Extraordinary Women from Medieval and Renaissance Europe | Summer School course

This Summer school course will examine the life and deeds of a number of strong women living in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Women seldom wrote the history books in the period between 1050 and 1650.


  1. 1. Look at the reigns of monarchs such as Isabella of Spain and Eleanor of Aquitaine
  2. 2. Explore the life of the mystic and composer Hildegard of Bingen, a women whose music is popular almost a 1000 years after her death
  3. 3. Discover the work of artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi and writers such as Christine de Pizan
  4. 4. Enter into the world of many other diverse characters such as Katerina Sforza, Catherine de Medici, Vittoria Colonna, Felice Della Rovere and Margaret of Austria.
Extraordinary Women from Medieval and Renaissance Europe | Summer School course itinerary

Women from Medieval and Renaissance Europe

This Summer School course will examine the life and deeds of a number of women who had lived in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Women seldom wrote the history books in the period between 1050 and 1650. In fact, due to society's structural limitations, they generally didn’t write much at all, so their contributions have frequently been ignored until recently.

We will look at the way women lived over this period and concentrate on a number of the most influential women who led the way in their own fields and often changed the course of history.

This week-long short course is just one of a number of courses offered by Odyssey Traveller each year in Hobart. To view the range of summer school programs available, please follow this link.

Summer School classes for mature and senior travellers

Odyssey offers a collection of week-long learning programs offered each January in Hobart, Tasmania.Courses are refreshed for each year’s programs. Classes are limited to 15 people.

Over the last twenty-five years, Odyssey’s small group Summer School Program has given countless travellers an unforgettable educational and travel experience. Each summer, we prepare and offer fun and challenging special interest courses and programs designed to give travellers the options and opportunity to learn about history, religion, Australian culture, and the arts, among many other topics. These courses are designed in such a way that enthusiasts can deepen their knowledge of a particular topic or be initiated into new understandings on a subject.

These programs offered are tailor-made for mature-aged and senior travellers who are eager to explore in-depth a particular topic. Summer school learning programs for mature and senior travellers who are and remain curious about the world. Read more about our philosophy of the Odyssey Summer Schools.


Day 1: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

Overview: The Summer school program begins with a welcome reception and dinner.

Day 2: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

Introduction We’ll begin with a general introduction to the role played by women in the years between 800 and 1660. We’ll look at their treatment in childhood, their education, the work they did, marriage, leisure activities and their role in the political and religious life of their various countries. Most is known about women from the middle and upper classes so there will, naturally, be a concentration on these women. We will also look at how women were seen by their male contemporaries. We’ll look at what was written by men (and most writers were men) about women during this period. How were women presented by church men such as Thomas Aquinas or the Bolognese jurist, Gratian? What did writers such as Dante, Boccaccio and Shakespeare have to say about women? By the end of the week we should have come to some conclusions about just how accurate these writers were.

Day 3: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

Warriors and Rulers Today we will concentrate on a number of women, some well-known in their day but now largely forgotten, who ruled (or should have ruled) significant territory. Some even led their armies into battle.

  • Aethelflaed, Queen of Mercia
  • Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Margaret of Anjou
  • Isabella of Castile
  • Katerina Sforza

Day 4: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

Artists Women painters during this period had a difficult task being accepted or recognised. Women were not expected to be painters and were excluded from most forms of official training. Painting was considered a “manly pursuit” and most women artists were trained at home by their fathers. Life drawing, involving, as it did, the depiction of the naked body, was particularly frowned upon. And yet, some women, particularly during the Renaissance period, managed to make a name for themselves. Among others, we will look at the life and work of painters such as:

  • Sofonisba Anguissola
  • Artemisia Gentileschi
  • Levinia Teerlinc
  • Lavinia Fontana
  • Fede Galizia

Day 5: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

Writers and Composers Once again women writers and composers were far outnumbered by their male contemporaries in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Only a handful are remembered today but a number of these were well known in their time and made significant contributions to their field. Important musicians and composers included:

  • Kassia of Constantinople, 810-865.
  • Hildegard of Bingen, although long ignored in the centuries after her death, is one composer and mystic who has been rediscovered and now takes her place in the recognised musical canon. (The names of many other composers in abbeys and monasteries will probably never be known.)
  • Francesca Caccini, Vittoria Aleotti and Barbara Strozzi were well known composers and musicians in the late Renaissance.

Writers under discussion might include:

  • Christine de Pisan
  • Vittoria Colonna
  • Veronica Gambara
  • Margery Kempe
  • And Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke.

Day 6: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

And then some of the others… The morning of the final day will be devoted to a brief look at some of the other women who don’t fit into the above categories but were women of extraordinary ability in a number of other fields. We will look at the achievements of builders such as Bess of Hardwick, Italian academics (including the first female professor of law at Bologna University in 1237), collectors of art, business women and craftswomen. In the afternoon we will try to come to some conclusions about the very varied lives of women across this vast expanse of time. Though many were suppressed and oppressed by the male dominated society of the day, others, through accident of birth, talent and determination were able to rise above the limitations placed upon them by their age.

Day 7: Hobart

The tour will end after breakfast.

Includes / Excludes

What’s included in our Tour

  • 6 nights in full en suite accommodation
  • 6 breakfasts and 2 dinners.
  • Lectures and handouts as indicated.
  • Services of a study leader and lecturers.
  • Complimentary wifi.

What’s not included in our Tour

  • Comprehensive travel insurance.
  • Costs of a personal nature.
Level 1 - Introductory to Moderate

Participants must be able to carry their own luggage, climb and descend stairs, moderate walking on uneven surfaces between 3 - 5 kilometers per day. Suitable for most fitness levels

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Easing your journey

Crossing international borders with restrictions

The list of requirements to travel internationally has changed and will continue to change for several years. Odyssey is here to assist you in managing your way through these requirements:

Pre-departure checklist for travelling across International borders.
Support over email or phone available 24/7 for any questions you have.

For more information see our Crossing international borders with restrictions page.

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If less than 30 days before your tour starts you are unable to travel as a result of Government travel restrictions, Odyssey Traveller will assist you with a date change, provide you with a credit or process a refund for your booking less any non-recoverable costs.

See Terms and conditions for details.

Peace of Mind Travel

The safety of our travellers, tour leader, local guide and support staff has always been our top priority and with the new guidelines for public health and safety for keeping safe for destinations around the world, we’ve developed our plan to give you peace of mind when travelling with us.

See Peace of Mind Travel for details.

Reading List Download PDF

The Tigress of Forli

Elizabeth Lev

A strategist to match Machiavelli; a warrior who stood toe to toe with the Borgias; a wife whose three marriages would end in bloodshed and heartbreak; and a mother determined to maintain her family s honor, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici was a true Renaissance celebrity, beloved and vilified in equal measure. In this dazzling biography, Elizabeth Lev illuminates her extraordinary life and accomplishments. Raised in the court of Milan and wed at age ten to the pope s corrupt nephew, Caterina was ensnared in Italy s political intrigues early in life. After turbulent years in Rome s papal court, she moved to the Romagnol province of Forli. Following her husband s assassination, she ruled Italy s crossroads with iron will, martial strength, political savvy, and an icon s fashion sense. In finally losing her lands to the Borgia family, she put up a resistance that inspired all of Europe and set the stage for her progeny including Cosimo de Medici to follow her example to greatness.

Book Depository

The Pope's Daughter

Caroline P. Murphy

The untold story of how Felice della Rovere, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Julius II, became the most powerful woman in Rome. Caroline P. Murphy evokes not only the great turbulence and creativity of Renaissance Italy, but also Felice's daily life, from dealing with squabbles among servants to her advice on the best way to bribe a Pope.

Book Depository

Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy

Sarah Bradford

The very name Lucrezia Borgia conjures up everything that was sinister and corrupt about the Renaissance—incest, political assassination, papal sexual abuse, poisonous intrigue, unscrupulous power grabs. Yet, as bestselling biographer Sarah Bradford reveals in this breathtaking new portrait, the truth is far more fascinating than the myth. Neither a vicious monster nor a seductive pawn, Lucrezia Borgia was a shrewd, determined woman who used her beauty and intelligence to secure a key role in the political struggles of her day. Drawing from a trove of contemporary documents and fascinating firsthand accounts, Bradford brings to life the art, the pageantry, and the dangerous politics of the Renaissance world Lucrezia Borgia helped to create.


Women in the Middle Ages : The Lives of Real Women in a Vibrant Age of Transition

Joseph Gies and Frances Gies

Reissued for the first time in decades, this ambitious work of Medieval scholarship by bestselling historians Frances and Joseph Gies traces the stories and fates of women in Medieval Europe over the course of a millennium.

Medieval history is often written as a series of battles and territorial shifts. But the essential contributions of women during this period have been too often relegated to the dustbin of history. In Women in the Middle Ages, Frances and Joseph Gies reclaim this lost history, in a lively historical survey that charts the evolution of women's roles throughout the period, and profiles eight individual women in depth. We learn of Hildegarde of Bingen, an abbess who was a noted composer and founded two monasteries; of Eleanor de Montfort, a 13th century Princess of Wales who was captured by Edward I and held as a political prisoner for three years; and women of somewhat more modest means, such as the spouse of an Italian merchant, and a peasant's wife.

Book Depository

Women in the Renaissance

Margaret L. King

In this informative and lively volume, Margaret L. King synthesizes a large body of literature on the condition of western European women in the Renaissance centuries (1350-1650), crafting a much-needed and unified overview of women's experience in Renaissance society. Utilizing the perspectives of social, church, and intellectual history, King looks at women of all classes, in both usual and unusual settings. She first describes the familial roles filled by most women of the day--as mothers, daughters, wives, widows, and workers. She turns then to that significant fraction of women in, and acted upon, by the church: nuns, uncloistered holy women, saints, heretics, reformers,and witches, devoting special attention to the social and economic independence monastic life afforded them. The lives of exceptional women, those warriors, queens, patronesses, scholars, and visionaries who found some other place in society for their energies and strivings, are explored, with consideration given to the works and writings of those first protesting female subordination: the French Christine de Pizan, the Italian Modesta da Pozzo, the English Mary Astell.

Book Depository

Renaissance Woman : The Life of Vittoria Colonna

Ramie Targoff

Ramie Targoff's Renaissance Woman tells of the most remarkable woman of the Italian Renaissance: Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa of Pescara. Vittoria has long been celebrated by scholars of Michelangelo as the artist's best friend--the two of them exchanged beautiful letters, poems, and works of art that bear witness to their intimacy--but she also had close ties to Charles V, Pope Clement VII and Pope Paul III, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione, Pietro Aretino, Queen Marguerite de Navarre, Reginald Pole, and Isabella d'Este, among others. Vittoria was the scion of an immensely powerful family in Rome during that city's most explosively creative era. Art and literature flourished, but political and religious life were under terrific strain. Personally involved with nearly every major development of this period--through both her marriage and her own talents--Vittoria was not only a critical political actor and negotiator but also the first woman to publish a book of poems in Italy, an event that launched a revolution for Italian women's writing. Vittoria was, in short, at the very heart of what we celebrate when we think about sixteenth-century Italy; through her story the Renaissance comes to life anew.

Book Depository

The Deadly Sisterhood : A story of Women, Power and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance

Leonie Freida

This book is one of drama on a grand scale, a Renaissance epic, as Christendom emerged from the shadows of the calamitous 14th century. The sweeping tale involves inspired and corrupt monarchs, the finest thinkers, the most brilliant artists and the greatest beauties in Christendom. Here are the stories of its most remarkable women, who are all joined by birth, marriage and friendship and who ruled for a time in place of their men-folk: Lucrezia Turnabuoni (Queen Mother of Florence, the power behind the Medici throne), Clarice Orsini (Roman princess, feudal wife), Beatrice d'Este (Golden Girl of the Renaissance), Caterina Sforza (Lioness of the Romagna), Isabella d'Este (the Acquisitive Marchesa), Giulia Farnese ('la bella', the family asset), Isabella d'Aragona (the Weeping Duchess) and Lucrezia Borgia (the Virtuous Fury). The men play a secondary role in this grand saga; whenever possible the action is seen through the eyes of our heroines.

Book Depository

The Merchant of Prato : Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City

Iris Origo

This extraordinary re-creation of the life of a medieval Italian merchant, Francesco di Marco Datini, is one of the greatest historical portraits written in the twentieth century. Drawing on an astonishing cache of letters unearthed centuries after Datini's death, it reveals to us a shrewd, enterprising, anxious man, as he makes deals, furnishes his sumptuous house, buys silks for his outspoken young wife and broods on his legacy. It is an unequalled source of knowledge about the texture of daily life in the small, earthy, violent, striving world of fourteenth-century Tuscany.

Book Depository

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