The Female Half of a Fearsome and Bloody Medieval Power Couple
Sichelgaita of Salerno (circa 1040 – 1090) was a Lombard warrior princess and the hereditary duchess of Apulia in southern Italy. Born into the ruling family of the Duchy of Salerno, she exhibited a passion for swordsmanship and horseback riding from an early age. A six foot Amazon, she met and married Robert Guiscard, a Norman adventurer who turned southern Italy and Sicily into a Norman domain. Armed and armored she fought at Guiscard’s side, or led men into battle on her own. The power couple roiled the Mediterranean world of their day.
After her father the duke was murdered in a palace coup, Sichelgaita helped her brother regain the duchy, and she regained her place as the duchy’s most privileged woman. Brother and sister then faced encroachment from Normans to their south, who had settled in Italy after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1058, she met the Normans’ leader, Robert Guiscard, and the two fell passionately in love. So Guiscard divorced his wife and married Sichelgaita. For the next eighteen years, she was Guiscard’s constant companion, on and off the battlefield, and helped consolidate his and her family’s hold on southern Italy.