History often ignores women. But there are some women who had etched their name in the sand of time solely through their bravery and iron grit. Since the dawn of time, these women have made a powerful impact on society regardless of society’s expectation from them. They have fought, ruled, explored, revolted, invented, and done business in a time when women were considered capable of doing none of these things. No matter whether they are empress, academics or war veterans, these women are a force to be reckoned with. In this article, we have brought together a list of 10 such badass women who changed history forever with their sheer determination.
1. In 1300, a French woman named Jeanne de Clisson became a pirate, sold her land to buy 3 ships, and hunted French ships to avenge her husband’s beheading. Using an ax, she personally beheaded each French nobleman caught on the captured ships.
Born in 1300 as the daughter of a nobleman, Jeanne de Clisson was married at the age of 12. After the death of her first husband, she married again, but it was annulled. Her third marriage was to a wealthy Breton, Oliver de Clisson IV, in 1330. As a result of the proxy wars between the English and French, Oliver was imprisoned and then beheaded on August 1343. Shocked and enraged by her husband’s unjust execution, Jeanne swore revenge.
Soon, she sold the de Clisson estate. With the money, she bought three warships and raised a force of loyal men. The three warships were painted in black, the sails in red, and they were named “My Revenge”. The fleet of Black ships patrolled the English Channel and hunted French ships, killing the entire crew and leaving just a few men who could transmit the news to the French King. Each time she caught a nobleman along with the ship, she would personally behead him with an ax and dump his body overboard. This savagery earned her the title “The Lioness of Brittany”. Her revenge in the English Channel continued for 13 years until she left the pirate life to marry an English lord.(1, 2)
2. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the fiery Queen of Jhansi and one of the greatest heroines of the first war of Indian freedom. She led a rebellion against the British rule in India when they tried to annex her territory. When British army managed to enter the city, she tied her infant son to her back, held the reins of her horse in her mouth and fought till her last breath, using swords in both hands.
After the death of King of Jhansi in 1853, the British rulers refused to recognize his adopted son as the legal heir and decided to annex the state of Jhansi. Queen Lakshmi Bai revolted against this decision and decided to fight for her right. When British force attacked Jhansi in March 1858, the queen along with her army of men and women fought continuously for two weeks. On the last day when British army captured the city, the Queen strapped her son on her back, rode on the back of her horse, and jumped from the fort. She took off with some of her trusted aides and reached Kalpi. There she met other revolt leaders and again fought with Britishers.
This time the Queen rode into the battlefield with her son strapped on her back, holding the horse reins in her mouth, fighting with swords in both hands. She kept fighting till she was gravely wounded by the British soldiers. Not wishing the British to put a hand over her body, she asked a hermit to burn it. Therefore, after her death, a few local people cremated her. Her courage gets a special mention in the British report of this battle. In the report, it is mentioned that Rani Lakshmibai is “personable, clever, and beautiful” and she is “the most dangerous of all Indian leaders”.(1, 2)
3. Hailed as the world’s most successful pirate, Ching Shih, a former Cantonese prostitute, had over 1800 ships, a pirate armada of 40,000 – 80,000. Thus, she completely dominated the South China Sea. Even the British, Portuguese, and Chinese Imperial Navy were helpless against her.
Ching Shih was a prostitute in a small brothel when she was captured by pirates. In 1801, at the age of 26 she married a notorious pirate, Cheng I. Cheng I belonged to a family of successful pirates whose origin can be traced back to the mid- seventeenth century. When Cheng I died in 1807, Ching Shih started maneuvering her way into the leadership position by forming a coalition with her husband’s relatives. She soon became known as “Cheng’s widow”. As she received the leadership position, she started uniting the fleet by issuing a code of law. Her Red Flag Fleet of 1800 ships soon grew into genuine naval power. She became the commander in chief of 40,000 – 80, 000 pirates. Such was her domination over the South China Sea that even the Chinese Imperial Navy, the Portuguese navy, and the British were helpless against her.(1, 2)
4. Mathematician Sophie Germain was an academic badass who taught herself mathematics at the age of 13. She stole the identity of a college dropout and attended lectures in an academy at the age of 18 as women were not allowed to attend lectures in those times. Later, she became the first woman to win a prize from Academy of Science in Paris for her work in elasticity theory.
In a prejudiced world where even education was denied to women, Mathematician Sophie Germain proved to be a hard nut. Her first meeting with mathematics was in her father’s library. She soon became enamored with the subject and pored over every book on mathematics present in her father’s library. She even taught herself Greek and Latin to read works of Sir Issac Newton and Leonard Euler. To discourage her from studying mathematics, her family denied her warm clothes and a fire in her bedroom. However, even then, she would sit by the candles, wrapped in quilts, and do mathematics.
When Germain was 18, the French Institution Ecole Polytechnique opened. But as a woman, Germain was barred from attending any lectures. Then, she found out about a college dropout who hadn’t notified the college about his departure. Germain took this opportunity and started attending lectures under the stolen identity. She even started correspondence with famous mathematicians like Adrien-Marie Legedre, Carl Friedrich Gauss, and others. On 8 January 1816, Germain became the first woman to win a prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences, yet she wasn’t allowed to attend sessions in the academy. Undaunted, she spent her life working in the field of mathematics and eventually submitting a prize-winning essay on Elasticity in 1821.(source)
5. Julie D’Aubigny was a fearless 17th-century bisexual French opera singer and fencing master. She performed nightly shows on the biggest opera stage in the world. She killed or wounded at least ten men in life-or-death duels. Also, she once took the Holy Orders and entered a convent to have sex with a nun.
While bisexuals are still fighting for their rights in the 21st century, Julie D’Aubigny made her mark in the 17th century. This fearless woman made her career as an opera singer and sang in some of the biggest opera stages in the world along with being a fencing master. At the age of 14, she became the mistress of a count but married Sieur de Maupin. She soon became involved with an assistant fencing master and fled to the city of Marseille. When she got bored with him, she became involved with a young girl. As the parents of the girl came to know about their affair, they sent her to a convent. In order to be reunited with the girl, Julie entered the convent as a postulate. Later, she set the convent on fire and escaped with her lover, and the affair lasted for three months.
Once when she was insulted by a young nobleman, she fought a duel with him driving her blade through his shoulder. But the next day, she inquired about his health, and soon they became lovers. Later, she started performing in Paris and Brussels under the name of Mademoiselle de Maupin and entered into a number of relationship with her fellow actors and actresses. In Paris, she is known for beating a singer who was pestering women members of his troupe. Her career in Paris ended when she kissed a young woman at a society ball due to which she was challenged to duel by three different noblemen. She fought and beat them all.(source)