Women and weapons in the twelfth century?

Women using Longbows:

I think I've seen paintings of women accompanying hunts (edit: though I'm aware this is principally a shortbow activity), and doing archery for sport, but I'm not sure of the periods involved. Similarly, I've heard that there were female Knights Hospitallier who fought upon the battlefield.

What sort of women would actually have access to that kind of training?

A lot depends upon how historically accurate you want to be with it, too. For example, a hunter would be unlikely to use either longbow or longsword. Shortbow and spear would be much more common. Further, and there are people with far better history skills than I on these boards, the longbow is pretty much available to Welshmen in this era and requires a LOT of power to use.

But there's the other side as well. If she's attached to a covenant, they make their own rules regarding women. After all, Merinita and Bjornaer were both founded by women, so the order would be poorer without them. I like to this that many covenants would base what you can do upon what you can do, rather than gender.

Hi Musui, I assume I know you by another name. :slight_smile:

I'd refer you to the George RR Martin series and the character Brienne the Maid of Tarth. Although GRRM says the wars of the roses is his inspiration I get a much more 13th century vibe from the attitudes of his characters.
About the longbow, I think I've already made some comments elsewhere but I'm firmly in the English Longbow myths are myths. However it would need a woman to be physicaly very unusual (see Brienne) to manage a longbow.
The longsword and shield makes sense as the weapon of choice given the character background, so long as you have a virtue that allows martial skills (didn't but may do now?).
I'd be very very interested in any references you have for the female Hospitalliers. I've never heard of it, despite a moderately large amount of research, and it runs contrary to everything I know about the Military Orders


Well first off as it was stated it depends on how accurate you want to be historically.

The Longbow is not really sensible. Women hunted with birds, or crossbows. So far as I am aware no one used Longbows for anything but warfare but that may not be the complete truth as the Welsh may have. But the longbow was a yeoman's weapon, so no noble would know how to use it...possibly welsh nobles learned it but I don't know that one way or another.

The Longsword and Shield is possible if she is from the Hedge Nobility but is so dubious if she is actually from the high nobility. Frankly the chances of a Duke's daughter having the time to waste for this sort of thing is exceptionally unlikely. Noble women had a lot of other skills to learn after all... They ran the castles, made clothes, supervised the accounts, and a variety of other taskes which took a great deal of time and effort to learn properly. Also access to the training would be harder for the daughter of a duke then a hedge knights daughter.

Also Hunt (tracking) makes no sense. Hunt (Falconry) would. Tracking was done by professionals not by the hunters. Again if she was the daughter of a hedge knight she would be more likely to learn to track but the daughter of a duke is less likely to. Ducal hunts were not "hunts" in the regular sense but full blown events with a large number of support staff.

Missing is Horseback Riding which is essential.

Archery for sport would also make sense, but that would be with a shortbow not the longbow.

As for female "knights" there were some recorded cases of them on crusade, but they were rare. Women often could end up commanding a siege mind you.

A highborn noble is the least likely of the nobility to get martial training at the end of the day. A hedge knight's daughter is the most likely. And neither would be very likely at all.

But in fantasy all is possible.

ArM 04 Medieval Tapestry , page 97 has a reference to Bows.

"A man can learn to use a crossbow effectively in a few weeks and fell an armoured knight.
This affront to chivalry has brought condemnation by the Church ,
and the crossbow is banned from use against Christians"

"Light crossbows are used by hunting nobility , especially ladies and churchmen."

"Mastering the longbow takes years of work and practice ,
and has been taken up by relatively few people ,
most of them Welshmen.
Few people outside of Britain , or even Wales ,
have heard of this great bow ,
and even fewer have learned how to use it."

"...their construction and curing takes years and requires an unusual skill found currently only among the Welsh."

Marjorie Rowling's Everyday Life in Medieval Times has a brief discussion of women hunting (pages 91-2); apparently they used both falcon and bow, and were known to direct a hunt, including using a horn to direct the hounds and other hunters. There's a period engraving depicting a riding woman with a horn, a standing woman with a bow, and a dog tracking down a stag. The bow doesn't actually look all that short to me (it runs from midway between the archer's knee and thigh to maybe a foot above her head), but that's probably just me not knowing much about archery.

Nothing there about other martial abilities.

Women in the Middle Ages generally did not use weapons, much...that being noted there are many folkloric exceptions. I think, for example, of Bradmantine, the female knight in the Roland saga, who took up arms to avenge her family.

I don't see why you couldn't have a woman trained in longsword and shield, if that's what the player wants, given that folkloric examples exist. Longbows don't exist much in my saga for historicity reasons, but if contemporary men have them, and she has the strength and background, sure.

Basically, if its fun, let her do it, IMO.

-- Hunting ------------------

-- Nobles and Weapons ---------

That sounds like the sort of mentality that permits women to fly cargo planes, but not fighter jets, which is far less descrimination than I anticipated.

-- Bows -------------------

-- Examples ---------------

Funnily enough, the only real person I've spoken to about this brought exactly the same character up. I've already mentioned this to the player, and gotten a rather lengthy response about the relevence of that example which I'm in no position to refute as I haven't read the book. :smiley:

I'm more interested in knowing where she lies between 'par for the course' and 'utter freak', so I can have my NPCs react accordingly, and make sure that she has an appropriate background. Disallowing things is not fun for anyone, and I've done that rather a lot recently... :S

-- Miscellaneous ------------

Well, reenactment groups tend to be fairly obsessed about historical accuracy, and I learnt this from a female historical reenactor, whose principle role was donning chainmail, getting her hands on a big, blunt arming sword, and shield pressing the sword arm of astonished ("My god, it's a woman...") opponants, and hacking them to the floor, as a female Hospitallier.

I met her on the dance floor of a night club (appropriately :wink: ), and she related all this to me (I merely asked what she was into, before you wonder about my nightclub conversation openers... lame, perhaps... :smiley:) We seemed to be getting on well until I mentioned a passing interest in the Poor Knights, at which point she looked rather annoyed, and strode away. :open_mouth: She mentioned something about the two orders not liking one another as she departed...

Still, when I began to run into all the occult stuff relating to the Templars, I have to say, I was rather put off them too. :smiley: As sources of information go, it's on the far side of wobbly, but I'd still be tempted to check it out...

I'm thinking that the more I deviate from history, the more likely I am to have game-balance issues.

Thankyou all for the excellent replies. The above is going to be very useful.