By Tim Lambert

There are many myths about women's history! Here are some of them.

Women in the past were never educated

In reality in the past some women were educated. A history of women's education.

In the past women did not have jobs

In fact some women did have jobs. A history of women's jobs.

In the past a man had a right to beat his wife provided he did not use a stick thicker than his thumb

There has never been a rule or law in England that a man is entitled to beat his wife provided he uses a stick no thicker than his thumb. William Blackstone (1723-80) wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769). He made no mention of a supposed rule that a stick could be used to hit your wife if it was not thicker than a thumb. So it was never a part of English common law. We are not certain how the phrase 'rule of thumb' arose but it probably came from craftsmen using their thumbs to measure.

There was once a female Pope called Pope Joan

This is almost certainly a myth. According to the story a female Pope reigned for more than 2 years from 855 to 858. (In reality Leo IV reigned from 847 to 855 and Benedict III reigned from 855 to 888. There was a gap of only a few weeks between them).

However the first mention of a female Pope was 200 years after she is supposed to have reigned. If the story is true why did nobody write about it at the time? It would have caused a sensation throughout Europe so why did nobody mention it at the time?

Golf is an acronym of 'gentlemen only ladies forbidden

The word golf is derived from an old Dutch word 'kolf' which meant club. (In the Middle Ages the Dutch played games with clubs but golf proper began in Scotland). The Scots changed the word slightly to 'golve' or 'Goff' and in time it became our word golf.

Anne Boleyn had six fingers

This is almost certainly a myth. She may have had a small extra fingernail growing at the side of one of her fingers. If the story is true that may be the basis of the rumour.

However nobody who lived at the same time as Anne or shortly afterwards said anything about six fingers. It was not till almost 50 years later that the story that Anne Boleyn had six fingers appeared. 'Also it is very unlikely that any Tudor king would marry a woman with such an obvious physical deformity.

Only women were executed for witchcraft

The majority of people executed for witchcraft in Western Europe and North America in the 16th and 17th centuries were female but by no means all. A significant minority of the people executed were male.

Marie-Antoinette said 'Let them eat cake'

When told that the peasants had no bread to eat the French Queen Marie-Antoinette is supposed to have said 'let them eat cake! (or brioche). In reality there is no evidence that she ever said that.

My Youtube video about myths about women's history


Last revised 2019