In the Medieval period, both the Church and the patriarchal aristocracy treated women as inferior to men. Despite their constraints, some women were able to rise above and live in the way they chose. This article discusses five of our list of notable women of the medieval period. These women were outstanding because they broke out of the traditional female roles and influenced both their own society and later generations.
Empress Theodora of Byzantium (500-548 CE)
Theodora was an actress in Constantinople who may have also been a prostitute. However, the future Emporer Justinian was captivated and married her, making her Emporer regnant. When Justinian and his court were planning to save themselves by leaving town during a riot, she convinced them to stay and defend the Empire. She ruled the Byzantine Empire with Justinian until she died in 548 CE.
Hilda of Whitby (614-680 CE)
Hilda of Whitby was a noblewoman who eschewed the court and settled into a life of holiness as a nun. She rose to Abbess of her order and founded Whitby Abbey, a center of culture and learning. After her death, Hilda was revered as the patron saint of poets because she inspired Caedmon to write his hymn, known as the first Old English poem.
Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians (870-918 CE)
The daughter of Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed, became the Queen of Mercia after her husband died. Aethelflaed was highly cultured and educated, and her court became a famous center of culture. She is best known for saving her kingdom from the Vikings in the Battle of Chester in 907 CE.
Matilda of Tuscany (1046-1115 CE)
Also known as Matilda of Canossa, Matilda of Tuscany was a military strategist who defended her kingdom against Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1095 CE, Matilda personally defeated Henry IV in battle. She was crowned Imperial Vicar and Vice-Queen of Italy in 1111 CE.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179 CE)
Hildegard of Bingen was a talented and pious abbess who claimed to have visions from God that began when she was 3. Hildegard was a renowned mystic and healer. Despite having no formal education, she was an accomplished author, scientist, and musical composer.