This Muslim Women’s Day piece was submitted to us by Aisha Lund, who wrote to us: I have written an article based on the historical woman: Amalia Elisabeth, also known as “The Iron Princess.” I believe that this subject is relevant on Muslim Women’s Day as it is about a strong woman. Additionally, as it was written by me, a Muslim Woman, there are references to Islam. I hope that by sharing this writing, women across the world will be able to take and learn something from her strength and determination and allow themselves to be empowered and inspired by her.
“Over all her years as regent, through war and peace, through suffering and joy, she demonstrated an iron will: pure in her determination and loyal to her family, her faith, and her honour.” -Tryntje Helfferich
Behind these qualities is Amalia Elisabeth, applying them to reach her ultimate goal: Securing what needed to be secured. This was firstly the protection of her eldest son, his birthright and his territory and furthermore, honoring her late husband’s legacy and the recognition of the Calvinist faith within it. This woman, who was so different to any others of her time in similar positions to her, will be the focus of this essay. The aim of it is to uncover the internal elements that contributed to her being set apart from everyone else, and which allowed her to be the “The Iron Princess.”
Amalia Elisabeth is a woman who demonstrates the master morality in her action, a theory by Nietzsche, in which he differentiates between the people of a slave morality and those of a master morality. In the latter, mostly common in the ancient Greeks and Romans, the motivation to a pursuit is higher than money and based on courage and virtue. Amalia Elisabeth demonstrated exactly that through her complete trust in God and his plans as well as her truthfulness.
She was an honorable woman as she did not hide behind fake motives. Instead, she made it clear from the start what her ultimate outcome goals were, and that she would not settle for anything other or less than that. This presents her all or nothing characteristic. Her motives were built on her motherly aspirations for her children as well as her belief in her truth, the Calvinist faith, and her wish for compassion and fairness for its followers. Thus, behind her firmness she did not keep evil or destructive motives but rather motives stemming from a good heart.
In order to achieve her goals, Amalia Elisabeth had to demonstrate her determination and powers in the right ways. She was one step ahead, having received good education in her younger years and spending time at her uncle’s court in which she was educated about politics and diplomacy. Islam is a complete life transaction which covers every aspect, thus politics and religion being bind. This is interesting because it is in the nature of Amalia Elisabeth to bind these two elements together as well. Furthermore, she demonstrated her ability to use her intellect.
This was presented in her not blindly following a religion, but her true understanding of God. In most of her letters, whether between her children and her or individuals in the realm of politics, she would speak of God with the highest of opinion, and thus have the highest of aspirations. She would never lose hope and in difficult times she remembered that “God plagues us quite hard on all sides, yet gives us no greater burden than that which we are able to bear.” (from the book Amalia Elisabeth) Amalia handed over her affairs to her Lord.
This relates to the knowledge in Islam that Allah (SWT) does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear. This does not mean that no one is afflicted by trials, but rather that He grants trial enough to make one bend but not to break. Thus, Amalia Elisabeth was always certain that she would get what she pursued as long as it was the right thing.
She was not only iron strong in her faith, but also in her family. It was her responsibility to ensure her son would remain the heir of Hesse-Cassel, and therefore she had to fight her way through politics. Although two of her children passed away around that time, she did not let that create a distance between her and her goals. Instead, she always persevered. The stress in her life did affect her as she got more and more ill as her age progressed, however it did not prevent her from fighting for what she believed in.
In fact, it is through her children that she develops her iron will and it is her protective motherly instinct that kept her steadfast in her action, along with her feminine powers and ways. She used her femininity to her power and advantage by manipulating men to secure their loyalty to her. For example, she controlled her husband’s secret council by begging them for help. She exaggerated her desperate need of them in order to make them feel important, and secure their loyalty to a helpless, frightened woman. Even if she did ask for their advice, most often Amalia would end up following her own self and doing exactly what she wanted to do.
The important element, however, is that Amalia Elisabeth trusted herself.
This trust in herself and in her instinct came from Amalia taking her time to reflect on everything and resulted in her tactic of delaying things. She did so precisely to buy herself enough time to figure out the right actions and steps to take. Foresight was her strength. She did this precisely to reflect on each situation. This is of high importance, since reflection is a quality of a woman that is in tune with her inner essential being and in turn allows her to reach her highest self. Furthermore, being in tune with herself aided Amalia to listen to her instinct. This relates to an innate way of being that can be found deep inside every woman. It is the search for compassion.
An example of this can be taken from Shaykh Dr. Abdelqadir’s writing in the talk of The Collaborative Couple. “The reality of the woman touching the petal of the flower; in seeing the light on the water; in hearing the song of the bird, is itself transcendent luminous being. And without it man cannot understand life. He will invent an atom bomb and not have any qualms. He will drop it and not another man will say a word. But if he was with that woman, she would say, “If you make this bomb, what will happen to the child in my womb.”
Amalia relates directly to this quote by her compassion being a motherly compassion for her children, for whom she would do anything. Furthermore, the meaning of this quote might imply that the feminine compassion can transcend a situation.
It could also suggest, that there was even more meaning in Amalia being a regent in these troubling times of the war, than what meets the eye. It can be speculated that the story would have ended very differently, was it not for her.
On the other hand, it might be argued that Amalia did not act with compassion for the general mankind, and only for the Calvinists. This is a fair point since she prolonged war and delayed peace in order to reach her will for her people. That way she let men, other people’s husbands and fathers, die. She does, however, demonstrate her steadfastness, knowing her intentions and knowing exactly what is to be done in order to get there.
The relationship between power, determination and femininity in the role of Amalia Elisabeth was that she was a feminine being: a good mother, pious, widow and good woman, and thus classed herself as a legitimate ruler. She said: “because I am a woman I can lead you.”
Amalia represents a mother that puts her children’s needs before her own and someone who knows how to access her inner feminine essence. She could possibly be classed as a state of Fitra she is in, by living according to her nature as a woman and mother.
Throughout the many years of the war, Amalia maintained true to herself and her objectives she wanted to reach. She did not let herself be pulled down by people that kept telling her she was stupid and weak, because she was a woman. Instead, she formed a resilient and tough skin. This is suggested in the way she carried on her work without giving up.
The aspects this taught about the nature of women is the importance of being in touch with the inner pure and beautiful being, as when doing so can lead to greatness. Furthermore it demonstrates the possibilities that arise through reflection and listening to the good voices of the self. Besides from that, Amalia also reinforces the idea of woman having the ability of manipulation. This can be good or bad depending on how and for what reason it is applied. In the case of Amalia Elisabeth, she used her power of manipulation to earn the loyalty of people in order to protect herself and her children, thus allowing her to fulfill her task.
In the end, Amalia Elisabeth got her wish; and so the princess with the iron will had demonstrated to the world a determination that could not be broken. She fell sick soon after the completion of her tasks, and once all her responsibilities were fulfilled – she died. She left this world after leaving the best she could for her son and the future of her children. This demonstrates her perseverance and determination, in that even her physical self could only let go once she felt her task was complete.
Through everything that she did, Amalia Elisabeth maintained her femininity, her role as a mother and woman. She did so by putting her trust and reliance in God rather than masculinizing herself in order to be accepted as a regent by the people, such as Clinton or Merkel do. She does not aspire to be seen as masculine in order for her voice to be heard.
This is the way in which Amalia Elisabeth is transformed into the powerful Iron Princess, by the means of her characteristics of steadfastness and determination, which develop through the difficulty of the journey she took upon herself. Furthermore, she is transformed by her qualities and deep faith in God, whilst always maintaining her authenticity as a woman and using this to her aid and advantage.
Shaykh Abdalqadr As-Sufi, The Collaborative Couple (Malaysia ca.1990)
Tryntje Helfferich, The Iron Princess: Amalia Elisabeth and the Thirty Years War (Harvard University Press: Cambridge) 2013 at 245.
Tryntje Helfferich, The Iron Princess: Amalia Elisabeth and the Thirty Years War (Harvard University Press: Cambridge) 2013, page 117.
Shaykh Abdalqadir As-Sufi – The Collaborative Couple (ca.1990)