Becoming a nun meant you had the peace & quiet necessary for creative thought. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 to 1179) was a German Benedictine abbess. She wrote visionary books on theology and composed music, including the morality play Ordo Virtutum. Many of her letters survive, to popes, emperors, abbots and abbesses. Hildegard is considered by many to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany and wrote two books about natural medicine and cures. She also invented a language called the Lingua ignota.

Picture: Hildegard von Bingen. Line engraving by W. Marshall. Wellcome Trust Images