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The word “renaissance” means rebirth and refers to a lengthy period following the Middle Ages where a great revival in classical learning and social values occurred. This new age began in the 14th century in Italy and soon encompassed all of European Civilization. Many women of that age decided to stand up and get themselves noticed, either by design, or by accident. The following are brief biographies of a few of these dynamic damsels, demoiselles, and grand dames.
Onorata Rodiana
Art blossomed during the Renaissance. Onorata Rodiana, a talented fresco painter, was commissioned by a Marquis to do some extensive work in his palace. Accosted by one of his staff, she stabbed her assailant and then fled. The Marquis eventually called off his hounds, but Onorata had, in the meantime, joined a band of “condottieri”,(mercenaries for hire). Onorata soon became leader of her own mercenary band and over the next 30 years she excelled not at painting frescoes, but at banditry and died with a sword in her hand fighting invading Venetians in 1472.
Queen Isabella of Spain
Queen Isabella of Spain insisted that she and King Ferdinand rule their country equally. Her jewels financed Christopher Columbus’s epic journey to the Americas. Isabella opened her royal arms to female intellectuals and brought them to her prestigious court. But she also had a cruel streak and was absolutely intolerant of other races and religions. To rid herself and Spain of these lower classes, she championed the gruesome Inquisition, successfully banishing the Moors, Jews and Gypsies from Spain.
Charlotte Guillard
Charlotte Guillard inherited Soliel d’Or, a prestigious publishing house, when her husband died prematurely. Soon re-married to a bookseller, she worked tirelessly to expand her business and her quest to make her publishing house the most prestigious in Paris. She hired women as editors and published long lists of humanist histories, references and textbooks. To this day her company is still in business.
Marguerite de la Roque
Marguerite de la Roque wanted a bit of adventure and when her cousin, Roberval, and his friend, Jacques Cartier, decided to explore Canada, she went along. Life onboard ship was a bit boring so she had an affair and soon found herself pregnant. Roberval accused her of betraying their family honor and tossed her off the ship and onto a small isolated island in the St. Lawrence river. In short order she buried her child, her maid and her lover. She survived three winters alone living like a starving hermit before she was finally rescued by a passing ship. Once back in France she opted for a more sedate life of teaching.
Amina of Bakwa
In the Hausa region of Africa (now modern Nigeria) the crown was passed from the warrior queen to her daughter. Amina, first daughter of Queen Bakwa, succeeded in building a huge empire of wealth and walled cities, some of which still stand today. She ruled for almost 40 years and opened trans-Saharan trade routes, dealing in many precious commodities.
Grace O'Malley
Grace O’Malley was a sea raider and sailed the high seas along the Irish coast harassing the English and stealing from other pirate captains. She gave birth to four children and buried numerous husbands. After one of her sons and her brother were captured and imprisoned, legend has it that she paid a personal visit to Queen Elizabeth to bargain for their release. The Virgin Queen was so impressed by the Pirate Queen’s tenacity and courage that Elizabeth handed over immediate pardons for both Grace’s relatives -- and also gave her a generous retirement pension.
Elizabeth the First
Elizabeth the First is considered by some as the greatest of all the British rulers. By the age of eight she’d already survived considerable turmoil. The church labelled her a bastard and her father, King Henry VIII, ordered the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn. She was kept imprisoned in the Tower of London during her half-sister, Mary Tudor’s, short reign. When Elizabeth finally took over the throne at age 25, she quickly proved herself a born ruler. During her 45 year reign England thrived, culturally, economically and politically. Elizabeth went on to introduce social welfare and further reform. She died in 1603 without ever marrying or producing an heir.

No matter the time period in history, past or present, women continue to leave their own distinctive mark.