The question in this chapter is not “Can women fight?” but “Can women be good partners?”. The stories of Hypsicratea and Triaria are Christine’s examples of faithful wives. Both women followed their husbands into battle, wearing armor and fighting fiercely.

Christine asks Rectitude about the books she was reading at the beginning that listed women’s faults. Many writers said that marriage was filled with unhappiness for men because of women’s meanness, bad attitude, and faithlessness. To get married was to invite a lifetime of irritation. Theophrastus said that if men want someone to take care of them like a wife they would be better off hiring a servant.107

Christine asks Rectitude what she thinks of these points. “Certainly, friend,” Rectitude dryly says, “whoever goes to court without an opponent pleads very much at his ease.” Rectitude reminds Christine that marriage is often painful for women as well. “My God! How many harsh beatings—without cause and without reason—how many injuries, how many cruelties, insults, humiliations, and outrages have so many upright women suffered, none of whom cried out for help?”108 The comparison between real women suffering and Theophrastus saying wives can be awfully mean shows how petty his arguments are.

Rectitude says that there are in fact happy marriages, like Christine’s had been, where both partners are supportive and kind. In the stories of Hypsicratea and Triaria, “supportive” means putting on armor and going into battle with one’s husband. Hypsicratea’s husband suffered many military defeats, and she followed him through them all. “Though abandoned and deserted by all his friends, with all hope gone, he was comforted by his good wife, who gently urged him to hope for better fortune…he frequently remarked that he was not in exile, but that it seemed to him that he were at his leisure in the palace with his loyal spouse.”109

Triaria and her husband attacked the city of Terracina at night. In Boccaccio’s telling, Triaria’s love for her husband inspired her to become a premodern war criminal:

Armed with a sword, she mingled with Vitellius’ soldiers, falling upon the poor wretches, now here, now there in the darkness of the night, in the midst of shrieks and cries, flying weapons, blood, and the last gasps of the dying. Triaria indulged in all the atrocities of war, so much so, in fact, that after the capture of the town she was charged with excessive cruelty and arrogance towards the enemy.

He then adds, “Great is the power of conjugal love in a pure heart.”110

Bizarre as it is to read about the power of married love after a list of war crimes, it is the thesis of Boccaccio and Christine’s chapters on these ladies. Can women be good partners? Yes, they both say. They can love their husbands fiercely and loyally. Women can be loyal partners, even, Boccaccio adds, better than their husbands deserve.

Process

For the scene with Hypiscratea, I would draw the queen and her husband retreating from battle. The Morgan Bible has a few images of armies retreating, like when the other tribes of Israel attack the Benjamite city of Gibeah. 

Detail of a feast scene. Pierpont Morgan Library. MS M.638, fol. 16v.

Empress Triaria and her husband ambushed a city. To show this, I used a scene with surprised soldiers putting on chainmail while they are attacked.

Detail of battle scene. Pierpont Morgan Library. MS M.638, fol. 3v.

I have found scenes with soldiers on horseback to be really fun to paint, but wildly frustrating to organize. Blocking figures to make a pleasing composition is difficult enough even on graph paper, but with horses I had an extra four limbs to deal with.

To help me with the process, I made little cutouts of various figures on horseback. I gave them goofy nicknames from a YouTube video about spam marketing. I could arrange these figures on graph paper to plan a layout without having to draw each one from scratch.

My style of illuminated manuscripts has many limitations. There is a fixed point of view, and battles only exist on a single left-to-right axis. Even in a two-panel spread there is only room for one or two figures on horseback. Finally, the horses must always be running. When galloping, the horses in the Morgan Bible are elegant and powerful. Their legs overlap and interweave; their huge bodies balance on tiny hooves as they leap into battle. Unfortunately, the artists never found a way to draw horses walking without looking unbearably goofy. These horses look like chubby ponies trying to sneak up on someone.

Detail of battle scene. Pierpont Morgan Library. MS M.638, fol. 33v.

Detail of battle scene. Pierpont Morgan Library. MS M.638, fol. 43v.

 107 de Pizan, 118

108 de Pizan, 119

109 de Pizan, 122

110 Boccaccio, 201