52 Weeks of Women – November
52 Weeks of women is a weekly series of posts allowing us to rediscover the important role that women have played in history. To find out a little more about what we are doing or why visit Introducing 52 Weeks of Women.
To continue our series, this month we bring you Roxelana, Manuela Saenz, Nur Jahan, and the Enheduanna. We hope that each post will prompt you to read more, and if you do we’d love you to share what you find out! Likewise, if you know of any women who you think should be included in our series, let us know.
Sold into slavery as a teenager, Roxelana became a concubine in the Ottoman imperial harem. She was much favoured by the Sultan Suleyman, who broke with many traditions to keep her – and their children – by his side.
Roxelana held huge political influence in the Ottoman Empire, where her views were highly regarded on issues of foreign policy, international politics, major public building works, and charitable establishments.
Her legacy endured long after her death, the place she took for herself in political life was to set the stage for a very exciting period in history called the Sultanate of Women. While this change in women’s status was not to endure indefinitely, the power and influence that these women were able to wield created positive outcomes in the lives of the people they ruled.
You can read more about Roxelana here:
Manuela Saenz was an illegitimate child from Ecuador, who grew to become the ‘Liberator of Liberators’, owner of a pet bear, and was known to wear the moustache she took from a dead prisoner. She was known as a ‘gentle, mad woman’.
Although married to an English doctor, she became the beloved mistress of revolutionary, Simon Bolivar, and bravely led many a raid for the rebels during a time of great civil unrest in Ecuador.
History defines her as the lover of a revolutionary, but Manuela refused to live according to anyone else’s script. She lived without concern about how society and propriety viewed her. She was a feisty character, and we remember her for her strength of character and unwillingness to be defined by others.
These websites have more information if you’d like to learn more:
When she was a widowed mother in her 30’s, Nur Jahan and Jahangir – the head of the Moghal Empire – fell in love an were married, very much breaking from the norm, where widowed women were ‘shelved’, and sometimes forced to commit suicide.
She and her husband ruled the empire equally, signing royal edicts jointly. Together they generously funded art, Persian culture, and science; outlawed the enforced suicide of widows, and forbade the practice of killing infant girls.
Nur Jahan kept busy on her own too: she commissioned rest-stops for caravans along trade routes; designed beautiful gardens and memorials; wrote poetry, and was an accomplished tiger hunter – amazing not only for it’s physicality, but also because this sport was reserved for men, to preserve her delicacy she hunted from a curtained hut… on top of an elephant!
The impact of Nur Jahan persists in India to this day in the architectural and cultural aesthetics she introduced.
More on her in these websites:
A High Priestess who lived in the Sumerian state of Ur, Enheduanna wrote over 40 hymns, the most famous being ‘the exaltation of Inanna’. She was the first person to ever sign their name on a written text, thus making her the world’s first know author.
Enheduanna’s temple hymns were ground-breaking. Nothing like them had been written before, and her works were used long after her death.
Her writings were fundamental to the shaping of the literary world as we know it: she wrote about her emotions and thoughts, rather than simply facts and plot. She has been called the ‘Shakespeare of Sumer’, but it’s interesting to think that had it not been for her new ways of writing, Shakespeare’s works as we know them may never have been written!
Even more importantly than the cultural value of the poetry was its importance in the societal stability. Entrusted with a very important work of discourse and spin, she was responsible for trying to integrate and meld together separate religious traditions. Her works changed perceptions of the divine and helped bridge the gap between the religions, a fundamental part in ensuring the stability of the society and the empire.