I’ve always loved the question of, if you could talk to anyone, alive or dead who would it be? So for the purposes of this blog post I’m going to have a historical tea party and choose the most interesting historical women I can think of and do my best to show you just how awesome they are. All guests will obviously be gifted with the ability to speak modern English because it’s not fun having guests you can’t actually communicate with. At a later point I’ll do a list of men as well, and each guest list will be limited to five people.
Malinali/La Malinche/Doña Marina
(Saint) Kateri Tekakwitha
Catherine the Great
Let’s take a closer look at the guests, we have women from Mexico, Canada, Russia, Italy and China. I’ll give you a few of the most interesting facts I know about these women and hopefully that stirs you into wanting to learn more about them. .
Malinali, as far as I know, doesn’t have the greatest reputation in Mexico. She is known by some as the woman who essentially handed Mexico on a platter to Cortez (Cortés) and the Spaniards. Accounts of her life vary, but it seems that she was born the daughter of a Cacique, (similar to a chief) and was sold to the Tabascan people. In the accounts by one of Cortez’s companions, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, it seems that she was well respected by the Tabascans, despite the fact that she was a slave. If she didn’t live as a slave among them, she was still given as a slave to the Spaniards when they arrived. Malinali was able to speak two very important languages, Nahuatl and Mayan, which covered the linguistics of most of Mexico at that time. She also learned Spanish from the Spaniards and served as the interpreter as the Spaniards traveled through Mexico. She saved their lives and was one of the big reasons they made it to the capital to see Montezuma alive. I found it pretty interesting that when I was reading the works of Castillo that he begins to talk of Montezuma and then abruptly stops and starts talking about Malinali instead and doesn’t actually come back to Montezuma for several chapters. She was obviously very important to the Spaniards for them to literally cut off discussion about the ruler of the Empire they hoped to traverse in favor of a slave woman. I wish there was an account of things written by her and not sources skewed one way or the other, but to my knowledge one doesn’t exist, or at least hasn’t been translated into anything I could read. I’m sure there’s a very complicated answer to this question, but I want to know why she sided with the Spaniards? Was it love, politics, religion, something else entirely?
Kateri Tekakwitha died quite young, she converted to Roman Catholicism when she was 19 and died at age 24. She is also the first indigenous Canadian to be canonized by the Church. She was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and was introduced to the Catholic faith by her mother who was baptized and educated by missionaries. She was the only surviving member of her family after smallpox swept through her village. As she grew up she refused marriage several times, either pressure to marry or direct proposals. After her conversion she left her village and moved to a Jesuit mission. After her death she was said to have appeared to three people, her mentor, her friend and her priest. As far as I’ve read, the miracles that got her canonized didn’t occur during her life, but rather her remains and the remains of her coffin were used to heal people. The most recent was in 2006 in which a boy’s severe infection was broken after contact with her remains. I’m not sure of what questions I would ask her, but I think it would just be fascinating to hear about her life.
Catherine the Great actually has some relevance to my family. During her reign she opened up regions of Russia to allow Germans to settle there so my ancestors gathered up their lives and parked themselves along the Volga river. Catherine was a German herself and married into the Russian monarchy when she wed Peter III. He was not particularly popular and ended up deposed and possibly assassinated, though the exact cause of his death is unclear. Catherine however managed to reign successfully for 34 years until she died of a stroke at age 67. She wasn’t perfect by any means, but she managed to advance the empire in her time. There are loads of rumors about her life, usually of a sexual nature with a focus on infidelity and bestiality. The infidelity claims seem to be quite true, but the claims of bestiality are commonly accepted to simply be an attempt to discredit her. There’s so much information out there about her, I won’t even begin to put it all here, but you should definitely check her out.
Lucrezia Borgia is part of a very notorious family, but I’ve always wondered if the stories were factual or whether they were fabrications spun by the Borgia Pope’s successor. Either was possible, though I personally lean towards them not being factual since Julius II, was the direct competition for Borgia and had a horrible reputation himself and he obviously was the longer-lived of the two and wielded immense power in his later years when the Borgias weren’t around to defend themselves. I would be so curious to know what is fact and what is slanderous rumor and who better to tell me then Lucrezia herself? For anyone who doesn’t know some of the things that the Borgias were accused of are incest, murder, various religious crimes (simony, etc.) and war crimes.
Ching Shih is both amazing and terrifying. She was the leader of a pirate crew of ~80,000 pirates and almost 2000 ships! If ever there was a Pirate Queen it was Ching Shih. Her husband was the original leader, but when he died she took over everything. She also had a pretty scary code of laws that everyone in her fleet had to follow. Crossing her usually ended with your head no longer attached to your body. It seems like part of her success was the public fund that she developed. This basically distributed any pirate booty pretty evenly (after the original person who stole it was rewarded) to keep all of the ships well supplied, even if they weren’t as successful, so there was never any run down or underfed parts of her fleet. It was also not permitted to steal from any villages that supported the pirates, so between having a strong fleet and a supportive network it was hard to not be successful.
I hope this post has introduced you to some fascinating women that you might not have been aware of and that it inspires you to learn more about women in history.
Thanks for stopping by!
Here’s a little more info if anyone wants to do some further reading: