Rejected Princesses
Women too awesome, awful, or offbeat for kids' movies.

Updated Wednesdays.

Ching Shih: Princess of the Chinese Seas (1775-1844)

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In 1809, the Chinese government sprang a trap. They were gunning for a group who’d taken control of its southern waters, the Red Flag pirate fleet. Blockading them in a bay, the authorities laid siege to the pirates for three straight weeks with an overwhelming amount of firepower. In the end, the Red Flags strode out through a graveyard of government ships, largely unscathed. At the head of the Red Flags stood one of the most fearsome pirates in history — Ching Shih, a former prostitute turned leader of over 70,000 men. More on her asskicking adventures after the cut.

Etain: the Shining One

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This week I’ve got an offbeat one for you all. For your consideration I present Étaín, heroine of Irish mythology, who: spent her life being shunted around a ludicrous number of suitors; was transformed at various points into a worm, a butterfly, a swan, and a pool of water; and induced one of the strangest pregnancies since Jesus. Onward!

Noor Inayat Khan: the Spy Princess (1914-1944)

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This week, we meet Noor Inayat Khan, one of the bravest women to ever live. She was a British secret agent during World War 2, working as a radio operator in occupied Paris. In fact, working as the ONLY radio operator in occupied Paris. The average lifespan for that job was 6 weeks, and she lasted almost 5 months. She escaped the Gestapo numerous times, and went out fighting. All this, even though everything about her work went against her basic pacifist nature. Read on for more about this phenomenal human being.

Nog Prize #2: thelandofmonsterscomics

thelandofmonsterscomics:

Hi. I liked your Khutulun post, and your research is good. One thing you missed however that comes through majorly in the image is the nature of mongolian wrestling. Victory does not come with pinning your opponent, but throwing them to the ground. 

…          

Victory in Bokh comes when your opponent touches the ground with any part of their body other than their feet.     

Eep! You are correct. Let’s just agree that Khutulun’s image takes place after her opponent took his defeat less than gracefully, and she had to forcibly subdue him. Good? Good.

Here is your prize, you smart cookie:

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(click for high-res)

(confused about what this is all about? check out this entry for an explanation)

Julie d’Aubigny: Princess of the Opera (1670-1707)

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This week we turn our attention to La Maupin, Julie d’Aubigny: sword-slinger, opera singer, and larger-than-life bisexual celebrity of 17th century France. Her life was a whirlwind of duels, seduction, graverobbing, and convent-burning so intense that she had to be pardoned by the king of France TWICE. Read on for more.

Shajar al-Durr: the Ransom Expert (1220s?-1257)

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I’ve been dying to do this entry for a while now. Introducing Shajar-al-Durr, who: was a Muslim sultan that ruled in her own name; stopped the Seventh Crusade dead in its tracks; captured one of the most powerful monarchs in the world; and ransomed him back to his own freakin’ country.

Osh-Tisch: Princess of Two Spirits (1854-1929)

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This week we focus on Osh-Tisch, whose name translates to “Finds Them and Kills Them” in Crow. Osh-Tisch was a biologically male-sexed person who lived as a woman, and was one of the last Crow Nation baté (Two Spirit spiritual leaders) – oh, and you can be sure, she earned her name.

She is also far from the only awesome lady in this story.

Ida B. Wells: Princess of the Press (1862-1931)
(this is a long post, so click here for easier side-by-side reading of text and image)
This week we switch gears from warriors and murderers, and focus on one of the luminaries of the early Civil Rights Movement: Ida B. Wells, who refused to vacate her train seat in 1884 (a good 71 years before Rosa Parks), and who led the charge to end lynching in the United States.
Ida was a tough one from the get-go. When, at age 16, her parents died from a Yellow Fever epidemic, she rolled up her sleeves, got a job, and worked to keep her siblings out of foster care. Kind of like a Reconstruction-era version of Party of Five. At age 21, the conductor on a train on which she was a passenger ordered her to vacate her seat – so that a white woman could use it. Ida refused. When the conductor tried forcibly removing her, she hooked her feet into the chair and refused to budge. When he tore her sleeve in the attempt, she scratched at him and bit him. When a gang of men finally removed her from the car, she sued the entire train company, and won. (although it was later overturned via legal shenanigans)
But by far her most significant achievements were in her anti-lynching journalism.
So let’s talk about lynching. I’d wager that mostly what it conjures up is an image of someone being hung by a tree. The reality was usually far, FAR worse than that. We’re talking torture that would make Elisabeth Bathory or Wu Zetian shudder. If you have a weak stomach, you’re forewarned — but try to stick with it. It’s important you understand what this woman devoted her life to stopping. During my childhood, and I’m betting during yours too, these descriptions were constantly censored. Well, I’m not going to do that.
Here’s summaries of just a few lynchings that Ida would report on:
1892: Tommie Moss, Henry Stewart, and Calvin McDowell, who were shot to pieces (McDowell had literally fist-size holes in him). Moss died pleading for them to spare him for the sake of his pregnant wife. The thing that started this all off was, in all seriousness, a kids’ game of marbles. More on this in a bit.
1893: Henry Smith, whose clothes were torn off and kept as mementos by the 10,000-man crowd; who had red-hot iron brands placed all over his body for 50 minutes, until they finally burnt out his eyes and thrust irons down his throat; who was then set on fire, and when he managed to jump out (he was still alive!), was pushed back in. Someone made a watch charm from his kneecap. Photographers sold postcards of the event. His screams were recorded and sold on gramophone, like the world’s most fucked-up ringtone.
1898: Frazier Baker, whose only “crime” was being appointed a postmaster in a small South Carolina town. His house was set on fire, and when he and his family fled, they were all shot — everyone was wounded, with Frazier and his one-year-old baby killed. Their charred bodies were found near the wreckage of the house the next day.
1899: Sam Hose, for whose mob execution they arranged a special train so that more people could attend. He was first tied to a tree, stripped naked, and then mutilated: they severed his left ear, then his right. Then his fingers were lopped off and his penis sliced off. Then he was set on fire. As his body burnt, the crowd of 2,000 people cut off pieces of him as souvenirs. Bone bits were twenty-five cents and slices of liver, ten. Even the tree to which he was tied was chopped up and sold.
1904: Luther Holbert and a woman (presumed to be his wife), who were forced to hold out their arms as their fingers were chopped off. Their ears were cut off, their eyes poked out, and a large corkscrew was used to bore spirals of “raw, quivering flesh” out of their arms, legs, and bodies. Finally, they were burned to death.
1911: Will Porter, who was taken to an opera house, tied to the stage, and shot by people who bought tickets for the privilege.
If you need to go look at pictures of kittens for a second, I understand. I’ll still be here.
Back? Good. Now, remember the Moss incident, the one with the marbles? It’s important for a couple reasons: it’s the first lynching that really grabbed Ida’s journalistic attention (Moss was a friend of hers); it caused a mass exodus of blacks from Memphis (Ida bought a gun and stayed); and it’s a useful microcosm to examine lynchings as a whole. Now, while it’s true that the inciting incident was a kid’s game of marbles, the real story was that the three men killed were associated with a thriving black-owned grocery store that was taking away business from a nearby white-owned one. The white grocery’s owner was the ringleader behind the mob that ended their lives. He orchestrated the horrifying murder of three people for… basically, a better financial quarter.
So Ida got to work. The end result: Southern Horrors, a seminal pamphlet that blew the lid off of lynching myths. Prior to that, the widely-believed stereotype was that black men were out-of-control brutes who were constantly a hair’s breadth from assaulting white women – and somehow this was believable to a large swath of the population. I don’t know, man, they were still doing  trepanning in those days. 
Anyway, the common wisdom about lynching was that it was in response to black men raping white women. Except that was unadulterated horseshit, and Southern Horrors proved it. By analyzing a huge number of cases and laying them out in an academic manner, Ida showed that rape had nothing to do with a majority of lynchings, and that most of the time the reason was either political, economic, or plain ol’ racist violence against loving interracial relationships.
As you could imagine, this did not win her a lot of admirers in certain circles. 
A week after she first reported on this, while she was away on business, a mob broke into the offices of her newspaper, the Free Speech, and burnt it to the ground (yes, they were literally eradicating Free Speech). The mob threatened to lynch her if she ever returned to Memphis. In response, she looked into returning to Memphis – only to be informed that a group of black men were organizing to protect her, should she return. Wanting to avoid a race riot, she stayed away, but kept writing, madder than the devil and twice as eloquent.
Her keeping away from Memphis is understandable – race riots were a recurrent problem of her era, and she didn’t want to be party to another one. Even calling them race riots doesn’t quite get at it, because it was usually more of a one-sided assault. A sampling of just a couple that occurred during her life (try and imagine any of this happening nowadays):
1898: The city of Wilmington, North Carolina had its newly-elected biracial city government overthrown by white supremacists in a coup d’etat. President McKinley and the federal government just looked the other way. The white insurrectionists won, gunning down a great number of blacks in the process. That’s right, there was never any happy ending here: the black people of Wilmington just packed up and moved away.
1908: In Springfield, Illinois, a 5,000-10,000 man mob of would-be lynchers, stymied from killing their intended targets by the county sheriff, rioted in black neighborhoods. They burnt down churches, business, and homes, killing many black citizens.
1917: In St. Louis, after a confusing early back-and-forth that resulted in some black citizens accidentally killing a police detective, a mob of white people stormed the black part of town, cut the water lines, set black peoples’ houses on fire, and shot at anyone who exited the buildings. Between 40-200 people were killed.
1919: In Chicago, 5 days of riots ended with 38 people dead, 537 injured, and over 1000 newly homeless. Arsonists took aim at black businesses and homes, laying steel cables across the street so the fire trucks could not pass.
Despite all this, and the ever-present death threats, Ida continued putting herself in danger for the next forty years (!) by investigating and writing about lynchings. On more than one occasion, she passed herself off as a widow or a relative of the deceased in order to gain better journalistic access — an act which earned one of her contemporaries, who tried the same trick, his own lynch mob (thankfully, he escaped). 
And she would not tone herself down.
Although people wanted her to! Oh, how they wanted her to! Early on, papers that championed her would slip in statements saying she’d “never get a husband so long as she lets those editors make her so hideous.” Even other activists asked her to quiet her fiery rhetoric. She never did. 
For a good thirteen years, she was practically the only person doing investigatory journalism into lynching. Once others gained interest in the subject – in no small part due to her herculean efforts, which included speaking tours abroad, the establishment of a great many civil rights organizations, and endless reams of articles and pamphlets – she was relegated to a footnote. Despite her massive contributions to the cause, she was almost left off the NAACP’s founders list, due in no small part to some wanting to distance themselves from her forceful language.
In the end, she did have a family, marrying a man who supported and advocated for her. Together they had four children, with Ida bearing the first at age 34 and the last at 42. She would even bring her children with her on her speaking tours, declaring herself the only woman in US history to travel with a nursing baby to make political speeches. Her entire family got into the activism, too – once, while Ida was feeling despondent about going out to investigate yet another lynching, her son demanded she do so. “If you don’t,” he asked, “who will?” When she came around on the subject, the entire family was waiting, their things packed, to join her on her travels.
I don’t know about you, but that gives me the cutest mental image. 
She died at age 68, almost done with her autobiography. The last chapter ended mid-sentence, mid-word.

The inspiration for this post came a long time ago, from this Hark! A Vagrant comic. I started reading more about her, and I couldn’t stop.
Thanks go to my activist/feminist/socialist/rad-as-fuck friend Peta Lindsay. She, being far more knowledgeable about these matters than I, helped provide the proper context for this entry by (rightly) insisting on establishing the background of what Ida was up against. You can find her work here or follow her on twitter here!
 
ART NOTES
She is depicted here being tossed off a moving train car, although it was definitely stopped when they forced her off. I wanted the image of her speeding towards the future, into the light (while the conductor is in the shadows).
She is, of course, striking a very animated princess kind of pose. I imagine a musical number happening at that very moment.
 The train cars and outfit are period-accurate.
The flying papers represent her reams of writing, with the nearest one to camera being the actual cover for Southern Horrors. 
Underneath the tree is a cut rope, being slowly blanketed by her work. I didn’t want to illustrate an actual lynching, or even a noose. I thought this was more poetically accurate to the spirit of her work, without being overly graphic.
The opossum in the tree is a callback to a Loyal League parade float, which featured a black man against a tree with a bunch of dead opossums (which I take were meant to symbolize lynchers). She was never directly involved with the Loyal League as far as I know, but they traveled in the same circles, and I liked the image as a euphemism.
The title “Princess of the Press” was an actual title applied to her during her life. The name was partly a reference to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Princess Ida”, a comic opera about a feminist teacher.

CITATIONS
I consulted the great-grandaddy of all Ida B Wells books, Ida: A Sword Among Lions. It’s 800 pages long, 150 of which are dedicated to bibliography, glossary, and assorted notes. It was a very long read.
 
BOOKKEEPING:
In case you missed it, I instituted an official “you are smarter than I am” certificate! Giving them out for awesome corrections, questions, or for whoever can first correctly identify all the references in the certificate. Give it a shot!
 
NEXT WEEK ON REJECTED PRINCESSES
The last of her kind, she found her enemies and made them eat Crow.

Ida B. Wells: Princess of the Press (1862-1931)

(this is a long post, so click here for easier side-by-side reading of text and image)

This week we switch gears from warriors and murderers, and focus on one of the luminaries of the early Civil Rights Movement: Ida B. Wells, who refused to vacate her train seat in 1884 (a good 71 years before Rosa Parks), and who led the charge to end lynching in the United States.

Ida was a tough one from the get-go. When, at age 16, her parents died from a Yellow Fever epidemic, she rolled up her sleeves, got a job, and worked to keep her siblings out of foster care. Kind of like a Reconstruction-era version of Party of Five. At age 21, the conductor on a train on which she was a passenger ordered her to vacate her seat – so that a white woman could use it. Ida refused. When the conductor tried forcibly removing her, she hooked her feet into the chair and refused to budge. When he tore her sleeve in the attempt, she scratched at him and bit him. When a gang of men finally removed her from the car, she sued the entire train company, and won. (although it was later overturned via legal shenanigans)

But by far her most significant achievements were in her anti-lynching journalism.

So let’s talk about lynching. I’d wager that mostly what it conjures up is an image of someone being hung by a tree. The reality was usually far, FAR worse than that. We’re talking torture that would make Elisabeth Bathory or Wu Zetian shudder. If you have a weak stomach, you’re forewarned — but try to stick with it. It’s important you understand what this woman devoted her life to stopping. During my childhood, and I’m betting during yours too, these descriptions were constantly censored. Well, I’m not going to do that.

Here’s summaries of just a few lynchings that Ida would report on:

  • 1892: Tommie Moss, Henry Stewart, and Calvin McDowell, who were shot to pieces (McDowell had literally fist-size holes in him). Moss died pleading for them to spare him for the sake of his pregnant wife. The thing that started this all off was, in all seriousness, a kids’ game of marbles. More on this in a bit.
  • 1893: Henry Smith, whose clothes were torn off and kept as mementos by the 10,000-man crowd; who had red-hot iron brands placed all over his body for 50 minutes, until they finally burnt out his eyes and thrust irons down his throat; who was then set on fire, and when he managed to jump out (he was still alive!), was pushed back in. Someone made a watch charm from his kneecap. Photographers sold postcards of the event. His screams were recorded and sold on gramophone, like the world’s most fucked-up ringtone.
  • 1898: Frazier Baker, whose only “crime” was being appointed a postmaster in a small South Carolina town. His house was set on fire, and when he and his family fled, they were all shot — everyone was wounded, with Frazier and his one-year-old baby killed. Their charred bodies were found near the wreckage of the house the next day.
  • 1899: Sam Hose, for whose mob execution they arranged a special train so that more people could attend. He was first tied to a tree, stripped naked, and then mutilated: they severed his left ear, then his right. Then his fingers were lopped off and his penis sliced off. Then he was set on fire. As his body burnt, the crowd of 2,000 people cut off pieces of him as souvenirs. Bone bits were twenty-five cents and slices of liver, ten. Even the tree to which he was tied was chopped up and sold.
  • 1904: Luther Holbert and a woman (presumed to be his wife), who were forced to hold out their arms as their fingers were chopped off. Their ears were cut off, their eyes poked out, and a large corkscrew was used to bore spirals of “raw, quivering flesh” out of their arms, legs, and bodies. Finally, they were burned to death.
  • 1911: Will Porter, who was taken to an opera house, tied to the stage, and shot by people who bought tickets for the privilege.

If you need to go look at pictures of kittens for a second, I understand. I’ll still be here.

Back? Good. Now, remember the Moss incident, the one with the marbles? It’s important for a couple reasons: it’s the first lynching that really grabbed Ida’s journalistic attention (Moss was a friend of hers); it caused a mass exodus of blacks from Memphis (Ida bought a gun and stayed); and it’s a useful microcosm to examine lynchings as a whole. Now, while it’s true that the inciting incident was a kid’s game of marbles, the real story was that the three men killed were associated with a thriving black-owned grocery store that was taking away business from a nearby white-owned one. The white grocery’s owner was the ringleader behind the mob that ended their lives. He orchestrated the horrifying murder of three people for… basically, a better financial quarter.

So Ida got to work. The end result: Southern Horrors, a seminal pamphlet that blew the lid off of lynching myths. Prior to that, the widely-believed stereotype was that black men were out-of-control brutes who were constantly a hair’s breadth from assaulting white women – and somehow this was believable to a large swath of the population. I don’t know, man, they were still doing trepanning in those days. 

Anyway, the common wisdom about lynching was that it was in response to black men raping white women. Except that was unadulterated horseshit, and Southern Horrors proved it. By analyzing a huge number of cases and laying them out in an academic manner, Ida showed that rape had nothing to do with a majority of lynchings, and that most of the time the reason was either political, economic, or plain ol’ racist violence against loving interracial relationships.

As you could imagine, this did not win her a lot of admirers in certain circles. 

A week after she first reported on this, while she was away on business, a mob broke into the offices of her newspaper, the Free Speech, and burnt it to the ground (yes, they were literally eradicating Free Speech). The mob threatened to lynch her if she ever returned to Memphis. In response, she looked into returning to Memphis – only to be informed that a group of black men were organizing to protect her, should she return. Wanting to avoid a race riot, she stayed away, but kept writing, madder than the devil and twice as eloquent.

Her keeping away from Memphis is understandable – race riots were a recurrent problem of her era, and she didn’t want to be party to another one. Even calling them race riots doesn’t quite get at it, because it was usually more of a one-sided assault. A sampling of just a couple that occurred during her life (try and imagine any of this happening nowadays):

  • 1898: The city of Wilmington, North Carolina had its newly-elected biracial city government overthrown by white supremacists in a coup d’etat. President McKinley and the federal government just looked the other way. The white insurrectionists won, gunning down a great number of blacks in the process. That’s right, there was never any happy ending here: the black people of Wilmington just packed up and moved away.
  • 1908: In Springfield, Illinois, a 5,000-10,000 man mob of would-be lynchers, stymied from killing their intended targets by the county sheriff, rioted in black neighborhoods. They burnt down churches, business, and homes, killing many black citizens.
  • 1917: In St. Louis, after a confusing early back-and-forth that resulted in some black citizens accidentally killing a police detective, a mob of white people stormed the black part of town, cut the water lines, set black peoples’ houses on fire, and shot at anyone who exited the buildings. Between 40-200 people were killed.
  • 1919: In Chicago, 5 days of riots ended with 38 people dead, 537 injured, and over 1000 newly homeless. Arsonists took aim at black businesses and homes, laying steel cables across the street so the fire trucks could not pass.

Despite all this, and the ever-present death threats, Ida continued putting herself in danger for the next forty years (!) by investigating and writing about lynchings. On more than one occasion, she passed herself off as a widow or a relative of the deceased in order to gain better journalistic access — an act which earned one of her contemporaries, who tried the same trick, his own lynch mob (thankfully, he escaped). 

And she would not tone herself down.

Although people wanted her to! Oh, how they wanted her to! Early on, papers that championed her would slip in statements saying she’d “never get a husband so long as she lets those editors make her so hideous.” Even other activists asked her to quiet her fiery rhetoric. She never did. 

For a good thirteen years, she was practically the only person doing investigatory journalism into lynching. Once others gained interest in the subject – in no small part due to her herculean efforts, which included speaking tours abroad, the establishment of a great many civil rights organizations, and endless reams of articles and pamphlets – she was relegated to a footnote. Despite her massive contributions to the cause, she was almost left off the NAACP’s founders list, due in no small part to some wanting to distance themselves from her forceful language.

In the end, she did have a family, marrying a man who supported and advocated for her. Together they had four children, with Ida bearing the first at age 34 and the last at 42. She would even bring her children with her on her speaking tours, declaring herself the only woman in US history to travel with a nursing baby to make political speeches. Her entire family got into the activism, too – once, while Ida was feeling despondent about going out to investigate yet another lynching, her son demanded she do so. “If you don’t,” he asked, “who will?” When she came around on the subject, the entire family was waiting, their things packed, to join her on her travels.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me the cutest mental image. 

She died at age 68, almost done with her autobiography. The last chapter ended mid-sentence, mid-word.

The inspiration for this post came a long time ago, from this Hark! A Vagrant comic. I started reading more about her, and I couldn’t stop.

Thanks go to my activist/feminist/socialist/rad-as-fuck friend Peta Lindsay. She, being far more knowledgeable about these matters than I, helped provide the proper context for this entry by (rightly) insisting on establishing the background of what Ida was up against. You can find her work here or follow her on twitter here!

 

ART NOTES

  • She is depicted here being tossed off a moving train car, although it was definitely stopped when they forced her off. I wanted the image of her speeding towards the future, into the light (while the conductor is in the shadows).
  • She is, of course, striking a very animated princess kind of pose. I imagine a musical number happening at that very moment.
  • The train cars and outfit are period-accurate.
  • The flying papers represent her reams of writing, with the nearest one to camera being the actual cover for Southern Horrors.
  • Underneath the tree is a cut rope, being slowly blanketed by her work. I didn’t want to illustrate an actual lynching, or even a noose. I thought this was more poetically accurate to the spirit of her work, without being overly graphic.
  • The opossum in the tree is a callback to a Loyal League parade float, which featured a black man against a tree with a bunch of dead opossums (which I take were meant to symbolize lynchers). She was never directly involved with the Loyal League as far as I know, but they traveled in the same circles, and I liked the image as a euphemism.
  • The title “Princess of the Press” was an actual title applied to her during her life. The name was partly a reference to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Princess Ida”, a comic opera about a feminist teacher.

CITATIONS

I consulted the great-grandaddy of all Ida B Wells books, Ida: A Sword Among Lions. It’s 800 pages long, 150 of which are dedicated to bibliography, glossary, and assorted notes. It was a very long read.

 

BOOKKEEPING:

In case you missed it, I instituted an official “you are smarter than I am” certificate! Giving them out for awesome corrections, questions, or for whoever can first correctly identify all the references in the certificate. Give it a shot!

 

NEXT WEEK ON REJECTED PRINCESSES

The last of her kind, she found her enemies and made them eat Crow.

nebulia13 asked: Question about fredegund: the groundbreaking of notre dame de paris was in the 12th century--how did a sixth century merovingian lady find sanctuary there? Was there a previous church on the same land? Are you referring to a different notre dame?

That is a good question. That is a REALLY good question. In fact, here’s how good it is:

image

Now, first, your question, before I get to the nature of that image:

I had to look this up, but apparently the Notre Dame we all know and take sanctuary in is the SECOND Notre Dame! There were in fact temples there prior — one dedicated to Jupiter, and then one (constructed in the late 500s, shortly before Fredegund fled there) dedicated to Saint Etienne, which I believe to be the Notre Dame referred to in all the stuff I’d read about Fredegund.

So yeah, kudos on catching that! It had slipped right past me.

Which brings me to the nature of that there image above. I’m calling it the “Nog Prize”, as a callback to Marvel Comics’ No-Prize, which they’d give out whenever anyone wrote in with a good correction. I don’t have much of a plan on how I am going to give these out, but basically, if you write in with an awesome question or correction (not just a “I found a typo,” or “you got this slightly wrong,” although those messages are totally welcome too), then I may give one to you! As it stands, I can’t see myself giving any away for awesome suggestions (although those are ALWAYS welcome) — this is meant more as a prize for the eagle-eyed!

Or actually, owl-eyed. Glaukopis is an epithet for Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. It references her insightful “flashing eyes”, and is often associated with the gaze of owls. There’s so much written in feminist literature about the male gaze, I thought doing something related to the female gaze might be nice for a change. 

I plan on giving these away once of these a week, maximum — probably less than that. I have a couple lined up already for people who’ve written it with awesome corrections, but I promise to give one to the first person who can correctly list all of the references to wisdom-related characters/creatures/imagery in the above image. Funnily enough, I took most of them from a totally unrelated book I am writing (so you may see them again at some point in the future). Some are quite obscure!

Elisabeth Bathory: the Blood Countess (1560-1614)
First off: I know the text on these can be long. I adjusted the styling on the RP tumblr to make it easy to see the pic and the text at the same time, so if you’re getting this in your tumblr feed, you may want to click here to see it on the RP page. It’ll be easier to read.
Second off: trigger warnings. All of the trigger warnings. No trigger unwarned. (okay, fine, it’s actually just triggers for gore, violence, rape, incest, and murder. I think that’s it. but, um, tread lightly regardless.)
Now then, let’s take a step into the life of one of the most vilified women in history. On December 29, 1610, a garrison of soldiers stormed the Hungarian castle of Cachtice and arrested Elisabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory. They accused her of roughly a hundred Saw movies worth of torture, and took her into custody. As the story goes (and please keep in mind, absolutely NONE of this should be taken at face value), they caught her in the act, finding a freshly-buried corpse and a cowering servant, badly beaten but still alive.
The subsequent questioning of over 300 people into the doings of the Blood Countess (as she’d later become known) has put her in the record books as easily the most prolific female serial killer in history, by an order of magnitude. The low-end estimate for her body count (and this was the number given by her closest associates and allies, mind you) was *just* in the thirties. The high-end estimate was 650, all servant women. The collected testimonials contained a litany of charges against her so vile that they have literally become legend – she would later be used as one of the primary inspirations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and her story has been referenced in hundreds of books, movies, songs, you name it. There were literally so many charges levied against her that when I typed them all out, it took up 10 single-spaced pages (I’ve since edited it down).
So let’s make a drinking game of it. The rules are simple: every time you’re grossed out, take a shot. I hope you have a full bottle or a strong stomach. Here we go, then! 
According to the surviving testimonials, she and/or her closest servant/confidants:
Kept her servants chained up every night so tight their hands turned blue and they spurted blood.
Beat them to the point where there was so much blood on the walls and beds that they had to use ashes and cinders to soak it up.
Beat a servant in Vienna so loudly that her neighbors (some monks) threw clay pots at the walls in protest.
Strangled a servant to death with a silk scarf (a harem technique known as “the Turkish way”, a euphemism I now endeavour to work into my daily life).
Burned her servants with metal sticks, red-hot keys, and coins; ironed the soles of their feet; and stuck burning iron rods into their vaginas.
Stabbed them, pricked them in their mouths and fingernails with needles, and cut their hands, lips, and noses with scissors.
Used needles, knives, candles, and her own freaking teeth to lacerate servants’ genitals.
Stitched their lips and tongues together.
Made servants sit on stinging nettles, then bathe with said stinging nettles. During the bath, she’d pushed the nettles into their shoulders and breasts.
Had them stand in tubs of ice water up to their necks outside until they died.
Smeared a naked girl with honey and left her outside to be bitten by ants, wasps, bees, and flies.
Kept them from eating for a week at a time, and, if they got thirsty, made them drink their own urine.
Forced them to cook and eat their own flesh (usually from the buttocks), or make sausages and serve it to guests.
Heated up a cake to red-hot temperatures and made a servant eat it.
Baked a magical poisonous cake in order to kill a rival magistrate, George Thurzo (who was also the guy who arrested her — more on him in a bit).
Cast a magic spell to summon a cloud filled with ninety cats to torment her enemies. Okay, that’s actually kind of awesome.
Had an ongoing affair with some guy named “Ironhead Steve” (no, really).
Stuffed five servants’ corpses underneath a bed and continued to feed them as if they were still alive.
Buried them in gardens, grain pits, orchards, and occasionally cemeteries. Sometimes with rites, often without.
And that’s just the charges levied against her in her lifetime! After she died, more details were added to the picture:
She bathed in virgins’ blood! (a lie dreamed up centuries afterward. also would’ve been impossible due to coagulation. I checked.)
She was syphilitic from centuries of inbreeding! (maaaaybe? seems perfectly with-it in her letters though)
She was epileptic! (well, she did once mention her eye hurt in a letter…?)
She was raped when she was young. (uh, doubtful. she was one of the most powerful women in the region, practically from birth)
Her aunt Klara was a bisexual or lesbian (possible!). The two had an incestuous relationship! (uh… reaallly doubt it…) After having numerous affairs, Klara was raped by an entire Turkish garrison before having her throat cut! (augh, no! what the fuck!?)
She was menopausal, and thus crazy! (sounds like someone is afraid of lady bits)
Her cousin Gabor (whom I will talk about below) slept around a lot (true), was bisexual (maybe?), had an incestuous relationship with his sister Anna (not true), who was herself accused of sleeping with a silversmith (super not true) and being a witch (super ultra not true).
So after all this went down, the sentences went into effect almost immediately. Her female “accomplices,” all old ladies, first had their fingers torn off with iron tongs, and, once fingerless, were bodily tossed into a large fire. Her one male “accomplice”, being less of a participant to the supposed crimes, was shown a tremendous amount of mercy: he was decapitated *before* they tossed his body into a fire. And Elisabeth Bathory herself was “immured” — which is to say, bricked up into a room in her own castle, where she died four years later.
In conclusion: the aristocrats!
Well, actually, no. That is not the conclusion. Buckle up, for I am about to dump the biggest bucket of cold water on all this malarky as I can possibly muster. Based off of the evidence, there is a case to be made (one which I believe to be true) that Elisabeth Bathory is innocent.
You heard me.
Now, this is not to say she was a nice person. The overwhelming impression one gets from reading all these documents (an act I do not recommend you do in one sitting — learn from my mistakes) is that she was a take-no-crap kind of lady. Her husband was off at war, and she had to manage an INCREDIBLE amount of stuff in his absence, even before he died – thousands of servants, governing the local populace, and handling an amount of property second to none. 
And so, Elisabeth Bathory needed everyone around her to know one thing, and one thing only: she was Head Bitch in Charge, and she had no time for your shit.
Her surviving letters illustrate this beautifully with their overwhelming curtness (even to her husband!). My favorite thing she ever wrote was to an encroaching squatter: she ended it by saying “do not think I shall leave you to enjoy it [settling illegally on my land]. You will find a man in me.” — a saying that translates roughly to “I will crush you.”
So no, she was not warm and cuddly. I absolutely believe she made life shitty for misbehaving servants (or, more likely, had her head servants do it for her). It is beyond questioning that she beat the hell out of them, and some undoubtedly died from it – I mean, she had thousands of servants in an age before penicillin. In fact, one scholar claims that the more outlandish tortures (stinging nettles, metal rods, amateur acupuncture) were contemporary folk remedies. Tough, mean lady? Yes. Cartoon supervillain? Hell no.
So what happened? George Thurzo – Palatine of Hungary and dickass extraordinaire – did.
Now, I already said Elisabeth was powerful, but you need to get the magnitude of the target she was: the Bathorys were like the Hungarian Kennedys and had been for centuries. By the time all this went down, Elisabeth’s cousin Gabor (earlier mentioned) was gunning for the throne (literally was starting a war), and Elisabeth was widowed, with more money than god. So Thurzo was like, “oh hell no, I am not letting those two partner up,” and decided to take Elisabeth down.
Now, the details of the plot are a bit murky. Thurzo was a known schemer who’d made a career out of backstabbing people, so a plot wouldn’t be much of a surprise. There’s evidence in correspondence with his wife (who kept forgetting to write in code) that Thurzo was moving against Elisabeth over a year earlier. He’d been in contact with the local church leaders, who were whipping up the general populace against the Bathorys by telling them stories – stories that would, with minor variations, be repeated over and over in the proceedings against Elisabeth, passed off as “I heard this” but with very few saying they’d actually seen it.
And that’s just the cooperating witnesses. In all likelihood – it was standard operating procedure at the time – the members of Elisabeth’s household were tortured before testifying. Their testimonials, which are confused and contradictory, lend credence to that.
The only way to get rid of such an entrenched power as Elisabeth was to catch her committing a horrific act red-handed – which Thurzo said he did, although it took him 24 hours to produce said evidence. Afterwards, they never had a trial (despite the king demanding one for three years straight). Elisabeth never got to speak in her defense and her family records were mostly destroyed. There is very little to go on in determining what sort of a person she actually was.
So, even if she did commit said acts (which is possible, although  nowhere near the scale of the accusations), ask yourself what is more likely: an incredibly outlandish list of violence perpetrated by a cadre of old women over decades; or, an orchestrated persecution against a powerful, harsh, and independent woman – in the age of actual witch hunts, no less!
It is a bit sad to think of Elisabeth’s last several years, imprisoned in her own castle (she was not literally bricked up, Amontillado-style). I imagine her looking out the window, confident that history would clear her name — blithely unaware of the centuries of mudslinging to come after her death. She deserved better. It feels odd to come to her defense, since, best-case scenario, she was occasionally abusive to the point where she would have been arrested nowadays, but I can’t help it. Call it sympathy for the devil.

Around a hundred people wrote in to suggest Lady Bathory over the past three weeks, but the credit for the original suggestion must go to my friend Astrid Phillips Mayer (genius brand strategist and champion of female empowerment!), who suggested it way back in February, when I first had the idea to do this project.

Art notes
Oh boy, I spent a lot of time figuring out just how to represent Lady Bathory. I am happy with how it turned out. Here’s the thought processes and callbacks:
I wanted to have the viewer see through her eyes, as best as possible.
We never see her, just a reflection in a dusty mirror. Her expression is meant to be somewhat inscrutable, without you being able to tell what’s on her mind. She’s purposely stiff and posed.
She’s got her back turned to Thurzo (in background, with feathered cap in silhouette) bricking her up, with her image caught in her own shadow – sort of symbolizing how her true story’s been locked away and obscured.
The whole composition is meant to feel claustrophobic, with her not only caught inside the mirror, but surrounded by the shadows cast from the bricked-up wall.
Her outfit is from one of the two surviving portraits of her, and all the furniture and whatnot are period-accurate. 
The mirror is a Venetian glass mirror (one of the only types of mirror at the time – each one was as expensive as a battleship!), and the scratches and cloudiness are actually characteristic of that type of mirror.
She’s washing her hair, a reference to the blood-bathing legends. Is that water reflecting the red candlelight and her dress, or…?
The symbol at the top of the mirror (the dragon) is the actual Bathory family crest, believe it or not. The candle holders are callbacks to that dragon.
Everything on the desk (and the bleeding candles) are related to a different torture rumor. The chest with the small mirror is a scrying box that witches were said to use.
Very barely visible in the darkness of the reflected room, up above a balcony, are a bunch of cats, a reference to the 90-cat curse.
Citations
Primarily, I cited Tony Thorne’s “Countess Dracula: the life and times of the Blood Countess, Elisabeth Bathory.” I looked at some other sites and books to gather a more complete list of the rumors against her, but given Thorne’s extremely extensive work (his book is exhaustively sourced), I felt comfortable relying mostly on him.

Next week on Rejected Princesses
Stepping away from violent women for a while, and heading back 7 decades before Rosa Parks.

Elisabeth Bathory: the Blood Countess (1560-1614)

First off: I know the text on these can be long. I adjusted the styling on the RP tumblr to make it easy to see the pic and the text at the same time, so if you’re getting this in your tumblr feed, you may want to click here to see it on the RP page. It’ll be easier to read.

Second off: trigger warnings. All of the trigger warnings. No trigger unwarned. (okay, fine, it’s actually just triggers for gore, violence, rape, incest, and murder. I think that’s it. but, um, tread lightly regardless.)

Now then, let’s take a step into the life of one of the most vilified women in history. On December 29, 1610, a garrison of soldiers stormed the Hungarian castle of Cachtice and arrested Elisabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory. They accused her of roughly a hundred Saw movies worth of torture, and took her into custody. As the story goes (and please keep in mind, absolutely NONE of this should be taken at face value), they caught her in the act, finding a freshly-buried corpse and a cowering servant, badly beaten but still alive.

The subsequent questioning of over 300 people into the doings of the Blood Countess (as she’d later become known) has put her in the record books as easily the most prolific female serial killer in history, by an order of magnitude. The low-end estimate for her body count (and this was the number given by her closest associates and allies, mind you) was *just* in the thirties. The high-end estimate was 650, all servant women. The collected testimonials contained a litany of charges against her so vile that they have literally become legend – she would later be used as one of the primary inspirations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and her story has been referenced in hundreds of books, movies, songs, you name it. There were literally so many charges levied against her that when I typed them all out, it took up 10 single-spaced pages (I’ve since edited it down).

So let’s make a drinking game of it. The rules are simple: every time you’re grossed out, take a shot. I hope you have a full bottle or a strong stomach. Here we go, then!

According to the surviving testimonials, she and/or her closest servant/confidants:

  • Kept her servants chained up every night so tight their hands turned blue and they spurted blood.
  • Beat them to the point where there was so much blood on the walls and beds that they had to use ashes and cinders to soak it up.
  • Beat a servant in Vienna so loudly that her neighbors (some monks) threw clay pots at the walls in protest.
  • Strangled a servant to death with a silk scarf (a harem technique known as “the Turkish way”, a euphemism I now endeavour to work into my daily life).
  • Burned her servants with metal sticks, red-hot keys, and coins; ironed the soles of their feet; and stuck burning iron rods into their vaginas.
  • Stabbed them, pricked them in their mouths and fingernails with needles, and cut their hands, lips, and noses with scissors.
  • Used needles, knives, candles, and her own freaking teeth to lacerate servants’ genitals.
  • Stitched their lips and tongues together.
  • Made servants sit on stinging nettles, then bathe with said stinging nettles. During the bath, she’d pushed the nettles into their shoulders and breasts.
  • Had them stand in tubs of ice water up to their necks outside until they died.
  • Smeared a naked girl with honey and left her outside to be bitten by ants, wasps, bees, and flies.
  • Kept them from eating for a week at a time, and, if they got thirsty, made them drink their own urine.
  • Forced them to cook and eat their own flesh (usually from the buttocks), or make sausages and serve it to guests.
  • Heated up a cake to red-hot temperatures and made a servant eat it.
  • Baked a magical poisonous cake in order to kill a rival magistrate, George Thurzo (who was also the guy who arrested her — more on him in a bit).
  • Cast a magic spell to summon a cloud filled with ninety cats to torment her enemies. Okay, that’s actually kind of awesome.
  • Had an ongoing affair with some guy named “Ironhead Steve” (no, really).
  • Stuffed five servants’ corpses underneath a bed and continued to feed them as if they were still alive.
  • Buried them in gardens, grain pits, orchards, and occasionally cemeteries. Sometimes with rites, often without.

And that’s just the charges levied against her in her lifetime! After she died, more details were added to the picture:

  • She bathed in virgins’ blood! (a lie dreamed up centuries afterward. also would’ve been impossible due to coagulation. I checked.)
  • She was syphilitic from centuries of inbreeding! (maaaaybe? seems perfectly with-it in her letters though)
  • She was epileptic! (well, she did once mention her eye hurt in a letter…?)
  • She was raped when she was young. (uh, doubtful. she was one of the most powerful women in the region, practically from birth)
  • Her aunt Klara was a bisexual or lesbian (possible!). The two had an incestuous relationship! (uh… reaallly doubt it…) After having numerous affairs, Klara was raped by an entire Turkish garrison before having her throat cut! (augh, no! what the fuck!?)
  • She was menopausal, and thus crazy! (sounds like someone is afraid of lady bits)
  • Her cousin Gabor (whom I will talk about below) slept around a lot (true), was bisexual (maybe?), had an incestuous relationship with his sister Anna (not true), who was herself accused of sleeping with a silversmith (super not true) and being a witch (super ultra not true).

So after all this went down, the sentences went into effect almost immediately. Her female “accomplices,” all old ladies, first had their fingers torn off with iron tongs, and, once fingerless, were bodily tossed into a large fire. Her one male “accomplice”, being less of a participant to the supposed crimes, was shown a tremendous amount of mercy: he was decapitated *before* they tossed his body into a fire. And Elisabeth Bathory herself was “immured” — which is to say, bricked up into a room in her own castle, where she died four years later.

In conclusion: the aristocrats!

Well, actually, no. That is not the conclusion. Buckle up, for I am about to dump the biggest bucket of cold water on all this malarky as I can possibly muster. Based off of the evidence, there is a case to be made (one which I believe to be true) that Elisabeth Bathory is innocent.

You heard me.

Now, this is not to say she was a nice person. The overwhelming impression one gets from reading all these documents (an act I do not recommend you do in one sitting — learn from my mistakes) is that she was a take-no-crap kind of lady. Her husband was off at war, and she had to manage an INCREDIBLE amount of stuff in his absence, even before he died – thousands of servants, governing the local populace, and handling an amount of property second to none.

And so, Elisabeth Bathory needed everyone around her to know one thing, and one thing only: she was Head Bitch in Charge, and she had no time for your shit.

Her surviving letters illustrate this beautifully with their overwhelming curtness (even to her husband!). My favorite thing she ever wrote was to an encroaching squatter: she ended it by saying “do not think I shall leave you to enjoy it [settling illegally on my land]. You will find a man in me.” — a saying that translates roughly to “I will crush you.”

So no, she was not warm and cuddly. I absolutely believe she made life shitty for misbehaving servants (or, more likely, had her head servants do it for her). It is beyond questioning that she beat the hell out of them, and some undoubtedly died from it – I mean, she had thousands of servants in an age before penicillin. In fact, one scholar claims that the more outlandish tortures (stinging nettles, metal rods, amateur acupuncture) were contemporary folk remedies. Tough, mean lady? Yes. Cartoon supervillain? Hell no.

So what happened? George Thurzo – Palatine of Hungary and dickass extraordinaire – did.

Now, I already said Elisabeth was powerful, but you need to get the magnitude of the target she was: the Bathorys were like the Hungarian Kennedys and had been for centuries. By the time all this went down, Elisabeth’s cousin Gabor (earlier mentioned) was gunning for the throne (literally was starting a war), and Elisabeth was widowed, with more money than god. So Thurzo was like, “oh hell no, I am not letting those two partner up,” and decided to take Elisabeth down.

Now, the details of the plot are a bit murky. Thurzo was a known schemer who’d made a career out of backstabbing people, so a plot wouldn’t be much of a surprise. There’s evidence in correspondence with his wife (who kept forgetting to write in code) that Thurzo was moving against Elisabeth over a year earlier. He’d been in contact with the local church leaders, who were whipping up the general populace against the Bathorys by telling them stories – stories that would, with minor variations, be repeated over and over in the proceedings against Elisabeth, passed off as “I heard this” but with very few saying they’d actually seen it.

And that’s just the cooperating witnesses. In all likelihood – it was standard operating procedure at the time – the members of Elisabeth’s household were tortured before testifying. Their testimonials, which are confused and contradictory, lend credence to that.

The only way to get rid of such an entrenched power as Elisabeth was to catch her committing a horrific act red-handed – which Thurzo said he did, although it took him 24 hours to produce said evidence. Afterwards, they never had a trial (despite the king demanding one for three years straight). Elisabeth never got to speak in her defense and her family records were mostly destroyed. There is very little to go on in determining what sort of a person she actually was.

So, even if she did commit said acts (which is possible, although  nowhere near the scale of the accusations), ask yourself what is more likely: an incredibly outlandish list of violence perpetrated by a cadre of old women over decades; or, an orchestrated persecution against a powerful, harsh, and independent woman – in the age of actual witch hunts, no less!

It is a bit sad to think of Elisabeth’s last several years, imprisoned in her own castle (she was not literally bricked up, Amontillado-style). I imagine her looking out the window, confident that history would clear her name — blithely unaware of the centuries of mudslinging to come after her death. She deserved better. It feels odd to come to her defense, since, best-case scenario, she was occasionally abusive to the point where she would have been arrested nowadays, but I can’t help it. Call it sympathy for the devil.

Around a hundred people wrote in to suggest Lady Bathory over the past three weeks, but the credit for the original suggestion must go to my friend Astrid Phillips Mayer (genius brand strategist and champion of female empowerment!), who suggested it way back in February, when I first had the idea to do this project.

Art notes

Oh boy, I spent a lot of time figuring out just how to represent Lady Bathory. I am happy with how it turned out. Here’s the thought processes and callbacks:

  • I wanted to have the viewer see through her eyes, as best as possible.
  • We never see her, just a reflection in a dusty mirror. Her expression is meant to be somewhat inscrutable, without you being able to tell what’s on her mind. She’s purposely stiff and posed.
  • She’s got her back turned to Thurzo (in background, with feathered cap in silhouette) bricking her up, with her image caught in her own shadow – sort of symbolizing how her true story’s been locked away and obscured.
  • The whole composition is meant to feel claustrophobic, with her not only caught inside the mirror, but surrounded by the shadows cast from the bricked-up wall.
  • Her outfit is from one of the two surviving portraits of her, and all the furniture and whatnot are period-accurate.
  • The mirror is a Venetian glass mirror (one of the only types of mirror at the time – each one was as expensive as a battleship!), and the scratches and cloudiness are actually characteristic of that type of mirror.
  • She’s washing her hair, a reference to the blood-bathing legends. Is that water reflecting the red candlelight and her dress, or…?
  • The symbol at the top of the mirror (the dragon) is the actual Bathory family crest, believe it or not. The candle holders are callbacks to that dragon.
  • Everything on the desk (and the bleeding candles) are related to a different torture rumor. The chest with the small mirror is a scrying box that witches were said to use.
  • Very barely visible in the darkness of the reflected room, up above a balcony, are a bunch of cats, a reference to the 90-cat curse.

Citations

Primarily, I cited Tony Thorne’s “Countess Dracula: the life and times of the Blood Countess, Elisabeth Bathory.” I looked at some other sites and books to gather a more complete list of the rumors against her, but given Thorne’s extremely extensive work (his book is exhaustively sourced), I felt comfortable relying mostly on him.

Next week on Rejected Princesses

Stepping away from violent women for a while, and heading back 7 decades before Rosa Parks.