These are the female counterparts to The Nine Worthies and exemplify the same ideals of honor prevalent centuries ago. The list of Lady Worthies was not as standardized as the men and varied from region to region. Some lists included legendary Amazon-styled warriors like Penthesilea and Semiramis. Two of the Lady Worthies are listed because of their chastity and two because they killed the enemy of their people.
1. LUCRETIA–While at war, the king of Rome sent his son Sextus Tarquinius, on an errand to Lucretia’s home. Though her husband was fighting alongside the king she received Sextus as befitting his royal rank. At night Sextus secretly entered her bedroom. She awakened and he offered her two choices: submit to his sexual advances or he would kill her and one of the male slaves and claim he had caught them in adultery. The next day Lucretia went to her father who was the chief magistrate in Rome and said she had been raped by the king’s son. While the magistrates debated the issue, she drew a dagger and stabbed herself in the heart–dying in her father’s arms. The tragedy caused Romans to overthrow the king and his family and implement a republic.
2. VETURIA–She was the mother of the Roman general Gaius Coriolanus. He had been stripped of his rank and expelled from Rome in the 5th century BC because of his political bent. While formulating his revenge, Coriolanus settled in the kingdom of Volsci, Rome’s dreaded enemy. Coriolanus and the Volscians marched on Rome and laid siege to the city. The Romans sent envoys to Coriolanus to no avail. When Veturia came to her son’s camp Coriolanus embraced her and begged her to join his cause. Veturia refused on behalf of all the mothers of Rome and convinced her son to end his crusade against Rome, throwing herself at his feet and threatening to harm herself if he did not retreat. Coriolanus obliged and marched away from Rome. The Romans honored Veturia for her loyalty, courage and wisdom in a crisis. She had succeeded where the men before her had failed. She became a model of Roman female virtue.
3. VIRGINIA–Romans were already upset with their newly formed Decemviri for sliding into political corruption so quickly. It seemed they were returning to the rule of the monarchy which had been overthrown only a few decades before. In 451 BC, Appius Claudius began to lust after Virginia, a beautiful plebian girl and the daughter of Lucius Virginius, a respected centurion. Virginia was engaged to Lucius Icilius, a former Tribune of the Plebs. When she rejected Claudius, he had one of his associates abduct her and claim she was his slave. The case was brought before the decemvirs and Virginius was recalled from the field to defend his daughter. When he arrived two days later he was not allowed to speak. Virginius begged to question his daughter himself and the decemvirs agreed, but Virginius pulled out a concealed knife and stabbed Virginia. He believed it was the only way he could set his daughter free. This led to the overthrow of the decemvirs and the re-establishment of the Roman Republic.
4. JUDITH–Nebuchadnezzar dispatched his general, Holofernes, to take vengeance on the nations that had withheld their tribute. Holofernes and his army occupied all the nations along the sea coast and destroyed all their idols, so they would worship Nebuchadnezzar alone. Judith, a daring and beautiful widow, was upset with her fellow Hebrews for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors. She went with her maid to the camp of Holofernes and promised him information on her people. Gaining his trust, she was allowed access to his tent one night as he lay in a drunken stupor. She cut off his head and took it back to her fearful countrymen. Having lost their commander, the militarily stronger enemy retreated, and Israel was saved. Judith was seen as a hero similar to King David who cut off the head of Goliath.
5. ESTHER–Her older cousin Mordecai refused to bow before Haman, King Ahasuerus’ grand vizier. In retaliation, Haman convinced the king that the Jews were a disloyal and worthless people, and he promised to give 10,000 silver talents to the royal treasury for the permission to exterminate them. King Ahasuerus then issued a proclamation to confiscate Jewish property and to exterminate all the Jews in his empire. Mordecai told Esther that she should not think she would escape because she was queen. Esther could not approach the king without being summoned, on pain of death, so she asked Mordecai to have all the Jews fast and pray for three days. At the end of the three days, Esther went before the king and he gladly received her. She eventually invited the king and Haman for a special dinner. Haman was thrilled and issued orders for gallows to be built on which he intended to hang Mordecai. Esther finally revealed that she was a Jew and accused Haman of the plot to destroy her and her people. The king ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai and the Jews were saved from extermination.
6. JAEL–Deborah, a Judge of Israel, advised Barak to mobilize the tribes against King Jabin of Canaan. Barak hesitated, then said he would go only if she accompanied him. Deborah agreed, but prophesied that the honor of defeating the Canaanites would go to a woman. Jabin’s army was led by the ruthless Sisera. The armies met on the plain of Esdraelon, where Sisera’s iron-bound chariots became stuck in the mud because of the rain that caused the Kishon River to overflow its banks. The Canaanites were defeated and Sisera fled. He arrived on foot at the tent of Heber the Kenite. Heber’s wife, Jael, welcomed Sisera into her tent and covered him with a blanket. He was thirsty and she gave him a jug of milk. Exhausted, Sisera lay down and fell sound asleep. While he was sleeping, Jael took a hammer and slammed a tent peg into his temple and killed him. In the Renaissance, Jael was viewed as a defender of Israel and a symbol of the strength of women.
7. HELENA–She was born around 250 A.D. and became the personal escort of the Roman Emperor Constantius and the mother of the future Emperor Constantine the Great who reigned 306–337. Helena came from a lowly background and met Constantius while he was stationed in Asia Minor during a military campaign. It is said that upon meeting they were wearing identical silver bracelets and saw each other as soulmates sent by God. In 272 she gave birth to Constantine, however in order to obtain a wife more befitting his status, Constantius divorced Helena and sent her and her son to the court of Diocletian where Constantine grew to be a member of the inner circle. Helena never remarried and lived for a time in obscurity, though she was adored by her only son. Constantine was proclaimed emperor in 306 by Constantius’ troops after he died and following his rise to power brought his mother back to the imperial court. She ranks as an important figure in Christendom due to her major influence on her son. In her final years, she made a religious tour of the Holy Land where she built churches and allegedly discovered the True Cross.
8. ELIZABETH–A Hungarian princess who married Ludwig IV of Thuringia, Germany at the age of 14. In 1223, Franciscan friars arrived and the teenage Elizabeth not only learned about the faith of Francis of Assisi, she began to live it. Ludwig was not upset by his wife’s charitable efforts, believing that the distribution of his wealth to the poor would bring a heavenly reward. This is supported by the story about how Elizabeth laid the town leper in the bed she shared with her husband. Her mother-in-law, who was horrified, immediately told Ludwig on his return. When a furious Ludwig removed the bedclothes, he realized in that instant “Almighty God opened the eyes of his soul, and instead of a leper he saw the figure of Christ crucified stretched upon the bed.” Whenever Ludwig was away on state business, Elizabeth controlled his affairs and distributed alms in all parts of their territory, even giving away royal clothing and ornaments to the poor. Below their home at Wartburg Castle she built a hospital and visited the patients daily. After six years of happy marriage, Ludwig died from fever on his way to join the 6th Crusade. Following her husband’s death, Elizabeth made solemn vows similar to those of a nun and chose not to remarry. Ludwig’s brother, Heinrich Raspe, took control of the estate and she moved to Marburg where she built another hospital with the money from her dowry and served the sick until she died at the early age of 24.
9. BRIDGET–The most celebrated mystic and saint in Sweden was the daughter of a knight. In 1316, at 14 years old, she married Ulf Gudmarsson to whom she bore eight children. Her second daughter is now honored as St. Catherine of Sweden. Bridget became known for her works of charity, primarily toward the region’s unwed mothers and their children. In 1341, she and her husband went on a pilgrimage to the Way of St. James in Spain. Shortly after their return, Ulf died and Bridget became a member of the 3rd Order of St. Francis where she devoted herself wholly to a life of prayer and caring for the poor and the sick. In 1350, Bridget and her daughter Catherine braved a plague-stricken Europe to go to Rome to get authorization for her own order: the Order of the Most Holy Savior. She was also on a self-imposed mission to eliminate church abuses and papal politics. As such, she had to wait two decades before a pope would see her and confirm her Order. Although she never returned to Sweden, Bridget had made herself universally beloved in Rome by her kindness and good works.