Meet Emilia Plater, the Polish Woman Warrior of the 1800s
The world is full of strong, independent Polish warrior women, but today we’re going to talk about one woman in particular whose strength and determination led Poland’s resistance against Russian forces in the November Uprising of 1830.
Emilia Plater was a 25-year-old Polish-Lithuanian heiress who gave up a life of luxury to fight for what she believed in, which was that she needed to fight at all costs to save her country. Raised amongst a group of male cousins, Emilia’s fencing, shooting, and equestrian skills gave her a leg up on the battlefield, where young women were virtually non-existent, much less women from affluent families.
Inspired by heroines like Anna Dorota Chrzanowska and Joan of Arc, Emilia joined the uprising after one of her cousins was forced to join the Imperial Army of Russia in 1823. Like the women before (and after) her, Emilia’s affiliation with the female gender restricted her from attending Polish patriot gatherings. Not one to cower in the face of a challenge, she took a “fine, I’ll do it myself” attitude, rounded up 500 ambitious people after a church mass one day, and signed a statement saying she had waited her whole life to join the uprising.
Five days later she led her first successful battle against a Russian horse patrol, and 2 days after that she forced one of their infantry divisions to retreat. Upon crossing paths with Polish General Dezydery Chlapowski, she was strongly advised to take a step back and go home, but to that she said “nope, not until my country is free” and kept on going.
Although some legends of Emilia’s accomplishments have been embellished over time due to a lack of proper documentation, rumor has it that she became a commanding officer of the 1st company of the Polish-Lithuanian Infantry Regiment before being promoted to Captain, the highest rank awarded to a woman at that time.
By June, Emilia had parted ways with Chlapowski’s army after he decided to head into Prussia for internment, so she continued to fight her way to Warsaw with only two other people who decided to stick with her. She fell ill and died two days before Christmas at the age of 25 and was buried in Lithuania, where a monument lives in her honor. She remains a prominent symbol of the Polish uprising and is often referred to as Poland’s Joan of Arc.