You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”

Natasha sheldon - October 24, 2018

History is full of traitors; people deemed disloyal to their country, cause or those closest to them. However, while many male traitors are well known, the names of all but a few female traitors remain obscure. For women too could become turncoats, either for personal gain or idealistic convictions. Some female traitors were the victims of coercion, while history regards others as falsely accused or framed. Other women were branded as treacherous for taking a stand against tyranny while others turned traitor as an act of revenge. Whatever their motivation, the stories of these women, famous or unknown are equally fascinating.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Caesar giving Cleopatra the throne of Egypt while Arsinoe looks on by Pietro da Cortona c 1637. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

16. Arsinoe: The Egyptian Princess who Betrayed her Sister- but was Loyal to her People.

The Ptolemies were not known for their loyalty to each other. The dynasty, founded by Alexander the Great’s general, styled themselves as pharaohs of Egypt and so acted accordingly. Incest and rivalry were rife. However, in the dying days of Egyptian independence, this rivalry spiraled out of all control as brothers and sisters murdered and betrayed each other to gain control of the Egyptian throne.

The situation reached its peak after the death of Ptolemy XII Auletes. Ptolemy willed the throne jointly to his eldest surviving son and daughter, Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra. However, the brother and sister hated each other, and a power struggle ensued. Ptolemy initially gained the upper hand when he dethroned his sister and drove her into exile. However, Cleopatra, like her father, turned to Rome. In 47 BC, the Roman general, Julius Caesar restored her to the throne.

However, the Egyptian people were not happy. They resented Rome’s presence on Egyptian soil and were still particularly disgruntled by Egypt’s loss of Cyprus to the Romans in 58 BC. Caesar knew his forces were insufficient to hold off a full-scale revolt. So he attempted to appease the Egyptians by making Cleopatra’s younger siblings, Ptolemy XIV and Arsinoe rulers of Cyprus. However, the young couple never made it to their new realm. For the teenage Arsinoe escaped the palace and instead threw in her lot with her older brother.

Arsinoe escaped to Alexandria and joined the Egyptian general Achillas, whose forces continued to oppose Rome. The Egyptian people, delighted by the thought of a ruler who was not in Rome’s pocket, immediately declared Arsinoe Queen of Egypt. As Arsinoe IV, the Princess continued to resist Rome’s forces until 47 BC when she and Ptolemy XIII were finally defeated. Ptolemy drowned in the Nile, but Caesar took Arsinoe prisoner.

Caesar paraded Arsinoe through the streets of Rome in chains as part of his triumph. This humiliation should have ended with Arsinoe’s public strangulation. However, her youth and courage won over the women people. So, Caesar exiled her instead to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. However, even in exile, Arsinoe still represented a threat to Cleopatra’s reign. So, in 41 BC, at the Egyptian Queen’s instigation, Mark Antony ordered Arsinoe’s execution. The assassins brazenly murdered her on the steps of Artemis’s temple. It was an act that both Rome and Egypt condemned as an act of dishonor and sacrilege.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Gudit stela field, Axoum, Ethiopia. Picture Credit: Zheim. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

15. Queen Gudit: The Anti Christian Usurper who reigned in Ethiopia for Forty Years.

Sometimes treachery pays off. It certainly did in the case of Gudit, a tenth-century Queen of Ethiopia or Abyssinia, as it was then known. The exact origins of Gudit are unknown. Ethiopian tradition states that she was a member of the Ethiopian royal family and either Jewish by marriage or descent. Other accounts suggest she may have been Muslim or even pagan. Gudit was reputedly very beautiful but also immoral. Sometime around 960 AD, She took advantage of a time of political instability within the kingdom to kill the rightful King, Hadani and seized control.

Unlike Arsinoe, Gudit appears to have got away with her treason. The warrior Queen consolidated her power by destroying as many of the remaining ruling dynasties as possible. The Ethiopian historian Ibn Haukal wrote of how she then began a reign of terror, destroying churches, persecuting Christians and imprisoning “many Ethiopians.” Her hold on her territory was so complete that Gudit maintained power for forty years. The terror inspired by unit’s reign was so profound that not only was it recorded by contemporary historians but also preserved in the oral tradition of northern Ethiopian peasants.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Detail of a presentation miniature with Christine de Pisan presenting her book to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria. Illuminated miniature from The Book of the Queen (various works by Christine de Pizan), BL Harley 4431. Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of the British Library. Public Domain

14 Isabeau of Bavaria: The Queen of France Who signed away the Crown of France to the English

On July 17, 1385, Isabeau, the 16year-old daughter of Stephen III, Duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt married Charles VI of France. The marriage began happily. When the young King saw his new bride, “happiness and love enter[ed] his heart, for he saw that she was beautiful and young, and thus he greatly desired to gaze at her and possess her.” There was just one problem for the royal family and France. For Charles suffered from periodic bouts of insanity.

Isabeau as a devoted wife dedicated herself to her husband’s health. However, she was unable to prevent Charles’s descent into madness. She was also woefully ill-equipped for another task that Charles bestowed upon her during one of his lucid moments: to act as regent of France when he was incapacitated. Isabeau was not a strong or capable politician. And so, the political buzzards began to circle, and the Queen regent found herself hemmed in by various factions of nobles vying for power over the throne.

When Isabeau allied with her brother-in-law, Louis Duc d’Orleons, the faction surrounding her son, the Dauphin accused her of adultery. The Dauphin imprisoned Isabeau, but she escaped. She reestablished her government in Chartres and later Troyes. The Dauphin and his faction, however, continued to hold Paris. The government of France had essentially divided into two.

This division could not have come at a worse time. France was embroiled in The Hundred Year’s war with England. In 1415, England gained the upper hand after King Henry V emerged as the victor at Agincourt. So in an attempt to secure some peace and security, on May 21, 1420, Isabeau made the gravest error of her life. She agreed that on the death of her husband, instead of the crown of France going to her son Charles, as dauphin of France, it would instead go to King Henry V.

To ensure a sort of French presence on the throne, Henry agreed to marry a French princess, Katherine of Valois. Meanwhile, the Dauphin would be exiled. Isabeau had essentially signed France over to the English. It was a decision that, however well-intentioned led to her vilification as a traitor by the French and one that sadly led the bloodshed to continue until 1453.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
“The Ruins of Hammersta Castle.” Picture Credit: Bengt A Lundberg / Kulturmiljöbild, Riksantikvarieämbetet. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

13. Brita Tott: The Scandinavian Noble Woman who was a Medieval Female Spy

Brita Tott was a fifteenth-century Scandinavian noblewoman who in 1451 found herself caught between two countries. Known as the Lady of Hammersta, Brita was the eldest daughter of two Danish nobles. However, Brita also had significant Swedish connections. She was married to a Swedish noble, related to the Swedish regent consort Lady Ingeborg Tott and owned lands that stretched across Sweden and her native Denmark. These estates made Brita one of the largest landowners in Scandinavia in her own right. So when Denmark and Sweden went to war in 1451, Brita had to choose a side.

Despite the fact she living in Sweden, Brita chose Denmark. While her husband was serving his king as governor of the Swedish municipality of Orebro, Brita was busy passing on information regarding the movements of the Swedish army to her Danish contacts. Her information enabled the Danes to capture the Fortress of Lodose and win a significant victory.

However, Brita’s career in espionage did not last long. In 1452, she was put on trial for high treason in Stockholm. Brita was found guilty and sentenced to death by burning. The sentence then changed. Instead, Brita was to be walled up alive in the city of Kalmar. However, Brita evaded both grizzly fates. Instead- probably because of her wealth and connections, she was imprisoned In St John’s Priory in Kalmar. When she was released, Brita was forced to finance the redecoration of Osmo’s church in Sodermanland as a penance for her betrayal. Brita however, was unrepentant. As a symbol of her defiance, she had one of the figures in the murals painted in her image.

Brita went on to acquire a reputation as a forger of seals, which she reputedly used to obtain large sums of money falsely. Although she was found guilty of this offense, Brita was never imprisoned again. She continued to live in Sweden, managing her considerable estates until her husband’s death in 1469. It was then that Brita’s Swedish relatives began to harry her for rights to her matrimonial lands. So in 1475, Brita signed Hammersta over to the church and left Sweden to live in Denmark. However, she returned to die in the country she had betrayed.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
La Malinche, detail from the “Monumento al Mestizaje” by Julián Martínez y M. Maldonado (1982). Picture Credit: Nanahuatzin. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

12. “La Malinche”: The Aztec Princess turned Slave who betrayed her Country to the Spanish.

“La Malinche” remains a controversial figure in her native Mexico, even today. She was born an Aztec princess, the daughter of a King whose lands occupied the region between central Mexico and the Yucatan lowlands. The Princess’s original name was Malinalli or ‘bunch of grass”. However, while she was still a child, her own family sold her into slavery to the Mayan-speaking Contal people. This cruel act probably occurred because Malinalli’s mother had remarried. However, the transition from a sheltered royal to slave must have had a profound effect on the young girl.

In 1519, Malinalli was one of a group of 20 young women given to the Spanish Conquistador Henan Cortez as a bribe to move on from Contal lands. The girls were initially intended to cook for the men- as well as see to their other needs. Malinalli was allocated to a man named Alonso Hernandez de Puertocarrero and baptized as a Christian after choosing the name, Marina. However, she did not stay with de Puertocarrero for long. For Cortes quickly discovered the former Princess was multilingual. Besides speaking Mayan, she also spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec dialogue and was familiar with the Aztec forms of courtly address essential for successful negotiating.

So Marina began to help Cortes take his conquest into the very heart of Mesoamerica by working as a translator. Because of her court background, she was sent to negotiate with Aztec emissaries and passed their words onto an Aztec-speaking priest for translation into Spanish. However, Marina quickly picked up Spanish herself, and it was at this point the priestly middleman was removed. From that point onwards, Marina became Cortes’s personal translator and accompanied the Spanish leader wherever he went.

Despite having the opportunity to escape, Marina chose to stay with the Spanish. Her loyalty never wavered. She even passed on information and uncovered plots. In return, the Spanish treated her with respect, calling her Dona Marinabecause of her royal background. She became Cortez’s lover and bore him a son, later marrying one of her ex-lover’s lieutenants, Juan de Jaramillo. Accompanied by her husband, Marina was warmly welcomed by the Spanish court. However, to the indigenous tribes, Marina was a traitor. In Mexico, her name formed the term “malinchismo,” used for individuals who betray their own native identity for something new and foreign. However, the reality is, Marina only betrayed her people because they betrayed her first.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Elizabeth Barton, “The Maid of Kent.” From “Robert Bowyer’s edition of David Hume’s History of England (1793-1806)”. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

11. Elizabeth Barton: The “Maid of Kent” Executed by Henry VIII for her Treasonous Prophecies.

Elizabeth Barton was born into a poor family in the village of Aldington, Kent in 1506. She began working as a servant for Thomas Cobb, a farmer in the town of Aldington. However in 1525 when she was 19, Elizabeth started to have visions of the future. Initially, she confined her visions to local issues, such as warnings of deaths in local families and avoiding the growing Protestant forms of religion. Elizabeth became something of a Catholic icon, urging people to pray to the Virgin Mary and undertake pilgrimages. When word spread to the local archbishop William Warham, he arranged for Elizabeth to enter the Benedictine convent of St Sepulchre in Canterbury.

By 1528, Henry VIII had begun the process of dissolving his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth convinced of the wrongness of the situation asked permission of Archbishop Warham to approach Cardinal Wolsey. Warham agreed, probably because of the danger facing the church in England if Henry assumed supremacy. So, Elizabeth traveled to London where she had a sympathetic hearing with the Cardinal. Wolsey arranged for her to speak to the king. Face to face with Henry, Elizabeth told him that an Angel had appeared to her and said her if he married Anne Boleyn, God would seek vengeance.

Henry did not take the nun’s words seriously. However, the next year, Elizabeth prophesized against the king’s remarriage again- this time in front of crowds of supporters in Canterbury. Then, she had another audience with Henry and told him to his face if he did divorce Catherine and marry Ann; he would die within a month. Henry’s patience with Elizabeth was now wearing thin, and he declined to see the maid of Kent again. However, in 1532, Elizabeth accosted Henry and Anne when they were on their way to meet the French king. Once again she repeated her message regarding Henry’s death.

To prophecy the King’s death was a treasonable offense. Yet remarkably, Elizabeth evaded arrest for a year. During this time, the King’s agents tried to discredit her in the eyes of her followers by claiming she was having carnal relations with priests and her visions were a result of mental illness. However, when this did not work, Henry ordered her arrest in 1533.

Terrified and in the tower Elizabeth confessed without torture that she had made all her prophecies up. However, this confession could not save her. Parliament was condemned for treason and heresy. Stripped of her nun’s habit, she was attached to a hurdle and dragged to Tyburn where she was hanged and beheaded with 5 of her supporters. Her head was the only female head in English history to be placed on a spike on London Bridge.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
“Marie Antoinette under Arrest.” by Oscar Rex. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

10. Maria Antoinette: The French Queen made a Scapegoat by the French Revolution.

The French may have branded Isabeau de Bavaria, a traitor. However, she was never tried. Another French Queen did not so easily escape the charge of treason- even though, in reality, she had done little to justify the accusation except to live the pampered, privileged lifestyle enjoyed by all French aristocrats. In August 1793, just under a year after the new revolutionary government abolished the monarchy and seven months after her husband’s execution, Marie Antoinette was taken from her children. Her new home was a dank cell in the Conciergerie in the Temple prison, Paris. Only a flimsy screen separated her from her guards. Here she was to wait for her trial for the next two and a half months.

On October 14, the trial began. The queen sat for 15 hours, then a further 24 hours the next day while the prosecution built their case for treason. They accused Marie Antoinette of incest and adultery based on the fact that she had allowed her young son, Louis Charles to share her bed. She was also charged with depleting the treasury of France of millions to fund her extravagant lifestyle and sending money to Austria. The critical charge, however, was that Marie Antoinette and Louis had planned a counter-revolution in 1792 that would have declared her son the new king of France.

Most of the evidence was fabricated and flimsy. However, early on October 16, Marie Antoinette was found guilty of High Treason. The court decreed that she had acted as an enemy agent against France, depleted the national treasury and threatened the internal and external security of the state. At 4.30 am, the former Queen was told she would die that day by guillotine. She did not say a word. She knew that the events were a foregone conclusion and that whatever her faults as a monarch, the charge of treason was just a pretext for her execution.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Magdalena Charlotta Rudenschöld Swedish revolutionary -1766. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

9. Magdalena Rudenschöld: The Swedish Countess who committed treason for love

Magdalena Charlotta Rudenschold was the daughter of Count Carl Rudenschold and his wife, Countess Christina Sophia Bielke. The family had close connections with the Swedish royal court, so in 1783, aged 17 Magdalena took her place there as the chief lady in waiting for King Gustav III’s sister, Sophia Albertina. Magdalena soon became popular. She was beautiful and lively and had many admirers. By the time she was twenty, however, she was involved in an affair with Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, one of King Gustaf’s closest advisors. It was this affair that was to lead Magdalena down the path of treason.

In 1792, King Gustaf III was assassinated. The new king, Gustav IV was only 14, so a regency government was established. Nominally, the new King’s uncle, Duke Charles, was its head. However, the real power was Charles’s adviser, Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm. When Magdalena’s lover, Armfelt was denied a place in government by Reuterholm, he left the country, to set into motion a conspiracy to, overthrow Reuterholm with Russian aid and so head Sweden’s regency government himself.

Armfelt had essentially abandoned Magdalena. However, he continued to write to her and slowly began to draw her into the conspiracy. Magdalena attended receptions at the Russian embassy in Stockholm where she acted as a go-between for Armfelt with the Russians. The plan was to win over the young King to the conspirator’s side and persuade him to sign an agreement to the coup. This letter would then be handed over to the Russians, who would then step in and topple the guardian government.

However, Gustaf IV preferred to stay loyal to his Uncle and after months under surveillance, government agents arrested Magdalena on December 18, 1793. Initially, she was held under house arrest, but then she was transferred to a “terrifying prison where I saw neither sun nor moon.”Magdalena denied any involvement in the plot. However, as more and more of her letters emerged, it became difficult to deny her guilt.

On September 22, 1794, Magdalena Rudenschold was sentenced to death for treason. Her sentence was quickly commuted to public pillorying and then life imprisonment. She was stripped of her title and last name and spent two and a half years in prison in Stockholm. Finally, her royal patrons secured her release and pardon. Magdalena had her title restored, and the crown granted her a small estate and pension. She eventually had a son with one of her servants but she never married, for she continued to hold a torch for Armfelt for the rest of her life.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Portrait of Elizabeth Van Lew. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

8. Elizabeth Van Lew: A Confederate Traitor During the American Civil War

Elizabeth Van Lew came from a wealthy slave-owning family in Richmond Virginia. However, in her teens, the young Elizabeth began to question the morality of slave-owning. By the time of her father’s death in 1843, Elizabeth felt confident enough to petition her brother to free all the family’s slaves. Astonishingly, he agreed, and many of the Van Lew’s freedmen stayed on as paid members of staff.

However, when the American civil war broke out in 1861, Elizabeth’s crusading spirit took her down the path of treason against the south. Many southern ladies visited Union prisoners of war out of charity and Elizabeth was no different. She and her mother began to visit prisoners of war in Richmond’s Libby prison, bringing the men food, clothing, and other essential provisions. However, Elizabeth also began to smuggle out letters and pass on information about Confederate strategy. She even helped enemy soldiers escape, hiding them in her home before smuggling them out of the south. When the Union hierarchy heard of Elizabeth’s activities, they recognized a likely recruit. So, in 1863, General Benjamin Butler officially recruited Elizabeth Van Lew as a spy.

Elizabeth became the head of the Richmond spy ring. She was responsible for recruiting new members to her cause and even managing to turn a high-ranking officer at Libby prison. In between these activities, she continued to pass on information about Confederate movements. Elizabeth had managed to cultivate a reputation for mental instability that had earned her the name of “Crazy Bet.” This reputation for harmless madness meant she could information gather undetected. Elizabeth conveyed her information in coded messages hidden in hollowed-out eggs and vegetables which were transported by her servant Mary Bowser.

When Richmond finally fell to the Unionists in 1865, Elizabeth unashamedly raised the stars and stripes above her house. At the war’s end, she was appointed Richmond’s postmaster by General Ulysses S Grant. However, her neighbors never forgave her betrayal of the southern cause. She was shunned in her community and lived in isolation on her family’s estate until her death in 1900. Elizabeth had also impoverished herself in the Union cause. However, the family of one of the unionist officers she had helped escape during the war showed their gratitude to her by supplementing her income.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Photograph of Mata Hare c 1906. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

7. Mata Hari: The Dutch Exotic Dancer Shot by the French for being a German Spy.

In 1905, Dutch housewife Margaretha Zelle abandoned her unhappy marriage to take up a career in Paris as an exotic dancer. Margaretha invented a whole new persona for herself: Mata Hari from the Indonesian “eye of the day.” As Mata Hari, Zelle tantalized Europe with her semi-nude routines that were an early form of striptease. She toured all the major cities of Europe, drawing crowds of thousands wherever she went. Amongst those fans were some of the most important men of the day.

Then in 1914, war broke out. Mata Hari’s international fame meant she had freedom of movement across Europe. This freedom made her an attractive prospect as a spy. The French recruited her almost immediately. However, in 1915, Mata Hari turned double agent. According to her account, Mata Hari was in The Hague and desperate to return to Paris. The German’s agreed to help her- in return for information. Mata Hari did what she believed was a one-time deal. However, for the German’s she became agent H21.

Early in 1917, a telegram arrived at a hotel on the Champs-Elysees where Mata Hari was staying. It was from Arnold Von Kalle, the German military attaché in Madrid. The telegram was coded, but the allied forces already knew how to crack it. When the code breakers read it, they found it addressed to an Agent H21 who matched Mata Hari in intimate detail. The Allied forces arrested the exotic dancer. After her interrogation, they found her guilty of passing on information to the German’s that severely damaged the Allied cause and caused thousands of deaths. However, Mata Hari maintained that she had only passed on information one time and had otherwise remained loyal to the allied cause.

Many people now believe Mata Hari was set up. One theory is the allies used her as a scapegoat for their military failures. However, another suggests that the Germans already knew the Allies had cracked their code. So they sent a telegram implicating Mata Hari so the French would kill their own spy. Either way, in October 1917, Mata Hari was taken from Saint Lazare prison in Paris and executed by firing squad. She reputedly showed great bravery, refusing a blindfold and maintaining eye contact with her executioners until the end. However, after her death, her body was not claimed. So the remains of one of the twentieth century’s most glamorous and notorious female traitors ended up as a subject for dissection practice at the Paris School of Medicine.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Sophie Scholl in 1942. Taken by The White Rose Organisation. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

6. Sophie Scholl: The Heroine Declared a Traitor for her Defiance of the Nazi Regime.

Sophie Scholl was a real-life heroine, a young woman who put her life on the line to speak up against the Nazi regime. However, to that regime, she was a traitor because of her bravery, and the bravery of the rest of her organization, The White Rose, threatened to shatter the stranglehold of fear the Nazis had over the German people.

Sophie was the daughter of Robert Scholl, the Mayor of Forchtenberg. Robert was critical of the Nazi regime, and Sophie grew up surrounded by people who were equally anti-Nazi. At the age of twelve, she was required to join the League of German Girls. However, her initial excitement turned to criticism when she experienced Nazi propaganda first-hand. In 1942, Sophie joined her brother Hans as a student at the University of Munich. It was there that the brother and sister and some of their like-minded friends formed The White Rose Organization, an anti-Nazi movement dedicated to peaceful resistance.

Many of the young men in the group had seen some military service before university and had seen first hand Nazi murders of Jewish people. The horror of this and the groups increasing awareness of the situation in Germany caused them to publish leaflets advocating the restoration of democracy and justice and urging the German people to refuse to comply with the Nazi regime. These leaflets were distributed secretly to cities across Germany. Unsurprisingly, their message began to attract the attention of the Gestapo. However, no one could pin down the origin of the group.

On February 18, 1943, Sophie took a suitcase of leaflets with her to university. She left stacks of them in corridors for other students to find. However, she found she had a few flyers remaining. So, instead of leaving them undistributed, Sophie took the leaflets to the top of the university building and scattered them onto the ground below. She was spotted and soon after arrested along with the rest of the group.

At her trial, Sophie remained unrepentant. “Somebody, after all, had to make a start.” She said, “What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did.” Although many people secretly admired the stance of The White Rose, few dared to protest their execution. On February 22, 1943, Sophie, her brother and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty. They were beheaded as traitors at 5 pm that same day.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
“Mugshot of Mildred Gillars.” Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

5. Mildred Gillars: “Axis Sally,” The American Radio Propagandist who sided with the Nazis

While some German citizens opposed the Nazi regime from within, certain allied civilians aligned themselves with the Nazi cause. American Mildred Gillars was one of them. Gillars was a bit part actress who had seen little success touring in American theatre groups. So, in 1929, she left for North Africa, with the intention of making her way to Europe. Eventually, in 1934, Gillars reached Dresden in Germany, where she settled down to study music.

Gillars remained in Germany. When America joined the Second World War in 1941, she joined the Nazi propaganda machine at Radio Berlin as a radio announcer. Announcing herself as “Sally,” Gillar’s targets on her programme “Home Sweet Home,” were the thousands of homesick and lovesick American servicemen whose hearts and thoughts were with their loved ones at home. Gilliar’s remit was to demoralize the troops. “Hello, gang, “her broadcasts began. “Throw down those little old guns and toddle off home. There’s no getting the Germans down.”

After the war, Gillars attempted to hide amongst the dispossessed of Berlin. However, in 1946, a US counter-intelligence agent spotted her and had her extradited to the US. There, in 1947 Gillars stood trial for ten counts of treason. Gillars offered a variety of often contradictory mitigating circumstances for her treachery. One moment she claimed she only did the broadcasts to please her German husband, Foreign services officer Max Otto Koischwitz. Then she blamed the US embassy in Berlin for taking her passport away in 1941, forcing her to sign the German oath of allegiance.

None of this convinced the jury. However, they convicted Mildred Gillars on only one count of treason, based around a broadcast made before the Allied Invasion of Normandy. In this broadcast, “Axis Sally” as she was then known attempted to demoralize US forces by delivering an exaggerating account of what awaited them if they were foolish enough to breach Hitler’s Europe. Gillars was fined 10,000 dollars and sentenced to 10-30 years in prison. After serving 12 years, she was paroled. Gillars immediately opted to enter a convent in Columbus Ohio. There, she taught students at the convent French, music -and German.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
JOAK microphone & Tokyo Rose, National Museum of American History. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

4. Tokyo Rose: The stranded Japanese-American Student Made a Scapegoat for Radio Tokyo’s Anti-American Broadcasts.

Very similar to the case of “Axis Sally” was that of “Tokyo Rose” a young Japanese American woman recruited to deliver very similar broadcasts to US troops for Radio Tokyo. However, unlike Sally who was complicit, there is a real chance that Tokyo Rose was innocent. Born in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916, Tokyo Rose’s real name was Iva Toguri. In 1941, Iva had just graduated from UCLA. So her proud parents decided to reward her by paying for her to visit her sick aunt in Japan.

The timing could not have been worse. For twenty-five-year-old Iva found herself stranded after missing the last ship leaving for America after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The secret police visited her and demanded that Iva renounce her US citizenship. Iva refused. However, her decision meant she was classed as an enemy alien and denied a food ration card. Iva eventually found work, first at a newspaper and later at Radio Tokyo, where she typed out scripts for broadcasts to US troops in the South Pacific. However, it wasn’t long before she was broadcasting herself.

Under the alias “Orphan Ann,” Iva was just one of a group of English-speaking women employed to broadcast from Radio Tokyo. Known generically by the troops as “Tokyo Rose” their job was to demoralize American troops with false propaganda. However, it seems that aside from calling the troops, “boneheads,” broadcasts identified as Iva’s did not contain very much propaganda at all. However, after the war, a journalist who interviewed Iva decided to style her as the one and only Tokyo Rose. The American army investigated her for treason but released her for lack of evidence. However, when reporter Walter Winchell got hold of the story, he pressed for to be brought to trial.

The army extradited Iva. Her trial in 1949 was one of the most expensive in US history. It was also designed to make Iva a scapegoat. Transcripts of Iva’s actual broadcasts were withheld from jury and years later, Ron Yates, a reporter on the Chicago Tribune, unearthed evidence that witnesses were forced to lie. On September 29, 1949, a grand jury convicted Iva Toguri on a single count of treason for speaking “into a microphone concerning the loss of ships” She was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She was released after six and forced to live as a stateless individual until President Ford pardoned her in 1977 and reinstated her US citizenship.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Blanka Kaczorowska. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

3. Blanka Kaczorowska: The Polish Resistance Fighter turner Nazi informant and communist Collaborator

Blanka Kaczorowska betrayed her homeland not once but twice: firstly to the Nazis and later to Communist Russia. However, she began her covert activities with the best of intentions. In 1942, she joined the Polish Home Army, the main organized force of resistance in Poland. Operating under the codename “Sroka,” Kaczorowska became a member of an underground group operating in Warsaw, under the command of her then-husband, Ludwik Kalkstein.

However, the Nazi’s captured the couple and Kalkstein, and Kaczorowska turned. Together, they were responsible for the betrayal of at least fourteen underground officers to the Gestapo, including the Commander of the Home Army, General Stefan Grot-Rowecki in June 1943. On March 25, 1944, a special military court of the Home Army sentenced Kaczorowska in her absence to death for her treason. However, they never attempted to carry out the sentence because she was pregnant. Kaczorowska remained under German protection until the end of the war. Then she disappeared.

She re-emerged in Warsaw in 1948 as a student of art history. Here, Wlodzimierz Sokorski, a polish communist official who was the Soviet appointed Minister of Culture and Art took Kaczorowska under his wing. Sokorski was responsible for implementing Stalinist doctrine in Poland during some of the darkest post-war days and strictly controlled the media. Under his auspices, Kaczorowska became a Master of Art History and took up a post in the State Institute of Folk Art and Folklore Research.

Eventually, however, her past caught up with her. In 1952, she was arrested and tried for her wartime activities and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Kaczorowska only served five years. She was released in 1958 and promptly became a collaborator again, this time for the communist Polish Security services. She remained in this position in 1971 when she left for France where she remained until her death.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, 1951. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

2. Ethel Rosenberg: The American Housewife Executed by the US for passing on nuclear secrets

In 1953, Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg followed her husband Julius to the electric chair after being convicted of passing on information about the construction of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. Both Rosenbergs were committed communists and identified as part of a spy ring by the FBI in 1950. Evidence against Ethel was initially thin. However, this changed when two other members of the group, Ethel’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Ruth Greenglass testified that it was Ethel who had typed up the stolen secrets from notes taken from David. It was this evidence that sent Ethel to the electric chair.

The Rosenbergs waited for 26 months for their sentence to be carried out, during which time they were offered a reduced sentence if they implicated others. Neither cracked. Outrage followed the execution as people regarded the couple as scapegoats of McCarthyism. The couple’s orphaned children agreed. In adulthood, they began to collect evidence that showed that the Rosenberg’s connection to a Soviet spy ring was peripheral at best. Julius had only passed on military information to the Russians during the Second World War when the US and the USSR were allies against the Nazis. However, he was dropped as an agent after the war because he no longer worked for the US army.

As for Ethel, the Soviets had never registered her as an agent. However, Ruth Greenglass was. It was Ruth who typed up the notes made by her husband, David Greenglass- not Ethel. David only implicated his sister after pressure from the federal prosecutors. Many years later he admitted he lied at the trial to cut a deal that saw him and his wife walk away free. It seems the only reason Ethel was arrested in the first place was to pressure Julius. When she refused to co-operate, a US prosecutor said that despite the weak evidence against her, Ethel should be convicted and given a stiff sentence. Essentially, Ethel Rosenberg joined her husband in the electric chair because unlike her brother; she refused to be bullied.

You Be the Judge of these 16 Fascinating Historical Females Labeled as “Traitors”
Shi Pei Pu in the 1960s. Google Images

1. Shi Pei Pu: The Spy who lived as a woman and who inspired the story of Madam Butterfly.

Strictly speaking, our last female traitor was not a woman. However, Shi Pei Pu lived as a woman and even managed to convince his male lover, Frenchman Bernard Bouriscot that he was one. The couple met in Beijing in the 1950s. Shi was an opera singer and Bernard was an employee at the French embassy. Although Shi was dressed as a man when they first met, he managed to explain this away to Bernard by attributing it to his father’s desire for a son.

Shi must have had convincing female features because the pair began a passionate if intermittent twenty-year affair, with intimate relations conducted in the dark. Shi even adopted a son who she managed to convince Bernard was his biological child. During their relationship, Bernard passed on 150 classified documents through Shi to the Chinese government. However, the couple’s espionage was discovered in 1983 after Shi moved to France. The couple was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage in 1986.

Ultimately, however, Shi’s treachery was to Bernard, by hiding the truth about himself- even though he later claimed he never told Bernard he was a woman. The trial, however, revealed that truth to the world and made Bernard a laughing stock in France. He was so distraught when he learned the truth about Shi’s gender, he tried to slit his throat. After his release from prison, Bernard slipped into welcome obscurity. He showed no sign of grief when he learned his former lover died at the age of 70 in 2009. Shi’s however, had returned to the opera after his release from prison. He refused to speak of the affair with Bernard. However, his story was immortalized in the 1988 Broadway show “Madame Butterfly.”


Where Do We Get this stuff? Here are our Sources:

History’s most infamous female spies, Anna Brech, Stylist, 2011

Tokyo Rose Biography,

‘Tokyo Rose’ dies at 90, Justin McCurry, The Guardian, September 27, 2006.

Marina, Encyclopedia Britannica, December 14, 2016

La Malinche, an ambivalent interpreter from the past, Teck Language Solutions April 20, 2015

Making Herself Indispensable, Condemned for Surviving: Doña Marina (Part 1 and 2), Dr. Frances Karttunen, Mexicolore, March 4, 2011

On This Day: “Axis Sally” Convicted of Treason, findingDulcinea, March 10, 2011

The Facts About Ethel Rosenberg, Rosenberg Fund for children

Secret Agents in Hoop Skirts: Women Spies of the Civil War, History

Elizabeth L Van Lew, Encyclopedia Britannica, September 21, 2018

Gudit, Wikimedia Commons

The Queen of the Habasha in Ethiopian History, tradition, and Chronology, Knud Tage Anderson, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol 63, No 1, (2000) PP31-63

Elizabeth Barton, Encyclopedia Britannica, April 14, 2018

When Henry VIII met the Holy Maid of Kent, Anne Petrie, The History Press

Arsinoe – Cleopatra’s Treacherous Sister, Catherine Cavendish, Oh For the hook of a Book, April 6, 2017

Cleopatra, Michael Grant, Phoenix, 2003

Isabeau of Bavaria: Wicked? Sharon L Jansen, The Monstrous Regiment of Women: A women’s History daybook, September 24, 2015

The Final Days of Marie Antoinette, Will Bashor, History Extra, April 10, 2017

Sophie Scholl, Carmelo Lisciotto Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 2007

Kalkstein and Kaczorowska in the light of the UB act, Waldemar Grabowski, Biuletyn IPN No. 8-9 (43/44), 2004

Magdalena Rudenschöld, Nina Ringbom, historiesajten, October 18, 2004

Brita Tott, Wikipedia

Testimony of David Greenglass, The National Security Archive, George Washington University, August 7, 1950

The fateful life of history’s most famous female spy, Hugh Schofield, BBCNews, October 15, 2017

Shi Pei Pu, The Telegraph, July 3, 2009

BBC News – The Fateful Life of History’s Most Famous Female Spy

Normandy Victory Museum – Sophie Scholl and the “White Rose”, A Female Symbol of German Resistance

Time Magazine – TREASON: True to the Red, White & Blue

Court House News Service – Tokyo Rose: The Woman Wrongfully Convicted of Treason