Femina, the forgotten women of the Middle Ages

hand holding Femina in hardcover

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I’m a sucker for non-fiction books that correct historical records in a way that is engaging, smart, and digestible. This makes me insufferable at parties because I’m the first person to pipe up with a “Hey, didja know that…” fact. For instance, didja know that women’s names were literally erased from Medieval history books and simply amended with the word FEMINA? What the hell?!

So I’d like to introduce you to Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez, out today from Hanover Square Press. Inspired by these stricken records, historian Dr. Ramirez uses new discoveries, new research, and modern thought to reinsert these women into their rightful place in history. The best part is she covers not just the famous women, but the women history has forgotten (and normalizes queerness in history!). For example…

Some key figures in the book:

  • Jadwiga, the only female king in Europe
  • Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety
  • Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England

Four Things I Love About Femina (and you will, too!)

  1. I don’t know about you, but when I think of feminist history, I think of the women’s suffrage movement and the waves of feminism. But feminist history started way, way before that. Femina not only broadens the scope of the Middle Ages, but also of women’s history as a whole.
  2. Though the book is thoroughly researched and incredibly smart, Dr. Ramirez’s writing style is easy to read and enjoyable! No dry jargon-laden academic-speak, this one’s for the historians and the casual history lovers. (But if you love a good footnote and works cited page, you’re also in for a treat!)
  3. New technologies give us new discoveries about the past. We all know that history was written by the people in power, but new tech like DNA testing on old bones gives us a fuller picture. The more we discover about our history, the better we can understand the present, and Femina is a beautiful example of rewriting that narrative.
  4. This book is chock-full of badass warrior women you’ve never heard of. I guarantee you’ll meet a new historical figure to admire in this book (unless you’re a Middle Ages historian, in which case you’re probably already familiar with Dr. Ramirez’s work).

If you loved She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan or The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney, this book is right up your alley!

Renee Powers founded Feminist Book Club in 2018 to provide a space for intersectional feminists to learn, grow, and connect. When not reading or running the biz, you can find her drinking coffee and trying unsuccessfully to teach her retired racing greyhound how to fetch. Favorite genres: feminist thrillers, contemporary literary fiction, short stories, and anything that might be described as "irreverent"

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