International Women’s Day 2016



Today is International Women’s Day, a day to “Celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women”. This year’s theme is gender parity and you can find out more about the campaign at International Women’s Day.

While this day should make us think about issues facing women around the world today, it always makes me think of the women from history who fascinate me, women who made an impact on the time in which they lived. Here are just a few of the women of the Tudor period who fascinate me:

  • Catherine of Aragon – Her strength in standing up to Henry VIII and fighting for her marriage is something that I admire. It may well have been easier for all concerned, particularly for her daughter, had she submitted to the king, but she stuck to her beliefs whatever the king threw at her.
  • Anne Boleyn – There is so much that draws me into Anne’s story, and which still draws me after seven years of researching her. While she was a tragic victim, she never acted like one. She had so much strength and faith in her last days and I can’t imagine what it must have been like waiting for death like that and knowing that you’re not going to see your daughter and family again. I also admire her religious faith, her intelligence and wit, and her patronage of art and religious reform.
  • Catherine Parr – A published author, a passionate reformer and someone who knew how to get out of a tight spot – what’s not to like about this queen?
  • Anne Askew – Could I stick to my beliefs and refuse to betray others while being racked until my joints all dislocate? Right up until death by being burned alive? Well, I’d like to think so but I’m not so sure. That’s what Anne Askew did, though. What faith and courage!
  • Mildred Cecil (née Cooke) – The Cooke family fascinates me anyway, with Sir Anthony Cooke being a man who believed that daughter should receive an education equal to sons, but Mildred is a fascinating lady in her own right. She was fluent in French, Greek and Latin, and built up a huge library of Greek and Latin texts, which included works on medicine, religion, literature and history, as well as literature. She was married to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s right-hand man, and I can imagine that the marriage was a real meeting of minds.
  • Catherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk (née Willoughby) – Catherine was known for her firm faith and her outspoken defence of reform. She was part of the circle of reformist women who were friends with Queen Catherine Parr, and had many humanist and reformist books dedicated to her. She was a known Protestant patron, helping clergyman of a reformist persuasion. One story about her always makes me chuckle: apparently, she had a dog that she named “Gardiner” after Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and a staunch Catholic, and she enjoyed being at court with the dog and calling it “to heel” by name! I bet that went down well with the bishop!
  • Elizabeth I – She rose from being the daughter of an alleged traitor to being queen, from being an ignored “bastard” to the famous Gloriana, and she ruled England for over forty-four years with a reign known as the Golden Age. The idea that her reign was a golden age is being challenged by some, but there’s no denying the strength and conviction of this lady who was imprisoned in the Tower of London and must have feared execution in her half-sister’s reign.
  • Mary Tudor, Queen of France – This lady has just recently piqued my interest. I was reading the letters she wrote after the death of her first husband King Louis XII for a talk I was doing and I was just amazed by them. Here was an eighteen year-old Tudor woman attempting to twist her older brother, King Henry VIII, around her little finger. Mary politely reminded Henry of the promise he’d made to her when she left for France to marry the ageing Louis XII, i.e. that she could marry whoever she wanted next time round, and reminded him that she’d stuck to her end of the bargain by marrying the king, then she went on to state that she now wanted to marry someone of her choosing (Charles Brandon), finishing with a bit of blackmail: to paraphrase, “stick to your promise or I’ll enter a convent and then you won’t be able to get at my dowry”. Brilliant! She knew just how to handle her brother and the letters made me chuckle and be in awe of this intelligent woman and her rhetoric.

I could go on and on, as there are so many 16th century women who fascinate me, but, instead, I’d like you to comment below with the names of 16th century women you find fascinating and your reasons for choosing them. Thank you!

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6 thoughts on “International Women’s Day 2016”
  1. Margaret Beaufort is a lady I admire, married and widowed at the tender age of thirteen and having an horrendous labour which meant she could never have another child, losing her second husband at twenty eight and then having her land and titles stripped from her by Richard 111, yet she was tenacious and never gave up the dream of seeing her son on the throne of England, finally that dream was realised yet at one time it must have seemed like a distant fantasy, Anne Askew also, I remember reading about her in ‘The Sixth Wife’ by Jean Plaidy and just could not believe they racked a woman because they accused her of being a heretic, and that she still never implicated anyone else has there ever been a more braver woman, before or since? Truly she was unique, she was so brave for that alone she should have been pardoned, of course have to mention our Anne, she possessed tremendous audacity and achieved that what no other woman has ever done, that of stepping from Kings mistress to Queen consort and becoming the first woman to be executed, all these women were as bold and colourful as the sixteenth century in which they lived.

  2. Elizabeth I. She overcame a traumatic childhood and precarious young womanhood to become, arguably, the greatest monarch ever to sit on the English throne.

  3. Like many others of you, I am intrigued by Anne Askew. Yet I can’t help feeling that, in order to do what she did, she must have denied her femininity …..perhaps, who knows, finding inspiration in the inclusivity of the word “mankind” (all Christian souls). Perhaps? Is it also true of Joan of Arc and Elizabeth I, that the mechanism operating is very far from Equality. Henry VIII had multiple wives and Elizabeth….no husbands. Could there be a more ‘telling’ difference? If you wanted to live as a woman free of biology, you became a nun…or a queen without a husband….?

  4. I think “only from the 16th century?” I admire other women of world history, but well, my favourites of the 16th century are, of course, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.
    •Anne Boleyn. I admire her for what she got: she refused to be the King’s mistress as her sister had been, so she made Henry VIII fell in love with her and she was maybe the most important key person in the separation of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. A feminist born in a world of men, she suffered all the anger of the King when she showed she was unable to bear a boy, Henry’s desired legitimate heir.
    •Elizabeth I. Her mother was beheaded when she was 2 years old and was abandoned by her own father, born as an English Princess and later declared a bastard, her life was in danger under the short reigns of her half-siblings. When she succeeded the throne she chose not to marry because she didn’t want any other interests were above England’s interests. Her time as Queen is known as the Golden Age.

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