Women in History: Tomoe Gozen


蔀関月筆 Image: Public domain.

Unlike most of the women featured on this blog for Women’s History Month, we don’t know a lot of the details of Tomoe Gozen’s life story.  Even so, what we do know tells us of a woman of incredible strength and bravery.

Tomoe Gozen was a Japanese warrior who lived from 1157 to 1247. This places her on the timeline of history just after Matilda Plantagenet, and makes her the contemporary of Eleanor of Aquitaine, yet she is far less well known in Western culture than she should be. She has appeared as a character in books, film, anime, manga and video games at various times in the last fifty years.  Before that, her story was kept alive in Japanese  festivals and on the stage in classical Kabuki theatre productions.

It was during the Genpei War that Tomoe Gozen won fame as an incredibly strong warrior in Japan’s Samurai tradition.  Female Samurai were called onna-bugeisha, their ranks made up of noble women who fought alongside the men of their clans. Of course, Tomoe Gozen was renowned for being beautiful and strong, but it was her skill as a brave and indefatigable martial warrior in archery, sword fighting and horsemanship and that earned her military reputation and place in history.   

Arising out of long and deep-seated rivalry between the two clans, the Genpei War between Japan’s Minamoto and Taira clans was a bloody and bitter five year long period of conflict which resulted in the defeat of the Taira clan, after which  Minamoto no Yoritomo was established as the first feudal ruler of all Japan, known as the Shogun, in 1192.

Tomoe Gozen’s family was closely associated with the Minamoto clan, and it is believed by many that she was either married to or the concubine of Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a powerful Minamoto general who led his clansmen  to victory over the Taira but lost his lifewhen challenged for the leadership by his cousin Yoritomo, After Yoshinaka’s death, she continued to fight, and is known for beheading several key enemies and evading those who wanted to capture her.


Image: Public Domain.  Tomoe Gozen with Uchida Ieyoshi and Hatakeyama no Shigetada by Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912)

The accounts of what happened to Tomoe Gozen after the Genpei war vary. Some say she married a rival warlord, while others say she gave up the martial lifestyle and became a nun.

Regardless of how her life ended, her courage, skill and commitment set her apart from most whom she fought alongside, and earned her place as a hero in the history of the key battles that brought about a turning point in the history of Japan. 

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Women in History: Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand in 1912, and just a few months before her second birthday, her family moved to Sydney, Australia, where she grew up.

When she was sixteen years old, Nancy left home and got a job as a nurse until she lleft the country for New York, then London where she trained in journalism, before moving to Paris where she worked as a journalist in the 1930s, writing a great deal about the rise of fascism and the horrors of anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. She married and moved to Marseilles in 1939. 

When France surrendered to Germany in 1940, Nancy worked as an ambulance driver in the war. She and her husband joined the French Resistance, for whom she worked as a courier before working to help both Jewish people and Allied servicemen to escape. She made several attempts of her own to escape, having fled Marseilles and even being imprisoned for attempting to leave the country unlawfully.

By the time Nancy did manage to escape to Spain via the Pyrenees Mountains, she was one of the Nazi’s “most wanted” secret agents. It was the Germans who gave her the name ‘The White Mouse’ in reference to her ability to evade capture. 

Once out of France, Nancy made her way to England where she received training in Special Operations. Nancy returned to France in 1944, tasked with helping the French Resistance organise and prepare for D-Day. She organised parachute drops of arms and supplies, and actually experienced combat against German troops. 

It wasn’t until after the liberation of France that Nancy learned that the Gestapo had killed her husband in 1943. His death was something she never got over, as she held herself responsible because he would not betray her. She finished her time with the Resistance in 1944, and returned to Special Operations in Paris and then London. 

After the war she received medals and, in later years, honours from Britain, France and the USA for her service and bravery. 

On her return to Australia she tried to enter politics more than once, but her attempts to win a seat in Parliament were unsuccessful. Restless and unfulfilled, Nancy travelled to England in 1957 and married again, returning to Australia with her husband. 

Nancy Wake published her autobiography, ‘The White Mouse’ in 1985. 

After her husband’s death in 1997, Nancy sold her medals to provide for herself. She went back to England in 2001 and spent the rest of her life there. She died in August, 2011, and her ashes were scattered near Verneix in central France. 

I admire Nancy Wake for her gutsy attitude, her opposition to injustice and her total commitment to a cause. She is a woman in history whom others can rightly consider a most inspiring role model.

Women in History: Margaret of Anjou

In my ‘Women in History’ post about Anne Neville, I commented that she was one of the women of history most grievously misrepresented by Shakespeare. There is a good argument for Margaret of Anjou being another. 

Margaret was the wife of Henry IV and the mother of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, who married Anne Neville.

Shakespeare paints Margaret as a bitter and twisted old woman who hung around the castle and served everyone with a vitriolic curse or two before breakfast every morning. Of course, Shakespeare was not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story or a really effective dramatic device. He was all about the entertainment— and on sucking up to Elizabeth I by portraying her grandfather as the king who brought peace to England after the Wars of the Roses.

It’s understandable, really. Not only was he working from accounts of history written by Tudor-friendly historians, he also understood how foolhardy it would be to offend the reigning monarch and risk his head. Thus, his play casts the first Tudor king, Henry VII in a very godly light, and delivers messages to the masses about how only evil people try to take the throne from the rightful ruler. 

It is a matter of course, then, that both the Yorks and the Lancasters are shown to be fractious, grasping and hateful people. 

What, then, is the real story of Margaret of Anjou?

Margaret was born in 1430 to the Duke of Naples, Rene of Anjou, and his wife Isabella, Duchess Of Lorraine. As the niece of the queen of France, the arranged marriage of Margaret to the young Lancastrian king in 1445, and solidified a truce between France and England that brought an end to the Hundred Years’ War.

Margaret took an active role in supporting Henry IV in his rule, but when his mental health declined, Richard, Duke of York, who held significant position and power at court was appointed as Lord Protector. Margaret and York distrusted one another’s pride and ambition, she because she feared he would claim the throne that rightfully belonged to her husband and son, and he because he deeply disliked the self-assured and proud young French queen. 

Enmity blew out into full conflict in 1455, and the two factions met on battle at St Albans. Henry VI’s forces were defeated, and Richard took the reigns of government.  Henry VI’s mental and physical health had deteriorated to the point where he was unable to govern, so Margaret, determined to maintain hold on the throne for her husband and son, worked relentlessly to remove York from his position, finally regaining control of the throne in 1456. 

By 1459, the situation had degraded so badly that Margaret outlawed York and his key supporters, and armed conflict could no longer be avoided. Henry VI was captured at Northampton in 1460 and, when offered a compromise that would see York declared to be Henry’s heir instead of her son, she steadfastly refused, maintaining that her son was the only rightful heir to the throne of England. 

Margaret’s soldiers killed York near  the Yorkshire town of Wakefield in the December of 1460 and won Henry’s release from Yorkist captivity at the second Battle of St. Albans in February of 1461. 

This was not the end of the conflict, however. York’s sons and supporters continued to fight, and his eldest son Edward of York laid claim to the throne as Edward IV on March 4. His army met and crushed Margaret’s forces at the Battle of Towton on March 29, causing Margaret and Henry to flee to Scotland with their son.

By 1470, Warwick the Kingmaker had become disillusioned with Edward IV as king and commenced machinations to lead a coup against Edward and return Henry IV to the throne. Although there had been strong enmity between them, Warwick and Margaret negotiated a reconciliation arrangement by which Henry was restored as king in October of 1470, and his son Edward was married to Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville to seal the deal. 

It was only a matter of months before Edward’s soldiers killed Warwick in the Battle of Barnet on the on the 14th of April— the same day that Margaret, Edward and Anne returned to England from France. 

The two armies met again at Tewksbury on May 4th, 1471, with Margaret leading the Lancastrian forces in the absence of Henry, whose health had once again deteriorated. Edward dealt Margaret a crushing defeat and her son was killed. 

Shortly after that,  Henry VI was put to death in the Tower of London. This final blow put an end to Margaret’s hopes to reclaim the kingdom, and she was taken into custody where she was held in various places including the Tower of London. She appealed to her father for help, but he refused, so she remained imprisoned until 1475 when the French king Louis XI negotiated her release and paid the ransom that enabled her to return to France.Margaret died in poverty in 1482.

While I have no doubt that she did indeed weep and that she most passionately hated the Yorks, she certainly didn’t get a chance to lurk behind pillars in their castles and curse them face to face. She never saw Richard take the throne of England, nor was she a witness to the death of his wife Anne, her own former daughter-in-law. Both of those things happened in the year after her death.

Women in History: Anne Neville

Anne Neville has to be one of the women in history most maligned by Shakespeare.

While it is true that he does portrays her as one of the many victims of Richard III, and doesn’t really say anything terribly nasty about her, it is also undeniable that her reputation is maligned by the way she is portrayed as being quite fickle and very, very gullible.

As I always remind my students, there is a vast difference between actual history and Shakespeare’s play. In fact, Shakespeare entirely misrepresents both the course of events and the relationship between Anne and Richard. 

Not only were their families well known to one another, they were quite closely related. 

Anne grew up at Middleham Castle, the daughter of the 13th Earl of Warwick and his wife, Anne Beauchamp. Anne’s great aunt was Cecily Neville, the wife of Richard, Duke of York, and mother of Richard and his brothers.

When the Duke Of York died, his youngest sons George and  Richard went to live at Middleham with Warwick’s family. Anne’s sister Isabel would later marry George, Duke of Clarence.

Warwick, known as The Kingmaker, played a crucial role in helping his cousin take and hold the throne as the King Edward IV of the House of York during the troubled times of conflict commonly referred to as either The Cousins’ War or the Wars of the Roses. For the first few years of Edward’s reign, Warwick held enormous influence over the young King. 

However, when Warwick tried to negotiate a marriage arrangement for Edward to secure an alliance with France, he discovered that Edward had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Sir John Grey who had been loyal to the Lancastrians. Warwick was not alone in distrusting her and her family, and was profoundly annoyed by Edward’s secret marriage to a woman whom Warwick considered entirely unsuitable. 

At the same time, and quite likely in direct response to Warwick’s contempt for his queen, Edward refused to give his blessing to a proposed union between his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and Warwick’s daughter Isabel, but the pair married anyway with Warwick’s blessing. 

This pitched Warwick and Edward against Edward, and their forces met in battle at Edgecote Moor in 1469. Edward was defeated and taken captive, although released before long, Warwick had sufficient time to reconcile his differences with Margaret of Anjou, the queen of the former Lancastrian King Henry VI. The significance of this is enormous: Warwick and Margaret absolutely hated one another.  

Even so, Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville was betrothed to Margaret’s son Edward of Westminster, the Lancastrian Prince Of Wales,  as a seal of the alliance, and Henry VI was restored to the throne of England two months before Anne and Edward were married in November of 1470. Thus,  Anne became the Princess of Wales and part of the Lancaster dynasty. 

Edward of York, however, was not so easily deposed. He defeated and killed Henry VI in the Battle of Barnet in April 1471, just as Margaret, Edward and Anne were returning to England. Margaret led an army to Tewksbury in May, where her son Edward was killed either during or just after the battle. Edward IV of York then reclaimed the throne as king of England.

Anne, a young widow, took up residence with her sister Isabel and her husband. When Richard asked for and was given consent to marry Anne, the only opposition came from his own brother, who wanted to inherit the entirety of Warwick’s wealth for himself. 

Anne was very willing to marry Richard, and harbored no resentment toward Richard for any of his deeds, perceived or real. They married in 1472 and theirr only son, Edward of Middleham, was born in 1473.

Her relationship with Richard’s mother Cecily was good and her marriage to Richard was happy, although stricken by grief when their son died at the age of ten. Anne and Richard then adopted the young orphaned son of her sister and Clarence, who was also named Edward — of course he was! and of a similar age to their own son. In yet another striking contrast to Shakespeare’s play, the newly adopted boy was named Richard’s heir. 

Anne Neville died at Westminster on 16th March 1485, from an illness that was most likely tuberculosis. She was only in her late twenties, but she had witnessed a very great deal of conflict, grief and turmoil in the kingdom in the course of her life. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, near the High Altar, although the location of her grave was never marked. 

Anne’s story is very different than that told by Shakespeare. Instead, Anne appears to have been a woman who possessed both integrity and backbone, and to have dealt with her trials with considerable resilience. As much as I love the works of the Bard, I do prefer the real story of Anne Neville, and feel sorry that for so many years, she was neither admired nor respected as she deserved to be. 

Women in History: Boudicca

Boudicca, also known as Boadicea, was queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century AD. 

The Iceni people lived in south-eastern England at the time when the Romans were invading and taking possession of the land. When the Roman forces gained control of southern England in 43AD, they allowed the Iceni king Prasutagus and his queen, Boudicca, to continue to rule.  

This changed when Prasutagus died: the Romans assumed direct control and confiscated the property of all the Iceni families that were considered important. Boudicca was stripped and flogged  and her daughters were raped. Not surprisingly, the resentment against the Romans grew in intensity and became more widespread.

In 60 or 61 AD, Boudicca and the  Iceni seized the opportunity to rebel while the Romans were distracted by a military campaign in North Wales. Other nearby tribes, also resentful of the Romans, joined the uprising.

As the Romans soon discovered, his was not just some local skirmish or a it of grumbly discontent.

Boudicca and her warriors not only defeated the Roman Ninth Legion, they destroyed the city of Camulodunum (Colchester), at that time the capital of Roman Britain, then killed thousands of people as they sacked the cities of Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). 

The scale and decisive nature of the rebellion caused Nero to consider withdrawing from Britain altogether. 

Finally, Boudicca’s forces were  defeated by a regrouped Roman force led by the Governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus himself. It was a crushing defeat in which many Britons were killed.  

While some claim she died of an illness, Boudicca is widely believed to have poisoned herself tather than being captured by the Romans. It does seem a fitting final act of defiance for that strong, brave and very angry woman to die in her own terms and not at the hands of the overlords she hated.


Women in History: Æthelflæd

Meet one of my favourite women in history: Æthelflæd, Lady Of The Mercians.

In today’s Women’s History Month post, I want to introduce you to another favourite feisty English princess: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.

Born in 870  as the first daughter of King Alfred the Great and his wife Ealswith,  she grew up in a kingdom plagued by Viking invasions and increasing Danish domination of lands the had until recently been other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. 

In 878, the tide began to turn when Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington, and  Æthelred  became leader of the the half of Mercia that was still under English control. As Lord of the Mercians, he acknowledged Alfred as King over all the English people who lived in areas not controlled by the Vikings. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Æthelflæd to Æthelred. 

Not content to be a political pawn, Æthelflæd established herself in Mercia as a very capable co-ruler with Æthelred, and when his health began to fail, she took on the responsibilities of rule. When he died in 911, she assumed sole leadership of the kingdom and ruled in her own right as the Lady of the Mercians. 

This was the first time a woman had ruled an English kingdom, and she did a brilliant job of it. She fought against the Danes alongside her father and then he brother Edward, who became King on the death of Alfred in 899, enjoying victories that led to the Viking rulers of York offering her their loyalty in 918. However, Æthelflæd died before she was able to accept their offer and Edward absorbed Mercia into his own kingdom. 

RClearly, Æthelflæd was a woman who was not content to take a passive role in either history or her own life. She recognised no glass ceilings, and showed most of the men around her— including her own brother— how leadership should be done. 

To learn more about this fascinating woman, I recommend Annie Whitehead’s fabulous work of historical fiction, To Be A Queen.

Elegy in Times Square

Originally posted on Longreads:
Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words) Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on…

This is a powerful and poignant piece of writing by Lily Burana via Longreads.

I found her writing to be vivid, full of colour and movement.

There was one line that really stood out to me: even though I have not shared the authors contexts and experiences, it struck me as holding the power of #metoo, watered by the tears of every victim of abuse, exploitation and oppression who looks back on their lives and wishes they could be different.

“Just because money makes you say Yes doesn’t mean the body doesn’t store No in its memory — as sorrow, as trauma.”

I, too, store trauma in this way, although my trauma has come from very different sources. In that sense, despite our different backgrounds and stories, her pain resonates with mine.

I recommend this essay, Elegy in Times Square, best read with an open mind and an empathetic soul.

Longreads

Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words)

Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on 46th Street. I was a peep show girl at Peepland on 42nd. Those were dangerous days. Between crack, AIDS, heroin, and that old stand-by, booze, if you weren’t leveled, you were blessed, watched over by some dark angel. We believed we were among the lucky ones.

We didn’t have anything resembling guidance or even common sense to rely on. What we had was the dressing room tutelage of elders scarcely old enough to drink, and the backbone of every sex industry transaction — commodified consent. Customers grabbed whatever they could, based on whatever you were willing to endure. We…

View original post 1,930 more words

A Change That Is Long Overdue.

Sometimes, you reach the point where enough is enough.

I have reached a new landmark in my journey of self-acceptance and self-care:  I have finally decided to stop saying and thinking horrible things about myself. 

When I posted this image last night, a friend responded with the observation that ” The trick is to catch it and recognize it. That’s the hard part.”

What she says is true, but the fact is that I’ve already been recognising it, and it’s something that has been bugging me for a while. 

For me, the hardest part is that I see my flaws and failures much earlier and more honestly than anyone else does. I know I’m valued and loved, and I know I have talents and abilities that others admire, but I am much quicker to comment on my mistakes and shortcomings than on anything good or positive that I might do. Sadly, this is the habit of a lifetime. 

It’s often said that we’re our own worst enemies. When it comes to cruel words, I think that’s definitely true of me. 

I write poetry that moves people and touches their souls. I write horror stories that chill my readers to the bone. My books get good reviews, and readers tell me they love my work. I teach teenagers, and from time to time, some of them tell me I’ve had a positive impact on their life. 

At the same time, I know full well that not everyone loves me. That doesn’t actually bother me: I don’t like everyone else, either. None of us do. 
Yet it seems that my most consistent critic is none other than myself.  It’s fair to say that on some days, even the people who really, really don’t like me – and they do exist – would be hard pressed to say worse things about me than I do.

Why do I accept it from myself, when I never would from anyone else? Why do I allow words about myself that I refuse to hear my best friend say about herself? I don’t allow my students to talk about themselves or others that way. I’ll unashamedly call someone out for putting another person down, and remind them that they don’t get to talk that way to other people. 

I’ve written previously about having to learn to be patient and kind toward myself physically, especially since my back injury. Now, I’m taking the challenge to master the words and thoughts I use, and to be as quick to defend myself as I am when it’s others on the receiving end. 

I know that making this decision is only the first step, and that actually doing it will be harder than writing about it. I do hope, though, that putting it into writing makes my commitment more binding and less of an impulsive thing that I can forget about. 

This is a change that is long overdue. And no matter how flawed or prone to error I may be, it’s a change that I really need to make. I deserve better treatment than I have been giving myself, and today is the day I will start to make it happen.

Why a Minute of Silence Matters.

Why do we stop for a minute of silence on Remembrance Day?

Today marks the centenary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the fighting in World War I.

It was called “The Great War” not because it was necessarily good, but because the world had never before known war, death or destruction on that scale.

It was supposed to be the “war that ends all wars”. If only it had been.

Yet the 20th century saw another “world war” and a seemingly never-ending succession of national and international conflicts that have continued into the 21st. As though World War I was not brutal enough, humans have worked hard over the past hundred years to develop even more efficient ways of killing each other.

Despite all that fighting, I live in a country that is free, democratic, and prosperous. That privilege is mine, and indeed every Australian’s, to a very large degree because of those who have fought to defend and preserve our freedom.

This morning, I paused at 11am, even though I was home on my own and there was already no noise. It was the intent of that minute of silence that was different.

We do not stop because it’s a nice thing to do, or because it’s expected of us. It cannot be a mere token, for that would be meaningless.

We do not stop for a minute’s silence to glorify the wars. We do not stop to rejoice in our own nation’s or our allies’ victories. We do not stop to continue the hate, nor to protest. It’s noot about what “side” we were on.

We stop to be thankful for those who fought. We remember tha in addition to the millions of soldiers, there were also doctors and nurses and various other support personnel who served. Many gave their lives, others came home damaged in one way or another. Not a single one of them was unaffected by what they experienced at war.

We stop to remember, because we must never allow ourselves to forget.

It is only by remembering the horrors of the past that we have any hope of not repeating them.

To all who served: I thank you from the bottom of my free and privileged Australian heart.

A One-Off Inscription.

There is more truth than most people realise in the jokes about authors killing people off in their books.

Yesterday I signed a paperback copy of my latest book for my best friend. I have written something personal and unique to her and our friendship in her copy of every one of my books.

Yesterday’s effort was by far my favourite.

2018-09-22 13.40.06

You should understand that this is not a promise I’m willing to make to just anyone. Anyone who has read ‘A Poet’s Curse’, for example, will have worked that out very quickly.

Jokes are frequently made about authors putting people in a book and killing them, but most don’t realise just how satisfying and therapeutic that can be.

Oh, we change the name and some minor details, but the important thing is that we know who we’re finishing off, even if the rest of the world doesn’t. And you know, it is important to conceal the true identities of our victims because, in the end, nobody wants it to backfire or get ugly.

I have, in fact, had a number of people ask me if a particular poem or story was about them. Rather than confirming or denying anything, I’ve gone the “self-examination” route. Each of them received the same answer: “If you think that’s a possibility, I suggest you to take a long, hard look at yourself and how you treat people. It might be time to do some repairs.

As an author, I can have my macabre little cake and eat it, too. And as an extra reward for good behaviour, I get to keep my best friend. Bonus!