The Maharaja of Jhansi and Lakshmibai did not have children, but her husband adopted a boy. Upon her husband’s death, the British resorted to legal chicanery, and refused to recognize the adopted child as heir to Jhansi. Instead, they annexed Jhansi to the territory of the East India Company. When informed of this, the badass in Lakshmibai came out, as she vowed “I shall not surrender my Jhansi!“. It became her war cry in the subsequent rebellion.
In 1857, Indian troops in British service mutinied, and their rebellion quickly spread throughout northern India. Lakshmibai was declared regent of Jhansi, and she governed on behalf of the underage heir. She raised troops and joined the rebels, and disgruntled natives from across India flocked to her standard to offer their support and fight under her command.
Lakshmibai personally led her forces in a series of successful engagements that secured her command and consolidated her rule. Eventually, the British sent an army to recapture Jhansi. When they demanded her surrender, she responded with a proclamation stating: “We fight for independence. In the words of Lord Krishna, we will if we are victorious, enjoy the fruits of victory, if defeated and killed on the field of battle, we shall surely earn eternal glory and salvation.”
The British surrounded Jhansi, and a fierce battle ensued, during which Lakshmibai led her troops in stiff resistance. British heavy artillery eventually reduced her fortifications and breached the city walls. When Jhansi was about to fall, Lakshmibai led a small force in a ferocious attack that cut its way to safety, fighting through the British siege lines with her child strapped to her back. She escaped, reached other rebel forces, and resumed the fight. Badass to the end, Lakshmibai was finally killed in battle on June 17th, 1858, in a fight against British cavalry.
Badass sisters Trung Nhi and Trung Trac (circa 12 AD – 43 AD) are Vietnam’s national heroines. Vietnam had been groaning under Chinese domination for about a century by the time the Trung sisters were born. Trung Trac, the older sister, was married to a Vietnamese nobleman who resisted Chinese hegemony, and objected to the heavy hand of a particularly oppressive Chinese governor.
For his troubles, Trung Trac’s husband was executed by the Chinese, as a warning to other Vietnamese. In response, the widow and her younger sister rose up in rebellion. The sisters led an independence movement and launched an uprising in 40 AD against Chinese domination of their country. Against great odds, they managed to break the Chinese yoke and established an independent Vietnamese state, which they ruled for three years.
The execution of Trung Trac’s husband led his widow to rally Vietnamese nobles in an uprising against the Chinese. With the help of her sister Trung Nhi, Trung Trac launched a rebellion in the Red River Delta, near modern Hanoi. From there, the revolt quickly spread up and down the long Vietnamese coast. After generations of living under foreign domination, the Vietnamese were ready to rebel, and the uprising became wildly popular.
Unique among armed rebellions, the Trung sisters’ armies had huge contingents of women fighting in the front lines. With their heavily-female armies, the badass siblings seized numerous Chinese forts and citadels, chasing out or defeating their garrisons. Within a few months, Chinese authority in Vietnam was broken, the Chinese had been expelled from the country, and Trung Trac was proclaimed queen.
The Chinese set out to reconquer Vietnam, and the Trung sisters led Vietnamese armies to keep the invaders out. Despite being greatly outnumbered, the badass siblings managed to fend off the Chinese for three years. Eventually, however, the Chinese concentrated an overwhelming force to recapture Vietnam, and in 43 AD, the Trung sisters were finally defeated in battle. Captured, they were decapitated by the Chinese, who then went on to reassert their control over Vietnam.
Their independent state might have been short-lived, but the Trung sisters succeeded in planting the seeds of Vietnamese national identity. Conventional wisdom in Vietnam holds that if the Trung sisters had not rebelled and fought against the Chinese, Vietnam would have been wholly absorbed and dissolved into China, and there would be no Vietnamese nation today.
Sixteenth century Irish heroine Grace O’Malley (circa 1530 – circa 1603) was a badass who fought the English on land and preyed upon their shipping at sea. Her English foes vilified her as “a woman who hath imprudently passed the part of womanhood“, and she was mostly ignored by contemporary chroniclers. Yet, her memory lived on in native folklore, and nationalists would later lionize her as an icon of the Irish fight for freedom and struggle against foreign domination.
In the sixteenth century, there were two Irelands, with two distinct cultures. There was Dublin and its surrounding counties, an English enclave ever fearful of the hinterland comprising the rest of Ireland. That rest of Ireland was the land of the native Irish and the Gaelicized Old English, whom those in Dublin viewed as uncivilized and wild, given to raid and strife and interminable violence. Grace O’Malley came from the “wild” part.
Born and raised in Connaught, in western Ireland, Grace O’Malley belonged to what the English considered to be the “wild Irish” hinterland, which consisted of numerous autonomous territories. Its rulers and inhabitants frequently feuded, raided each other, rustled cattle, captured and lost castles and strongholds, and otherwise vied for advantage and dominance. All were part of a clientele system, in which the weak aligned with the strong, offering tribute in exchange for protection. To thrive in that environment, one had to be a badass. Grace O’Malley was plenty badass.
The O’Malleys were Irish nobility with clients of their own, who looked to them for protection. They were, in turn, clients of another, even more powerful family. They traded produce and raw materials for luxury good, fished, ferried passengers, levied tolls on shipping passing through their waters, and engaged in opportunistic piracy. For protection, the O’Malleys built a row of castles facing the sea.
In 1546, Grace O’Malley was married. She bore three children, before her husband was killed in an ambush in 1565. Because of the era’s sexist laws, she was unable to inherit her husband’s property. So she became a pirate, settling in Clare Island and making it her stronghold and base of operations. She began her piratical career with three galleys and a number of smaller boats, using them to prey on shipping and raid coastal targets.
While seething over the laws that deprived her of her husband’s property, and building up her pirate fleet, Grace consoled herself by taking as a lover a shipwrecked sailor. When her lover was killed by a rival family, the MacMahons, history got its first glimpse of Grace O’Malley’s ferocity. To avenge her lover, she attacked Doona castle, where her lover’s murderers were holed up, and killed them. That earned her a badass nickname: “The Dark Lady of Doona“.
Grace O’Malley remarried in 1566, but was still mad at her deceased sailor lover’s murder. So she had another go at the MacMahons in Doona Castle, and seized it by surprising the garrison while they were praying. Around that time, she also went after a thief who stole something from her, then fled to a church for sanctuary. So she surrounded the church and decided to wait him out, offering him the choice of surrender or starvation. He chose a third option, by digging a tunnel and escaping.
Grace became Ireland’s sea mistress, and a badass pirate queen who controlled the waters around Connaught with an iron fist. She preyed on shipping and coastal communities along Ireland’s western coast, as well as on eastern settlements on the Irish Sea. While expanding her control, she personally led a raid on a seaside stronghold known as Cocks Castle. To commemorate her courage in capturing it, it became known thereafter as Hens Castle.
In 1588, the English defeated the Spanish Armada. With the threat of foreign invasion removed, the English were able to focus on consolidating their grip on Ireland, and fighting Irish piracy and pirates such as Grace O’Malley. To resist that English expansion, O’Malley allied with Irish lords rebelling against the English. However, in 1593, the English captured her sons and brother, so Grace sailed to England, to petition Queen Elizabeth I for their release.
She met the English Queen at Greenwich Castle, where Grace reportedly refused to bow, on the grounds that she did not recognize Elizabeth as Queen of Ireland. Elizabeth got O’Malley to promise to stop helping Irish rebels. Elizabeth did not live up to her part of the bargain, however, so Grace O’Malley went back to helping the rebels, and reportedly died in one of her castles in 1603.
Few things are more badass than fighting the Nazis in your tank, but that is precisely what badass Red Army soldier Aleksandra Boiko did. She not only fought in the front lines against the Nazis during WWII, but did so as a crewmember in her own heavy tank. “Own” in this case being literal, as the tank in which she fought was actually owned by her and her husband, Ivan Boiko, who fought in the vehicle alongside his wife.
The Boikos lived in the Siberian town of Magadan, having volunteered to work in that rugged region, where wages were higher and the opportunities for advancement were greater. It was the back of beyond, and with nothing to spend their money on, they saved their wages. When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, they heard the news that Aleksandra’s hometown of Kiev had fallen, and soon thereafter, that the Wehrmacht had captured Ivan’s home village of Nezhin. From family and friends they heard of atrocities, burned homes, ravaged cousins, and relatives murdered or dragged off to Germany as slave laborers. They decided to do something about it.
When Aleksandra and Ivan Boiko first sought to join the Red Army, the draft officials refused, because both had essential jobs: Ivan was a superb heavy truck driver, while Aleksandra performed essential clerical work for her department. They couple did not give up, though, and eventually figured out a way to get into the fight. During the war, Soviet citizens could directly pay for specific new tanks and planes for the military. So, in 1943, the badass couple donated 50,000 rubles from their savings to pay for a new IS-2 heavy tank, and wrote a letter to Stalin, asking for the right to drive that tank into battle.
Stalin agreed, and the Boikos were trained as tankers in Chelyabinsk Tank School. Ivan became a tank driver, while Aleksandra became a tank commander – the only woman to have ever commanded a heavy tank during WWII. Their technically “private” tank was officially named “Kolyma”, after the Kolyma River near the couple’s Siberian town of Magadan.
After graduating tank school, Aleksandra Boiko was commissioned into the Red Army as a lieutenant. She arrived at the front with her husband in 1944, in their brand new IS-2 heavy tank – her as commander, he as driver. They first saw combat in the Riga Offensive, during which Aleksandra’s IS-2 destroyed five enemy tanks, including a Panzer VI Tiger, and two guns. For her exploits, she was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, First Class.
A few months later, the Boikos’ tank was hit and damaged, and both were seriously injured. They were down, but too badass to remain out. The Boikos’ tank was repaired, and they eventually recovered from their wounds and returned to the front. All in all, Aleksandra and her husband fought from the Baltics, through Belarus, into Poland, and eventually ended up in Czechoslovakia at war’s end. Upon demobilization, Aleksandra returned to Magadan, where she ran a bakery, and was eventually elected to the City Council. Unfortunately, the couple did not live together happily ever after: they divorced in the 1950s. Ivan died in 1995, and Aleksandra followed him a year later.
Badass French buccaneer Anne Dieu-le-Veut (1661 – 1710) became famous – or infamous – in the Golden Age of Piracy, during which she gained a reputation for courage in combat and ruthlessness. Her name, which means “Anne God Wants It”, was reportedly earned because her determination and willpower were so strong, that whatever she wanted seemed to have been what God Himself wanted.
Anne arrived in the Caribbean as one of the so-called “Filles de Roi“, or “King’s Daughters” – impoverished women, many of them convicted criminals, deported to far off colonies. There, they were expected to turn a new leaf and start a new life, settling down and marrying French colonists. Anne ended up in Tortuga, off Haiti’s northern coast. There, in 1684, she married a buccaneer, Pierre Lelong, and had a child with him. When Lelong was killed in a fight in 1790, she married another buccaneer, Joseph Cherel. However, her involvement with piracy went well beyond simply being married to a buccaneer.
In 1693, Anne Dieu-le-Veut became a widow once more, when her second husband Cherel was killed in bar fight by another buccaneer, Laurens de Graaf. Anne was not about to play the wilting flower grieving widow. Instead, she challenged de Graaf to a duel to avenge her husband. He drew his sword, but when she pulled out a pistol, cocked it, and took aim, de Graaf had second thoughts, and suddenly remembered that chivalry forbids men from fighting women.
De Graaf also proposed to Anne on the spot, supposedly because he thought she was badass and admired her courage. That could well have been true. However, it was also true that she had a cocked pistol aimed at his chest, and the quick thinking romantic gesture might have saved his life. Either way, Anne accepted de Graaf’s proposal.
Anne Dieu-le-Veut accompanied her new hubby on his buccaneering. Badass through and through, she fought by his side, and shared his work and the command of his ship. Anne differed from other female pirates of the era, in that she made no attempt to conceal her sex. Instead, she went about openly as a woman, notwithstanding the superstition that women aboard ship were bad luck. Instead, her ship’s crew saw her as a kind of mascot and lucky charm.
In 1693, Anne and her husband attacked the English in Jamaica. In retaliation, the English in 1695 attacked Port-de-Paix in Haiti, where Anne dwelt when ashore. The English captured and sacked the town, and took Anne and her children prisoner. They were kept hostage for three years, before they were finally released in 1698. Following her release from captivity, Anne Dieu-le-Veut disappears from the historic record. Unconfirmed stories have her and Laurens de Graaf settling in Mississippi or Alabama, but the last reliable mention of her is her death in 1710.
Joan of Arc, also known as the Maid of Orleans (1412 – 1431), is perhaps history’s most famous badass female warrior of all time. As a teenage girl during the Hundred Years War, she led French armies to victory against rampaging English invaders. Fighting at the head of her forces, she won a series of miraculous victories that revived French national spirit, and turned the tide of the conflict.
Joan was born into a peasant family in Lorraine, and was noted for her piety since childhood. In her teens, she began seeing visions from a variety of saints, directing her to save France from English domination. At the time, France was exhausted, downtrodden and reeling from a series of humiliating defeats. The French crown was also in dispute between the French Dauphin, or heir to throne, and the English king, Henry IV.
When she was sixteen, Joan of Arc was led by voices and visions to leave home, and travel to join the French Dauphin. In 1429, she convinced the French heir to give her an army, which she took to relieve French forces besieged by the English at Orleans. Her frail teen girl exterior hid a total badass within. Endowed with remarkable mental and physical courage, Joan led her men in a whirlwind campaign that lifted the siege in nine days, and sent the English fleeing. In so doing, she won a momentous victory that repulsed an English attempt to conquer France.
After the victory at Orleans, Joan convinced the Dauphin to crown himself king of France, which he reluctantly did. She was then sent on a variety of military expeditions. In one of them in 1430, she was thrown off her horse and captured by Burgundians. Her captors kept her for several months, while negotiating with the English, who were eager to get their hands on the girl who had caused them so much trouble.
The Burgundians eventually sold Joan of Arc to the English. Although she had saved France, she was now abandoned by her countrymen to fend for herself. The English and their French collaborators accused her of heresy and witchcraft, and locked her in a dark and filthy cell pending her trial. Manacled to her bed with chains, she was incessantly harassed by her inquisitors at all hours of day and night in an effort to break her will and spirit.
She adamantly refused to confess to wrongdoing, and her accusers were unable to prove either heresy or witchcraft. In frustration, they turned their attention to the way in which she had dressed in male attire on the field of battle. Claiming that such cross dressing violated biblical injunctions, they convicted her. On May 30th, 1431, she was taken on a cart to her site of execution in Rouen, where the nineteen year old Maid of Orleans burned to death.
Two decades after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, an inquisitorial court was ordered by a new Pope to reexamine her trial. The new court debunked all the charges against her, cleared her posthumously, and declared her a martyr. In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte made her a national symbol of France.
Five centuries after she had been executed as a heretic, Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909, then canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church in 1920. Today, Saint Joan of Arc is one of the patron saints of France, and the most famous female warrior of all time.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading