Although they’re harder to find, history does have its share of female heroines. From allied spies to swordfighting opera singers, women have lived rip-roaring, action-movie lives since the beginning of our species. The only problem is the suppression of these stories.
Women typically weren’t allowed to serve in armies, but several of them did disguise themselves as men and saunter into battle anyway. The rule of countries was often left to men, but when women were called upon to take the reins they did so, often with legendary results.
So, here it is: from an Allied spy to a swordfighting opera singer to a pair of pirates who had more fortitude than all the men on their ship combined, here are the ten most kickass women that history has ever seen.
12 Julie d’Aubigny
The life of Julie d’Aubigny is the very definition of “You can’t make this up.” Her father was the secretary to King Louis XIV’s horseman, and she grew up learning to swordfight with the other palace tykes, although she was the only girl. After beginning an affair with her dad’s boss, she was married off but promptly ran away in order to duel her way through the French countryside. After that, she joined the opera.
11 Anne Bonny and Mary Read
Two of the most famous female pirates in history, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were known for their ferocity and ruthlessness. Anne left a weak husband and joined the crew of Captain Jack Rackham, a famous pirate, to become his lover. When her ship sacked the vessel upon which Mary Read, after a childhood of cross-dressing, was employed, Mary joined Captain Jack’s crew and she and Mary became fast friends.
10 Nzinga Mbande
9 Catalina de Erauso
Called the “Lieutenant Nun”, Catalina de Erauso did not let a convent upbringing stop her from living a life of adventure. Adventure, of course, meaning murder. She escaped the convent at 15, dressed as a man, and a few years later she started to run into trouble. She killed someone who threatened her with his sword and dashed to a church, where she was forbidden from being arrested. When she finally emerged, she joined the army. She was under the command of her brother, but since she was in disguise he did not recognize her, and Catalina apparently took this as an opportunity to have a three-year long affair with his mistress.
8 Naziq Al-Abid
If you think the award for “First One to Scare the Living Daylights Out of Romans” belongs to the Visigoths, think again. Boudicca became queen of a British tribe called the Iceni after her father died, leaving half of his money to her and the other half to his allies the Romans. However, the Romans swaggered in and tried to take her money, flogging her and raping her daughters in the process.
The Romans did not realize how big a mistake this was until she and 120,000 soldiers were turning a quiet Roman retirement town into a blazing mess. Her army doubled, killing an entire legion and 70,000 civilians in a massacre that involved plentiful decapitation and mutilation.
5 La Jaguarina
Flip-flopping between Broadway and sword-fighting, La Jaguarina (Ella Hattan) became one of the most notable names of her time. In fencing, even though she only fought against men, she was undefeated - both on foot and in the saddle. Nineteenth-century spectators were swooning at the idea of modernized jousting, and one of the new sport’s inventors packed his bags and turned tail when challenged by La Jaguarina.
4 Noor Inayat Khan
3 Petra Ruiz
2 Mariya Oktyabrskaya
When Hatshepsut’s husband the Pharaoh died, leaving an infant son as heir, the Egyptian Queen began a decades-long rule. She ushered in a reign of economic prosperity, choosing to focus on commissioning art instead of conquering new lands, which made it very difficult when her successor Thutmose III attempted to completely eradicate her memory. While this was a political rather than sexist move, it remains true that Hatshepsut’s legacy lived on nevertheless: She was Egypt’s first female Pharaoh.
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