Judith and the Nine Worthies

22 Feb

I had heard of the Seven Dwarves and the Eight Maids A-Milking, but never have I heard of The Nine Worthies – until today.

The Nine Worthies were characters selected in the Middle Ages to personify the ideals of chivalry and whose symbols became the basis for heraldic imagery.  They were called Les Neuf Preux in France, in Italy i Nove Prodi, and in Germany Neun Helden – meaning “Nine Valiants” – which suggests the characters were selected to represent soldierly courage and generalship. (1)   The original Nine Worthies depicted in a Hans Burgkmayr engraving (1516) included –

  • three pagans (Hector, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar)
  • three Jews from the Old Testament (Joshua, David and Judas Maccabeus)
  • three Christians from the Middle Ages (King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon)

Out of love of symmetry, the Middle Ages also produced the Nine Worthy Women (Les Neuf Preusesneun Heldinnen), and although the lists often vary, they always include Esther and Judith (2):

  • three pagans (Lucretiawife of Brutus, Veturia – mother of Coriolanus, Verginia – whose death prompted the re-establishment of the Roman Republic)
  • three Jewesses from the Old Testament (Esther, Judith and Jael)
  • three Christians from the Middle Ages (St Helena – mother of Constantine the Great, St Brigita of Sweden, and St Elisabeth of Hungary).

Hans Burgkmair, “Three Jewish heroine: Esther, Judith and Jael,” 1516


The heraldic symbols for Judith are described as Gules on a bend sinister argent a ? sable” – which somehow looks like “Gulls on a bent spinster agent named Sable.”   Actually  in the language of heraldry,

  • gules – either the color red or a region of vertical lines
  • bend sinister – a band running from the upper dexter (the bearer’s right side and the viewer’s left) corner of the shield to the lower sinister (the bearer’s left side, and the viewer’s right)
  • argent – the background color, Silver
  • sable – Black, somewhere in there

One of the best depictions of the Nine Worthy Women is found in Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France.  The castle is a medieval structure that had fallen into ruin, but Napoleon III commissioned its repair which took over 25 years (1857 to 1885) and produced an idealised interior typical of the romantic period. (3)  One of the most imposing features is the gallery of Les Neuf Preux and Les Neuf Preuses.

Judith (1860-85) Nine Worthies1

“Les Neuf Preuses,” 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France

Judith (1860-1885) Nine Worthies2

“Les Neuf Preuses”, 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France



Tsk, it’s too hard to see Judith second from the left. So I’ll give you a little help.

Judith (1860-85) Pierrefonds Castle 1

“Judith in Les Neuf Preuses,” 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France

Judith () Nine Worthies2

“Judith in Les Neuf Preuses,” 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France

Yes, definitely a worthy depiction of Judith. On a pedestal. Wearing a crown. Welding a very imposing sword.  I’d consider this to be satisfactory – even if the shield does not match the previous description.



(1) Cyclopaedia:  The Nine Worthies.

(2) François Velde, Heraldica: The Nine Worthies.

(3) Eupedia, Pierrefonds Castle Travel Guide.


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Glory


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2 responses to “Judith and the Nine Worthies

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