Thursday, March 14, 2013

Women in Kabinettskriege Warfare

A depiction of the Quasi-Mythic "Molly Pitcher" 
Dear Reader,

While so far, the majority of my blog posts have dealt with men, one of my concerned readers (looking at you, Adi Moore) reminded me, in the words of Kabinettskriege era wife and mother Abigail Adams, to "remember the ladies."

Maria Theresa of Austria
Catherine II of Russia

Female Rulers

Women often played a vital role in the various events of the Kabinettskriege period. During the 18th century, Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine II of Russia ruled and reformed their states with great skill.

In addition to being a first class monarch, Maria Theresa of Austria raised a family, while her almost useless husband Francis Stephen of Lorraine was busy having affairs with women much his junior. Maria assisted with reforming the Austria military, which helped the Austrians perform much better in the Seven Years' War. Like US. President Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century, she was frequently frustrated by her military commanders.

Historian Christopher Duffy believes that if she had not been born a woman, she would have gladly gone on campaign with her soldiers. Whenever troops would return from the war, she would ride out to meet them, and was often regarded by soldiers as something of a mother figure. After the battle of Kolin, the first major Austrian victory of the Seven Years' War, she created the order of Maria Theresa to honor successful military commanders.

In 1757, Austrian forces raided Berlin, and levied large amounts of money from the captive population. In addition, they demanded a number of gloves, in order to present to Empress Maria Theresa. Upon leaving the city, they found that the wily Berliners had only given them left-handed gloves. As a mark of respect, the officers of the Austrian military only wore gloves on one hand from that day forward.

Catherine II of Russia provides us with a somewhat more controversial figure. English speaking historian often focus on the fact that she ordered her lover to murder her husband, or many of her more sultry aspects.  Dr. Sergei Zhuk, and many other Eastern European historians are trying to change that frame of mind.

They argue that Catherine's political and military accomplishments are much more interesting, and worthy of study. Like Maria Theresa, she became highly involved in military affairs, and even had her picture painted while in uniform, on horseback! These aspects of her reign tell us much more about the type of ruler, and woman, that she was.

Women and the Military in the Kabinettskriege Era

When historians examine the women and the military, they often focus on camp followers. These women and children were often soldiers wives, and traveled with the army on campaign. Don H. Hagist has a vast amount of information on these women who followed the British army in the American War for Independence. You can read his blog here.

Women also played a role in the actual combat operations of the Kabinettskriege period.  Women often disguised themselves as men, and fought on the battlefield. During the reign of Frederick William I of Prussia, a woman was actually executed for this! Other women, such as Mary McCauley (the "molly pitcher" of legend) assisted with battlefield tasks, such as loading and firing cannons.

During the Seven Years' War, Rafaela Herrera, the nineteen year old daughter of a Spanish garrison commander, took command of the Castillo de Immaculate Concepcion in present day Nicaragua. Her father died just prior to an English attack, and the second in command of the fortress was preparing to surrender, when Rafaela took the keys of the fortress from him, and begin firing one of the cannons at the English. The Spanish soldiers, emboldened by the young woman, resisted the English for in a week long siege. The Spanish eventually drove the English away, and Rafaela recieved a pension from the king of Spain for her actions!

So, as you can see, women played a vital role in this period, as monarchs, wives, mothers, soldiers, and even commanders!

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

If you enjoyed this post, or like the blog, please become a follower! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. One glove, huh? Maybe that's where Michael Jackson got the idea...