Women living as men…in the Middle Ages?

3 Mar

Elsewhere there’s an online friend who is fairly obsessed–in a good way–with Richard III. She strenuously objects to the manner in which Leicester has profited from finding, publicizing and exhibiting the poor king’s remains, particularly considering how ill history has already treated him for so many centuries.

At any rate, her interest means that I often pay attention to any headlines related–however faintly–to the topic, in order to tweak erm…keep her abreast of any news she might have missed. *adjusting halo*

As luck would have it, and just by happenstance, I found this little tidbit:


If you watch the whole thing, there’s much speculation on the potential identity of the person in the coffin, because–shocking!–it happens to be a female skeleton, and during that period in history women weren’t usually buried with such luxury and care.

There are only a few known women candidates at the time, and the only one wealthy and noble enough to possibly be this woman…died and was buried in France.

Therefore, the archaeologists conclude sadly, her identity will remain a mystery forevermore.

Which, in definitive terms, it will.

However, we know that many women have lived and died as men, unbeknownst to those around them–the Civil War alone provides numerous examples of this.

Their service became an open secret. Fellow soldiers wrote home about them and chronicled their exploits, if not their names, in their diaries. Stories romanticizing their adventurous spirits and extolling their patriotism appeared in the New York Times, the Richmond Examiner and the Chicago Daily Tribune.

Though it’s a dying tradition, there are women in the Alps who have lived as men for most of their lives. This custom started, as far as anyone knows, in the 1600s. Many of these women have, de facto, become men to the point that unless told otherwise, anyone would naturally accept them as such.

"Sworn virgin in Rapsha, Albania" by Edith Durham (8 December 1863 – 15 November 1944) was a British traveller, artist and writer who became famous for her anthropological accounts of life in Albania in the early 20th century. - Mary Edith Durham (1909). High Albania. E. Arnold [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Sworn virgin in Rapsha, Albania” by Edith Durham

So I wonder, could it be that one of those possible men–friar this, sir that, or minister the other–had actually been a woman, and that this was her grave? Whether or not her gender was discovered during burial rituals, I posit that it would not have necessarily mean widely revealing the fact–it all would depend on the circumstances.


2 Responses to “Women living as men…in the Middle Ages?”

  1. pooks 04/03/2015 at 3:02 PM #

    This is amazing. And yes, I think you’re absolutely right about it possibly being a woman living as a man. Sharing.

    • azteclady 04/03/2015 at 3:31 PM #

      I just saw this list at Wikipedia this morning, and I honestly don’t understand how the idea that perhaps a woman impersonated a high ranking man until her death didn’t occur to the archaeologists or historians involved in the dig.

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