Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Six of the Best: Powerful Women in History

by JD Smith

We have all heard of Cleopatra, Boadicea, Helen of Troy, Elizabeth I. They are famed for their  prominence in a man's world, but what of those who are lesser known yet equally influential, powerful and dominant. Here's a peek at my top six lesser known women in history:

Grace O'Malley (1530 - 1603)

O'Malley became lord of the Ó Máille dynasty in the west of Ireland following the death of her father, Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille, despite having a brother, Dónal an Phíopa Ó Mháille. 

Marriage to Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh brought her greater wealth and influence, reportedly owning as much as 1,000 head of cattle and horses. In 1593, when her sons and her half-brother were taken captive by the English governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, she sailed to England to petition for their release. She formally presented her request to Elizabeth I at her court in Greenwich, refusing to bow because she did not acknowledge Elizabeth being a queen.

Ching Shih (1775 - 1844)

Shih was a Chinese pirate who led one of the largest piracy fleets to ever exist, commanded up to 40,000 pirates. She enter into conflict with the British and Portuguese Empires, as well as the Qing dynasty.

The Chinese government attempted to destroy her fleet in a series of battles, but were unable to do so. Shih captured the government's ships and took them over, adding to her own fleet, and the Chinese were left with only fishing vessels and the like for military use. 

Artemisia I of Caria (5th Century BCE)
Artemisia was a Greek queen of the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus and of the nearby islands of Kos, Nisyros and Kalymnos. She fought as an ally of Xerxes I, King of Persia against the independent Greek city states during the Persian invasion of Greece. She personally commanded her own five ships in the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE. She is mostly known through the writings of Herodotus, himself a native of Halicarnassus, who praises her courage and the respect in which Xerxes held her.

Borte Ujin (1161-1230) 
Borte Ujin was empress of the Mongolian Empire, the largest land empire in history. She was also one of Genghis Khan’s wives and most trusted advisers. Whilst many of Genghis Khan's wives accompanied him as he went to war for long periods, she ruled the Mongol homeland and managed her own court.

Wu Zetian (690 - 705)

Wu was the sole officially recognized empress regnant of China in more than two millennia. Her political and military leadership includes the major expansion of the Chinese empire, extending it deep into Central Asia, and engaging in a series of wars on the Korean Peninsula.

Wu's leadership resulted in important effects regarding social class in Chinese society and in relation to state support for Taoism, Buddhism, education, and literature.

Queen Hatshepsut (1507–1458 BC)
Hatshepsut was fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. According to Egyptologist James Henry Breasted, Hatshepsut is also known as "the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.

Hatshepsut officially ruled jointly with Thutmose III, who had ascended to the throne as a child of about two years old. Hatshepsut was the chief wife of Thutmose II, Thutmose III’s father.

During her reign she established many trade routes, funding trading expeditions and building the wealth of the eighteenth dynasty. She was also one of the most prolific builders in ancient Egypt, commissioning hundreds of construction projects.

Credit: Wikipedia

Friday, 6 July 2018

Six of the Best: Books on WW2 French Resistance

By Liza Perrat

The French village in which I live originally inspired me for the first novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, of my French historical trilogy, The Bone Angel.

An exhibition in a museum in Saint-Martins-en-Haut, a neighbouring village, gave me the idea to base the second novel of the trilogy, Wolfsangel, around the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation during WW2.

 I realised that this region, like many others in France, was a hotbed of French resistance. During my research, I was fortunate to speak with several members of the Resistance, who were only too happy to relive their days of fighting for the liberation of their country.

But for further information, I consulted both fiction and non-fiction books on the subject.

Here are six of my favourites, four non-fiction and two fiction works, with Goodreads links:


by Lucie Aubrac

Lucie Aubrac (1912-2007), of Catholic and peasant background, was a history teacher in Lyon, married to Jewish engineer, Raymond Aubrac, when WW2 broke out.

The couple soon joined the Resistance movement in opposition to the Nazis and their collaborators, and Outwitting the Gestapo is Lucie’s harrowing account of her participation: of the months when, heavily-pregnant, she planned and took part in raids to free comrades—including her husband, under Nazi death sentence—from Montluc, the prison of Klaus Barbie, infamous Butcher of Lyon.
Her book was also the basis for the 1997 French movie, Lucie Aubrac, which I greatly enjoyed.

by Agnès Humbert

Agnès Humbert was an art historian in Paris during the German occupation in 1940. Stirred to action by the atrocities she witnessed, she joined forces with several colleagues to form an organized resistance.

In fact, their newsletter, Résistance, gave the French Resistance its name. During their struggle for freedom, the members of
Humbert’s group were betrayed to the Gestapo; Humbert herself was imprisoned.

In immediate, electrifying detail, Humbert describes her resistance against the Nazis, her time in prison, and the horrors she endured in a string of German labor camps, always retaining — in spite of everything — hope for herself, for her friends, and for humanity.

by Vercors

The Silence of the Sea, written in Nazi-occupied France, is an intensely dramatic story of an old Frenchman and his niece, and of the German officer billeted in their house. Both the story, and the circumstances of its publication, bear eloquent witness to the triumph of the mind of man over terrible circumstances.

The identity of the author, “Vercors” is unknown, though he was undoubtedly one of that large number of French men of letters who, like the old man in “The Silence of the Sea”, refused to compromise with the Nazis in any way.

This novel, written in mortal peril, published clandestinely in France and smuggled to freedom, is a real victory for the human spirit, showing that humans have cared enough for things of the mind to risk their lives to breach the impenetrable wall of silence the Nazis built around France.

by Anne-Marie Walters

On a cold, moonlit night in January 1944, Anne-Marie Walters, just twenty years old, parachuted into southwest France to work with the Resistance in preparation for the long-awaited Allied invasion.

The daughter of a British father and a French mother, she was to act as a courier for George Starr, head of the “Wheelwright” circuit of the Special Operations Executive. Over the next seven months, Walters crisscrossed the region, carrying messages, delivering explosives, arranging the escape of downed airmen, and receiving parachute drops of arms and personnel in the dead of night, living in constant fear of capture and torture by the Gestapo.

Then, on the very eve of liberation, she was sent off on foot over the Pyrenees to Spain, carrying urgent dispatches for London. It is a tale of high adventure, comradeship and kindness, of betrayals and appalling atrocities, and of the often unremarked courage of many ordinary French men and women who risked their lives to help drive German armies from French soil. And through it all shines her quiet courage, a keen sense of humor and, above all, her pure zest for life.



by Elisabeth Gille

A haunting and powerful book written by one of the daughters of Irène Némirovsky, author of Suite Française. Némirovsky and her husband died in Nazi concentration camps, but their daughters were hidden and escaped death.

In this story, Elisabeth Gille gives a fictionalized account of when, as five-year old Lea Levy, she was hidden away by the nuns of a Bordeaux convent when the Nazis deported her parents.

But there is no happy ending for her after the fall of Nazi Germany, which is what makes this book so powerful, to see the pain and suffering for the Jews that came after liberation.

by Sebastian Faulks (French Trilogy #3)

Charlotte Gray is the story of a young Scottish woman who becomes caught up in the effort to liberate Occupied France from the Nazis while pursuing a perilous mission of her own.

In blacked-out, wartime London, Charlotte Gray develops a dangerous passion for a battle-weary RAF pilot, and when he fails to return from a daring flight into France she is determined to find him.

In the service of the Resistance, she travels to the village of Lavaurette, dyeing her hair and changing her name to conceal her identity. Here she will come face-to-face with the harrowing truth of what took place during Europe’s darkest years, and will confront a terrifying secret that threatens to cast its shadow over the remainder of her days.

Resistance museum poster

Resistance museum poster