Today I’ll be talking about two very tough broads. Two women that knew how to kick but and take names. I’m not talking about some hard attitude and go-get-em spunk, I’m talking about cracking skulls, splitting bellies and kicking groins. Both women took up the sword, donned their armor and went out to fight anyone that pissed them off.
The two women are Matilda of Tuscany and Duchess Gaita of Lombardy (also known as Sichelgaita Princess of Lombardy.)
First I’ll talk about Duchess Gaita. Believe it or not, she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page about her. (go look, I’ll wait here.) So, needless to say, information about her is scarce. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “I looked all around but as Gaita was scarce there was none to be found.” Our information about Gaita comes from our good friend Anna Komemna. (see my post about Anna from earlier) One thing we must know about Anna is that she either saw what she recorded herself or interviewed eyewitness that she knew so we can be reasonably sure of what she said. (though she was strongly biased. She at one point refused to give the names of the Frankish nobles because she didn’t want to write down the Barbaric Frankish language.) In the 1100’s the Normans invaded Byzantine territory. Gaita was the wife of a Norman mercenary captain and she not only accompanied her sugar daddy on campaign, she also went out to battle with him. She fought and wore full armor like any good Norman warrior would do. Though she was a Frankish “barbarian” and the enemy, Anna shows a remarkable admiration for her. Not so much for her husband. Anna says “Robert, they say, was a thoroughly unscrupulous rascal and working hard for a conflict with the Romans; he had for a long time been making preparations for the war; but he was prevented by men of the highest rank of his entourage and by his own wife Gaita, on the grounds that he would be starting an unjust war.” so here we can see that she clearly had some influence over her husband and that she was concerned about “right” and “wrong” in waging war. (the same could not be said about many of her contemporaries.) Okay, so she dressed up in pretty armor and played with swords: that doesn’t make her a real warrior. So, how was she on the battlefield? Again, Anna helps us here.
“There is a story that Robert’s wife Gaita, who used to accompany him on campaign, like another Pallas, if not a second Athene, seeing the runaways (the Norman army was in retreat) and glaring fiercely at them, shouted in a loud voice – words which were equivalent to those of Homer, but in her own language: ‘how far will ye run? Halt! Be men!’ As they continued to flee, she grasped a long spear and charged at full gallop against them. It brought them to their senses and they went back to fight.”
As we can see, she was no slouch in a fight. She had courage and must have looked pretty intimidating all armored up on a horse. So, she was a tough chick and I imagine she was a looker…but that’s just me being a single heterosexual male. Either way, she was a tough broad that kicked a lot of but, even butt on her own side, cared about right and wrong and counseled her husband in matters of war.
Now, for the second of our two warrior women. Matilda of Tuscany, sometimes called “La Gran Contessa.”
She had what might politely call “a messed up” childhood. Her father was murdered, her brother died and her mother married a few warlords, one nicknamed “the bearded” and the other “the hunchback.” Probably not the best father figures. Then her mother died and she was imprisoned in horrible conditions. When her remaining brother died she was left as the only heir of a large fortune. You have to take the good with the bad I guess. Her family then got tangled up in a bunch of papal intrigue and eventually her stepfather became Pope, so she had a pretty big guy on her side now! She was fiercely loyal to him because, hey, having the Pope on your side is a pretty handy thing. Her family and her forces became a sort of bodyguard to the Popes. They have their armored thugs follow around the Popes on their journeys in the equivalent black suits, sunglasses, ear pieces and submachine guns under their jackets. That’s a pretty cool job to have. As they went around Italy being highly paid military contractors for the Pope, our young Matilda learned the arts of war.
She apparently had at least two suits of armor, a few castles and knew how to fight on horse and on foot. A can of mace in her purse just wasn’t enough. Like any good military contractor, she spoke several languages including German, French, Italian and could write in Latin. Lethal and smart. That’s a good combination.
After a while of kicking butt, she eventually married…her stepbrother whom she really really disliked. Hey, when you’re surrounded by enemies one has to do what you must to ensure your family stays in power. I’m not judging. Don’t judge.
Meanwhile, the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor (Technically he wasn’t emperor yet. I’ll have a post on that later) were having a hard time coming to a compromise on who should be top dog. Strangely, each side thought they should be in charge. Weird, huh? Matilda, of course, took the Pope’s side. The Pope excommunicated the German ruler. The Pope was crashing at her place and the German king comes knocking at the door begging to be un-excomunicated. This was a pretty sizable victory for the Papal powers and a lot of street cred for Matilda. It was her pad that they made nice nice at.
This cease-fire didn’t last long and the German king crossed the Alps with an army to either get back in the church, get crowned “Emperor of the Romans” (the Byzantines HATED that title….because…you know, THEY were Romans.) Or, kick out the Pope and put a friendlier one in place. Only Matilda stood in the way. She waged a campaign against the Germans but was outnumbered and outgunned. She lost several battles but kept fighting and never ceased to be a pain in the butt for the Germans. The German, Henry IV, kicked out the Pope and put a puppet on the Papal throne who, unsurprisingly, crowned Henry the Holy Roman Emperor. This accomplished, Henry left to go back to Germany to get into a nice pair of lederhosen and eat some sausage. He left his flunkies to “take care of Matilda.” They didn’t know who they were messing with and Matilda fought them off and chased them away like scared little girls. Then the puppet pope died and Henry had to come back and fight Matilda once again. Matilda was pushed back to the mountains but like Megamind, she didn’t know how to quite. She was a fighter, not a runner. Henry then went to go bust up her home castle and Matilda said “Oh, heck no! I aint having none of that!” She stormed down from her hiding place and sent the German emperor packing to the point that he was so scared that he never came back to Italy. That’s an impressive military record for anyone. And she did it all with style, shield, sword, chainmail and a “take crap from no one” attitude.