Aedesia – 5th Century – Alexandria, Egypt

Ancient Greece, Greece

Aedesia

Aedesia was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher who lived in Egypt during the 5th century.

She was related to Syrianus, the head of the Neoplatonist school in Athens (alongside Asclepigenia), and apparently spent much of her life around scholars and great thinkers. She was even briefly engaged to one of his students, Proclus.

Aedesia married Hermias, also a student of Syranius, and had two sons with him, Ammonius and Heliodorus. When Hermias died she received a small state allowance which enabled her to devote herself to educating her children.

When her sons were old enough to study philosophy, Aedesia took them to Athens where she reconnected with Proclus. She was very popular among the philosophers of Athens who praised her virtue and dedication to educating her children.

Aedesia reportedly lived well into old age, though there is very little information on how she spent the rest of her life.


References:

On Wikipedia:

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Julia Maesa – 165 – 226 – Rome

Ancient Rome, Ancient Syria

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The younger sister of Julia Domna, Julia Maesa played an equally important part in the politics of the Roman Empire, actively influencing the ascension of her grandsons the emperors Elagabalus and Alexander Severus.

Ethnically Syrian, Julia Maesa, like her sister, was considered a Roman citizen due to her family’s immense wealth. She married Syrian nobleman Gaius Julius Avitus Alexianus and had two daughters; Julia Soaemias Bassiana and Julia Avita Matmaea.

After the death of her nephew, Caracalla and her sister’s suicide, Julia Maesa returned to Syria where she began to make plans.

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Coin depicting Julia Maesa (source)

Her grandson, Elagabalus, was fourteen years old and Julia Maesa was willing to do anything to make sure her family was back in power. Hugely rich, she was able to orchestrate a plot to overthrow emperor Macrinus and put Elagabalus in his place. She and her daughter (Elagabalus’ mother) spread a rumour that the boy was actually Caracalla’s illegitimate son, and therefore rightful heir to the empire.

The plot was successful and for her efforts Julia was rewarded with the title Augusta avia Augusti (‘Augusta, grandmother of Augustus’). Unfortunately, the best laid plans often go awry and Elagabalus was not a successful emperor.

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Bust of Elagabalus (source)

The teenager’s behaviour was erratic and scandalous. He held lavish parties, ignored the Roman gods in favour of the Syrian sun god and married a Vestal Virgin – an enormous taboo by Roman standards. Julia Maesa took swift action against her uncontrollable grandson and had him and his mother assassinated.

Now Julia promoted her second grandson, Alexander Severus, who was somewhat less of a disaster than his cousin – he managed to escape assassination until he was 26.

Julia Maesa died sometime in 226. Like her sister Domna before her, she was deified.


References:

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient WorldJoyce E. Salisbury

Great Women of Imperial Rome: Mothers and Wives of the CaesarsJasper Burns

A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman WomenMarjorie Lightman, Benjamin Lightman

On Wikipedia:

Fu Hao – d. c.1200 BCE – Yinxu, China

Ancient China, China

Prophetess, consort and commander of armies…

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King Wu Ding had a lot of wives. This Shang dynasty ruler gained allies by marrying a woman from each tribe neighbouring his kingdom, amassing a harem of no less than sixty women, who were considered his property. It was in this fashion that Lady Fu Hao arrived at the Royal palace. An intelligent and capable woman, she was not happy to settle for slavery. This lady had a plan.

Step 1 – Rise through the ranks.

The royal palace was a miniature matriarchal society, in which every wife had her place. Fu Hao put her politically astute mind to use and soon navigated her way through the hierarchy, becoming closer to the king – and his power. She did not stop until she had achieved the place of royal consort. Now she had some influence.

Step 2 – Become a Priestess.

“Shang dynasty inscribed scapula” by BabelStone. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rituals in feudal China were under the control of the King, as sacrifices and oracle casting were highly respected tasks. As a kingdom constantly defending its borders, foreseeing the future was of utmost importance.

The ancient Chinese read prophecies by inscribing questions onto hollowed-out tortoise shells and ox bones, before heating the bone or shell until it cracked. These cracks were then interpreted as answers. These items are known as oracle bones, and it is from these artefacts that we know about Fu Hao’s life.

Inscriptions on the bones not only speak of her later triumphs on the battle field, but that she herself prepared oracle bones and conducted special rituals on behalf of her king, elevating her status further to High Priestess.

Step 3 – Become a General.

Religious power was not enough for Fu Hao, who had a more exciting life in mind, beyond the palace walls. It is thought that the royal Lady may have come from a warrior tribe, as Fu Hao soon impressed Wu Ding with her extensive knowledge of warfare and her quick thinking. Wu Ding further expressed his trust and faith in Fu Hao when he appointed her head of his army.

Bone inscriptions describe Lady Fu Hao leading a number of successful military campaigns during a time when war against neighbouring territories was commonplace. The Shang enemies, the Tu Fang, had fought for generations, until Fu Hao defeated them in a single battle. She was also responsible for the first known large-scale ambush in Chinese history – defeating the kingdom of Ba.

Step 4 – Secure a hero’s burial.

As you can imagine, Wu ding was particularly fond of Lady Fu Hao, who had made his army a force to be reckoned with, who gave him wise advice and who cast fortuitous prophecies for him. Fu Hao was rewarded

A bronze vessel in the shape of a bat, from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao, Chinese Shang Dynasty, 13th century BC

A bronze vessel in the shape of a bat, from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao, Chinese Shang Dynasty, 13th century BC

with her own fiefdom on the edge of Wu Ding’s empire.

She died before Wu Ding, and was further exalted by him in death. When her tomb was discovered in 1974, it was full of treasure – bronze, jade and fine lacquer. It also contained a full arsenal including swords, bows and battle axes. There is evidence that Wu ding sought her assistance even in death, as many sacrifices were made at this great lady’s tomb.


References:

Notable women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century – Barbara Bennet Peterson

The Tomb of Lady Fu Hao – The British Museum

On Wikipedia:

Nefertiti – c.1370 – 1330 BCE – Amarna, Egypt

Ancient Egypt

Her face is one of the most well known in history and her striking beauty has been praised for thousands of years. But Queen Nefertiti was a lot more than just pretty. Together with her husband she instigated a religious revolution, founded a city, modernised Egyptian art, and may have ruled as Pharaoh herself for a time.

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As is the case with many Egyptian women, little is known about Nefertiti’s life before her marriage to Amenhotep IV. What is known is that the royal couple were radicals. They put themselves at odds with the Egyptian establishment by worshipping Aten, the sun disk, over all other Gods, turning their backs on Egypt’s polytheistic religion. Five years into Amenhotep’s reign, they both changed their names becoming Akhenaten and Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti (perfect are the beauties of Aten, the beautiful one has come).

“Nefertiti Standing-striding Berlin” by Photo: Andreas Praefcke – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The couple were not satisfied simply changing the nations belief system. Their next move was even more unusual, as they relocated the entire royal court from Thebes to a newly built city in the desert, Akhetaten (now known as Amarna). Akhetaten became the centre of the cult of Aten, with several open air temples and an enormous palace, from which Akhenaten and Nefertiti ruled during Egypt’s most prosperous era.

Turning a centuries old system on its head was an enormous undertaking, and Nefertiti proved herself to be an expert at PR. She left her mark everywhere. Never before had the face of a ruler been shared so widely – in fact Nefertiti appears in carvings twice as often as her own husband, the Pharaoh. In some images, Nefertiti is surrounded by her six daughters; in others she is shown smiting her enemies. She took up a string of titles including; Great of praises, Sweet of Love, Lady of All Women, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt. Even her distinctive tall cap-crown was designed to flatter her beauty, following the lines of her face. She was a Queen who wanted to be known to her people.

Art changed entirely during this period – the images of Akhenaten and Nefertiti are unlike any other ancient Egyptian portraits, in that they are a clear attempt at realism. While the tradition was to portray the royal family as tall, lean, androgynous beings, like the Gods, images of Akhenaten present an extremely unusual looking man. He has a large jaw and cleft chin, spindly arms and a pot belly. Queen Tiye, his mother, has

“Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

visible age lines on her face. Nefertiti is the most striking of all, and her angular face and cylinder crown have become iconic symbols of ancient Egypt in western consciousness.

There is strong evidence that in year 12 of Akhenaten’s reign, Nefertiti was elevated to co-regent, ruling alongside her husband with all the power of a Pharaoh. Though Royal wives had wielded power before, Nefertiti’s rise was unprecedented. In fact, it is believed that she outlived her husband and ruled alone, as the mysterious Pharaoh Neferneferuaten (who may also be Nefertiti’s daughter, Meritaten). If this is the case, it means that Nefertiti ruled three years into her stepson, Tutankhamun’s reign.

It was during Tutankhamun’s short reign that Amarna was abandoned and Thebes reinstated as the capital. The cult of Aten was disbanded and even art reverted back to its traditional style. Akhenaten was branded ‘the Heretic King’ and the new world that he and his Queen had fought to create was abandoned in the desert.


References:

Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra – Joyce Tyldesley

Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt – Joyce Tyldesley

On Wikipedia:


In fiction:

Tiye – c.1398 – 1338 BCE – Thebes, Egypt

Ancient Egypt

Queen Tiye continued the tradition of powerful Great Royal Wives and elevated the role further by extending her reach into diplomacy and foreign relations.

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Tiye (pronounced ‘tee-ay’) was only eleven or twelve when she married King Amenhotep III. He likely married her in order to strengthen his tie to

“Queen Tiy N2312 E25493 mp3h8764” by Rama – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr via Wikimedia Commons

the royal lineage. Though Tiye’s father was a high-ranking priest, it was her mother, Tjuyu, who was most probably royalty. Tjuyu was involved with a number of religious cults and held a variety of mystical titles.

Tiye and Amenhotep soon became a serious power couple. While he is recognized as having been a great statesman, Tiye was his confidante and most trusted advisor in all things. From brokering marriages for their seven children to managing requests for Egypt’s gold from other nations, Tiye’s seal is found on a number of documents from the time.

“Ägyptisches Museum Berlin 027” by Einsamer Schütze – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Intelligent, strong and fierce, Tiye was respected not only at home but by foreign dignitaries visiting the Egyptian court. Leaders from bordering kingdoms were happy to deal directly through her and was the first Egyptian queen to have her name recorded on official acts.

Amenhotep devoted shrines and temples to his formidable wife, and she was worshipped as a Goddess in parts of Nubia during her lifetime. She would have been in her late forties when Amenhotep died and her son, Amenhotep IV, later Akhenaten, ascended to the throne.

There is evidence that Tiye continued to advise her son, as she lived until at least twelve years into his reign. She is mentioned in a number of letters to outlying kingdoms, demonstrating her political influence.


References:

Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra – Joyce Tyldesley

Khan Academy video: ‘Portrait head of Queen Tiye with a crown of Two Feathers

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

Hatshepsut – 1508 – 1458 BCE – Thebes, Egypt

Ancient Egypt

“I never slumbered as one forgetful, but have made strong what was decayed. I have raised up what was dismembered.”

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Princess Hatshepsut was born to rule. As the only child of the Pharaoh and his Great Royal Wife, Hatshepsut had the strongest claim to the throne and during her father’s reign held the important office of God’s Wife. Her name meant Foremost of the Noble Ladies and by the time she was fifteen the princess was an experienced and capable administrator.

There was only one problem; she was not a man. When her father Pharaoh Thutmose I died, Hatshepsut was obliged to marry her younger half-brother, whose mother was a minor wife of the Pharaoh. Still, the teenage Queen took an active role in the affairs of the Kingdom, knowing that it was only through marriage to her that Thutmose II was King at all.

“Thutmose III and Hatshepsut” by Markh – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Thirteen years into his reign, Thutmose II died of an illness. He and Hatshepsut had a daughter, Neferure, together, but it was his son Thutmose III, who he fathered with a secondary wife, who would inherit the throne. However, Thutmose III was very young and would need a regent to run the kingdom until he reached maturity. With her royal bloodline and wealth of experience, thirty year old Hatshepsut was the logical choice. Two years later, she declared herself King of Egypt.

Pharaoh Hatshepsut ruled Egypt for over twenty years in her own right, and is regarded as one of the most successful of Egypt’s rulers. While her father had spent his reign at war with the Hyksos in the Nile Delta, Hatshepsut maintained a largely peaceful foreign policy and took the opportunity to establish important trade routes, building the wealth of her dynasty.

She oversaw expeditions to the land of Punt, bringing frankincense and myrrh to Egypt for the first time. The frankincense she used for kohl

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut by Ian Lloyd - lloydi.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut by Ian Lloyd – lloydi.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

eyeliner, and the myrrh trees were planted in her extensive funeral complex at Deir el-Bahri. Her mortuary temple was to become the envy of all Pharaohs who followed her, and is now the entrance to the Valley of the Kings.

Hatshepsut, like her father, was an extensive builder. The wealth brought into Egypt from her international trade routes was put towards funding hundreds of construction projects, grander than any of her predecessors, raising the standard of Egyptian architecture. So much statutory was produced that today every major museum in the world contains at least one statue built by Hatshepsut.

To assert herself as Pharaoh, rather than a Queen, images of Hatshepsut portray her with all of the traditional symbols and regalia of kingship – including the khat headcloth, shendyt kilt and false beard. There is no indication that Hatshepsut dressed as a man, and it is thought that in statues and carvings she is depicted in this way so that there can be no doubt she is Pharaoh.

Meanwhile, her step-son Thutmose III was also Pharaoh, in title only. Though he had little power over the empire, Hatshepsut appointed him head of her armies. There is no indication that Hatshepsut’s leadership was ever challenged, and until her death Thutmose III remained in a secondary role quite amicably. As head of her powerful armies, he would have had the power to overthrow her at any time, and clearly never chose to.

It is true that towards the end of his own reign Thutmose III began to remove Hatshepsut from historical records, chiseling her name and images away from stone walls, leaving obvious gaps in artwork. Her statues were also torn down or disfigured and buried in a pit that would not be discovered for many centuries.

It’s not clear why Thutmose chose to do this, especially as he did not seem to take issue with Hatshepsut during her rule. One theory is that he was simply doing what he believed to be correct at the time – as at the time it was not considered possible for a woman to be Pharaoh, he may have been attempting to return her to her place as his co-regent.


References:

Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra – Joyce Tyldesley

Tausret: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt – Richard H. Wilkinson

Hatshepsut: from Queen to Pharaoh Metropolitan Museum of Art 

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

Child of the Morning by Pauline Gedge

The Hatshepsut Trilogy by Patricia O’Neill

Ahmose Nefertari – 1562 – 1595 BCE – Thebes, Egypt

Ancient Egypt

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This Egyptian Queen was a woman with many titles. As the daughter Pharaoh Seqenenre Tao and Ahhotep, she was named Ahmose Nefertari (the most beautiful born of Iah), and given the titles Hereditary Princess, King’s daughter.

“Ahmes Nefertari Grab 10” by Ausschnittbearbeitung NebMaatRe. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

With even more influence than her formidable mother Ahhotep, Ahmose Nefertari redesigned the position of Great Royal Wife. The eldest girl of a number of siblings, she married her brother Ahmose when he became Pharaoh, as was Egyptian custom, taking on the further titles Great King’s Wife, God’s Wife of Amun and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt. She and her husband became the royal couple who founded the Eighteenth dynasty.

Though Ahhotep, as King’s Mother, would have taken precedence over Ahmose Nefertari at court, King Ahmose bestowed not only titles (including Great of Grace, Great of Praises and United with the White Crown) upon his wife, but important positions and responsibilities.

The King purchased the office of Second prophet of Amun in order to gift his wife with the lands and goods associated with the role, making her independently wealthy. The Queen was also given the position of Divine Adoratrix, which gave Ahmose Nefertari more responsibilities than any Queen before her, putting her in charge of the administration of all temple properties, estates and treasuries.

Ahmose Nefertari had at least three sons and once her husband died it is possible that she (like her mother) was regent for her son Amenhotep I (adding King’s Mother to her list of titles). She likely lived to the old age of

“Ahmes nefertari2-2” by http://www.africamaat.com. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

70 and when she died her son made her a Goddess. Ahmose Nefertari was worshipped for generations under her final title: Mistress of the sky, Lady of the West.


References:

Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra – Joyce Tyldesley

The Life and Afterlife of Ahmose NefertariVirginia Laporta & Graciela Gestoso Singer

On Wikipedia:

Ahhotep I – c.1560 – 1510 BCE – Thebes, Egypt

Ancient Egypt, Egypt

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It is 1563 BCE and Pharaoh Seqenenre Tao has died a violent death. Whether on the battlefield or by assassination, he receives an axe to the head only a few years into his reign. As Pharaoh Kamose is crowned his successor, Tao’s widow and sister takes charge of her children.

Ahhotep I (meaning the Moon is satisfied) was one of the most influential of the Great Royal Wives, the first dominant consort of Egypt. She also bore the titles Associate of the White Crown bearer and King’s Mother. Pharaoh Kamose did not live much longer than his predecessor, and five years after the death of her husband, Ahhotep saw her son Ahmose ascend to the throne along with her daughter, Ahmose Nefertari, who became his wife.

It is likely that Ahmose was very young, and that Ahhotep served as regent for her son during his childhood. It is evident that Ahmose had a great respect for his mother, whom he describes as a powerful woman and fearless leader on a stela in Karnack:

“She is the one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt… She has looked after her soldiers, she has guarded her, she has brought back her fugitives and collected together her deserters; she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels.”

“Ahhotep” via Wikimedia Commons

These statements appear to describe a time at which Ahhotep rallied troops and played some important role in the defense of Thebes – perhaps following the death of her husband.

It is not clear when these events took place, but it is known that she was buried with a ceremonial axe, golden dagger and military medals. These items are unusual in the grave of a queen, and may be there to commemorate Ahhotep’s successful campaign.

Queen Ahhotep is mentioned as living during the reign of Amenhotep I, her grandson, and again during the reign of Thutmose I, her great grandson. This indicates that she lived much longer than many other Egyptians of the time, outliving almost all of her children.


References:

Tausret: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt – Richard H. Wilkinson

Hatshepsut: from Queen to PharaohMetropolitan Museum of Art

Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt – Joyce Tyldesley

On Wikipedia:

Mother’s Day Special – Notable Mothers in History

Mothers Day

In honour of Mother’s day, Rebel Women is paying tribute to some notable women in history who were also mothers, beginning with…

Mother Lü – Mother of a Revolution

Mother Lü (sometimes Lü Mu) was a noblewoman in Han dynasty China. At the time, a politician called Wang Mang usurped the imperial throne, implementing a number of unpopular policies. In 14 AD, Mother Lü’s son, Lü Yu, was executed for a minor offence. Mother Lü vowed revenge – and she meant business.

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The wealthy lady recruited peasants, purchased weapons and other supplies and mounted a rebellion. Her army of several thousand was the first uprising in Chinese history to be led by a woman. Appointing herself General, Mother Lü led the rebels to storm the capital, capturing and beheading the magistrate who had executed her son.

Mother Lü died of an illness shortly after her successes, but her spirit lived on. The forces she had amassed went on to become known as ‘The Red Eyebrow Rebellion’ and ultimately overthrew Wang Mang’s regime.

References: 


Josephine Baker – Mother of the Rainbow Tribe

Josephine Baker was an all round remarkable woman. She was fluent in French and English, a member of the French Resistance, a Civil Rights Activist and the first black woman to star in a major motion picture. Best known as a singer and performer, Baker also adopted twelve children from different racial backgrounds, calling them her ‘Rainbow Tribe’.

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She ensconced her diverse family in a castle, Chateau des Milandes, where she hoped to demonstrate that ‘children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.  Josephine Baker’s children were French born, Moroccan, Finnish, Japanese, Korean, Colombian, Algerian, Israeli and Venezuelan. She invited people to visit the children and see them playing together at home. She dressed them differently according to their nationality and raised them with different religions.

“She was a great artist, and she was our mother. Mother’s make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.” – Akio Baker

There have been many criticisms of Baker’s Rainbow Tribe, even from her own sons who described her as possessive and controlling. It is interesting to compare her actions to today’s celebrity adoption stories.

References:


Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones – Grandmother of all Agitators

Mother Jones was a labour leader, children’s rights activist and agitator once called ‘the most dangerous woman in America’. Her life was blighted by tragedy – in the 1860’s her husband and four children died of yellow fever and in 1871 her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. Mary poured her grief into her work, becoming an organiser for the United Mine Workers Union.220px-Mother_Jones_1902-11-04

A highly effective campaigner, she organised the wives of workers into a militia, leading them as they weilded brooms and beat tin pans shouting ‘Join the Union!’ By the age of 60, she had earned the title ‘Mother Jones’. She worked tirelessly on the behalf of child workers, gathering a ‘Children’s Crusade’ in 1903, marching to President Roosevelt’s hometown, kids in tow, aiming to improve working conditions and end child labour in mills and mines.

Arrested and imprisoned a number of times, Mother Jones was once called ‘the grandmother of all agitators’ by the US Senate floor. She replied:

“I hope I live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators!”

References:


Sacagawea – Pioneer Mother

A heroine of American history, Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who worked as a translator on the Lewis and Clarke expedition exploring thousands of miles of the United states – with a newborn baby strapped to her back.

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Sacagawea was kidnapped and sold into marriage in her early teens. When she and her husband were asked to travel with Lewis and Clarke she was already pregnant. Her son, Jean Baptiste, was born at the beginning of the journey at Fort Mandan.

The young woman acted as an interpreter and diplomat for the group. She was able to speak with the native people they encountered and was also a reassuring sight – the expedition found that if they traveled with a woman and infant they were perceived as friendly and non-threatening. After the expedition, Lewis and Clark had grown so fond of her son that they made provisions for his education and upbringing.

References:

The Lewis and Clark Expedition on Wikipedia

Sacagawea on Wikipedia


Margaret Beaufort – Mother of the Tudor Dynasty

The ultimate Matriarch, Margaret Beaufort demanded and commanded respect.

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She gave birth to her first and only son, Henry Tudor, at the age of thirteen, already a widow. Margaret lived during a very tempestuous time in English history and as the daughter of a noble house soon became a key figure in the Wars of the Roses. Cunning and ambitious, Beaufort joined forces with dowager queen Elizabeth Woodville, plotting to have Henry married to Elizabeth of York, Woodville’s daughter, thus creating a powerful alliance which attracted both Yorkist and Lancastrian support. This eventually resulted in Henry Tudor taking the throne.

Beaufort continued to exercise considerable influence over court politics and her son’s leadership. She was referred to as ‘My Lady the king’s Mother’ and Henry’s first parliament recognised her right to hold property independently from her husband – which other married women could not do. Later Margaret was given the power to administer justice in northern England.

References:

Margaret Beaufort on Wikipedia 

Merit-Ptah – c.2700 BCE – Memphis, Egypt

Ancient Egypt, Egypt

Merit-Ptah

Over five thousand years before Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to obtain a degree in medicine, there was Merit-Ptah – chief court physician.

Merit-Ptah (beloved of Ptah – the creator god) is identified as a ‘Chief Physician’ in a hieroglyphic carving near the pyramid of Saqqara, in the old Egyptian kingdom’s capital of Memphis. Hers is the first woman’s name in history associated with medicine and science.

As a Swnwt (doctor), she was a highly skilled and educated person. Egyptian medical knowledge was the envy of the ancient world; even the Greek writer Homer said:

“the Egyptians are more skilled at medicine than any other art”

An Egyptian Swnwt might specialise in dentistry, proctology, ophthalmology or gastroenterology and will have taken part in a number of religious and magical rites.

In ancient Egypt, healing practices were associated with religious ritual and though we do not know Merit-Ptah’s specialism, we know that her son went on to become High Priest of Memphis.

Even today, Merit-Ptah continues to remain relevant in scientific fields – she has a crater on Venus named after her!


References:

Article in the New Scientist 19th February 1987 

Women in Leadership: Contextual Dynamics and Boundaries – Karin Klenke

On Wikipedia: