Tuesday, May 31, 2011

13th Century Wave of Feminism: Nicolaa De La Haye

Nicolaa just makes me want to cuddle up with a castle.

Born around 1150AD, and a descendent of a lord in Lincolnshire, Nicola eventually inherited the role of "Constable of Lincoln Castle" (just think CEO of your own real estate that included battle axes).  

One day the French came to invade (as they often did during the Middle Ages) and that day turned into a month-long siege.  

You'd think that'd be the end of Nicolaa and her haye.  But, no.

Nicolaa held out.

 She went on to direct the defense against her attackers and eventually beat them out.

With the defeat of the French (which would later be known as The Second Battle for Lincoln, as part of The First Baron's War*) she basically stopped England from being invaded again.  Ironically, her descendants were the invaders from the first invasion (aka the Normans) but we won't go there today.

*Side note:  this is also the War that lead to the signing of the Magna Carta.  Magna Carta = the founding document and basis for all human rights equality in the Western world.  Just kind of important.

Anyway, Nicolaa didn't stop after saving the country.  During the battle, a knight by the name of William Marshal came to help defend her castle against the French.  But, as a reward for his chivalry he went back to London to try and "legally" take her rights to the castle away.  Far from a wallflower, Nicolaa follows after Marshal to London, approaches the courts and re-secures the castle under her name.

More Feminist Whinging

So, why did I get only Joan of Arc when I could have had not-crazy, job-security-savvy woman? 
I know this is an old complaint.  But, seriously women existed as long as men have--women who were just as smart or just as capable--and yes, just as naive and asinine--as the men around them.  So where are they to be found in the history books?  Where are the stories that allow women to be finally more than just an exception to the rule?  

Yes, we all know the names of those exceptional exceptions to the rule because they were incredible.  But, I want more than just that because exceptions leave you with a huge gap of knowledge of how they got there and also what made them so exceptional in the first place.  Nicolaa was exceptional yes, but she was also down to earth and still worked in a system that was fully endorsed and run by the men in power around her.  

When learning about the Middle Ages in school all I remember is that guys got to hear about the politicians, scientists and inventors that defined relationships between the universe and life.  Meanwhile, girls got to learn about a schizophrenic fundamentalist nutso who got burned at the stake.

It's just that, in between Hatshepsut and Hilary Clinton, you know there have been millions of women that have lived.  It's still sobering to think we've got a small handful of names remembered.



  1. I thought mulan was a character from an old ballad. Did she really exist?

  2. This is one of the reasons why being able to read and write is so important. Because history is written by those who CAN write it down. For the longest time, women were considered on the "need to know" list for literacy, as in, They Don't Need To Know. History is also written by the people who ultimately win the war. In our culture those people were white Christian men. They didn't really feel the need to add even a footnote about the success of women. Illiteracy is a way of controlling people. You can still see it in our world today. If you live in America and you don't speak English, you are a second-class citizen.

  3. Anon--You're totally right! The passing on of the written word not only was a huge step evolutionary (like finally being able to pass that note saying "don't eat that berry it's bad for you") but socially for the fight towards equality. It's staggering to me how many stories have literally gone poof! into the wide world of history due to the fact that those in power were smart and kept it so that they were the only ones in control of dolling out the ability to gain access to literacy skills. I recently was tutoring a Guatemalan man whose SECOND language was Spanish on basic literacy and that whole process was a wake up call how incredibly siphoned off the world is between the literate and the non-literate. Thanks so much for reading and responding!