Dark Agnes de Chastillon (also known as Agnes de Chastillon, Dark Agnes, Agnes de la Fere and The Sword Woman) is a fictional character created by Robert E. Howard and the protagonist of three stories set in 16th Century France, which were not printed until long after the author's death.
The character of Agnes was beaten by her father and almost forced into an arranged marriage. She avoids this by killing the bridegroom and running away. She meets Etienne Villiers, who at first attempts to sell her to a brothel, and Guiscard de Clisson, a mercenary captain who trains her as a swordswoman. When de Clisson is killed, Agnes heads for Italy with Villiers.
Like the later character Red Sonja, who was based on another Howard character, Red Sonya of Rogatino, Agnes has red hair and a short temper. But while Red Sonja's skill in the handling of swords is a divine gift, Agnes's skill is a mixture of innate talent and training.
The character may be partially based on Novalyne Price, an American schoolteacher and writer who became close friends with, and occasionally dated, Robert E. Howard. Fictional prototypes include Jirel of Joiry, created by C. L. Moore. Moore was enthusiastic about the first of Howard's "Dark Agnes" stories:
My blessings! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed "Sword-Woman". It seemed such a pity to leave her just at the threshold of higher adventures. Your favorite trick of slamming the door on a burst of bugles! And leaving one to wonder what happened next and wanting so badly to know. Aren’t there any more stories about Agnes?
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2008)
Robert E. Howard wrote two complete Dark Agnes de Chastillon stories and part of the first draft for a third.
This is the origin story for Agnes. It features her abortive arranged marriage and subsequent training. "Sword Woman" was first published in REH:Lone Star Fictioneer #2 (Summer 1975).
"Blades for France"
"Mistress of Death"
Howard only wrote two drafts of "Mistress of Death", both incomplete. The second of the two drafts was later completed by Gerald W. Page and it was this version that was first published in Witchcraft & Sorcery Volume 1 Number 5 (January–February 1971). This is the only Dark Agnes story to include a fantasy element, in the form of a sorcerer. It is not written to the same standard of the two stories Howard completed, and features some departures from the established character, making her more stereotypically feminine.
- Howard, Robert E. (May 1977). Sword Woman. Zebra. ISBN 0-89083-261-7.
- Howard, Robert E. (1979) . Sword Woman. Berkley. ISBN 978-0-425-04445-2.
- Howard, Robert E. (October 1986) . Sword Woman. Ace. ISBN 0-441-79279-0.
- A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine by Rusty Burke, retrieved 19 December 2007
- Quoted by Glenn Lord in his introduction to The Second Book of Robert E. Howard (Zebra, May 1976)
- Works of Robert E. Howard: Sword Woman retrieved 19 December 2007
- Works of Robert E. Howard: Blades for France retrieved 19 December 2007
- Works of Robert E. Howard: Mistress of Death retrieved 9 July 2017
- Amanda Salmonson, Jessica. "Dark Agnes: A Critical Overview of Robert E. Howard's Sword Woman". Archived from the original on 28 December 2007. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
- "The Annotated Savage Sword of Conan - Curse of the Undead-Man". Retrieved 9 July 2017.
- Works of Robert E. Howard: Sword Woman - Zebra
- Works of Robert E. Howard: Sword Woman - Berkley
- Works of Robert E. Howard: Sword Woman - Ace