Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Jane Jacobs was a writer and activist primarily on urban planning, the economics of cities, and decay. She moved to New York from Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, and lived there for more than thirty years before moving to Toronto, Canada. She wanted to be known as an economic theorist on cities, but she is best known for two intertwined pieces of activism and writing; she was the major organiser of a campaign to stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway through New York’s downtown in the 1960s, and campaigned against many other urban improvements in the area, and she wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a polemic disagreeing with most of the major urban theorists of the time (my review is here).

Jacobs was born in Pennsylvania in 1916 and after finishing school she moved to New York, where she worked as a writer and stenographer, both freelance and for trade journals, often writing stories about various districts of New York and what made them tick. She married in 1944, and had three children. Although she didn’t go to university in a formal sense, she spent two years studying an eclectic mix of courses at Columbia University. She lived in Greenwich Village in New York, and parlayed that experience, plus her wide experience of the districts of New York from her writing career into a wide ranging book about urban planning – the Death and Life of Great American Cities.

This was not only a withering critique of current planning techniques, but proposed radically different ideas for how cities should be rebuilt. She was in favour of diversity, dynamism and mixture – arguing that neighbourhoods worked best when they were a mix of rich and poor, residents and businesses, cultural and economic. Her major ideas were:

Her major theses were that for a city to work:

  • A street or district must serve several primary functions.
  • Blocks must be short.
  • Buildings must vary in age, condition, use and rentals.
  • Population must be dense

Urban planning in cities has never been the same.

Reading the book now, fifty years later, many of her ideas seem obvious, especially if you have lived in a city planned by someone who has read her work. But at the time they were incredibly radical, and were harshly criticized, particularly by the university educated men who were responsible for the urban planning of New York at the time. The idea that diversity improves a city and makes it safer was radical then, and still radical now, there are always residents trying to move other users of the city out of their neighbourhoods, particularly as they gentrify.

She wrote several other books about the economy of cities, but her best known book, because it changed the paradigm, was her first. She put all her principles into action by campaigning against many proposed improvements to her own and other parts of New York – in a documentary about New York on PBS, one episode of 14 was devoted to her battles with Robert Moses with Jacobs campaigning for neighborhoods to stay as they were and not to be replaced by expressways and Le Corboisier style apartment blocks.

She moved on to Toronto in the late 70s, when she was worried that her sons would be drafted, and immediately became a major campaigner in city planning there. But her influence in New York, and many other cities lived on, as the power of community became something recognised as a force for change in city planning.

It is rare for a thinker in any field to change it singlehandedly as much as she did.


Read Full Post »

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a feminist, novelist and lecturer for social reform in the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She is most famous today for her novella The Yellow Wallpaper, a semi-autobiographical work she wrote after a bout of post-partum psychosis.

Gilman was born in 1860, in Connecticut to a family which was impoverished by her father leaving when she was five. She grew up moving around (she attended 7 different schools) and with several aunts (including Harriet Beecher Stowe) at various times, as her mother could not support the family. She spent a lot of time reading in public libraries, so although her formal education was fairly rudimentary, she had read widely and had great general knowledge by the time she reached adulthood.

She became an artist, and supported herself by designing trade cards, and married a fellow artist, Charles Walter Stetson, in 1884, despite not being sure if he was right for her. She had a daughter, Katherine, the year after, and suffered serious post partum psychosis, for which doctor’s treatment was “Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time… Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours’ intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live.”. By 1888, she and Charles had both decided that they must separate, for the sake of Charlotte’s mental health, and Charlotte moved to California with her daughter.

In California, she became very active in feminist and reformist organisations, writing and editing for several of them. In 1890, she had a very successful year, writing The Yellow Wallpaper, as well as fifteen other works, a mixture of poetry, prose, fiction and non fiction.

As an example of living by her feminist principles, in 1894 Charlotte sent her (now 9 year old) daughter to live with her father, and his new wife (a good friend of Charlotte’s). She believed that it was important for both father and daughter to know each other.

By this time, Charlotte was becoming an important feminist and reformer. She was a successful speechmaker, who earned her living making speeches, as well as a poet, and novelist. She represented California at the national Suffrage convention, and the International Socialist and Labour congress in Great Britain. She began writing on economics, and women, and her book Women and Economics propelled her into the international spotlight. In it and its successor The Home: its work and Influence, she argued that the domestic environment oppressed women through the patriarchal beliefs upheld by society. Gilman argued that male aggressiveness and maternal roles for women were artificial and no longer necessary for survival in post-prehistoric times. She wrote, “There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver”.

She moved back east to New York, in 1893, and in 1900 married her cousin, Houghton Gilman, and their marriage seems to have been a happy one. He died in 1922, suddenly, and she moved back to California to be near her daughter. In 1932, at the age of 72, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 1935 she took her own life using an overdose of chloroform, choosing “chloroform over cancer” as she wrote in her suicide note.

Reading the issues that she campaigned about and wrote about – the assigning of gender roles through toys early in a child’s life, the need for reform of the home to enable women to live equal lives with men, and the need for more equal relationships between men and women to make for happy marriages. It seems sad that today she is remembered mostly for The Yellow Wallpaper when she had so much more to say.


This is part of a serious of notable women from where we are as we travel the world.  Unusually, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was actually a feminist – most of the others have been notable for ways in which they stepped outside their assigned gender roles in times when that was very difficult. I’d love suggestions for future subjects – our itinerary is here.

Read Full Post »

Gráinne Ní Mháille, or Grace O’Malley, known in Irish folklore as Granuaile, was chieftain of the  Ó Máille clan of the west of Ireland in the 16th century, and described by some as a pirate queen.  In her long life, she was the effective head of different Irish clans, the O’Flaherty and O’Malley clans, had her own force of mercenaries, and met with Queen Elizabeth of England in an effort to persuade the English to back off on their creeping takeover of Ireland.

Clare Island, and the west coast of Ireland, Granuaile's stronghold

Granuaile was born in 1530, the only child of the head of the O’Malley clan and his wife, from the west of Ireland. The clan was a seafaring one, and controlled land in what is now County Mayo with a string of castles facing the sea.  The family taxed anyone who fished in their waters, and traded by sea around the region (as far away as Spain). When Granuaile begged her father to go on one of his expeditions, he refused her, saying that women didn’t belong on ships as their long hair got in the way. She took him at his word, and cut her hair short, leading to her lifetime nickname of Granuaile – Grace the cropped (or bald).

She married the heir to the O’Flaherty clan, Donal, and had three children with him. His nickname was Donal of the battle, and he spent a lot of their marriage fighting nearby clans, notably the Joyces. After he died in yet another battle, she captured his castle back from the Joyces, and then set up her headquarters on Clare Island, off the west coast of Ireland, with many of the O’Flaherty followers, who were very taken with her leadership. At this time she expanded the family business from taxing fisherman to taxing anyone plying the waters that they regarded as their own. Any ships would be stopped and boarded, and asked for a share of the cargo in return for safe passage to Galway. Resistance was met with violence, as they took their tribute by force, and then vanished into the many sheltered bays in the area.

The line between piracy and toll is a grey one; most histories would say that she passed it. Over time, she gradually expanded her operations up and down the west coast of Ireland, and onto land as well, attacking castles of nearby clans, in order to add to her holdings. Over time, she became very wealthy and powerful, and a focal point for resistance to the gradually increasing attention of the English lords, who were trying to assert their authority.

She then married a second time, 20 years after her first marriage, to Richard Bourke, an important scion of the Bourke clan, who were nominally the overlords of the O’Malleys. The marriage was said to be so that Granuaile could expand her prestige and holdings; with the marriage she gained a castle, Rockfleet castle, as well as more harbours that would be useful to her fleet of ships. By this time, she was already powerful in her own right, and some stories suggest that the marriage only lasted a year; long enough for O’Malley to have another child, and to annex Rockfleet castle for good.

During this time, the English Tudors were gradually strengthening their hold on Ireland. Richard Bingham was the Lord President of Connacht, with the task of increasing control over the local lords that had effectively been self-governing up till now. After much skirmishing (which included Granuiale’s castle being besieged by the English, with Granuiale reportedly throwing boiling oil down at the besiegers), Bingham captured two of Granuiale’s sons, and her half brother. Granuiale sailed to England, and petitioned Queen Elizabeth for their release, as well as the removal of Richard Bingham and a number of other demands. The two Queens met (with Latin their only common language) and Queen Elizabeth liked Granuaile so much that she acceded to most of the requests, despite Richard Bingham declaring that she was “nurse to all rebellions in the province for this forty years”. 

Granuiale is not mentioned in many of the official histories of Ireland (she doesn’t appear in the Richard Bingham biography on wikipedia, for example) which must be partly her piracy, as well as her gender. But she is the stuff of legend, and the subject of many songs and stories, and was a force to be reckoned with for anyone trying to sail the seas of Ireland while she ruled them. Her castle at Rockfleet can be visited (although we didn’t manage it, too far from our very rural abode).

Thanks to John for suggesting Granuiale for this series.

Read Full Post »

This is a departure from my usual Travelling Feminist post. But I’m in Norway, and Norway, in the 21st century, is proud of its position as one of the most equal countries (by gender roles) in the world.  Statistics Norway has a special gender equality index, and 40% of the parliament (the Storting) is female. Norway has gone further than most in one particular respect – they have legislated for approximately equal gender representation on listed Boards:

Companies are required to have at least 33% to 50% of each gender depending on the size of the board (see details in the document attached). The 40% requirement applies to boards of over 10 members. These percentages are for the shareholder representatives. And for those who wonder, yes, one company did have to search for a male board member to reach the target! (Source: Europeanpwn)

The process the Norwegians went through was two fold. In 2003 (when the percentage of women on listed company Boards was 9%), they introduced the concept, with a deadline of 2005, but no sanctions for non compliance. And then in 2006, they went further, and said that by 2008, those companies that were not complying would be delisted. And now Norway has more than 40% women on its listed Boards. The effect has trickled into non listed companies, as well, with the percentage of women there rising as well, to 17%. The change has been studied by a few different people.

The only quantitative study, by Amy Dittmar and Kenneth Ahern of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan found that the companies with the smallest proportion of women at the beginning of the period of compulsion lost the most value compared with their peers – their hypothesis is that they were most likely to be forced to appoint unsuitable candidates. They found that female directors were significantly different from their male peers – they were better educated (more likely to have an MBA), younger (around 8 years on average) and less likely to have been a CEO. They also found that the proportion of listed companies out of Norway’s total seemed to have reduced (with a reduction in the number of listed companies, and an increase in the number of listed).

Although their study did try and correct for the possibility that the companies with more women on Boards at the beginning were better companies to start with (which is a reasonable hypothesis, given several studies showing statistically better performances from companies with more diversity at Executive level), by comparing with similar US and Scandinavian firms to see if the performance gap was similar, and by correcting for industry differences, it still seems to have relied fairly heavily on market capitalisation at a particular point in time (compared with net assets – the Tobin Q) as a measure of which companies performed, which makes me suspicious, given that the point was in the middle of the global financial crisis. The measurements were relative, rather than absolute, but the strongest argument that comes from this study for me, is that compulsion should be more gradually introduced.

Kate Sweetman spent some time interviewing directorsof Norwegian companies who went through the change. She interviewed men and women, all of whom were already directors, and almost all of whom opposed the change. Two years later, in a series of one-on-one interviews, every single person said that the boards were measurably improved with the addition of the women…some direct quotes:

* “If I had to generalize about the differences between men and women on boards? Women are more interested in getting the facts. Much more prepared; ask many more questions. Men tend to shoot from the hip.

* “What do women bring? We used to be a fraternity of men sitting on each others’ boards. The real issue is the fraternity of men. It is necessary to break up the in-breeding. It is unhealthy how the men protect each other. They are unwilling to go up against the CEO, for example.”

* “Think about the difference between an evening out with 3 of your girlfriends, or a guy and 3 of his guy friends, or two couple friends going out. It is always more interesting when the couples go out. Very different dynamics. The group dynamics totally change. More civilized. Less swearing, less jockeying for position. The problem with jockeying is that jockeying is about the individual’s position, not about the company.”

And Aagoth Storvik and Mari Teigen, both senior researchers at the Institute for Social Research in Oslo, released a study that argued that without both the compulsory quotas and the accompanying sanctions for non-compliance, it would be next to impossible to increase the number of female board members. This articlein Der Spiegel quotes from the study, and the researcher, pointing out that 7 years after the concept was introduced, nobody in Oslo is worried about it any more.

“But after the reform went into force almost nobody seemed to object, hardly anybody is writing about it in the newspapers any more or telling us about negative experiences.”

Australia, where the percentage of women on listed boards was 8% in 2010, recently went through a period of soul searching about this issue. The same arguments as were used in Norway (here outlined by Kate Sweetman) were used as to why quotas are a bad idea:

Quotas are wrong because they are about diversity and business is about meritocracy; quotas are simply a form of institutionalized reverse discrimination–what about the men?; government has no business interfering with the workings of business; quotas on boards flew in the face of shareholder rights; if qualified women existed, we would already have them on the boards; women don’t really want this anyway.

After several people publicly called for quotas, the proportion of women changed faster than it ever has – reaching 10% in less than a year. But 10% is still a long way from 40%. Should there be quotas? The Economist recently argued strongly that this was the wrong way to change the proportion. They ultimately viewed the financial study as more powerful than any other arguments. Although their piece made powerful points that women are consistently underestimated by men (based on a study by INSEAD) and that women are less likely to have a powerful mentor than men – often key to making it to the very top of a corporate, they seem to end up with the view that the main reason that women don’t make it to the top is that old saw – work life balance – they don’t just get the experience needed to get to the very top, and they don’t want to put in the hours.

But a much bigger obstacle to putting more women in boardrooms is that so many struggle to balance work and a family….Partly because it is so tricky to juggle kids and a career, many highly able women opt for jobs with predictable hours, such as human resources or accounting*. They also gravitate towards fields where their skills are less likely to become obsolete if they take a career break, which is perhaps one reason why nearly two-thirds of new American law graduates are female but only 18% of engineers.

I once would have agreed with them, being very cautious about the concept of quotas. Quotas can lead to adverse consequences in many different situations – just those that the Norwegian directors were fearful of. The thought of being regarded as the “token” – not there on merit, but because of a rule, is appalling. But the Norwegian experience suggests to me that it is not just a matter of lack of experience. Unless they are forced to, companies will fall back into comfortable habits when hiring people, particularly those, like board members, for whom it is difficult to define competence or success objectively.

Once more women are let into the boardroom, astonishingly enough, they add value just as they are. Quotas had the effect of forcing companies to hire women who were already capable of adding value to the companies that recruited them.  The last word should go to Hilde Tonne, an executive vice president and head of communications at Telenor, a global telecommunications company based in Oslo, from the NY Times:

“We have excluded women for 1,000 years,” she said, with a smile. “So we have already had quotas — it’s just that they were for men.”


* This is a minor point, but one that has to be made. Most articles you read about women on boards say that not enough women take the hard operational jobs – running an operational division, or being the CFO, rather than HR and marketing. Yet the Economist is talking about women going into easy jobs like accounting and suggesting that is why they aren’t Board members! Really, we can’t win.

Read Full Post »

Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir* was the most travelled woman in the middle ages. Born in Iceland around the year 980, she travelled to Greenland, then on to North America, where she had a son, and then back to Greenland with her husband and son. Not content with that, she decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, where she met the Pope, before retiring to the church to live as a nun.

Gudridur was born in Iceland, the daughter of Icelandic farmers. One of her grandmothers was a slave, quite probably captured from Ireland or Scotland, as many of the first female settlers of Iceland were. When her father refused her permission to marry a local slave, she travelled instead with her father to Greenland, to accompany Erik the Red, who had settled there. She married one of Erik the Red’s sons, Thorstein. She and her husband made an expedition to North America, where her husband’s brother, Leif Eriksson had visited and attempted to settle some years before, in what is now regarded as the first visit from a European to North America. Her husband Thorstein died on the return journey to Greenland.

Gudridur stayed in Greenland, and married again, this time a merchant named Thorfinnr Karlsefni. In 1010, they led another expedition to North America, which they called Vinland, with three ships and 160 settlers. While they were in North America, Gudridur gave birth to a son, Snorri Thorfinnsson, who is the first European known to have been born in the the Americas. They returned to Greenland after two years, finding themselves outnumbered, and unsafe, because of the large groups of native inhabitants. Eventually, Gudridur’s husband died and her son inherited the farm.

This was around the time that both Iceland and Greenland became Christian, and presumably with the fervour of a new convert, Gudridur decided to go on a pilgrimage, once her son married. She travelled to Rome, where she met the Pope, and then came back to Greenland to the church her son had built for her on the family estate. She became a nun, and died there in Greenland.

All of this information comes from the Greenland saga, recorded in the 14th century by an anonymous scribe. She was described as stunningly beautiful and gracious in manners, as well as well liked by everyone.

It seems fairly likely that she was the most travelled woman at that time, and probably for quite a while afterwards. The expedition to Rome was probably not as physically dangerous as the sea voyage to the unknown North America, but far from easy from far away Greenland.

*throughout this post I have used anglicised spellings. Icelandic has several letters that are not used in English, and Gudridur’s name is correctly spelled Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir.


This is part of a serious of notable women from where we are as we travel the world. I’d love suggestions for future subjects – our itinerary is here.


Read Full Post »

Émilie du Châtelet was a mathematician and physicist who lived in France in the Age of Enlightenment. She predicted that the spectrum of light extended past the visible and proposed an experiment to prove it. She reviewed the available evidence (mathematical and experimental) on kinetic energy and proved correctly that the energy of a moving body is proportional to the square of its velocity (not the velocity, as Newton proposed). She translated Newton’s masterwork, the Principia Mathematica from Latin into French, with commentary and extra mathematical derivations of key formulae, and her version is still the standard French version used today.

Émilie du Châtelet was born in 1706 into a minor noble family. Her father was the Principal Secretary and Introducer of Ambassadors to King Louis XIV, and held a salon for intellectuals in Paris. Her family recognised her early brilliance, and unusually for the time, she was educated widely. By the age of 12, she was fluent in Latin, Italian, Greek and German, and was being educated in philosophy, science and mathematics.

In a standard move for the times, at 19 her marriage was arranged to a 30 year old aristocrat, the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chastellet-Lomont. She had three children, and after the third was born, resumed her mathematical studies, studying algebra and calculus with Moreau de Maupertuis and Alexis Clairaut.

The relationship which did most for her scientific studies, but also has tended to hide her from history, was her relationship with Voltaire. They met when she was 22, but began a close relationship when she was 26, in 1733. De Châtelet invited Voltaire to come and live with her and her husband on their country estate in Cirey-sur-Blaise, in North eastern France. They lived and worked there together for fifteen years, working on mathematics and physics together, and editing each others’ publications. Voltaire declared in a letter to his friend King Frederick II of Prussia that du Châtelet was “a great man whose only fault was being a woman”.

Her first major work was on heat on light, in 1737. She published a paper on the nature of light and heat in which she predicted the existence of infrared radiation beyond the visible spectrum of light. Three years later, she published a major book on Physics, called Institutions de Physique,  which was ostensibly a review of the major ideas of Physics at the time for a teenager, but was more of a synthesis of the state of knowledge at the time, arguing strongly for Newton’s theories, and explaining them and comparing them with the latest ideas from the continent.

In this book, she looked hard at the energy of moving bodies, and examined the latest theories, before coming down on the side of energy being proportional to the square of velocity. It wasn’t unusual to have a view on the question, but what du Châtelet did was systematically investigate all the theoretical and experimental evidence to reach the correct conclusion.

Her masterwork, which she is most recognised for, was her translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica. She worked systematically to understand the whole of Newton’s ideas, providing explanations and side notes as well as the basic translations.

She had already started work on the translation, working with Voltaire, when she became pregnant, at the age of 42, with a new lover, poet Jean François de Saint-Lambert. She was very worried about the pregnancy at her age, and wrote to a friend that she did not expect to survive the birth. So she worked systematically at her translation, rising early, and doing very little else until the end of her pregnancy.

She gave birth to a daughter in 1749, at the age of 42, and died five days later, as she feared. Her daughter  died around 18 months later.

During her life Émilie du Châtelet had quite a number of lovers, including the most famous, Voltaire. But it is clear that her first love was science, and she was a key player in the development of theories of energy and motion during the Age of Enlightenment.


This is part of a serious of notable women from where we are as we travel the world. I’d love suggestions for future subjects – our itinerary is here.

Read Full Post »

Marguerite de Navarre was an author and patron of humanists and reformers. She was described by romance scholar Samuel Putnam as the “first modern woman”.

Marguerite was born in 1492, the daughter (and first child) of the Count of Angoulême and Louise, the daughter of the Duke of Savoy. Her father was the heir presumptive of France, assuming a number of other heirs died without issue, and four years later, when her father died, her younger brother Francis became, in turn, heir presumptive to the French throne. Marguerite’s mother, who was only 19 when her husband died, was responsible for the education of her two children. Louise was very well educated, and made sure both her children were educated too. Marguerite was educated with the aim of making her a patron of the Arts, the Maecenas to the learned ones of her brother’s Kingdom.

When she was 17, she was married off to Charles IV of Alençon, who was illiterate, and largely regarded as a dolt. That marriage lasted until she was widowed at 33. Her second marriage followed soon after, to the King of Navarre, with whom she had two children, a girl who lived to adulthood, and a boy who died in infancy.  Six years after her first marriage, in 1515, her brother Francis became King of France, Francis I. She joined him at Court and was a major presence at court, a patron of the Arts, and increasingly interested in religion. She and her brother persuaded Leonardo da Vinci to move to France in 1515, and he died at their chateau, in Amboise, in 1519. When her brother King Francis I lost a war with Spain in 1525, and was captured, she went to Madrid to negotiate his release, and a Treaty with Spain.

Her biggest influence, eventually, was spiritual. In 1521, she began to correspondance with Guillaume Briçonnet, bishop of Meaux, who introduced her to the evangelist movement. She corresponded with many humanists and reformers throughout Europe.  Erasmus wrote to her, saying,

“For a long time I have cherished all the many excellent gifts that God bestowed upon you; prudence worthy of a philosopher; chastity; moderation; piety; an invincible strength of soul, and a marvelous contempt for all the vanities of this world. Who could keep from admiring, in a great king’s sister, such qualities as these, so rare even among the priests and monks?”

She wrote two great works. The first was the Heptameron, a collection of short stories about life, love, fidelity and romance. It was based on the structure of the Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio.  In Critical Tales: New Studies of the Heptameron and Early Modern Culture, edited by John D. Lyons and Mary B. McKinley, the authors noted:

The stories and discussions of the Heptameron depict confrontations based on, among other elements, gender. Contradictory suppositions about women emerge repeatedly from the stories and discussions as the devisants or fictional storytellers–five men and five women–delineate attitudes both feminist and misogynist. At the same time, similarly conflicting notions about men emerge to be debated. Whether echoing the late medievalquerelle des femmes, the contemporary querelle des amyes, the evolving currents of Neoplatonism and Petrarchism, or the attitudes toward sexual roles put forth in Reformation polemics, deeply felt beliefs about gender inform and animate the Heptameron.

While the Heptameron was well received, her more influential work was Miroir de l’âme pécheresse, or the Mirror of the Sinful Soul, which espoused evangelical ideas and combined them with a more personal relationship with God. Some speculated that it had been inspired by her grief on the death of her infant son. The French Evangelical movement did not go as far as the German Protestants, rather it focused on reforming the church’s many excesses, and translating the Bible into the Vernacular. Throughout her life, while her level of public campaigning for the Evangelical movement waxed and waned, Marguerite was a firm supporter of the French evangelical movement.She protected those who were accused of heresy, helping some to escape France into her own more separate territory of Navarre.One of the most famous of those rescued was John Calvin. As a result, her reputation after her death was a little suspect, with many Catholics arguing that she too, had been a heretic.










There are some interesting English history links with Marguerite de Navarre also. She may well have known Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII’s second wife, who had been lady-in-waiting to her brother Francis’ Queen, Claud). It is very likely that some of Anne Boleyn’s protestant views were formed at the French Court where Marguerite de Navarre was a strong influence. Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I), at the age of 12, translated Marguerite’s most famous poem into English as a present for her stepmother Katherine Parr. And Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife)’s nieces wrote an emconium, or tributary poem, to Marguerite de Navarre after she died, which their tutor published. It was the first published work by English women, and was translated into a number of languages by other poets. 


As an interesting aside, I came across Marguerite while watching the Tudors series, which has been notable for how much I have learned about English history, not from the series itself, but because each time Mr Penguin and I watch an episode we are compelled to look up what really happened. She was portrayed in that series as merely one of a succession of Henry VIII’s mistresses, which has no foundation in fact whatsoever.

In reality, Marguerite de Navarre played a major part in shaping the intellectual life of her part of the world, and helped religious tolerance to flourish in the French court, at least in her own lifetime.



Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »