Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

About the Title of this Blog

What Does "The Monstrous Regiment of Women" Mean?

To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion or empire above any realm, nation, or city is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrarious to His revealed will and approved ordinance, and finally it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.
This uncompromising assessment of a woman’s right to govern was made by the Protestant reformer John Knox, who published The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women in 1558. Any woman who presumed to “sit in the seat of God, that is, to teach, to judge, or to reign above a man” was a “monster in nature.” And beyond an individual woman's incapacity as a ruler, all women were, by nature, “weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish,” and throughout history had proven themselves to be “unconstant, variable, cruel, and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment.”

The primary target of Knox’s vitriolic attack was Mary Tudor, who had become queen of England in 1553. But in the mid-sixteenth century, the first English queen regnant wasn’t the only “monster” Knox was facing--in Scotland, Mary Stuart had become queen in 1543, when she was only six days old; her mother, Mary of Guise, ultimately assumed the role of regent for her daughter, then in France, in 1554. (Mary spent her childhood in France, where she was destined to marry the French dauphin, Francis, and become queen. After her husband's death, she would return to Scotland to begin ruling as queen regnant in 1561, when she was eighteen.) 

Shortly after Knox’s work appeared in print in 1558--and most unfortunately for Knox--Elizabeth Tudor succeeded her sister Mary on the throne of England, and, in France, Catherine de’Medici was soon become regent for her son, Charles IX. Meanwhile, across Europe, many more women ruled independent principalities, counties, duchies, and city-states, as they had for centuries—quietly going abou t the business of governing despite Knox’s objections.

To view selections from Knox's Blast, made available online by the British Library, click here.

Title Page of 1558 edition

Many women historians and writers have appropriated Knox’s title and used it for their own ends—I have done so myself, in fact, in The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave, 2002; rpt. 2010), as have novelists Laurie R. King (A Monstrous Regiment of Women, 1994) and Terry Pratchett (Monstrous Regiment, 2003). As one commenter on the blog Feministe writes, “Deal me in! I’d be proud to join a Monstrous Regiment of Women! ;) Sign me up!”

More shockingly, the title has been used straightforwardly by filmmaker Colin Gunn in a 54-minute “documentary” that embraces Knox’s views of women and their "incapacities." While Amazon reviewers give the DVD accolades and 4.7 stars (as of 2014), RationalWiki describes the film as: "an anti-abortion, anti-feminist propaganda film produced by the Gunn Brothers, featuring fact-free and fecklessly unattributable interviews with pregnant women and women who wish they were pregnant, railing against women who aren't, including Model Homemaker Phyllis Schlafly and other women of the religious right." And that, I would say, is putting it nicely . . . 

I’ve provided links to most sources—you’re on your own with the Gunn film . . . 

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