In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women and Warfare

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Theoretical and Comparative Studies of Gender and War
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks and Pedagogical Sources
  • Anthologies
  • Journals

Renaissance and Reformation Women and Warfare
Brian Sandberg
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0488


Women and warfare is an emerging field in early modern history with a rapidly growing historiography. Art historians and cultural historians have been captivated by images of feminine martial power that deploy the figures of Athena, Minerva, Diana the Huntress, Judith, and Amazons. Much of the historical literature has focused on queens, regents, and female power in early modern royal states. Political and gender historians have examined powerful female rulers and regents such as Mary of Hungary, Margaret of Parma, and Infanta Isabella in the Habsburg Low Countries; Mary I Tudor and Elizabeth I Tudor in England; Marie de Guise and Mary Stuart in Scotland; Catherine de’ Medici, Maria de’ Medici, and Anne of Austria in France; and Amalia Elizabeth in Hesse—who all engaged in military planning and diplomacy. Historians and gender studies scholars are now setting these women warriors and powerful queens into a much broader context of women, gender, and war in early modern Europe. Noblewomen, city women, and peasant women were all swept up into the maelstrom of war in early modern Europe. This bibliographical essay brings together diverse historiographies of women’s history, gender history, history of sexuality, art history, literary history, history of violence, and war and society history. The essay includes sources on women, gender, and warfare in peasant revolts, urban revolts, noble revolts, civil wars, religious wars, and colonial wars, as well as in conventional interstate wars and coalition wars. An initial section discusses General Overviews and historical surveys of women, gender, and war in early modern Europe. A section on Theoretical and Comparative Studies of Gender and War outlines diverse methodological approaches to studying the subject. Brief sections on Reference Works, Textbooks and Pedagogical Sources, Anthologies, and Journals discuss research and teaching tools in the field. A thematic section on Women, Power, and War in Early Modern Europe goes beyond biographical studies to examine gendered dynamics of authority, agency, and power in the early modern period. Women rulers directed warfare and negotiated peace in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Artistic images and literary representations shaped notions of women and war that influenced contemporary political culture. Women and War in the Renaissance and Reformation (1450s-1550s) then considers women and gender in the Italian Wars and in religious and social conflicts during the Reformation era. Another section on Women and Gender in the European Wars of Religion (1550s-1650s) examines women’s experiences and gender dynamics in the French Wars of Religion, Dutch Revolt, Thirty Years’ War, and British Civil Wars. Gendered dynamics of violence in early modern maritime empires are considered in a section on Women, Gender, and Violence in Maritime Empires, focusing on the Portuguese, Spanish, British, and Dutch empires. Indigenous peoples’ experiences of slavery and colonial warfare are contemplated, along with maritime raiding, privateering, and piracy. Gender in Military Culture considers how gender and honor culture fueled familial and social conflict through dueling, feuds, and vendettas. Military organizations promoted specific forms of masculinity and notions of armed service. Women participated in the “campaign communities” that formed around field armies as soldiers’ wives, sutlers, peddlers, and prostitutes. Another section on Gender and Early Modern State Development (1640s-1700s) examines how the rise of permanent armies in the seventeenth century transformed military culture, gradually pushing women out of the military sphere. The section also surveys women and war in the Ottoman expansion, Russian imperial and Eastern European warfare, and French wars of expansion during the reign of Louis XIV. A final section on Women and Atrocities in Early Modern Warfare contemplates women’s suffering from rape, pillage, and massacre. Discussions of women’s status in warfare and attempts to restrain violence against non-combatants drove the development of laws of war in early modern Europe. Warfare was pervasive in early modern Europe, affecting entire states and societies in profound ways. This bibliographic essay provides an introduction to the myriad connections between war, gender, and society in early modern societies. I would like thank Alexander Sosenko, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Northern Illinois University who served as my graduate research assistant, for his assistance in identifying sources for this bibliographic essay.

General Overviews

General overviews and historical surveys of women and war often concentrate on exceptional cases of women warriors and on spectacular violence against women in sieges and massacres. Historians point out the difficulties of locating sources on ordinary women and war, especially dealing with issues of sexual violence, rape, and massacre. More subtle forms of gendered violence and more complex intersections of gender and war tend to be considered in more focused studies. Hacker 1981 offered an initial foray into women and war in early modern Europe, while Crim 2000 presents a more recent short introduction. Lynn 2008 provides an important interpretation of women and armies in early modern Europe. General overviews paint a broad picture of women and warfare across historical periods, although many of them tend to focus primarily on 19th- and 20th-century history, providing some pre-modern examples as an introduction. Elshtain 1987 and De Pauw 2000 presented some of the first general overviews of women and war in world history. Several other books consider the relationships between war, culture, and society in the early modern period. Hale 1985 presents an overview of war and society in Renaissance Europe, considering the impact of war on civilians, while Ruff 2001 weaves a broader overview of violence in early modern Europe, including crime and interpersonal violence. Sandberg 2016 constructs a global overview of war and social conflict in the early modern period. Elshtain 1998 reflects on the challenges in writing the history of women and war.

  • Crim, Brian. “Silent Partners: Women and Warfare in Early Modern Europe.” In A Soldier and a Woman: Sexual Integration in the Military. Edited by Gerard J. deGroot and Corinna Peniston-Bird, 18–32. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2000.

    This chapter offers a brief overview of women and war in early modern Europe, focusing on the writings of Christine de Pizan, Niccolò Machiavelli, and other commentators.

  • De Pauw, Linda Grant. Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

    A broad synthetic work on women in warfare from antiquity to today. Linda Grant De Pauw considers women’s roles as leaders, combatants, camp followers, supporters, and victims. Only one chapter, titled “European Warfare,” deals with the early modern period, however.

  • Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Women and War. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

    Political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain develops a feminist re-reading of political and literary discourses on warfare, considering women and war in war literature, just war theory, and antiwar literature from antiquity to the modern period.

  • Elshtain, Jean Bethke. “Women and War: Ten Years On.” Review of International Studies 24.4 (1998): 447–460.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0260210598004471

    In this article, Jean Bethke Elshtain reflects on her landmark book, Women and War, a decade after its publication. She acknowledges “the complexity of feminism’s encounter with war,” and calls for a new theoretical framework to consider political conflict outside of the traditional frameworks of war and peace.

  • Hacker, Barton C. “Women and Military Institutions in Early Modern Europe: A Reconnaissance.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 6 (1981): 643–671.

    DOI: 10.1086/493839

    Military historian Barton C. Hacker’s article provided a pioneering exploration of women and war in early modern Europe.

  • Hale, J. R. War and Society in Renaissance Europe, 1450–1620. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.

    An impressive thematic work on war, society, and culture in Renaissance Europe. Historian J. R. Hale employs a social history approach, providing examining the soldiers’ experiences of war and the impact of war on civilians, including women.

  • Lynn, John A. Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    An innovative study of women’s involvement in warfare through the “campaign communities” that formed around field armies in early modern Europe. John A. Lynn analyzes camp women, women’s work, and warrior women utilizing evidence from various European armies. Lynn finds that women played a central role in the “campaign community” and its pillage economy until at least 1650, when states and their permanent military systems began to restrict women’s access to field armies.

  • Ruff, Julius R. Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    Julius Ruff’s synthesis examines various forms of violence, ranging from crime and interpersonal violence to revolt and warfare, across early modern European societies. Chapter 2, “States, Arms and Armies,” touches on rape and pillage.

  • Sandberg, Brian. War and Conflict in the Early Modern World, 1500–1700. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2016.

    This interpretive essay provides a thematic analysis of forms of organized violence in the early modern world. The book considers gender issues in the contexts of dynastic war, noble violence, raiding warfare, and ethnic conflict.

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