The Nine Worthies are nine historical, scriptural, and legendary heroes who personify the ideals of courage and chivalry as were established in the Middle Ages. They are Joshua, David, Judah Maccabee, Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouilion.
These nine men represented the highest ideals of knightly virtues and can be seen in medieval paintings, architecture, and tapestries. In German they are labeled Neun Gute Heiden, meaning “Nine Good Heroes”. In French they are called Les Neuf Preux, meaning “The Nine Valiants”, a term which emphasizes the sort of moral virtue they were deemed to represent so perfectly, that of soldierly values and heavenly virtues. The study of the life of each would thus form a good education for anyone interested in heroic virtue.
In the late fourteenth century, Lady Worthies began to accompany the Nine Worthies in art and literature, though they were not usually standardized and often varied by region, author and artist. In later years, nine of the “Most Illustrious Ladies of All Ages and Nations” were chosen from scripture, history and legend to be placed alongside their male counterparts. These ladies are the Roman heroines Lucretia, Veturia, and Virginia, the Jewish champions Esther, Judith, and Jael, and the Catholic saints Helena, Bridget of Sweden, and Elizabeth of Hungary.
Apart from Veturia, mother of Coriolanus, who saved Rome from defeat by her son, the other two Romans were examples of chastity, their heroic acts being the defense of their own virtue. In contrast, two of the Jewish women, Judith and Jael, were known for their personal assassination of leaders of Israel’s enemies. Judith carries a sword in one hand and Holofernes’s severed head in the other, and Jael carries the mallet with which she hammered a tent stake in the head of Sisera.