SOME FAMOUS WOMEN RULERS IN HISTORY

By Tim Lambert

Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut was ruler of Egypt. She was born about 1508 BC and she ruled Egypt from 1479 BC. Under her rule Egypt was prosperous and it traded with north west Africa. Hatshepsut also built many great buildings in Egypt. She died about 1458 BC.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra was ruler of Egypt. She was born about 69 BC. From 51 BC she ruled Egypt with her brother but from 48 BC she ruled alone. Then in 41 BC she became allied to a Roman, Mark Anthony who was involved in a long struggle with another Roman called Octavian. Finally Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were defeated at the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC. Afterwards, in 30 BC Cleopatra committed suicide.

Bouddicca, the Celtic queen

Boudicca was a queen who led a rebellion against the Romans in Britain. In the 1st century AD a people called the Celts lived in what is now England. A Celtic tribe called the Iceni lived in what is now Eastern England. The Romans invaded Southeast England in 43 AD. At first they let the Iceni keep their kings and allowed them some autonomy. However when the king of the Iceni died he left his kingdom partly to his wife, Boudicca and partly to Emperor Nero Soon, however Nero wanted the kingdom all for himself. His men treated the Iceni very badly and they provoked rebellion. This time a large part of the Roman army was fighting in Wales and the rebellion was, at first, successful. Led by Boudicca the Celts burned Colchester, St Albans and London. However the Romans rushed forces to deal with the rebellion. Although the Romans were outnumbered their superior discipline and tactics secured total victory.

Zenobia

Zenobia was queen of Palmyra in what is now Syria from about 268 AD to 272 AD. She fought the Romans and conquered Egypt. However Zenobia was eventually defeated and captured.

Wu Zetian, Empress of China

Empress Wu Zetian reigned in China 690-705. She was a strong and capable woman.

Matilda, Queen of England

Matilda claimed to be queen of England but she never ruled the whole country.

Matilda was born in 1102. Her father was King Henry I. King Henry had many illegitimate children but he only had one legitimate son called William. In 1119 the king of France recognized William as the heir to the English throne and heir to the Dukedom of Normandy. However William drowned in 1120 when his ship, the white ship, sank. Henry was left without an heir. Before he died in 1135 Henry made the barons promise to accept his daughter Matilda as queen.

However when Henry died in 1135 his nephew Stephen also claimed the throne and many barons supported him. Matilda was abroad when her father died and Stephen was crowned king of England. Yet Matilda would not give up her claim to the throne and she had many supporters too. As a result a long civil war began which went on till 1154. These years were called the 'nineteen long winters'. Fighting only ended when, shortly before his death, Stephen agreed to recognize Matilda's son Henry as his heir. Following Stephen's death in 1154 Matilda's son became King Henry II. He proved to be a strong and capable ruler.

Fighting only ended when, shortly before his death, Stephen agreed to recognize Matilda's son Henry as his heir. Matilda then lived in Normandy until her death in 1167.

Jadwiga, Queen of Poland

Jadwiga was born about 1373. Her father was king of both Hungary and Poland but after his death the two kingdoms split. The Poles agreed to accept Jadwiga as their queen. However on 16 October 1384 she was crowned king of Poland to make it clear that she ruled Poland in her own right and she was not just a queen through marriage. In 1386 she married Jogaila Grand Duke of Lithuania and the two countries became allies. However Jadwiga died in 1399.

Isabel, Queen of Spain

Isabel was born in 1451. In she married 1469 Ferdinand, heir of Aragon. Isabel became Queen of Castile in 1474 and Ferdinand became king of Aragon in 1479. In 1482 they began a war against Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. Granada surrendered in 1492. Then in 1512 Navarre was absorbed and Spain became a united country.

In 1492 the king and queen ordered all Jews to convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Many chose to leave.

The Spanish Inquisition was formed in 1480. In Spain at that time there were Jews who had converted to Christianity and Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity). Both groups were suspected of practicing their old religion in secret. Torture was sometimes used to obtain confessions. The Spanish Inquisition also persecuted Protestants.

1492 was also a significant year because Ferdinand and Isabel decided to finance an expedition by Christopher Columbus. He believed he could reach Asia by sailing across the Atlantic. However Columbus underestimated the size of the earth and landed in the West Indies. Columbus made 4 voyages across the Atlantic and Spain began to build an empire in North and South America.

Mary, Queen of England

Mary Tudor was Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon's daughter. Mary was born on 18 February 1516. As a child she was well educated. However her mother lost favor with her father. In 1525 Mary was sent to Ludlow to preside over the Council of Wales. She was recalled from Wales in 1528. Then in 1533 Henry had another daughter, Elizabeth, with Anne Boleyn. Mary was sent to wait upon her half sister.

Henry VIII died in 1547 and he was replaced by his 9 year old son Edward. Both Edward and his protector, the Duke of Northumberland were Protestants. However Edward was sickly and it was clear he was not going to live long. The Duke of Northumberland was alarmed as the next in line for the throne, Henry's daughter Mary, was a Catholic.

Northumberland married his son to Lady Jane Grey, a descendant of Henry VII's sister Mary. When Edward died in 1553 Northumberland had Lady Jane Grey crowned queen. However the people rose in favor of Mary and Lady Jane Grey was imprisoned.

When she became queen Mary was surprisingly lenient. The Duke of Northumberland was executed in August 1553. However Lady Jane was, at first, spared.

However Queen Mary married Phillip of Spain in July 1554. The marriage was very unpopular and in Kent Sir Thomas Wyatt led a rebellion. He was defeated but Mary was forced to execute Lady Jane, fearing her enemies might try and place Jane on the throne.

Mary was a devout Catholic and she detested the religious changes of her father and her brother Edward. Mary was determined to undo them. Catholic mass was restored in December 1553. In 1554 married clergy were ordered to leave their wives or lose their posts. Then, in November 1554 the Act of supremacy was repealed.

In 1555 Queen Mary began burning Protestants, which later earned her the nickname 'bloody Mary'. The first martyr was John Rogers who was burned on 4 February 1555. The same year bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were executed. Then in 1556 Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury was executed. Altogether between 1555 and 1558 nearly 300 Protestants were executed. (Most of them were from Southeast England where Protestantism had spread most widely). Many more Protestants fled abroad.

However Mary's cruelty simply gained sympathy for the Protestants and alienated ordinary people. She simply drove people away from Roman Catholicism.

Furthermore in 1557 England went to war with France. In 1558 the English lost Calais, which they had hung onto since the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453. It was a major blow to English prestige. Queen Mary died on 17 November 1558. She was 42. Mary was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth, Queen of England

Elizabeth Tudor was born on 7 September 1533 in Greenwich Palace. Her father was Henry VIII and her mother was Anne Boleyn. Her unfortunate mother was beheaded on 19 May 1536 when Elizabeth was still an infant. Her father died in 1547 and he was succeeded by his son Edward. He in turn died in 1553. Mary the older sister of Elizabeth than became queen. She suspected Elizabeth of plotting against her and for a time had her imprisoned in the Tower of London. Fortunately Mary died in 1558.

Elizabeth I was crowned in January 1559. She was a Protestant but she was not a dogmatic woman. Elizabeth was a moderate Protestant and she treated Catholics leniently.

Most people in England accepted the religious settlement although some Catholics continued to practice their religion in secret.

In November 1569 Catholics in the north of England rebelled. The Catholic rebels hoped to murder Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. However the uprising was quickly crushed and the last battle took place on 19 February 1570. Afterwards many of the rebels were hanged.

Meanwhile in 1570 the pope issued a bull of excommunication and deposition. This papal document decreed that Elizabeth I was excommunicated (excluded from the church) and deposed. Her Catholic subjects no longer had to obey her.

Furthermore in 1581 the fines for non-attendance at Church of England services (aimed at Catholics) were increased (although in some areas they were not imposed). In 1585 all Catholic priests were ordered to leave England within 40 days or face a charge of treason.

Despite these measures most English Catholics remained loyal to the Queen when the Spanish Armada sailed in 1588. (The ships that fought the armada were commanded by a Catholic, Lord Howard of Effingham).

An invasion fleet, the Spanish Armada sailed in July 1588. The Spanish Armada consisted of 130 ships and about 27,000 men. At that time the Spanish king ruled a large part of Northeast Europe.

The English fleet harassed the Spanish ships from behind. However the English were unable to do serious damage to the armada until they reached Calais.

When the armada arrived the Spanish troops in Calais were not ready to embark and there was nothing the armada could do except wait at anchor in the harbor. However the English prepared fire ships. They loaded ships with pitch and loaded guns which fired when the flames touched the gunpowder, and set them on fire then steered them towards the Spanish ships. In panic the armada broke formation. They were vulnerable and the English attacked doing considerable damage.

Finally the armada sailed north around Scotland and west of Ireland. However they sailed into terrible storms and many of their remaining ships were wrecked.

Elizabeth died on 24 March 1603. She was 69. Elizabeth was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Maria Theresa

Maria Theresa ruled Austria, Hungary and Bohemia (Czech Republic) from 1740 to 1780. Maria Theresa was a very capable woman. She turned Austria into a strong and prosperous power. During her reign architecture, art and music flourished.

Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia

Catherine the Great was born in 1729 in Prussia. In 1745 she married Peter the heir to the Russian throne. Peter became Tsar in 1762 but he reigned for only a few months. Supporters of his wife Catherine assassinated him in 1762. She became known as Catherine the Great.

Although she liked to be seen as an enlightened despot and she corresponded with Voltaire and Diderot many of Catherine's subjects were poor and oppressed. In 1773 man named Yemelyan Pugachev led a rebellion. The rebellion had considerable success but it was finally crushed in 1774. Pugachev was brought to Moscow in an iron cage. He was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters. Afterwards, in 1775, Catherine reformed local government. In 1785 she gave the gentry (wealthy landowners) a charter (a document granting or confirming certain rights).

Meanwhile Russia continued to expand in the 18th century. Russia fought a successful war with the Turks in 1768-1774. As a result the Russians gained land by the Black Sea. In 1783 Russia took the Crimea. The Turks lost still more territory after a war in 1787-1791. Meanwhile Russia took parts of Poland. In 1772 Russia, Prussia and Austria helped themselves to a slice of Polish territory each. Russia and Prussia helped themselves to more Polish territory in 1793. Finally in 1795 Russia, Prussia and Austria divided up what was left of Poland between them.

During the 18th century Russian territory and population greatly increased. Russia's new territory in the south was called New Russia and many people migrated there. Meanwhile Russians settled in the east. Russian industry also grew at this time and foreign trade expanded rapidly. By the time Catherine died in 1796 Russia was very powerful.

Indira Gandhia, Prime Minister of India

Indira Gandhi was born in 1917. She became prime minister of India in 1966.

In 1971 India fought another war with Pakistan. At that time Pakistan was divided into two parts, West and East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh). Then in March 1971 East Pakistan broke away and declared its independence. West Pakistan refused to accept the move and sent troops to force the East to submit. Refugees flooded into India.

Then on 3 December 1971 the Pakistani air force attacked air bases in North West India. Pakistani ground forces attacked but were unable to make much headway. Meanwhile on 4 December Indian troops entered East Pakistan. The Pakistani forces in the East, under General Niazi surrendered on 16 December. Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire on 17 December 1971. Bangladesh then became independent.

However in 1973 oil prices rose sharply triggering rapid inflation in India. That harmed agriculture by making fertilizer much more expensive. Indian industry also entered a recession. Growing discontent in India led to strikes such as a railway strike in 1974.

Then a High Court declared that Mrs Gandhi's election in 1971 was invalid because of election malpractice. However Mrs Gandhi persuaded the president to declare a state of emergency on 17 June 1975. Civil liberties were suspended and Mrs Gandhi's opponents were arrested. Her son Sanjay led a mass sterilization campaign in Northern India to combat the population explosion. The emergency was lifted in January 1977. During it inflation was curbed and industry revived.

Elections were due to be held in 1976 but they were delayed until March 1977. However Mrs Gandhi lost anyway. The Janata party held power from 1977 to 1980 when Mrs Gandhi returned.

In the early 1980s India, like the rest of the world, entered a recession. Worse was to come. Sikhs in Punjab were demanding independence. A man named Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (1947-1984) and his supporters took over the Golden Temple in Amristar. Then in May 1984 the Indian army surrounded the temple. They attacked the fundamentalists in the temple but in the process they destroyed the holiest place in the Sikh religion. Two of Mrs Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards killed her in revenge.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925. She became leader of the Conservative Party in Britain. In May 1979 the Conservatives won a general election. Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first woman prime minister. However in 1980-82 Britain suffered a severe recession. Unemployment rose sharply. By January 1982 it was 11.5%, double the May 1979 figure. Not surprisingly the government was deeply unpopular.

However in April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The British sent a task force and on 14 June 1982 the Falklands were recaptured. The war greatly boosted the government's popularity and it contributed to the government's victory in the general election of 1983. (The Conservatives won a third election in 1987).

Meanwhile recession ended in the autumn of 1982 and recovery began. Furthermore unemployment leveled off. Unemployment remained very high until 1986. In the summer of that year the official figure was 14.1%. However unemployment then fell steadily. The government also succeeded in greatly reducing inflation.

The Conservatives also sold council houses cheaply and the number of council houses fell significantly. The government also privatized industries. A showdown between the government and the trade unions took place with the 1984-85 coal strike. The strike ended in March 1985 when the miners were forced to return to work.

Furthermore during the 1980s the government passed a series of laws restricting the powers of the trade unions.

In 1990 the government introduced a new tax in England called the community charge (popularly known as the poll tax). It was very unpopular and in 1993 it was replaced by the council tax. Meanwhile Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990.

A brief history of women's jobs

A brief history of women's clothes

A timeline of women's education

A timeline of women's rights in Britain

A timeline of women's rights in the USA

My Youtube video about women rulers

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Last revised 2015