In the 1920s the writer Virginia Woolf lamented the fact that she had no earlier role models and speculated that even if Shakespeare had a sister who also aspired to be a writer, her fate would be a tragic one. Woolf imagined that her "Judith Shakespeare" might run away to London to be a playwright and end up a suicide buried at some crossroads. 1 In fact, though Shakespeare did not have such a sister, there were many strong and powerful women of the medieval and Renaissance world with a wide range of aspirations and achievements. Some of these women indeed had tragic lives, whereas others flourished, but there are many women of great accomplishment in the medieval and Renaissance world. Because of the recovery work that scholars have accomplished over the last few decades, a number of medieval and Renaissance women have become well known to a wide audience. 2 When I first began to teach the history of European women two decades ago, one of my assignments on the first day was to have the class come up with a list of famous European women of the medieval and Renaissance period. All too often, the blackboard stayed for the most part blank. Now it would be filled with the names of queens, religious leaders, warriors, and writers such as Elizabeth I, Isabella of Castile, Joan of Arc, Lady Jane Grey, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hildegard of Bingen, Heloise, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, and Christine de Pizan.
This book moves beyond some of these more familiar women to discuss a range of "unsung" women who were nonetheless extraor