Medieval Women Took Part In And Led Violent Protests (and were treated more leniently when caught)

From the BBC : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18373149

Until now the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 is largely believed to have been led by a mob of rebel men, but new research shows women played an important role in orchestrating violence against the government.

Today people are used to the idea of women being in the military. Some are already pressing for the right to fight on the front line.

And women fighting as insurgents has been a fact of conflicts from Vietnam to Sri Lanka.

But there’s a growing feeling historians have overlooked their role in medieval rebellions like 1381’s Peasants Revolt.

On 14 June 1381, rebels dragged Lord Chancellor Simon of Sudbury from the Tower of London and brutally beheaded him. Outraged by his hated poll tax, the insurgents had stormed into London looking for him, plundering and burning buildings as they went.

It was the leader of the group who arrested Sudbury and dragged him to the chopping block, ordering that he be beheaded.

Her name was Johanna Ferrour.

So why have such violent women been apparently airbrushed from history?

So why are women like Ferrour largely hidden from popular history, yet charismatic rebel leaders such as the “mad priest” John Ball and Wat Tyler dominate in the history books?

Some historians now suggest that sexist attitudes permeated medieval history. By translating Latin court records, Sylvia Federico, Associate Professor of English at Bates College, was able to establish that women were often at the heart of the revolt.

From records held at the National Archives in Kew she discovered they did “almost everything” that men did – they incited crowds, chased their enemies and marched into London alongside the men.

“They were not shy to pick up staffs, sticks, and staves and wield them against perceived oppressors,” says Federico.

Although  the BBC article seems at pains to stress the ‘sexism’ that has led to female participation in mob violence being ignored, it only briefly mentions another type of familiar sexism :

But although women were at the heart of the violence and charged with many of the same crimes as men, Ridgard has found no records of women being executed, or punished as harshly.