René Grémaux

Independent researcher

Nijmegen, Netherlands

Alone of All Her Sex?

The Dutch Jeanne Merkus and the Hitherto Hidden Other Viragos in the Balkans during the Great Eastern Crisis (1875–1878)

Abstract: This paper deals with the question as to whether the well-reported Dutch volunteer warrior Jeanne Merkus was indeed the sole female fighter at the time of the anti-Ottoman rebellions and the wars in the Balkan Peninsula from 1875 to 1878, when the Great Eastern Crisis raged. While this rich outlandish lady – who has only recently earned her official biography – attracted much attention from the contemporary press, and later often surfaced in memoirs of sorts as well, her few female colleagues, mainly home-grown and of modest background, went mostly unnoticed by the general public. This first attempt at settling the score of undeserved neglect sets out to establish the individual stories from the hard-to-find pieces of information in old newspapers and non-fiction literature. The existence of five other cases of actual fighting females could be proved, yet four of them were, unlike Miss Merkus, in male disguise. Moreover, a larger number of females trying to engage militarily on the battlefield have been discovered, some passing as males, some not.

Keywords: female volunteer fighter, rebellion, war, Great Eastern Crisis, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Turkey-in-Europe

UDC 355.087.2-055.2(497.11)"1876/1878"


355:929 Меркус Ж.

Original scholarly work