If you have an Audible membership, you have access to free audiobooks and Audible originals such as The Great Courses series. In 10 Women Who Ruled the Renaissance, Joyce Salisbury delivers ten lectures about just that – women who ruled the Renaissance all across the globe, from queens to courtesans.

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The summary, from Amazon:

The 16th century was a time of immense change across the globe. For many historians, it marks a massive shift in the way the world operated; it is often considered the beginning of modernity. We may regard the 16th century as the time of Shakespeare and the conquistadors, but women also played a powerful role in many of the major events around the world.

In 10 Women Who Ruled the Renaissance, you will explore the lives of 10 extraordinary women who exemplified the spirit of the 1500s – an era dominated by adventure, discovery, and cross-cultural exchange. As you learn their stories, you will witness the landing of the Spanish in Mexico, travel across the steppes of Asia, sail on ships off the coast of Africa, and visit the courts of European power. From patrons and pirates to witches and wanderers, you will meet the women who helped to shape the modern world in their own unique ways. Some of these women, like Malinche of the Aztecs, have complicated legacies that demonstrate how the basic drive for survival shaped so much of human history. Although you may be familiar with larger-than-life figures like Queen Elizabeth I, many of these extraordinary women may be new to you.

Throughout this course, you will meet the individuals who broke with tradition to seek fame, wield power, and foster emerging artistic movements reflecting bold new ideas. At the same time, you will learn how a global commercial revolution brought unimagined wealth, changing rigid social structures that had been in place for hundreds of years. As you learn about women like Agnes Waterhouse, Ma Shouzen, Abbakka, and others, you will see a side of Renaissance life that textbooks often ignore, and you will come away with new respect for the trail-blazing women who have made their mark upon the world.

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This was a short and fun listen, and I could tell the passion the narrator had for the topic. I knew many of these women, like Elizabeth I, but some were completely new to me, like Mandukhai. I appreciated that the author chose women from all around the world – an Aztec advisor, a Mongolian warrior, the Queen of England, pirate queens, a convicted witch, a patroness of the arts, a Ming Dynasty artist, a Jewish woman, the queen of India, and arguably a transgender nun.

Again, the narration is passionate and bright. However, I did fall into one of my audiobook pet peeves with this one.

Apparently this is the correct pronunciation, but come on, let’s be real – who talks that way?

And while I loved all of the detail about these various women, the last lecture rubbed me the wrong way. Catalina de Erauso was new to me, but in my brief research since, it genuinely seems like she was transgender (and likely would prefer that we refer to him using he/him pronouns). Of course, there is no way we can know this for sure. The author argues something along the lines that you were what you wore back then, and that there was nothing sexual to being a “transvestite”. Is that not generally the case today? Trans folks are who they say they are. Being trans has nothing to do with one’s sexuality, nor does being gender non-conforming. Some might use the phrase “cross-dressing” today, but very often there is nothing sexual about it. One could argue that de Erauso may have identified as a cross-dresser (some folks do), but there was too much references to her “revealing her gender” – when for all we know, his gender was male. De Erauso was revealing their biological sex.  The author certainly confused gender and sex in this situation. (Or at worst there’s something TERFy going on here.) Regardless, de Erauso’s was AFAB, and their gender may have been male, female, nonbinary, or somewhere on a non-conforming spectrum.

Ugh, can you see how much that last part stuck with me?

Overall, this was an enjoyable listen that comes for free with Audible. If you’re interested in women in history, it’s certainly worth your time. I rate it 3 stars.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

10 Women Who Ruled the Renaissance10 Women Who Ruled the Renaissance by Joyce E. Salisbury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed these ten lectures on women who ruled the Renaissance from all over the globe. The narration was alright and I could tell she was passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. I didn’t really like the final lecture as I wasn’t sure the author had a modern grasp on gender identity. Some of the language used to describe Catalina de Erauso wasn’t how I would interpret her story.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Which women had you heard of before this lecture series? Why hadn’t you heard of?
  2. Who was your favorite woman included in this series?
  3. Were you inspired to research any of these women or locations they lived in further after listening to this audiobook?
  4. How do the women, cultures, and power dynamics from this lecture series relate to today’s world?


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