Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism


Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 03 July 2011

Recently I've been reading the book Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles. I have to admit up front that I love the book. It has some issues that I will address later, but overall I've found it interesting and inspiring. It has approximately 75 chapters of individuals and groups of women, spanning from the Amazons to 'Tammy' Duckworth. In addition to these, the book has a number of other stories in sidebars, increasing the overall number quite a bit.

Historical Accuracy

This book is not a rigorous academic exploration of the topic of women in war. That's not to say that the research is bad or it's full of inaccuracies. But if accuracy is very important to you, you might want to at least peek at the book before buying it. It doesn't cite sources and lacks a bibliography. However, the authors seem to have decent credentials. Robin Cross was a Gulf War reporter and a military historian. Dr. Rosalind Miles is a bestselling writer, lecturer and BBC broadcaster. I cross referenced some of the stories in the book with Wikipedia. I didn't really see any obvious omissions, but the wikipedia entry was far more likely to call something out as a myth or legend than the book was.

Inspiration

In my mind, the book really shines as a source of inspiration for stories and games. After reading a chapter, I often thought of a number of adventure hooks and NPCs I wanted to create out of the 3 or so pages of text. In addition, there's just a wide variety of women in the book. Some are much more brash, they directly take up the sword and fight alongside men. Others are efficient leaders, using their social skills and sometimes even feminine wiles to get what they need and want.

Here are some interesting tidbits:

  • Caterina Sforza was despatched to Rome in August 1484 to hold the Castel Sant'Angelo. Well-known for her beauty, she wore a gold satin gown and plumed hat. At the time, she was seven months' pregnant. She held it until October 1484, surrendering it on her husband's order.
  • Grace O'Malley (c. 1530-1600) was born into a famous family of sea rovers. If you want a colorful character for a sea campaign, she's a great one. She was a constant troublemaker and excellent defender. After her first husband's death, a rival clan tried to recapture an island castle he had taken. She defended it not only against them, but against a later attack by the English. Legend has it that she melted lead taken from the roof and poured it down over the heads of the attackers. Sir Richard Bingham, Lord President of Connacht, call her the "rebellions in the province for this forty years." She even met with Queen Elizabeth I after sending her a petition which read in part "...to grant unto your said subject...free liberty during her life to invade with sword and fire all your highness' enemies."
  • "Black Agnes" Randolph (c. 1312-69) was the countess of Dunbar in March through her marriage to Patrick Dunbar. He was away when their home came under attack by an English force. She refused to surrender even though she had few guards to mount a defense with. Still she held her own against the formidable Earl of Salisbury. After the first round of siege engine attacks, she and her maids appeared on the castle's outer walls, "dusting" away the damage. She then used one of the boulders shot by the siege engines to disable Salisbury's battering ram. Later the earl captured her brother and attempted to negotiate his life in exchange for the castle. Agnes's cool reply was to urge the earl to go ahead as her brother's earldom would then pass on to her.

Why is this better than Wikipedia?

So why buy the book over just visiting Wikipedia? For one, the writing is much better. I love Wikipedia for a lot of reasons but the quality of its prose is not one of them. It's often a bit dry and lacks color. This makes sense, it is more of an encyclopedia after all, but when I'm looking for inspiration, I prefer something that isn't as dry. In addition, the book's layout is just so much nicer. The accompanying illustrations are bigger, time and thought went into the layout and it's a great book to curl up with on the couch.

I definitely plan on using this book in my games and writing and I hope you will check it out. What non-gaming books do you use for inspiration?

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Black Agnes has long been one of my favorite bits of medieval history. I suspect that she, or likely a similar incarnation, will find her way into my home D&D game before it's done. History can give us some of the best NPCs.

Last Matthew Brenner's post:Drama Behind the Screen

Sounds like an interesting and fun read. I am always interested in finding stories of heroism. I looked at Muslim Warrior Women a while back in my journal.

Wow, that sounds like a pretty amazing book. I'll be sure to get it. I've had a lot of curiosity on this subject lately, particularly after a discussion a friend and I had about Julie d'Aubigny, and her rather colorful exploits (and sometimes sad) exploits.

Last WyattSalazar's post:Demons: The Hierarchy of Despair

Great review; I definitely want to check it out--though it must be an import, since Amazon doesn't seem to carry it except through third parties. (I almost skipped reading this because I already own a book called Warrior Women, but it's a different look at historic and prehistoric woman warriors.)

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