This description of a group of flamboyantly-dressed women "crashing" a medieval tournament and setting tongues wagging can't help but send my imagination racing. Think of what a great opening for a movie it would make! It's the sort of image that feels anachronistically modern...except that it was recorded as an actual event in a historical chronicle. And though there may have been some interpretation and exaggeration in the telling, there's no reason to doubt that the essential facts are true. Who were these women? Why did they show up at the tournament in masculine dress? Whose clothing was it? Husbands' or brothers'? Was it planned or spontaneous? Did they try to participate in the tournament itself? If so, did they succeed? What happened afterward? Was "matrimonial restraint" reimposed on them or did the experience change their view of themselves and what they were capable of?
Knighton, Henry. 1995. Knighton’s Chronicle 1337-1396. Edited and translated by G.H. Martin. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-820-503-1
Latin text and modern translation of a historic chronicle of the 14th century.
I don’t usually include primary texts in this project, in part because there’s more value in reading the interpretations of historians (of which I am only an amateur) and in part because the selection and excerpting of relevant sections is itself an interpretation process, which I am hesitant to perform. But in this case the relevant excerpt is short enough to include in its entirety. So I’ve included both the original Latin (for fun) and Martin’s translation.
Martin suggests that the claim that these cross-dressing women appeared at multiple tournaments was most likely a generalization from a single noteworthy event. The claim that they were rained out every time they appeared supports this suggestion, as it seems an unlikely coincidence (excluding the possibility of actual divine displeasure). Martin also suggests that a previous editor is mistaken in locating the tournament in Berwick (a location I included in my previous discussion of this event). The chronicle did discuss a tournament in Berwick in an earlier entry, but this specific description doesn’t indicate a location.
Nota de dominabus in hastiludiis. Illis diebus ortus est rumor et in gens clamor in populo eo quod ubi hastiludia prosequebantur, quasi in quolibet loco dominarum cohors affuit, quasi comes interludii in diuerso et mirabili apparatu uirili, ad numerum quandoque quasi .xl. quandoque .l. dominarum, de speciosioribus et pulcrioribus, non melioribus tocius regni, in tunicis partitis scilicet una parte / de una secta, et altera de alia secta, cum capuciis breuibus et liripiis ad modum cordarum circa capud aduolutis, et 3onis argento uel auro bene circumstipatis in extransuerso uentris sub umbilico habentes cultellos quos daggerios wlgaliter dicunt, in powchiis desuper impositis. Et sic procedebant in electis dextrariis uel aliis equis bene comptis de loco ad locum hastiludiorum. Et tali modo expendebant et deuastabant bona sua, et corpora sua ludibriis et scurilosis lasciuiis uexitabant, ut rumor populi personabat.
Et sic nec Deum uerebantur, nec uerecundam populi uocem erubescebant, laxato matrimonialis pudicie freno. Nec hii quos sequebantur animaduertebant quantam graciam et prefulgidam expedicionem Deus, omnium bonorum largitor Anglorum milicie contulerat, contra omnes inimicos undecunque eis aduersantes et quali priuilegio triumphalis uictorie in omni loco illos pretulerat. Sed Deus in hiis sicud in cunctis aliis affuit mirabili remedio, eorum dissipando dissolucionem. Nam loca et tempora ad hec uana assignata, imbrium resolucione tonitrui et fulguris coruscacione, et uariarum tempestatum mirabili uentilacione preocupauit.
A tale of women at tournaments. In those days a rumor arose and great excitement amongst the people because, when tournaments were held, at almost every place a troop of ladies would appear, as though they were a company of players, dressed in men's clothes of striking richness and variety, to the number of forty or sometimes fifty such damsels, all very eye-catching and beautiful, though hardly of the kingdom's better sort. They were dressed in parti-colored tunics, of one color on one side and a different one on the other, with short hoods, and liripipes wound about their heads like strings, with belts of gold and silver clasped about them, and even with the kind of knives commonly called daggers slung low across their bellies, in pouches. And thus they paraded themselves at tournaments on fine chargers and other well-arrayed horses, and consumed and spent their substance, and wantonly and with disgraceful lubricity displayed their bodies, as the rumor ran.
And thus, neither fearing God nor abashed by the voice of popular outrage, they slipped the traces of matrimonial restraint. Nor did those whom they accompanied consider what grace and outstanding blessings God, the fount of all good things, had bestowed upon English knighthood in all its successful encounters with its enemies, and what exceptional triumphs of victory He had allowed them everywhere. But God in this as in all things had a marvelous remedy to dispel their wantonness, for at the times and places appointed for those vanities He visited cloudbursts, and thunder and flashing lightning, and tempests of astonishing violence upon them.