Before singer Taylor Swift “rose up from the dead” to settle scores, as she declared in her 2017 hit single Look What You Made Me Do, there were countless women who burned down cities, led guerrilla wars and raised armies to take revenge against all those who had wronged them.

The stories of these powerful, courageous (and sometimes rather violent) women who had been relegated to the margins of history, have found an unlikely showcase on Twitter in recent days in response to a post singing the praises of Taylor Swift.

When Twitter user @xnulz put up a possibly rhetorical post asking if there was any woman “badder” than the 27-year-old pop star, a barrage of responses followed. In the 4,000-plus comments, among the hat tips to celebrated women such as US civil rights activist Rosa Parks, pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, Queen Victoria, Pakistani activist Malala Yousufzai and everyday heroines such as mothers, aunts and grandmothers, emerged stories of fierce women pirates, warriors and rulers. Though their conquests rivalled those of the most famous men in history, most of these women are not as widely known.

For instance, author Greg Jenner resurrected the story of Jeanne de Clisson, a French aristocrat-turned pirate who is said to have declared war on her country’s ruling classes to avenge her husband’s death. The stories of her exploits are a mix of fact and legend, with not enough evidence about what really happened.

Her husband, nobleman Olivier III de Clisson, is said to have been tried and beheaded for treason on sketchy grounds, purportedly on the orders of the French crown, during Hundred Years’ War between France and England (1337 to 1453).

An enraged Jeanne de Clisson sold her estate and embarked on a long bloodbath, attacking anything in her path that was linked to the French nobility. She started by raising a small army of Olivier’s loyalists and stormed castles in Brittany. She murdered entire garrisons of French troops, leaving behind only one man to convey her message of revenge.

She continued her campaign on the high seas. With three warships, she created “The Black Fleet” – the vessels were painted all black with the sails a startling red – that would trawl the English channel for French ships and then take down the entire crew, save for one man who would be left to tell others what had happened. Her conquests earned her the title of “The Lioness of Brittany”.


Revenge was also the driving force for Celtic Queen Boudica, who ruled over the Iceni tribe along with her husband Prasutagus in the early decades of the Common Era. At the time, Britain was under the Roman Empire. Prasutagus was an ally of Rome, but when he died, the Romans annexed their estate, flogged Boudica and raped her daughters in public.

Boudica then led an Iceni army to try to drive the Romans out of Britain around 60 CE. Though she was ultimately defeated, Boudica and her troops put up a formidable challenge to their rule. They destroyed three key Roman power centres, including Londinium (present-day London), which they burned to the ground. Historians say about 70,000-80,000 people were killed in these conquests. Boudica has been the subject of several movies, documentaries, novels and even inspired a DC Comics character, Boodikka, a humanoid alien warrior.


Another woman who showed exemplary courage on the battlefield was Queen Amina of Zaria, in present-day Nigeria, said to have been born in 1533. After her mother, Bakwa of Turunka, the queen of Zassua, died, Amina’s brother Karama was put in charge of the province. During this period, Amina, a warrior at heart, started training in military skills and soon excelled in them. On assuming the throne after Karama’s death, Amina combined her aptitude as a ruler and a warrior to expand the boundaries of Zaria greatly, according to various accounts.


Several other pirates, warriors and rulers were also celebrated on the Twitter thread.

Among the fighters lauded on the website was Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Red Army sniper in Russia who fought Nazi forces during Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet in 1941. With 309 confirmed kills, she is regarded as one of the most accomplished snipers of all time and her story makes a strong case for the inclusion of women in combat roles.

She was also the first Soviet citizen to be received by the US president at the White House, where she met Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In 2015, her story was chronicled in the Ukranian-Russian movie Battle for Svestapool.


Apart from those who played a notable role on the battlefield were stories of women who challenged gender norms without violence. Twitter user Catherine pointed to the fascinating journeys of Indian Sarla Thakral and American Katherine Switzer, who became the first women in their fields to foray into all-male clubs.

Thakral was the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft, getting her aviation license in 1936 at the age of 21. She had married at the age of 16 and was the mother of a four-year-old at the time. She has said in interviews that her husband, PD Sharma was the first Indian to get an airmail pilot’s licence and encouraged her to fly.

Switzer was the first woman to enter the Boston Marathon in 1967, five years before women were officially allowed to participate in the event. Registering as K Switzer, she managed to blend into the all-male pack of runners, until an angry race official noticed her, ran up to her mid-race and accosted her, insisting she get off the track.

While the official was shoved aside by her boyfriend, Switzer crossed the finish line and ran into history.

In her memoir Marathon Woman, Switzer described the incident. “A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!’”, she said. “Then he swiped down my front, trying to rip off my bib number, just as I leapt backward from him. He missed the numbers, but I was so surprised and frightened that I slightly wet my pants and turned to run. But now the man had the back of my shirt and was swiping at the bib num¬ber on my back. I was making little cries of aa-uh, aa-uh, not thinking at all, just trying to get away.”

In April this year, Switzer ran the Boston marathon again at the age of 70 – this time, uninterrupted.