How often, if ever, did a woman fight in battle in Europe between the “dark ages” and, say, the 1700s or so?
I’m not thinking of cases where a woman would take up a weapon to defend her home or herself, but rather, cases where a woman would train to use weapons, and wear armor alongside other soldiers (or knights or whatever), and voluntarily enter battle with a military force.
Jeanne d’Arc is the canonical case. (No pun intended, although she was eventually canonized.)
My recollection is that although there’s some controversy as to how much actual personal combat she engaged in, she’s recorded as leading several successful attacks and personally credited with many victories, often leading from the battlefront.
Catherine of Aragon. ( Henry 8’s first wife) rode in full armor to address 2,000 troops about to fight the Battle of Flodden. She didn’t actually fight, but it should be noted she was heavily pregnant at the time (and lost the baby). She certainly put on a fine martial show and was considered very inspirational.
Possible, but I have a hard time believing a front-line standard-bearer would be able to avoid combat (even if only in personal defense), since the enemy’s banner was always a popular target. Downing the enemy’s banner can disrupt the alignment and movement of the enemy’s battlefront; capturing the enemy’s banner is a huge morale boost to your side and massively damaging to the enemy’s morale.
Maybe she went up there with nothing but her faith and some really devoted soldiers working hard to make sure the banner (and she) never came to harm.
I believe I’ve heard of a couple of cases of women pretending to be men to sign up with armies in the seventeenth century, but I can’t remember details. I believe one was in France. Otherwise, no. Women paying men to fight, or goading men to fight, yes. But not fighting themselves.
In one of the Icelandic sagas it’s mentioned that they had changed the law to stop women taking on lawsuits relating to murdered relatives, because they couldn’t do it properly. Legal cases in Iceland could be settled by a duel, and women couldn’t fight one.
Women are relatively weak, and in axe-based warfare that’s quite important. Assuming I’m remembering those 17th century cases correctly, that was after gunpowder came in.
Not in terms of being soldiers, but there are some interesting tidbits in fighting manuals of the period. Judicial combat was an accepted legal practice in the middle ages and well into the renaissance, and apparently, women were not exempt.
MS I.33 ends with a sequence that includes a female character named Walpurgis.
And Talhoffer’s Fechtbuch includes an entire section on judicial combat vs a male and a female. The images suggest that it might have been standard practice to give the female participant an edge over her male antagonist. Other illustrations of the period also portray men and women engaged in this sort of single combat.
I would imagine it might not have been super common though, as I’m pretty sure women were allowed to choose champions to fight in their stead.
Apparently there is a handy wiki list for everything, there seems. Of course many of those must be taken with a grain of salt ( nor should such a list be assumed to be complete ) or have somewhat equivocal criteria for participating in warfare. For example Eleanor of Aquitaine did accompany Louis VII on the Second Crusade as titular leader of her own feudal host and saw combat, but almost certainly never participated in any.
Usually but not universally, as we do have records of several wives who held castles against attackers off the above list, as with Nicola de la Haye and Maud de Broase
Ah, but the OP said those don’t count. One of the reasons cases where the women fought in battle are noted is because they were so rare. It is said (but, having taken place early in the Reconquista, not documented in writing) that the women of Roncal earned their coat of arms in battle, defending themselves from a group of Moors who’d gone there with the specific goal of capturing a few large wives… the Moors were trying to capture; the women, old men, cripples and children didn’t care about such niceties. But alas, those women weren’t trained in the use of weaponry, they just used whatever was handy (I wouldn’t want to fight someone who has a scythe and knows how to use it, mind you).
As for the “ladies leading armies”, take into account that very often male generals didn’t take up a sword either. If it counts for King Joe to lead from a decorated tent on top of a hill, it counts for Queen Josie.
“Train to use weapons”, well, in the 16th century the Princess of Eboli lost an eye in a sword-training accident (she had been forbidden from joining lessons, but would spy on them and strong-arm the pages into fighting her), but she never went into battles unless those of wits and charm count.
Cases of women passing as men have already been mentioned.
Wiki has interesting timelines of women in war in the time periods you’re wondering about. Of particular note are the Viking shieldmaidens, who didn’t mess about. Even pregnant Norsewomen aren’t to be messed with - Leif’s sister took up the sword against Native Americans.
Not in Europe, but women born in the bushi class trained with weapons. Lady Hangaku was apparently an expert wielder of the naginata and was wounded by arrow fire in battle.