistress Peirson was paid by the parish of St Botolph’s in London to oversee the maid’s gallery in the church: she remained in office for at least 20 years and even after she had become blind… Older women, too, could find employment in the parish as ‘searchers,’ who were deputed by the parish clerk to view the bodies of the newly dead and make an appraisal of the cause … readily known to be susceptible to bribery and induced with ale, making their judgements hazy.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from Women and Political Insurgency: France in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by David Barry

p. 51 “The evidence about women arrested in June 1848 confirms in detail what contemporary writers say in general terms about accessory roles, but also reveals that some female participants plated a determined and assertive role … Forty of the 118 women convicted on the list in register F 2585 are known to have plated what may be termed a primary role in the June Days: specifically they built barricades, appeared armed on them, fired on troops from barricades or windows, sounded the alarm by ringing the local steeple bell, and organised the defence of their own quarter, including inciting men to battle. Undoubtedly some of these militant women were acting on political motives, and a few had a past history of insurgency. A 76-year-old veteran of previous revolutions, Veuve Anne-Marie Henry, a retired dressmaker, led women in the fighting on the barricade of Rue des Trois-Couronnes in Belleville. Described by the historian Pierre Dominique as ‘an old virago’, Veuve Henry demanded arms at the Mairie de Belleville with the dry ‘Kill and assassinate’. She threatened to stab those who dismantled the barricades, exclaiming ‘There they are, the brigands who took down the barricade, kill them.’ And declared that, had she had her knife to hand, she would have plunged it into their stomachs. In particular, she designated the home of a chandler named Lhomme for attack. A wood-carver, Elisabeth Guibal, of the Faubourg St Antoine, who had been wonded in the shooting on the Boulevard des Capucines on 23 February, lost her claim to a state pension when it was discovered that during the June Days she had run around the streets carrying a sabre, smashing gunshop windows in order to steal arms. Arrested on 25 June, Guibal was denounced by her whole neighbourhood for being constantly at the barricades of the Faubourg St Antoine, and attempting to terrorize the tenants of the quarter into joining the rebellion by threatening to set their houses on fire. … Augstine Falaise, a young piano-teacher of the Place des Vosges, (then still referred to as the Place Royale) tore up a pavement in the Rue du Temple with her two cousins, in Febrary 1848, for which action they earned the nickname Depauvesues; in June the three women helped erect barricades in the Rue Jarente and Rue du Val Ste Catherine, their radical affiliations leading many later to testify against them. Another woman with a revolutionary past who may well have participated in the June Days before evading arrest and disappearing for two years was Louise Bretagne, the veteran of 1830 and 1832. In 1848 she was living in the Rue Mouffetard and working as a washerwoman and was reported to be very poor and frequently drunk.
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