Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Elizabeth of Poland, Queen and Regent

Elizabeth of Poland, Queen of Hungary and Regent of Poland (died 29 December 1380)

Born in the year 1305, Elizabeth of Poland was the daughter of Władysław of Poland, and Jadwiga of Kalisz. 

Elizabeth of Poland's marriage
to the king of Hungary,
from a fourteenth-century manuscript
Władysław had succeeded his father as ruler in one of the Polish principalities in 1275 and was elected by the nobility of Greater Poland as their prince in 1296--but those nobles transferred their allegiance, and Władysław saw a rival crowned as king of Poland in 1300.

Pressing his claim to his title with the pope, Władysław went to war, eventually gaining control of--and uniting--much of Poland. He was crowned king at Krakow on 20 January 1320. 

It was at this point that his daughter, Elizabeth, was married to Charles Robert of Anjou, king of Hungary and Croatia, who had claimed the throne of Hungary through his father, who in turn had inherited the claim of his mother, Mary of Hungary. 

Elizabeth of Poland was the third or fourth wife of the thirty-two-year old Charles Robert (there are disputes about whether or not his first wife was Mary of Galicia). At the time of her marriage to the king of Hungary, she was just fifteen years old, but the alliance brought needed political support to Władysław as he continued his campaign to reunify Poland.

As for the king of Poland--his new young wife brought him, in the words of historian Nancy Goldstone, "an exceptionally determined and energetic partner--manipulative, capable, and eager for power." She managed her own household and advisers as well as administering a number of towns and estates. 

Elizabeth, now queen of Hungary, was also involved in a particularly terrible act of "justice"--in 1330, on a visit from Poland, her brother raped a young woman, and the woman's father, Felician Zah, attempted vengeance, rushing into a royal dining room with a sword. He managed to mutilate Elizabeth's hand, but he failed in his assassination attempt. He was brutally executed, as was his immediate family (including the young woman who had been raped) and his extended family--all his relatives "within the third degree of kingship" were tortured and executed. Yikes.

And yet, during the years of her marriage, Elizabeth of Poland was recognized for her piety, and she founded a number of religious houses. She also fulfilled her duties as queen; unlike her husband's previous wives, she produced sons, giving birth to five boys before the death of her husband in 1342. (Two of these boys died in their childhood, and a third died as a young man; she may also have given birth to two daughters, though they may also have been born to another of the king of Hungary's wives.)

Elizabeth of Poland, queen of Hungary,
and her five sons,
from a fourteenth-century manuscript
Elizabeth of Poland's eldest surviving son, Louis, succeeded his father as king of Hungary, and although he had attained the age of majority (sixteen), his mother acted a kind of co-regent for him. In Goldstone's words, Elizabeth was a "shrewd political tactician," a politician who was "highly proficient at management." 

As her son's political adviser, Elizabeth was particularly intent on "expanding Hungarian influence in Eastern Europe and on maintaining strong ties with her native Poland." To that end, she arranged for her son's marriage to the daughter of the heir to the throne of Bohemia, Margaret of Bohemia, then only seven years old.

Unfortunately, Margaret, the titular queen of Hungary, died when she was just fourteen years old. And so, in 1350, the queen turned to Elizabeth of Bosnia, whom she was fostering at the Hungarian court--Elizabeth of Bosnia was Władysław's grandniece, while the queen herself was related to the girl's mother. Despite the fact that her son and Elizabeth were related within the "prohibited degrees of kinship," the couple were married on 20 June 1353--and sought papal dispensation after the fact. 

Soma Orlai-Petrich's nineteenth-century painting,
The Anger of Felician Zah (1860)

Meanwhile, the queen's second son, Andrew, had been betrothed to Joanna I of Naples in 1333, when he was just a child of six, and he had been sent to live in the Neapolitan court. When Joanna succeeded to the throne as queen in 1343, Andrew assumed, or hoped, he would have a significant role to play as king of Naples, but the young queen regnant had other ideas. 

Although Joanna's position was supported by a papal decision, Elizabeth of Poland traveled to Naples and, before returning to Hungary, bribed the pope, who reversed his decision. But Andrew did not gain any significant role in government--instead, he was assassinated in 1345, when he was just seventeen. 

While Louis pursued vengeance in Naples and, later, undertook an endless string of other military adventures, his mother remained in Hungary as his most steadfast and respected adviser. After the death of her older brother Casimir III, king of Poland, in 1370, Elizabeth's son, Louis, succeeded his uncle as king of Poland. 

Louis was crowned king of Poland in November, but by December he was off again, leaving his mother there to act as regent. Elizabeth of Poland, dowager queen of Hungary, was not beloved in this role, but she remained in the kingdom as regent until 1375, working to ensure the Polish succession for her granddaughters. 

After a Polish rebellion, she returned to Hungary, where she quietly entered a convent. She did return to Hungary in 1379 and again in 1380, again to ensure the rights of her granddaughters. 

She died on 29 December 1380, aged about seventy-five, and is buried at the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Buda (today's Budapest), a religious institution she had established many years before. 

Elizabeth of Poland's granddaughter, Jadwiga, succeeded her father as ruler of Poland. And her granddaughter Mary became queen of Hungary.

To look a bit further, you may want to check out Laura York's brief entry on Elizabeth of Poland in Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia (click here).

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christina of Lorraine, Regent of Tuscany

Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess and Co-Regent of Tuscany (died 19 December 1637)

If you've studied Galileo Galei, chances are you have encountered his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615), in which he defends himself and his scientific views in a carefully worded explanation of the relationship between science and religion--specifically, the Catholic religion and religious authority. 

Christina of Lorraine, as Grand Duchess,
c. 1588
The woman to whom he addressed this letter is Christina of Lorraine, then regent of Tuscany. As Grand Duchess of Tuscany, she had been married to Ferdinando, Grand Duke of Tuscany, head of the Medici family. After his death in 1609, her son Cosimo assumed his father's title, but when Cosimo died in 1621, Christina and her daughter-in-law, Maria Maddalena, became co-regents for Christina's grandson, then ten years old.

Christina was well-prepared for her role. She was the favorite granddaughter of Catherine de' Medici, who had served as regent of France on many occasions, notably the minority of her son, Charles IX (1560-63), and, after his death, before Henry III succeeded to the throne. Christina's paternal grandmother, Christine of Denmark, had been regent of Lorraine for her son (Christina's father) from 1545 to 1552, during his minority. 

And so the Dowager Duchess of Tuscany was not unfamiliar with the role of the regent. She and her daughter-in-law coordinated their efforts and, despite the insults of contemporary chroniclers, they managed their partnership without conflict or dispute.

With an exceptional education overseen by Catherine de' Medici, Christina of Lorraine was a notable patron of both science and religion. It was she who invited Galileo to the Tuscan court in 1605, where he became the tutor of her son, Cosimo. When he discovered the moons of Jupiter, the "Medicean stars," Galileo named them after Christina's sons.

As a religious patron, Christina was a supporter of a number of institutions, especially female monasteries. 

Born in Nancy on 16 August 1565, Christina of Lorraine, Dowager Duchess of Tuscany, died at the age of 72 on 19 December 1637.

For an excellent essay, see the entry in Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, which you can access by clicking here.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Deborah Sampson, Soldier in the American Revolution

Deborah Sampson, Revolutionary War Soldier (born 17 December 1760)

Born on 17 December 1760 in Plympton, Massachusetts, Deborah Sampson (or Samson) had distinguished Pilgrim ancestors. Through her father, Jonathan Sampson, she was related to Myles Standish and to Patricia Mullins Alden, both Plymouth colonists. Through her mother, Deborah Bradford Sampson, Deborah was directly descended from Governor William Bradford, the first governor of the Plymouth colony. 

Deborah Sampson, frontispiece,
The Female Review 
Despite this lineage, the Sampson family struggled financially. Deborah's father ultimately abandoned his wife and seven children. Although Deborah believed that her father, having decided to follow the "sea-faring business," was lost at sea, Jonathan Sampson seems to have relocated to Maine, where he lived with a another woman, Martha, and had a second family. Whether this is the same Jonathan Sampson isn't certain--but Deborah's father did return to Plympton in 1794 in regard to a property transaction.

Leaving aside Jonathan Sampson's fate, his family suffered as a result of his absence. According to Herman Mann's 1797 "memoir" of Deborah Sampson's life, the family soon experienced "indigent circumstances," and the seven Sampson children were placed out into the households of friends and relatives because her mother could not support them. When Deborah "was scarcely five years old," she was sent, first, to the home of an "elderly maiden," with the surname Fuller, who was a "distant relation" of her mother's.  

When Deborah was eight, the "honest and discreet" relative who had taken charge of the child and her education died, and Deborah's mother sought another place for the girl. Deborah spent two years in the home of a "Mrs. Thatcher," Mary Prince Thatcher, the widow of the Reverend Peter Thatcher. 

By 1770, when she was ten years old, Deborah Sampson had become an indentured servant, working in the home of Jeremiah Thomas, where she "had stronger propensities for improvement, and less opportunities to acquire it." Denied other opportunities, she got what she could from Thomas's sons, who shared what they learned at school with her.

In 1778, when she reached the age of eighteen, Deborah Sampson's term of indenture was over. She had learned enough, by whatever means, that she was able to find work as a teacher during the summers of 1779 and 1780; during the winters, she worked as a weaver.

But Deborah Sampson was restless. And so, hoping to be able to travel, she thought she could disguise herself in order to avoid the limits imposed on her as a woman. But she soon changed her mind--rather than travel, she would she become a soldier. In the story, as relayed by Mann, Deborah Sampson "determined her to relinquish her plan of travelling for that of joining the American Army in the character of a voluntary soldier":
This proposal concurred with her inclinations on many accounts. Whilst she should have equal opportunities for surveying and contemplating the world, [s]he should be accumulating some lucrative profit[,] and in the end, perhaps, be instrumental in the cause of liberty, which had for nearly six years enveloped the minds of her countrymen.
So in early 1782, disguising herself as a man and calling herself Timothy Thayer, Sampson enlisted in a Massachusetts Army unit--though she ultimately failed to join the company after her enlistment because she was recognized, and her identity as a woman was revealed.

But several months later, this time as Robert Shurtleff, Deborah Sampson enlisted in  Captain George Webb's Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. Her military career was significant. As Alfred Young notes in Masquerade, his 2005 biography of Sampson, the light infantry were elite troops--taller, stronger, and more mobile than the soldiers of regular units. 

Herman Mann's 1797 "memoir,"
The Female Review 
Young gives a careful accounting of Sampson's service, distinguishing reality from the stories incorporated into Mann's version of Sampson's military career. Her period of enlistment extended from May 1782 until October 1783. These dates preclude her participation in the battle of Yorktown (which many sources still cite), but she did participate in a number of battles; during her first, in July 1782, outside Tarrytown, New York, she was wounded in her thigh, extracting two musket balls herself, in order to avoid detection by a doctor.

In June of 1783 she was sent to Philadelphia--although the War of Independence was over, Continental soldiers were protesting delays in their discharges (and pay). There Sampson became ill from a fever. Taken to a hospital for treatment, the attending doctor, Barnabus Binney, discovered her biological sex.

But Binney did not reveal her sex. Instead, he took her to his home where she could be cared for by his wife. She was able to return to her post, though Binney sent along with her a note to her commander, General John Paterson. Without punishment or publicity, Paterson gave her an honorable discharge on 25 October 1783.

With money Paterson had given her, Sampson returned to Massachusetts. On 7 April 1785, she married Benjamin Gannett, a farmer. The couple had three children, a son and two daughters, and adopted another child, a girl.

Reduced to poverty, in 1792 Deborah Sampson Gannett successfully petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for back pay. On 20 January, the legislature adopted a resolution granting her the sum of 34 pounds plus interest, dating from the date of her discharge. According to the resolution, "the said Deborah exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier, and at the same time preserved the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished."

It took longer to gain a pension for her service, however. Mann's The Female Review; or, Memoirs of an American Young Lady, was part of the campaign to secure her recognition and compensation for her service. She also undertook a lecture tour (in 1802), and secured testimonials from luminaries like Paul Revere. Such efforts were needed, since her application for a pension could not be supported by documentation of her service--while she was with the army, she had hidden her wounds and her identity.

In 1805, Congress awarded Sampson a pension of four dollars a month, placing her on the Massachusetts Invalid Pension Roll. Although a petition for an increase was denied in 1809, her pension was later increased to $6.40 a month (in 1816) and to $8.00 (in 1819).

Deborah Sampson Gannett died on 29 April 1827, but her story doesn't end quite there. Although she was not married at the time of her service, her husband petitioned for the continuation of a military pension as the spouse of a soldier. His claim was finally recognized in 1837--though he was not alive to receive the money due to him.

Deborah Sampson Gannett is buried in Rock Ridge Cemetery, Sharon, Massachusetts.

Deborah Sampson's headstone,
posted by David Allen Lambert
at Find a Grave
In addition to the 1797 account of Sampson and to Young's 2005 biography, both of which I've cited above, there are numerous excellent online resources. You may want to start with Debra Michals's entry at the National Women's History Museum site or, for context, Kaia Danyluk's essay, "Women's Service with the Continental Army," among the online resources at the Colonial Williamsburg website. (On this essay, see update, below.)

For an excellent discussion of Mann's "memoir" of Sampson, written in part as support for Sampson's campaign to get her military pension, I recommend Jody Schorb's introduction at Just Teach One, resources for teaching neglected or forgotten American texts (Commonplace: The Journal of Early American Life).

You should also check out the entry online at OutHistory, which explores Sampson's intimacies with women--reported by Mann, whose accounts are at times "unintelligible": 
Several suggestive and curious passages in this work refer to Sampson's romantic, though allegedly chaste liaisons with other women, while posing as a male. Quite apart from any accuracy these tales may have, their very existence in a book subscribed to by respectable New Englanders in the late 1700s is of interest. Sampson's cross-dressing and the nominally "pure," asexual character of her romances no doubt made these stories seem acceptable at the time.

Update, 2 July 2019: A recently discovered diary, kept by a Massachusetts man who knew Deborah Sampson, has cast new light on Deborah Sampson. To read Alison Leigh Crowan's New York Times story, "The Woman Who Sneaked into George Washington's Army," click here.

Update, 1 February 2021: Kaia Danyluk's essay seem to be no longer available at the Colonial Williamsburg website. I can find multiple references to the original essay online, but not the essay itself. The link here takes you to the essay as preserved by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Alida Withoos, Botanical Illustrator

Alida Withoos, painter (buried 5 December 1730)

Alida Withoos, probably born about the year 1661, was the fourth child (and second daughter) of Matthias Withoos, a Dutch painter, and his wife, Wendelina van Hoorn.

Alida Withoos, persian poppy,
image from ArtNet
The family lived in Amersfoort, a city in the province of Utrecht (the Netherlands) where Alida was born, but in 1672, when the French invaded, the family relocated to Hoorn, her mother's place of birth.

Matthias Withoos trained his children as artists--in addition to Alida, Johannes, Pieter, Frans, and Maria all became artists. (Little is known about the work of Maria.)

Trained by her father, Alida Withoos nevertheless attained some recognition in her own name. She was one of the artists commissioned by the botanist, art collector, and patron, Agnes Block, to work on her estate, Vijverhof (where, in 1687, she is said to have painted the first pineapple bred in Europe). There she worked with other women botanical artists, including Maria Sybilla Merian and her daughter Johanna Helena Herolt-Graf.

Alida Withoos also contributed to the Moninckx Atlas, a nine-volume "botanical album" of 420 watercolor studies of the plants in Amsterdam's famed garden, the Hortus Medicus. While the majority of the illustrations were done by Jan Moninckx and his daughter, Maria Moninckx, Alida Withoos contributed twelve of the images. 

On 31 January 1701, Alida Withoos, then thirty-nine years old, married the painter Andries Cornelisz van Dalen. (Her age was recorded at the time of her marriage, thus suggesting the year of her birth.)

Although she lived until 1730, no work by Alia Withoos is known to have been completed after 1700. She may have stopped painting after her marriage, though she may also have continued to work in some capacity in the workshop of her husband's family. 
Alida Withoos, columbine,
image from ArtNet

For the best information available online, I recommend Liesbeth Missel's biographical essay in the Digital Vrouwenlexicon of the Netherlands; to access, click here.

As an excellent resource for viewing her work, I suggest the online gallery at ArtNet; click here.

One of my most frequently cited sources for information about women artists is Germaine Greer's The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work. Greer refers to Withoos briefly in the context of women and still-life painting, "flower painting," and botanical illustration in her chapter, "Still Life and Flower Painting" (227-49)--I highly recommend it!

Update, 12 January 2023: A helpful friend of the blog has just forwarded information about a recent  exhibition at the Mauritshuis, "In Full Bloom," featuring floral still-life paintings, including those by Alida Withoos. For information about the exhibition itself (February to June 2022), this link to the Mauritshuis is still working, and though it is too late now to see the paintings in person, there are a couple of great videos. You may also like this review of the exhibition from ArtNet.

And here's a link, forwarded by the same friend, to Catherine Powell's recent essay on Withoos published at ArtHerstory,  "Alida Withoos: Creator of Beauty and of Visual Knowledge."