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Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It

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"I am the fiery life of divine substance, I blaze above the beauty of the fields, I shine in the waters, I burn in sun, moon and stars" - Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179) The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the "I am the fiery life of divine substance, I blaze above the beauty of the fields, I shine in the waters, I burn in sun, moon and stars" - Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179) The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the 'dark' ages were anything but. Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women's names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated. Only now, through a careful examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions they left behind, are the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women like Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe, Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety, and the Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England. See the medieval world with fresh eyes and discover why these remarkable women were removed from our collective memories.


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"I am the fiery life of divine substance, I blaze above the beauty of the fields, I shine in the waters, I burn in sun, moon and stars" - Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179) The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the "I am the fiery life of divine substance, I blaze above the beauty of the fields, I shine in the waters, I burn in sun, moon and stars" - Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179) The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the 'dark' ages were anything but. Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women's names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated. Only now, through a careful examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions they left behind, are the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women like Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe, Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety, and the Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England. See the medieval world with fresh eyes and discover why these remarkable women were removed from our collective memories.

30 review for Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It

  1. 4 out of 5

    Leah (Is having a bookish breakdown)

    *Thank you so much to netgalley and the publisher for an arc in exchange for an honest review.* One of my favourite genres is books centering forgotten female stories and figures, and this is exactly what Ramírez has written in Femina. As she puts it in the author's note, "I am not here to convince you that it is high time we put women at the centre of history. Many have already done that." And she is correct, because thousands of women have tried and for the most part, begun to succeed. What is n *Thank you so much to netgalley and the publisher for an arc in exchange for an honest review.* One of my favourite genres is books centering forgotten female stories and figures, and this is exactly what Ramírez has written in Femina. As she puts it in the author's note, "I am not here to convince you that it is high time we put women at the centre of history. Many have already done that." And she is correct, because thousands of women have tried and for the most part, begun to succeed. What is necessary, rather, is that these women have their stories told and remembered. Femina examines case studies of women from throughout the early ages by analysing artifacts, providing contextual information and interspersing the text with vivid descriptions to bring the ancient women to life. In 9 chapters, Ramírez expertedly weaves an astounding narrative firmly explaining how, if not wrong, but distorted modern history truly is. The amount of male figures who simply wouldn't, or even didn't, accomplish what they've been credited without a woman's intervention for was ridiculous. It seems absurd that these powerful icons could just be forgotten. That's what really makes Femina stand out. A second reason for this is Femina gives a reason for this revisionist history we learn today. We all know WHO rewrote history (men) and WHAT they rewrote (anything featuring a powerful woman) but why? And how? Femina examines this point carefully. My only criticism would be that the book is heavily focused on central and western Europe, I think a broader scale would be great. From medieval queens, to Viking warriors, Ramírez truly does shine a light into the inner workings of the pre modern ages. I think this should be essential reading for anybody, of any age, learning history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bagus

    The first thing that came to mind when I picked up this book is that this book should not be categorised as a ‘history’ book. Rather, we should call it ‘herstory’ since it highlights the unheard voices of women during the medieval period in Europe (no puns intended). The medieval period is often seen as a period heavily influenced by the clergy, with religions taking a central role in people’s daily lives as well as the men who took a central position on it. In attempting to voice the lives of t The first thing that came to mind when I picked up this book is that this book should not be categorised as a ‘history’ book. Rather, we should call it ‘herstory’ since it highlights the unheard voices of women during the medieval period in Europe (no puns intended). The medieval period is often seen as a period heavily influenced by the clergy, with religions taking a central role in people’s daily lives as well as the men who took a central position on it. In attempting to voice the lives of the women from the medieval period, both extraordinary and ordinary, Janina Ramirez utilises a new approach in her discourses, namely relying on alternative interpretations based on recent findings in the fields of archaeology, newly available archives, as well as the writings written by the women themselves. Femina is a reassessment of the medieval period, particularly in the role of women in unheard roles, notably in science, governance, clergy and cultural developments. But apart from that, Janina does not only talk about women, but also about the ‘now and then’ situation. Supported by recent findings, we could see that queerness and heretics did exist in the past, and that history contains the other sides of official narratives. An example of this would be the Cathars who practiced a Christian dualist movement in the 12th century southern France and was considered heretics by their contemporaries. Yet we could find among their practices which encourage women empowerment, i.e. through abstaining from sexual intercourse and meat, which encourage the women to not be constrained by their traditional roles as they were less likely to die from childbirth and could have the luxury to pursue other vocations in their lives. Some women who are described in this book are quite popular in their native countries and countless scholarly research are already written about them. For example, Jadwiga who married Jagiełło in the Union of Krevo that established the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is widely celebrated in Poland, especially during the era of the partition of Poland by the neighbouring Russia, Austria and Prussia in the 19th century, as she was seen as a symbol of Poland’s enduring history. Yet Janina’s research adds more values to Jadwiga’s role in Poland, particularly when compared with her husband Jagiełło in terms of their contribution in negotiating Poland’s position in the medieval Europe and the establishment of the first university in Poland, i.e. Jagiellonian University in Kraków, which was named after Jagiełło even though it was established by Jadwiga. Janina’s research shows that history is not static, new findings could change the way we view the past. And it also highlights our collective responsibility to negotiate on how we want the future generation view our timeline in the course of history. But first, we need to reassess history to gain more objective views about those written out of it, i.e. women, queer, working class people. It’s an interesting book, but I think the discourses are too focused on the women in the medieval Europe and shows lack of representation of women from other parts of the world.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jen Burrows

    I thoroughly enjoyed this in-depth re-examination of the middle-ages, told through the stories of women. With each chapter broadly taking in a century, Ramírez covers a broad spectrum of European history, but she does so by focusing specifically on a particular woman or community of women at a time. This is a history rich in detail - and I found myself not only learning about new and fascinating characters, but really getting a sense of the world they lived in. Ramírez also provides some context I thoroughly enjoyed this in-depth re-examination of the middle-ages, told through the stories of women. With each chapter broadly taking in a century, Ramírez covers a broad spectrum of European history, but she does so by focusing specifically on a particular woman or community of women at a time. This is a history rich in detail - and I found myself not only learning about new and fascinating characters, but really getting a sense of the world they lived in. Ramírez also provides some context of where these women sit in the study of history, and - as is often the case - how they have been rediscovered. While it's impossible to view these women through the lens of modern day feminism, it's fascinating to see medieval women who are empowered by their sex in different ways. But not only does our contemporary culture influence how we view history, Ramírez also shows how our understanding of the past shapes the present. And that's why books like Femina are some important. A must-read for anyone interested in medieval history. *Thank you to Netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review*

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carlton

    This is a thought provoking book, which is successful in that it has made me further question popular history books for the general reader, and it is well written and engaging. I’m dissatisfied to the extent that it is (hopefully) making a historically dated argument (I may be optimistic here!) and does so in a disjointed way. The book is a series of essays about various medieval women, but I found it dissatisfying overall, since other than relating to medieval women, the essays are otherwise dis This is a thought provoking book, which is successful in that it has made me further question popular history books for the general reader, and it is well written and engaging. I’m dissatisfied to the extent that it is (hopefully) making a historically dated argument (I may be optimistic here!) and does so in a disjointed way. The book is a series of essays about various medieval women, but I found it dissatisfying overall, since other than relating to medieval women, the essays are otherwise disconnected. As the only narrative thread linking these stories is that they are about women, it does not provide the “new history of the Middle Ages” which is the book’s subtitle, and I found any pattern too fragmentary, although the essays are engagingly written and well researched. Ramirez’s excellent introductory essay concludes identifying the book’s purpose more honestly: “We need a new relationship with the past, one which we can all feel a part of. Finding these extraordinary medieval women is a first step, but there are so many other silenced voices waiting to have their stories heard.” Ramirez’s essay style of an introduction to each chapter’s subject by reference to a relatively contemporary event (for example the 1997 canonisation of the fourteenth century Jadwiga, “King” of the Poles in chapter 7), followed by an imaginative verbal recreation of an event in the individual’s life and then an exploration of their wider historical significance is a good approach. But it does become repetitive and underlines the discontinuity of the essays. The book is well illustrated with photos of artefacts, artistic reconstructions and useful maps, but for me there appears to be an idiosyncratic choice of historical figures, some well known, others unknown (the Loftus “Princess”), although each essay is engaging and full of interesting stories. Also, after introducing her eminent women in the early chapters, Ramirez can appear to go off on a tangent due to the lack of records, but skilfully brings the narrative back to her chosen exemplar of a worthy woman in the period, providing relevant context for their significance. In her final thoughts, Ramirez says : “Like so many others, I have been led by generations of historians before me, their contemporary agendas often presented in the guise of empirical truths. I have tried a different, but similarly loaded, approach in this book, putting the spotlight on women. It is no less biased, and is representative of the time in which I am writing. But by re-examining extraordinary women like Hildegard and Margery, casting a new light on over-written females like Æthelflæd and Jadwiga, and using recent discoveries to reconstruct lost individuals like the Loftus Princess and Birka Warrior Woman, the medieval world has taken on a different complexion.” My overall impression is of the book trying to make a larger argument (thesis) from a collection of engaging essays about medieval women who were influential in their time. Instead the book reads like a collection of case studies with which to make the argument that the role of historically significant medieval women has been downplayed when histories of the medieval period were being being written in the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. This is “topped and tailed” with essays outlining Ramirez’s argument, that the histories of the medieval period need to be expanded to reflect the simplification and distortion of women’s roles, and this book provides some examples of historically significant medieval women. The challenge identified in this book can be seen to have been accepted in books such as Michael Woods’ 40th anniversary updating of In Search of the Dark Ages: The classic best seller, fully updated and revised for its 40th anniversary published earlier this year, which includes new chapters on the historically significant Anglo Saxon women Aethelflaed, Lady Wynflaed and Eadgyth. The ongoing challenge for popular history writers will be to incorporate the stories of historically significant women seamlessly into broader narrative history, so widening our understanding. It is a difficult balancing act to show relevance and significance, but not to be read by modern readers as just inclusion as positive discrimination of “token” women. I received a Netgalley copy of this book, but this review is my honest opinion.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Baran

    I've read a few new takes on history this year - from The Dark Queens narrative history of Brunhild and Fredegund in the 6th-century Merovingian Empire, and Vagabonds attempt to reclaim the words of the 18th Century London working and criminal underclass. And its interesting reading forewords and the authorial voice in these projects to see the degree to which they see themselves fighting against orthodoxy (and where they come from). Vagabonds was very open and matter-of-fact about its attempt t I've read a few new takes on history this year - from The Dark Queens narrative history of Brunhild and Fredegund in the 6th-century Merovingian Empire, and Vagabonds attempt to reclaim the words of the 18th Century London working and criminal underclass. And its interesting reading forewords and the authorial voice in these projects to see the degree to which they see themselves fighting against orthodoxy (and where they come from). Vagabonds was very open and matter-of-fact about its attempt to put people back into history, and The Dark Queens pretty much got stuck in to its version of Game Of Thrones. Femina - perhaps as suggested by its name - is much more self conscious about its attempt to put women back in to medieval history, and has the feeling of someone who has been pushed back in that process many times. The result is often fascinating, but a little scattershot. There is an early attempt to take down the Great Man Theory of history, but - even when the actual identity of her women cannot be identified - there is a sense that she wants to respond with a Great Woman Theory. Within that Ramirez does a very impressive job of both standing on the shoulders of giants from the last century, and also utilising all of the technology that archaeology and other forms of scientific analysis can give her. This is in the way of a summary - certainly the archaeological findings from the Birka Warrior Woman sits differently from the detailed writings of Margery Kemp or the near mythological status of Jadwiga of Poland (a proper woman king). Books like this are vital to start to set the record straight, but there is a question around how that plays to someone who is already on board with the project (and is critical of Great Anyone Theory). As mentioned Ramirez bounces around a lot within her definition of the medieval period, and stays solely within Europe (despite a last gasp bit of racial diversity from a Black Plague Pit). And whilst I learnt a lot, and have plenty I want to follow up on (not least Jadwiga), the book didn't feel quite as focused as it could be. I was also surprised not to hear mention of Brunhild and Fredegund which I think fit in her period and were themselves extraordinary women - if perhaps not learned and rather more bloodthirsty. I suppose that is where the book didn't work for me - its so keen to prove the point that there were exceptional women succeeding beyond the strictures of their time that it seems to ignore most women, who were an important part of history just by living and contributing albeit though perhaps making no mark officially.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Rose

    Femina provides a fascinating insight into a number of medieval women who most amateur lovers of history will probably have heard of only in passing, if at all. Ramirez describes them as being "written out of history" and by the very nature of that, the evidence surrounding many of their lives is fragmentary and tangential. Despite this, the way their stories are pieced together through the artefacts and mentions of them that have survived the centuries felt very well reasoned and the writing ve Femina provides a fascinating insight into a number of medieval women who most amateur lovers of history will probably have heard of only in passing, if at all. Ramirez describes them as being "written out of history" and by the very nature of that, the evidence surrounding many of their lives is fragmentary and tangential. Despite this, the way their stories are pieced together through the artefacts and mentions of them that have survived the centuries felt very well reasoned and the writing very capably led the audience through the details and their meanings to draw vivid, realistic pictures of how they and their contemporaries might have lived. While it is a book that requires focus when reading and time to digest all the information presented, I felt it struck a good balance between a tone of academic authority and still being readable for someone like me - with an interest in history but no background in its study and not a regular reader of academic texts. Most of the women discussed in detail in the book are extraordinary in one way or another. They are royalty or nobility, or hold positions of wealth and power in the religious institutions where a number of them are found; they are the pioneering female academics of their times or the leaders of their communities. This does make their stories all the more engaging, and means that there is more evidence to trace their lives, but on the other hand limits how much they can illustrate of the wider roles of women in medieval times. Ramirez does her best to draw out the connections and inferences that can be made, but if it is the broader picture that you are interested in, this isn't the book for you. Personally, I wish that more had been included in that area, but that is probably more reflective of my particular interests than of any fault in the book itself.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Merissa (Archaeolibrarian)

    FEMINA: A NEW HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE AGES provides new insight into the world of the Loftus Princess, Hildegarde of Bingen, and the Birka Warrior Woman - to name just a few. It shows us a world where women were better respected and listened to than we have previously imagined, or thought from reading historical documents. The works of these women, their voices, have disappeared through the years, some accidentally, some on purpose. Some of them have survived, but have been changed by male histori FEMINA: A NEW HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE AGES provides new insight into the world of the Loftus Princess, Hildegarde of Bingen, and the Birka Warrior Woman - to name just a few. It shows us a world where women were better respected and listened to than we have previously imagined, or thought from reading historical documents. The works of these women, their voices, have disappeared through the years, some accidentally, some on purpose. Some of them have survived, but have been changed by male historians from the time periods that came after. And some, like Hildegarde, have been saved by brave and courageous acts. Each section focuses on a different woman and gives the reader a glimpse into their lives and achievements. It shows how well-travelled the world was at a time when you think everyone stayed 'at home'. I have learnt about Jadwiga of Poland which I had never heard of before, plus others. I found this to be an intriguing and interesting book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and I have no hesitation in recommending it. ** same worded review will appear elsewhere ** * A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book, and the comments here are my honest opinion. * Merissa Archaeolibrarian - I Dig Good Books! #NonFiction, #Medieval, #History,

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gill M

    They say that history is written by the victors and for much of time, men have been victorious. Thus, history has concentrated on the actions and personalities of men. In Femina, Janina Ramirez seeks to redress the balance by providing fascinating portraits of a range of exceptional Medieval women. Femina shines with Ramirez's enthusiasm for sharing her Medieval favourites. An enjoyable read for both, those already familiar with the Medieval period and the newly introduced. I received a free cop They say that history is written by the victors and for much of time, men have been victorious. Thus, history has concentrated on the actions and personalities of men. In Femina, Janina Ramirez seeks to redress the balance by providing fascinating portraits of a range of exceptional Medieval women. Femina shines with Ramirez's enthusiasm for sharing her Medieval favourites. An enjoyable read for both, those already familiar with the Medieval period and the newly introduced. I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley and am voluntarily leaving a review. All views expressed are my own.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Violet

    I really enjoyed this. It was well researched and explored multiple women, both through archeology and archives. Many of them I either didn't know or knew very little about, and I found it really fascinating. Janina Ramirez really brings colour to the Middle Ages in an engaging way without compromising on facts. Free ARC sent by Netgalley. I really enjoyed this. It was well researched and explored multiple women, both through archeology and archives. Many of them I either didn't know or knew very little about, and I found it really fascinating. Janina Ramirez really brings colour to the Middle Ages in an engaging way without compromising on facts. Free ARC sent by Netgalley.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    Misunderstood, side notes, or left out completely... "Femina" is a stark reminder of just how much of the history of the human race is missing, incomplete, or just plain wrong - all because women weren't considered all that important. It makes for fascinating reading, but left me with a sadness for everything we've lost. "Femina" feels like it should be the first volume in a very long series. My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley. This review was written voluntarily and is entirely my Misunderstood, side notes, or left out completely... "Femina" is a stark reminder of just how much of the history of the human race is missing, incomplete, or just plain wrong - all because women weren't considered all that important. It makes for fascinating reading, but left me with a sadness for everything we've lost. "Femina" feels like it should be the first volume in a very long series. My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley. This review was written voluntarily and is entirely my own, unbiased, opinion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Seriesbooklover

    I couldn’t resist this book, particularly when it feels like the gains made by feminism are being eroded and this book highlights the amazing women of the middle-ages who have been wiped clean from the history books. I received a copy of this book for a free and unbiased opinion. This book is a passionate discussion of the role women played in the middle-ages and made me reassess my own assumption that women played no role except to marry and have children and had no voice. But as the author descr I couldn’t resist this book, particularly when it feels like the gains made by feminism are being eroded and this book highlights the amazing women of the middle-ages who have been wiped clean from the history books. I received a copy of this book for a free and unbiased opinion. This book is a passionate discussion of the role women played in the middle-ages and made me reassess my own assumption that women played no role except to marry and have children and had no voice. But as the author describes this is perhaps a Victorian concept. The author focuses on a few women – some known and some unknown- carefully presenting her evidence and explanation as to why these women were amazing. She starts with the unknown warrior woman found buried in Loftus, North Yorkshire buried with her weapons and the world’s continued disbelief that women could fight to Jadwiga, a powerful Monarch whose husband seemed to be remembered by history more than her. The author presents her facts in a highly enjoyable way, I never felt I was reading a boring old history book and at times it was like I was reading my favourite historical fiction. The book is never preachy and the author’s passion for the subject shines through. My only minor criticism ( and more than I wanted to read more) is that it focuses on European history and would have loved to read about more amazing women around the world. Perfect for anyone Who loves books on less described aspects of history and those who love a feminist twist in their history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jemima Pett

    This is one of those books you read carefully, all the way through, or dip into when you feel ready for the next character. I read it carefully, since I felt a duty to do so, although at several points I was tempted to skim. And maybe it would be best to skim some of the great detail Ramirez goes into, especially when it involves the male politicians (and religious political manoeuvrings). It is also very easy for me to view the Middle Ages with fresh eyes, since my previous encounters with it ha This is one of those books you read carefully, all the way through, or dip into when you feel ready for the next character. I read it carefully, since I felt a duty to do so, although at several points I was tempted to skim. And maybe it would be best to skim some of the great detail Ramirez goes into, especially when it involves the male politicians (and religious political manoeuvrings). It is also very easy for me to view the Middle Ages with fresh eyes, since my previous encounters with it have all been through relatively recent books. I am not a historian. This book drew me because of the promise of women kicking against the establishment. And yes, I found them. But more, I found how much of our reason for needing female role models is mostly relatively recent. The Reformation certainly didn’t help, and started the exclusion of women’s writing. But the Victorians are probably most to blame for what we are currently still kicking against, despite the fact we’ve been doing it since at least World War 2 ended. Femina puts all this into perspective, and opens our eyes to what the women of the past went through to assert their rights. It is not surprising most of the tales of extraordinary women who should be remembered better are a privileged few. Queens, consorts, abbesses and the occasional female king (Jadwiga), were better placed to get their voices heard. And they did, before they were buried by those who came after. The best parts of this book were, to my mind, the start of each chapter where the author describes how the subject was rediscovered through painstaking research and archaeology, and sometimes through adventures worthy of a spy novel. The pattern of the book then takes us to era of the woman in question, exploring her life and work. This can get somewhat turgid: the author explains the setting and background politics in great detail. I suspect that historians won’t need that, and lay folk will sometimes get bored with it (hence the skimming temptation). But the author does return to the subject and her triumphs, or downfall, and how we should perhaps remember her, in a good summary each time. This is a valuable book for all sorts of reasons, not least the attention to detail given to women whose work has been all but buried with them thanks to the political whim of later historians. It’s a tour de force, as you can tell from the pages of acknowledgements and the endnotes. If you are reading on Kindle, rest assured that 27% of the book is taken up by the reference material. It’s 5 stars for importance and 4 stars for a good read, in my assessment. And now I’m quite a fan of Hildegard, and the Cathars. I think I’d have joined the heretics if I’d lived then.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bec

    A fascinating book which puts women back into history where they belong. It is a real eye opener to how wrong we are to see our history as set in stone when so much of the truth is lost in both ancient and modern propaganda. Personally I preferred those stories of individuals like Aethelflaed, Hildegard, Hedwig and Margery Kempe. Through the artefacts and records put together by the author I felt I was able to really get a sense of who these amazing women were, what their lives might have been A fascinating book which puts women back into history where they belong. It is a real eye opener to how wrong we are to see our history as set in stone when so much of the truth is lost in both ancient and modern propaganda. Personally I preferred those stories of individuals like Aethelflaed, Hildegard, Hedwig and Margery Kempe. Through the artefacts and records put together by the author I felt I was able to really get a sense of who these amazing women were, what their lives might have been like and how they made real differences to our history. I found real inspiration in some of their stories and awe at what they achieved in a time we think of as being so primitive. For example the incredibly gifted Hildegard, of the 12th century, who wrote books on theology, built a monastry, created her own language, her own style of music and was a very talented artist amongst other things. The thing about her which amazed me the most was that she did most of the work for which she is now known in the last 3-4 decades of her life-living well into her 80’s! I have to confess however that I found the more fragmented accounts of the Bayeaux Tapestry and the Cathards were much harder to follow and engage with. This was possibly made harder by the frequent use of terminologies very specific to the Catholic church- I was pleased to be reading this on the Kindle app so could get immediate definitions on words such as ‘Anchoress’! In fact I was surprised to find that the whole book was very much orientated towards christianity (mostly catholicism) the only exception being the discovery of the Birka Viking Warrior woman. I imagine that maybe this is a reflection of the fact that having strong connections to the church was one of the few ways women were able to get their voices heard during this period. Also that records were almost exclusively written by members of the christian faith who were amongst the few who were educated to write. These women are inspirational and deserve to have their stories shouted from the rooftops. Hopefully this amazing collection of chronological biographies by Janina Ramirez will open a door for people to start doing just that. Many thanks to Janina Ramirez and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Femina authored by Janina Ramirez is a fascinating, approachable read for anyone interested in the Middle Ages. The focus is on women who have been written out of history but by no means is it solely about the fairer sex. There is great detail on influential men of the time, too, and how they helped and, sometimes, hindered these women so don't be put off if you worry this will be raging feminist in tone. It is not. Femina is balanced and, as I said above, approachable and conversational. A deli Femina authored by Janina Ramirez is a fascinating, approachable read for anyone interested in the Middle Ages. The focus is on women who have been written out of history but by no means is it solely about the fairer sex. There is great detail on influential men of the time, too, and how they helped and, sometimes, hindered these women so don't be put off if you worry this will be raging feminist in tone. It is not. Femina is balanced and, as I said above, approachable and conversational. A delight to tuck into. The ability to paint a vivid picture of time and place puts this book in an enviable position. Janina Ramirez excels with this immersive text. Each section gives the low down on the political and religious conditions of the time as well as a glimpse into the everyday regional happenings. It feels very much like stepping out of a time machine into the distant past, so far removed from a dusty old historical tome. The women highlighted in Femina are of great significance. Alfred the Great's daughter AEthelflaed, Hildegard, Jadwiga, Cathar women and the weavers of the Bayeux Tapestry all enjoy fruitful investigation from our intrepid author. Such a diversity of characters all worthy of deeper research with enlightening stories for modern readers. For me the least interesting was the chapter on Margery Kempe's self published book of her life, from the 1400s. Nothing against Margery, but maybe it's the fact that she's a bit of a busybody full of her own self-importance that put me off? Maybe it's because we all know someone like Margery and they aren't the people you tend to form strong attachments to? It matters not as her story has value, too, being such a rare account of life from this period. She would have been tickled pink to be included amongst this set of powerful and incredible women, I have no doubt.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bea

    This book is styled as a series of essays focusing on different people, locations and archaeological finds, all joined by the overarching purpose of telling women’s stories, a century at a time. There are stories of diplomacy, warfare, religious leadership, literacy and artistic production - “It wasn’t just rich and powerful men who built the modern world. Women have always been part of it, as has the full range of human diversity.” Femina takes a journey from early Medieval England (or, more acc This book is styled as a series of essays focusing on different people, locations and archaeological finds, all joined by the overarching purpose of telling women’s stories, a century at a time. There are stories of diplomacy, warfare, religious leadership, literacy and artistic production - “It wasn’t just rich and powerful men who built the modern world. Women have always been part of it, as has the full range of human diversity.” Femina takes a journey from early Medieval England (or, more accurately, Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex) to Scandinavia, down to the Rhineland then further to southern France, before heading back up to Poland. It concludes in Britain, with Margery Kempe and her travels across Europe and South West Asia, before the women of the book are placed within the context of a medieval world of diverse genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, races and heritages. If you’re interested in medieval history, there are a lot of familiar faces: Hildegard of Bingen, the women from the Oseburg ship, the Birka warrior, Aethelflaed Lady of Mercia (who I have a massive crush on). There are also less well known stories, like Mercian queen and Abbess Cynethryth, and the Loftus princess. Dr Ramirez also covers an important context of modern medieval studies, which is the way it’s co-opted by nazis and various European nationalists. This is particularly relevant with regard to the way 19th, 20th and 21st century nazis, and British and German nationalists, have hijacked an inaccurate and propagandist version of viking history. I was pleased to see this covered, since it is difficult to engage with popular medieval history without bumping into white supremacy. This book was a joy from start to finish.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Valour

    An absolute banger Dr Janina is one of my favourite historians, and introduced me to the work of Julian of Norwich, which in quite convinced got me through a nasty ICU spell in 2021. As a trans man who loves history I was anxious about this book, because there is a dominant movement of transphobia running through the academy of late. I needn't have been Femina is an absolute tour de force, presenting medieval women's lives in an accessible text that is no less academically rigorous for that same a An absolute banger Dr Janina is one of my favourite historians, and introduced me to the work of Julian of Norwich, which in quite convinced got me through a nasty ICU spell in 2021. As a trans man who loves history I was anxious about this book, because there is a dominant movement of transphobia running through the academy of late. I needn't have been Femina is an absolute tour de force, presenting medieval women's lives in an accessible text that is no less academically rigorous for that same accessibility. The citations are extensive and informative, each woman's life is set in both the discovery of her in modern times as it is in the context of her own life, and Dr J makes extensively the point that the view we have of the medieval is inaccurately sanitised in gendered, racial and social class terms. Medieval London was pretty much as diverse as it is now. People who were gender non-confirming existed then as they do now. Femina is a magnificent book, which highlights so many of the ways women have been marginalised through recent years and emphasises that misogyny hasn't actually changed as much as we think it has. It's an important work that shows the need to interrogate what we are taught and what we believe, and which allows us to see that new technologies, far from obscuring the past, allow us to confirm what we have lost in received knowledge, which gives us a clearer path into the future.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sharon-anne Leach

    Disappointing I found this very frustrating and disappointing but that’s probably mostly due to my expectations of what I thought this book was going to be. Truthfully, I feel the title is misleading. Within the book it acknowledges it only looks at a ‘handful’ of women and that’s true. I can’t say I learned a huge amount about these women and the focus felt very narrow at times. Some of the chapters admit it’s conjecture and it’s hard to know anything. The Loftus Princess chapter is more about Disappointing I found this very frustrating and disappointing but that’s probably mostly due to my expectations of what I thought this book was going to be. Truthfully, I feel the title is misleading. Within the book it acknowledges it only looks at a ‘handful’ of women and that’s true. I can’t say I learned a huge amount about these women and the focus felt very narrow at times. Some of the chapters admit it’s conjecture and it’s hard to know anything. The Loftus Princess chapter is more about jewellery construction. I understand that it’s about the wider female experience or their lives but like I say, I think I expected more on specific women. I feel the structure is disjointed and even the chapters themselves are fragmented. More time is spent on the ‘Discovery!’ and context sections than on the women themselves. In the Hildegard chapter (probably the best one), the initial section (Discovery) about smuggling her manuscript out of Russian occupied Dresden is muddled and jumps back and forth. Often I felt I was reading more about the men than the women. Unavoidable but still. So, I didn’t really like it but I believe it is most likely due to my expectations and thinking the book was going to be something it isn’t and due to reading other books about the Middle Ages this year that I’ve liked better.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Deirdre Roberts

    Reading historical fiction seems to have given me a taste for factual history. I enjoyed reading Femina, but it took me a lot longer to get through it than I hoped – probably because I didn’t get lost in the story as I do with fiction. In Femina, Janina Ramirez shares the stories of many influential women that have had their names struck out of historical records. Records that seem to prefer telling history portraying men as either a saviour or a bloodthirsty savage!! She believes (and I agree) Reading historical fiction seems to have given me a taste for factual history. I enjoyed reading Femina, but it took me a lot longer to get through it than I hoped – probably because I didn’t get lost in the story as I do with fiction. In Femina, Janina Ramirez shares the stories of many influential women that have had their names struck out of historical records. Records that seem to prefer telling history portraying men as either a saviour or a bloodthirsty savage!! She believes (and I agree) that gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced. The result is that our view of history has been manipulated. In reality, examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions that have been discovered has resulted in the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women like Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe, Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety, and the Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England. Despite the complexity of the subject matter, Ramirez has created a highly informative read. Not a book that you’d devour in one sitting but will enjoy. 3/5

  19. 4 out of 5

    L A

    Dr Ramirez is an incredibly engaging presenter on her television programmes so I was excited to read this book by her. From the outset it is structured in an exciting way, taking the artefacts and grave goods associated with particular women from history and exploring their lives and the contexts of other women of the same time in a case study type approach. I haven't seen a history book that follows this format before, but I think it works. The facts are presented straightforwardly, making this Dr Ramirez is an incredibly engaging presenter on her television programmes so I was excited to read this book by her. From the outset it is structured in an exciting way, taking the artefacts and grave goods associated with particular women from history and exploring their lives and the contexts of other women of the same time in a case study type approach. I haven't seen a history book that follows this format before, but I think it works. The facts are presented straightforwardly, making this a book that even those not interested in history in an academic sense will be able to engage with. Unlike some other books that focus on historical women, it doesn't try to make the women more 'exciting' or glamorous than they really were, which actually makes them more interesting, not less. The book focuses on the medieval/Middle Ages period which isn't an area I am particularly knowledgeable about but I felt like I gained a deeper understanding of women's lives during this period. There is a nice range of women included, across different social classes in society with a focus on Western historical contexts. The imagery contained within also serves to effectively enhance the examples provided. Overall a fantastic piece of work and I look forward to reading more by Dr Ramirez.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne O'Connell

    Femina has a strong start and an assertion to put all kinds of people back into the history books, as Dr Janina Ramirez puts it ‘reframing the narrative to include women’; but of course this means including men too as the old-fashioned way of doing history also told their stories in an unhelpful way. Nobody existed in a vacuum and there is no single narrative. I like that Ramirez’s style is collaborative and inquisitive rather than didactic, acknowledging that it carries bias even though trying t Femina has a strong start and an assertion to put all kinds of people back into the history books, as Dr Janina Ramirez puts it ‘reframing the narrative to include women’; but of course this means including men too as the old-fashioned way of doing history also told their stories in an unhelpful way. Nobody existed in a vacuum and there is no single narrative. I like that Ramirez’s style is collaborative and inquisitive rather than didactic, acknowledging that it carries bias even though trying to be objective. She takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining information from archaeological finds, literature, art and objects to provide a better picture of the past. Not only does this approach make sense for interpreting the deep past, it makes it more interesting to read about. Around stories of particular women, Ramirez gives a much wider account of what was going on around her at the time, showing that history is fluid and organic rather than made up of discrete events. With Femina she gives us accessible history writing that is by no means dumbed down for what deserves to be a big audience (and will be, given it made the Sunday Times bestseller list in its first week). I received a free proof copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Carlie

    I have always been a history lover and so to have the chance to read Femina was a wonderful opportunity that I didn't want to miss - I am so very glad I did! What a fascinating read created by Ramirez who has created a piece of art with this book. Combining crucial evidence from archaeological finds, excerpts from written accounts, scenes from artwork and historical theory with her innate storytelling, Ramirez really lifts the lid from these medieval women and brings their lives to the fore. Whi I have always been a history lover and so to have the chance to read Femina was a wonderful opportunity that I didn't want to miss - I am so very glad I did! What a fascinating read created by Ramirez who has created a piece of art with this book. Combining crucial evidence from archaeological finds, excerpts from written accounts, scenes from artwork and historical theory with her innate storytelling, Ramirez really lifts the lid from these medieval women and brings their lives to the fore. Whilst admitting she is writing from a prejudiced viewpoint, purposely writing to put women back into their history, this account feels truthful and honest. The women she represents are not put onto a pedestal, but their lives are honestly examined and their achievements are laid bare for the reader to make their own judgements about how remarkable they were. I feel this would be a useful text for all history syllabus' to draw upon and it makes real strides in putting women back into the history books - where they belong. **Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an advanced e-copy of this book. All opinions are my own **

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    This was a really interesting collection of essays, focusing on the lives of women from the early Saxon period to the fourteenth century. The aim is to reconsider both the lives of these women, but also the social norms and attitudes in the times and places in which they lived. On the whole it's quite successful, setting out recent discoveries and research before looking at the women's lives and assessing what we now know against previous assumptions. Most of it is fascinating reading and I lear This was a really interesting collection of essays, focusing on the lives of women from the early Saxon period to the fourteenth century. The aim is to reconsider both the lives of these women, but also the social norms and attitudes in the times and places in which they lived. On the whole it's quite successful, setting out recent discoveries and research before looking at the women's lives and assessing what we now know against previous assumptions. Most of it is fascinating reading and I learned a great deal about women's roles within those societies, diversity and identity etc. Not all the chapters are as successful as others, while in most I got a really good feel for both the woman being re-evaluated and the wider context, there were a couple that didn't quite work for me. Overall, however, this was very readable and I found several things I really want to know more about. Very enjoyable. My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in return for an honest review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Peter Willoughby

    Femina is a collection of thoroughly researched snippets of information where females were either left out of historical events of the Middle Ages altogether or their contribution was misunderstood. Janina Ramírez has developed techniques of prizing the information away from where it is hidden and bringing it into plain sight. I enjoyed the book although some information was of much more appeal than others, the real interest is that she has shown that with determination and hard work this informat Femina is a collection of thoroughly researched snippets of information where females were either left out of historical events of the Middle Ages altogether or their contribution was misunderstood. Janina Ramírez has developed techniques of prizing the information away from where it is hidden and bringing it into plain sight. I enjoyed the book although some information was of much more appeal than others, the real interest is that she has shown that with determination and hard work this information can be found. As she works in the closer past, as I hope that she will, information will be easier to find and more doors will be opened and myths quashed. Well done Janina, thank you for an interesting read, and good luck in your future quests. My thanks to the publisher for an advanced copy for honest review.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This book should be recommended reading in school history lessons, and for anyone who had a history education consisting of memorising dates of battles and wars and wondering where the women were. The book tells the stories of periods of history and the overlooked women who existed in those periods. I only studied history at school, a very long time ago, and could never understand why anyone would want to study it any longer than that. Now I understand. This is a thought provoking book, very well This book should be recommended reading in school history lessons, and for anyone who had a history education consisting of memorising dates of battles and wars and wondering where the women were. The book tells the stories of periods of history and the overlooked women who existed in those periods. I only studied history at school, a very long time ago, and could never understand why anyone would want to study it any longer than that. Now I understand. This is a thought provoking book, very well written and researched. I particularly like how each story is structured with a discovery and then in depth look at the life and times of the people of that period. I highly recommend this book and will be seeking out other work from this author.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Steph Pomfrett

    I was lucky enough to get a Netgalley copy of Femina by @drjaninaramirez and I've just finished it (as timing goes, I read it straight after a novel of Joan of Arc!) It's such an amazing book, taking the reader through the Middle Ages, one theme at a time. I found myself looking up the women mentioned, buying copies of their books and in the case of Hildegard of Bingen, listening to music she'd written. It's amazing how these remarkable women can still speak to us almost a millennium later. I al I was lucky enough to get a Netgalley copy of Femina by @drjaninaramirez and I've just finished it (as timing goes, I read it straight after a novel of Joan of Arc!) It's such an amazing book, taking the reader through the Middle Ages, one theme at a time. I found myself looking up the women mentioned, buying copies of their books and in the case of Hildegard of Bingen, listening to music she'd written. It's amazing how these remarkable women can still speak to us almost a millennium later. I also liked how Dr Ramirez allowed us to challenge our traditional thinking about history- such as assuming all burials with weapons are men- and how we look back at our past as we reckon with our present and where we go in the future.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Afsara

    Thank you to NetGalley and Ebury Publishing + Penguin Random House for providing me with an ARC to review. I DNF’d this book. While the essay/thesis style of writing was refreshing to read, non-fiction just isn’t for me. I rated it 3 stars because I can see why people who do enjoy non-fic, would enjoy this book. The topics were interesting albeit a little jumbled/disorganised and the addition of diagrams, photos and other images was nice to have to break up the otherwise lengthy passages of texts Thank you to NetGalley and Ebury Publishing + Penguin Random House for providing me with an ARC to review. I DNF’d this book. While the essay/thesis style of writing was refreshing to read, non-fiction just isn’t for me. I rated it 3 stars because I can see why people who do enjoy non-fic, would enjoy this book. The topics were interesting albeit a little jumbled/disorganised and the addition of diagrams, photos and other images was nice to have to break up the otherwise lengthy passages of texts. The unique use of women from history who aren’t well known really makes this book standout from other non-fic texts on the same topic.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Serena

    Femina is a history book focused on the middle ages through the lens of women living in that period. I was intrigued to take a look at a period of history which I'm vaguely familiar with, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I do feel that the book was let down by the first couple of chapters which, to be frank, didn't really interest me. However, some chapters were great - the section on polymaths was fascinating, as was the chapter on kings/diplomats. At the end of the day, Femina isn't a bad book Femina is a history book focused on the middle ages through the lens of women living in that period. I was intrigued to take a look at a period of history which I'm vaguely familiar with, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I do feel that the book was let down by the first couple of chapters which, to be frank, didn't really interest me. However, some chapters were great - the section on polymaths was fascinating, as was the chapter on kings/diplomats. At the end of the day, Femina isn't a bad book, it's just not the most accessible to those without a history background. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my ARC!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Annarella

    I've always been fascinated by women in Middle Age and their role in history. You can start with Matilda of Tuscany who played a relevant role in the dispute between the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI to mystics like Hildegarde or Julian of Norwich. They role is often downplayed or their name are not as well known as they should be. This is a good book, well researched and honest. I was hooked since the fascinating introduction and didn't stop till the last page. The author is an excellen I've always been fascinated by women in Middle Age and their role in history. You can start with Matilda of Tuscany who played a relevant role in the dispute between the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI to mystics like Hildegarde or Julian of Norwich. They role is often downplayed or their name are not as well known as they should be. This is a good book, well researched and honest. I was hooked since the fascinating introduction and didn't stop till the last page. The author is an excellent storyteller and I learned something new. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

  29. 5 out of 5

    thewoollygeek (tea, cake, crochet & books)

    Femina is a fascinating and insightful look into a medieval women who have been largely written out of history (the authors words) I loved how Ramirez pieces their stories together through the artefacts and brief mentions in history texts that remain, but still manages to create a clear and vivid picture. I found it’s tone to be a perfect balance between academic/educational and still being light/readable to your general reader who may not be a historian. It is well researched and many of the wo Femina is a fascinating and insightful look into a medieval women who have been largely written out of history (the authors words) I loved how Ramirez pieces their stories together through the artefacts and brief mentions in history texts that remain, but still manages to create a clear and vivid picture. I found it’s tone to be a perfect balance between academic/educational and still being light/readable to your general reader who may not be a historian. It is well researched and many of the women featured I knew little about and it was a delight to read. Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for in exchange for an honest opinion

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennyh

    This is Herstory rather than History. Referencing medieval women whose influences and contributions to the past have been mainly erased from the history books by the educated male dominated society. Some names have survived, but this book looks at the forgotten and more diverse ones. Extremely well researched I found these women quite amazing, although I am not well acquainted with this period of history. For me it was a book to interchange with a lighter read, one I did not have to concentrate o This is Herstory rather than History. Referencing medieval women whose influences and contributions to the past have been mainly erased from the history books by the educated male dominated society. Some names have survived, but this book looks at the forgotten and more diverse ones. Extremely well researched I found these women quite amazing, although I am not well acquainted with this period of history. For me it was a book to interchange with a lighter read, one I did not have to concentrate on! Entertaining, diverse and informative. Enjoy.

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