Christian ‘Kit’ Cavanagh was an Irishwoman who fought in the British army as a dragoon during the 17th and early 18th centuries.
Born in 1667 in Dublin, 'Kit’ was a wild teenager who eventually settled down to run a pub with her husband Richard Welsh. When Welsh disappeared in 1691, Cavanagh received a letter indicating he had, possibly not by choice, ended up in the British Army and been sent to Holland. Unwilling to lose her husband she left her children with her mother, disguised herself as a man and joined the British Army on a mission to find him.
As an infantryman she fought at the Battle of Landen, where she was wounded and captured by the French. She was eventually returned to the British, but was discharged from the army for killing a sergeant in a duel over a woman. She immediately re-enlisted and joined the Royal Scots Greys Dragoons, with whom she served until the end of the Nine Years’ War. During this time she grew to enjoy the life of a soldier, with a penchant for the looting that followed battle.
Cavanagh re-enlisted with the Scots Greys when the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701. She was shot in the thigh during the Battle of Schellenberg, but refused to be sidelined and fought in the Battle of Blenheim a month later. After this battle she was assigned to guard French prisoners, where after 13 years of searching she found her husband. Unfortunately when she found Richard he was courting a Dutch woman. Having rebuked him fiercely she left and returned to her life with the Scots Greys.
Cavanagh’s identity as a man had never been challenged, despite being known as the 'Pretty Dragoon’. However when her skull was fractured at the Battle of Ramillies the surgeon treating her discovered she was a woman. She was discharged but carried on with the army as a sutleress, and some accounts claim she continued to fight on the front lines.
On return to Britain Cavanagh was presented to Queen Anne, who granted her a bounty of £50 and a pension for her services. Following her death in 1739 she was buried with full military honours.