BIOGRAPHIES

GREAT WOMEN RULERS

We found this list of women rulers on a clever wooden ruler
made by the Rich Frog Industries in Burlington, VT.
We have added pictures and information about what made them famous.

©1996-2003
womeninworldhistory.com


Hatshepsut
Queen of Egypt, 15th century B.C.

Hatshepsut was a powerful political person in Egypt even before she assumed the title of Pharaoh. She had a peaceful reign promoting trade and the arts. Her beautiful temple at Deir el-Bahri still stands west of Thebes.
(Hatshepsut is featured in our resource, The Bird of Destiny)


Nefertiti
Queen of Egypt, 14th Century B.C.

Nefertiti was the powerful wife of Akhenaton, who worshiped a new religion honoring only one God, Aten. She later rejected this religion, backing her half-brother who re-established the old worship of the sun-god Amon. Her beauty was immortalized in exquisite sculptures made at the time.


Sammuramat
Assyrian Queen, 9th Century B.C.

Sammuramat is the subject of many myths about her reign as both the wife and mother of kings. She apparently accompanied her husband into battle, greatly expanded Babylonia's control over far-flung territories, irrigated the flatlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and restored the fading beauty of her capital, Babylon. (See our catalog for the resource Women in the Ancient Near East)


Cleopatra
Queen of Egypt, 69-30 B.C.

Cleopatra was the ambitious last ruler of the Macedonian Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. In her struggles to win the crown and keep her country free, she sought the support of Julius Caesar, bearing him a son. For a time she lived in Rome. Later, she won the protection of Rome through an affair with Mark Anthony, and had three children with him. Financing his failing military campaigns, both she and Anthony were defeated in a battle against Octavian in 31 B.C. A lesser known fact is that Cleopatra was highly educated and possessed an impressive intellect, being a student of philosophy and international relations.
 


Eleanor of Aquitaine
Queen of England and of France, 1122-1202

Eleanor was one of the most influential figures of the 12th century. Married at age fifteen to Louis VII of France, she later divorced him to marry Henry II, the future King of England. She bore Henry eight children, two of them future kings of England. Throughout her life she maintained control over her extensive lands in Southern France, and cleverly managed the lives of her children and grandchildren. For much more, see our Web biography, Eleanor of Aquitaine.


Joan of Arc
Leader of the French Army, 1412-1431

Born into a peasant family, Joan became a French heroine by leading the army of Charles VII against the English and raising their siege of Orleans. Captured by the Burgundians, and ransomed by the English, she was put on trial on charges of witchcraft and fraud. She eventually was convicted only of wearing male clothes, an offense against the Church, and was burned at the stake. Her legend grew and she became canonized in 1920.


Isabella I of Castile
Queen of Spain, 1451-1504

When Isabella married Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, both she and her husband became joint rulers of the whole of Spain. They governed independently, however, and Isabella initiated a program of reform which reduced the power of her rebellious nobles, streamlined her government, and encouraged scholarship. Intensely religious, she helped establish the Inquisition in Andalusia, which led to the expulsion from Spain of over 170,000 Jews. With Ferdinand, she conquered Granada, the remaining territory of the Moors. Eventually, they too were expelled from Spain.


Catherine de Medici
Queen of France, 1519-1589

Catherine de Medici was a born into the influential Medici family of Florence, Italy. In 1533 she was given in a political marriage to Henri, Duke of Orleans, who became the French King in 1547. As queen she was very influential in bringing aspects of Italian culture to France, such as their theater and food. After her husband's death, she gained political power as regent for her sons (she had ten children). An ambitious woman, she actively involved herself in the political intrigues of the court, always trying to increase royal power. At first Catherine tried to reconcile France's opposing Catholic and Protestant factions as their violent disputes threatened national unity. But with the massacre in 1570 of Protestants (the massacre of St Bartholomew), this peace was shattered, and Catherine was blamed for allowing it to happen.


Mary Queen of Scots
1542-1587

Mary led an eventful and troubling life. She became Queen of Scotland when she was just six days old. At age five she was sent to France to be brought up in the French court, and eventually married King Francis II, who died the next year. A widow, Mary returned to Scotland where a series of politically unwise love affairs and her continued adherence to Catholicism in a Protestant country led to trouble and a revolt against her. Forced to flee to England for refuge, she now faced the fears of Queen Elizabeth I who saw her as a rival to her throne. Elizabeth kept Mary under a form of imprisonment for the next 19 years. Watched closely, she was implicated in a series of conspiracies against Queen Elizabeth, and was executed.


Elizabeth I
Queen of England, 1533-1603

With a childhood full of political intrigue, it was assumed that Elizabeth would never become queen. But she did, and as queen managed for a time to quiet her Catholic population with acts of tolerance, promote government reforms, strengthen the currency, and forward the growth of a capitalist economy. Highly educated, she also turned her court into a great center of learning. Elizabeth's foreign relations were uneasy. Always pressured to marry to form political alliances, she diplomatically seemed to consider it, but in the end always refused. Her greatest success was the defeat of the invading Spanish Armada in 1588 in the waters off England's west coast. Her greatest failures were the suppression of uprisings in Ireland and her long wars. During Elizabeth's colorful 45 year reign, England became a strong European power, a vibrant commercial force, and an place of intellectual accomplishment. The "Elizabethan age" rightly was one of England's most fascinating eras.


Amina
Nigerian Queen, 1560-1610

Queen Amina headed the northern Nigerian Hausa city-state of Zaria. It is thought that perhaps the Hausa were matrilineal people at that time since having a woman as queen was not all that rare. A great military leader, Amina brought most of the other Hausaland city-states into her orbit, and is credited with encouraging them to surround themselves with huge defensive mud walls. She also opened up trade routes to the south, enriching Zaria's economy with gold, slaves and cola nuts.
(See our catalog for the resource, The Gifts of Queen Amina)


Mbande Nzinga
Angolan Queen, 1582-1663

Nzinga (or Jinga) was the colorful queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms. She is honored for her resistance against the Portuguese who were increasingly occupying all of what is now known as Angola. Constantly driven east by the Portuguese, Nzinga organized a powerful guerrilla army, conquered the Matamba, and developed alliances to control the slave routes. She even allied with the Dutch, who helped her stop the Portuguese advancement. After a series of decisive setbacks, Nzinga negotiated a peace treaty with the Portuguese, but still refused to pay tribute to the Portuguese king. (Nzinga is featured in our resource: I Will Not Bow My Head: Political Women in World History)


Catherine the Great
Empress of Russia. 1729-1796

Ambitious and intelligent, Catherine arrived in Russia from Germany in 1744 to marry the 16 year old Grand Duke Peter. His unpopularity allowed her to depose him, orchestrate his death, and proclaim herself sole ruler of Russia. Considering herself a ruler in line with enlightenment ideas, she supported progressive ideas, such as reforms in law, education, and provincial and municipal administration. But she ruled as an autocrat and suppressed Polish nationalists, which led to Poland's partition, and took the Crimea and parts of the Black Sea coast from Turkey.


Victoria
Queen of England, 1819-1901

Queen Victoria's reign was the longest in English history. Called the Victorian age, it was a time when Britain was at the height of its colonial power. Victoria became a symbol of British expansionist foreign policy. She insisted on taking an active part in the decisions of the government, and forcefully backed those ministers she liked. She herself was most proud of her role as wife and mother - she had nine children. After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, she went into a period of deep depression, dropping out of public view for three years. Her popularity increased in her late years, particularly during time of national celebrations, like the Jubilees of 1887 and 1897.


Tzu-hsi
Empress of China, 1835-1908

Although only a low-ranking concubine of the Emperor Hs'en Feng, Tzu-hsi rose in status when she bore his only son. At his death, and her son's succession, every decree had to be approved by her. Called the Dowager Empress, she exerted herself into state affairs and refused to give up her regency even when her son came of age. In effect she had the power of a ruler. Tzu-hsi's rule was imperious. She used state funds to build herself a palace and sold posts and promotions. Such acts were resented by some, particularly after the Chinese were defeated by the Japanese in the 1890s. Under Tzu-hsi's reign, the Western powers forcefully increased their presence in China. After the suppression of the anti-West Boxer Rebellion, Tzu-hsi began a policy of appeasement, allowing reforms and the modernization of the government.


Liliuokalani
Last Monarch of Hawaii, 1838-1917

Queen Liliuokalani's reign was short and stormy. Upon inheriting the throne, she had to deal with an economically depressed economy and a constitution forced on the Hawaiians by the United States, which left the monarchy of Hawaii powerless. Liliuokalani was determined to free Hawaii from overseas control. Her push for a new constitution, led to a confrontation between the Queen and the Americans. Liliuokalani was deposed and a provisional government set up. The Queen was made a prisoner on charges that she encouraged an uprising, one that never really took place.


Golda Meir
Prime Minister of Israel, 1898-1978

Golda Meir was born in the Ukraine and lived for awhile in the United States. She emigrated to Israel in 1921. Her work within the Labor movement led her to achieve high political positions, including diplomatic missions abroad. When Israel became a state, she was elected to the Knesset (parliament), and, in turn, became Minister of Labor and Minister of Foreign Affairs - the only woman in the Labor administration. In 1969, she was elected Prime Minister, a political feat for an Israeli woman at that time. She was a powerful, tough leader, but her defense policy was criticized after Israel seemed unprepared in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Golda retired from active political life when the Labor Party fell from power as a consequence of that war.


Indira Gandhi
Prime Minister of India, 1917-1984

As daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, politics was always a part of Indira Gandhi's world. She joined her father's Congress Party in 1938 and was jailed for awhile by the British for her support of India's independence from Great Britain. After her father's death, she was elected to Parliament in his place, becoming Prime Minister herself in 1966. She continued many of her father's policies, such as pressing for land reform and the nationalization of banks. But India endured great economic troubles during her watch. There were riots after which she declared Emergency Rule. Political opponents were jailed and the press censored. In 1977 she lost her an election and even faced charges of corruption. Expelled from Parliament, briefly jailed, she reorganized her party and won re-election as Prime Minister in 1980. In 1984 she met a brutal death at the hands of Sikh assassins in retaliation for her forceful actions to halt disturbances in a sacred Sikh temple.


Margaret Thatcher
Prime Minister of England, b. 1925

Margaret Thatcher was Britain's first female prime minister, and first British prime minister in the twentieth century to win three consecutive terms. A lawyer, Margaret first entered Parliament in 1959, eventually serving in a variety of ministerial posts. In 1974 she was elected leader of the Conservative Party, and brought her party to victory in 1979. Espousing conservative ideals of based on free enterprise, she advocated public spending cuts, limited money supply, and raised interest rates. Her privatization programs led to union opposition, labor unrest, and high unemployment rates. She earned the nickname "The Iron Lady" because of her hard line against the USSR over their invasion of Afghanistan, and because when Argentina challenged Britain's right to the Falkland Islands, she went to war. In 1990 she resigned as prime minister, although she stayed in Parliament until 1992.


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