Thanks to all who read and follow this blog. Recently, there was a news story on the most powerful women in the world today. Of course, some one made the comment that most were also married with children. I wish they could all read Erzebet's letters, as published by Kim Craft. Those letters are full of the life of a 17th century "powerful" woman, but also what Barbara Pym would call an "excellent woman." Erzebet oversaw some 27 estates, with complete households, self sustaining farms and gardens, animals, furnishings, wealth, etc. She did at a time when misogyny was rampant, in relatively frail health, with children. She did it alone, with a husband either off to war, or as a young widow, young even for those times.
Her letters are formal, even stiff, sometimes poignant. In one, she attempts to reign in a manager she thinks is stealing grain. She is constantly worried about money, about caring for those under her charge, about war with the Ottomans, about her granaries.
Her life involved sickness, upheaval, and travel. Like the planation mistress of the American South would be later, she was accountable for everyone's well being.
Like Pym's women, she was cumbered with much serving, and expected to be the gracious hostess and loving wife when needed.
Do we define power through fame and wealth? Through notoriety? Other "powerful" women who lived within 100 years or so of Erzebet suffered, even died, though they were alleged to be powerful. Even earlier, Joan of Arc led an army, but her gruesome and untimely end was probably a direct result of the power she earned as a commander of male troops. In ancient times, talented women of fame often suffered, though in the case of Boadicea, even her enemies wrote of her bravery. See the histories of Suetonius Paulinius, Dio Cassius, and Strabo. Hypatia, the female philosopher who gives a literary journal her name today, was thrown to the mob.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine de Medici, Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Aragon, Margaret Roper, Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, Mary Tudor, Lady Jane Grey, Anne Askew, Elizabeth I, Jane Anger, Anne Hutchinson, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, the list goes on and on.
Brilliant women, dismissed/curse as witches, dismissed as "freaks", "Uppity women" or rabble rousers, if not as downright lunatics, because they dared to handle their own affairs, to speak out as men, to defend their honor.