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Medieval Women: 10th Century

Women of the Middle Ages who changed history - 901-1000

Article by Jone Johnson Lewis, Women's History Guide

In the tenth century, a few women achieved power but almost entirely through their fathers, husbands, sons and grandsons. Some even served as regents for their sons and grandsons. One source of power was as a founder of monasteries, churches and convents as Europe's Christianization became nearly complete. Women's value to royal families was as childbearers and as pawns to move around in dynastic marriages. Occasionally women (like Aethelflaed) led military forces, or (like Marozia and Theodora) wielded direct political power.

A few women (like Andal, Lady Li and Hrosvitha) achieved prominence as artists and writers. But it is also in this century that Chinese women at court began to have their feet bound.

Tenth Century Timeline:
Notable Women 901-999

Saint Ludmilla - She raised and educated her grandson, the future Saint Wenceslaus, was key in the Christianization of her country, and was murdered by her daughter-in-law Drahomira, a nominal Christian.


Aethelflaed - a daughter of Alfred the Great, she became political and military leader when her husband was killed in battle with the Danes in 912, and went on to unify Mercia.

? - 918

Theodora - her alleged lover, Pope John X, whose election as Pope she supported, was allegedly murdered by her daughter, Marozia, by her husband, Theophylact. She is also credited as the grandmother of Pope John XI and great-grandmother of Pope John XII.

? - 928

Olga (Helga) of Russia - first known woman to rule Russia, first Russian ruler to adopt Christianity, first Russian saint in the Orthodox Church, widow of Igor I, regent for their son.


Marozia - daughter of the powerful Theodora, as well as allegedly mistress of Pope Sergius III, she was the mother of Pope John XI (by her first husband Alberic or by Sergius) and another son Alberic who stripped the papacy of much secular power and whose son became Pope John XII.


Saint Matilda - founder of monasteries and builder of churches; Queen of Germany; wife of Henry I; mother of Emperor Otto I, duke Henry of Bavaria, St. Bruno, Gerberga who married Louis IV of France and Hedwig, whose son Hugh Capet founded a French royal dynasty.


Saint Edith of Polesworth - Daughter of Edward "the Elder" of England and widow Sigtryggr Gale, King of Dublin and York, she became a nun at Polesworth Abbey and Tamworth Abbey and abbess at Tamworth.

about 901 - 937

Eadgyth (Edith) of England - Daughter of Aelflaed and King Edward the Elder of England, married to Emperor Otto I.


Hrosvitha von Gandersheim (Hroswitha, Hrostsvit, Hrotsvithae) - a canoness in a convent in Saxony, as well as a dramatist - the first woman to write plays that we know of - and a poet and chronicler, her name translates as "strong voice."


Saint Adelaide - Western empress from 962 (consort of Otto I), regent for Otto III 991-994 with her daughter-in-law Theophano.


Michitsuna no haha - Japanese poet who wrote The Kagero Diary.


Theophano - wife of Byzantine emperors Romanus II and Nicephorus II, and regent for her sons Basil II and Constantine VIII. Her daughters Theophano and Anna married important 10th century rulers -- the Western emperor and Vladimir I "the Great" of Russia.

943?-after 969

Emma, Queen of Franks - wife of Lothair, she is said to have poisoned her son, Louis V, who more likely died in a hunting accident, ending the Carolingian dynasty. He was succeeded by Hugh Capet.

~945-after 986

Aelfthryth (Elfrida, Elfthryth) - married to King Edgar "the Peaceable", after his death she may have helped end the life of her stepson Edward "the Martyr" so that her son could become King as Aethelred (Ethelred) II "the Unready."


Theophano - daughter of the Byzantine empress Theophano and emperor Romanus II, she married the western emperor Otto II and later served as regent for her son, Otto III, with her mother-in-law Adelaide.


Saint Edith (Eadgyth, Ediva) of Wilton - illegitimate daughter of King Edgar "the elder", she was a nun at and perhaps abbess of Wilton Abbey, where Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, was educated.


Anna - daughter of Theophano and Emperor Romanus II, she was married to Vladimir I of Kiev who converted to Christianity to marry her. She brought Byzantine culture to Russia.


Sigrid the Haughty - She refused to marry King Olaf of Norway because it would have required her to give up her faith and become Christian.

~968-before 1013

Aelfgifu (Aelflaed, Elfreda, Elgiva) - first wife of King Aethelred (Ethelred) "the Unready," and probably the mother of his son Edmund II Ironside who briefly ruled as King of England.


Some more women of the 10th century whose specific dates are unknown or less sure:

  • Andal - an Indian poet who wrote devotional poetry to Krishna
  • Lady Li - a Chinese artist who is credited with inventing monochrome ink bamboo painting
  • Zahra - the favorite wife of Caliph Adb-er-Rahman III, she inspired the palace of al-Zahra near Cordoba, Spain
  • Ende - German artist, first known female manuscript illustrator

More 10th Century Medieval Women on the Net

Text copyright 1999-2004 © Jone Johnson Lewis.

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