Breaking the Siege: The Role of Women in Medieval Castle Defense

When we think of medieval warfare, we often picture male knights and soldiers. However, women played a significant role in defending castles during sieges.

In this article, we explore the role of women in medieval castle defense.


Defensive Tactics

Women used a variety of defensive tactics to fend off attackers. One of the most common was boiling oil, which was poured from the top of the castle walls onto attackers below.

“The story of the women who survived the siege of Masada is a powerful reminder of the human cost of war. Despite the desperate conditions they faced, these women found the strength to endure and to bear witness to their suffering.” Revolt to Modern Myth”

Jodi Magness, archaeologist and author of “Masada: From Jewish

Rocks and other projectiles were also used. Defenders would hurl them at attackers to keep them at bay. Barricades and other defensive structures were also used to block the attackers’ advance.

Notable Historical Examples

There are many examples of women who played a significant role in medieval castle defense. Perhaps the most famous is Joan of Arc, who led the French army to victory at the Siege of Orleans.

Joan of Arc Famous Medieval People
Joan of Arc

“Joan of Arc is not only a French heroine, but a universal one. Her life has inspired countless works of art and literature, and her legacy continues to resonate with people around the world.”

Helen Castor, historian and author of “Joan of Arc: A History”

Joan was just 17 years old at the time and had no military training. However, her bravery and leadership inspired the French troops to victory

Another notable example is the story of Lady Gundreda de la Pomeroy, who lived in the 12th century in Devon, England. She defended her castle against an attack by King Stephen’s army during the civil war between Stephen and Empress Matilda.


Despite being heavily outnumbered, Lady Gundreda used boiling water and oil to fend off the attackers, forcing them to retreat.

Another example is that of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who defended her castle in Poitiers against her own husband, King Henry II of England, during a rebellion by their sons. She held out for months until the siege was finally lifted.

Battle of Poitiers

Women as Leaders

In addition to their defensive tactics, women also played leadership roles during sieges. Women often held positions of power in their own right, and in some cases, acted as regents when their husbands or sons were away fighting.

“Elena Diedo was a remarkable woman who demonstrated great courage and leadership during the siege of Candia. Her story is a testament to the strength and resilience of the Venetian people during this difficult period.”

– Judith Berg-Sobré, historian and author of “Venetian Women and the Ottoman Empire”

They were responsible for organizing the defense of the castle, allocating resources, and making strategic decisions.

For example, during the Siege of Dunbar in Scotland in 1296, Countess Isabella Macduff led the defense of the castle while her husband was away fighting. She organized the defenders and personally led sorties against the attackers.

Challenges Faced by Women

Despite their significant contributions, women faced challenges in medieval castle defense. They were often viewed as inferior to men and were not given the same training and equipment as male soldiers. Women also faced the risk of sexual violence if the castle was breached by attackers.

“The women of Leningrad played an essential role in the city’s defense, serving as air raid wardens, nurses, and firefighters. Their bravery and determination in the face of adversity is an inspiration to us all.”

Anna Reid, historian and author of “Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944”
Medieval Women

“The women of Saragossa, known as the Mañas, were instrumental in the city’s defense during the Napoleonic Wars. Their bravery and resourcefulness helped to inspire the men and to keep morale high during the long months of the siege.”

Charles J. Esdaile, historian and author of “The Peninsular War: A New History”


In conclusion, women played a significant role in defending castles during medieval sieges. They used a variety of defensive tactics and played leadership roles, despite facing significant challenges.

Their contributions have often been overlooked in historical accounts, but they were crucial to the success of castle defense during the Middle Ages.